I like to look at bumper stickers. They tell you an awful lot about a person – who they voted for, what school their kid goes to and what kind of student they are, what sports team they support and what hobbies they enjoy. Lots of bumper stickers out there today also give you a clue whether or not the person is a Christian. One Christian bumper sticker especially intrigues me. It reads: “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” What’s this bumper sticker talking about? Well, it’s talking about Scripture and how we view its’ authority and importance in our lives.
Last week we started talking about how to have real, genuine faith, and not faith that’s a counterfeit or a good copy. We got our first clue from James 2:26: “Faith without works is dead.” We don’t need works in order to be saved, but if we have real genuine faith, it will naturally be evidenced in our actions. Today we finishing up our comparison of real and counterfeit faith by looking at a standard of measure to make sure we believe the right things - and that’s Scripture.
The Bible, Scripture, God’s Word – whatever you call it, it means the same thing. And Scripture serves as the ultimate guide and standard of measure for Christians to make sure we believe in the right things. But before we get to the how of using Scripture though, I want us to begin to understand a bit about why Scripture is important in the first place.
First let’s look at the authority the Bible has and where it comes from. On the surface, I wholeheartedly agree with the bumper sticker. I believe that Scripture is true because I believe that it’s from God. II Timothy 3:14-15 tells us that “all Scripture is God-breathed.”
As a child I used to think of God dictating the Bible word for word into someone’s ear while they furiously copied everything down. How else could it be written by men and still be God’s Word? But as I grew up I came to realize that Scripture is “God-breathed” because it came to people through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit… men speaking from God as they were carried along by the Spirit’s words. (paraphrase II Peter 1:21). In writing to the church at Thessolonica, the Apostle Paul wrote: “We thank God… because when you received the word of God… you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the WORD OF GOD, which is at work in you who believe” (I Thessalonians 2:13).
Scripture is the Word of God, a record of His revelation to his people – thru creation, thru covenants and promises, thru the law, then the prophets and finally thru Jesus – the Word of God that became flesh and lived among us.
The Purpose of Scripture
If you and I believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God, a record of His revelation to us His people, then the purposes behind that revelation should be important. What is God trying to say to us? What meaning and purpose can these words written centuries ago have for you and I today?
The overwhelming theme of Scripture is that God loves us and wants to be in relationship with us, but our sin separates us from God and so he made a way through his Son to save us from our sins.
Through that theme of Scripture, there run two main purposes:
- To point us to faith and salvation – “The holy Scriptures which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (II Tim 3:15). It contains everything we need to know on this matter.
- Nurture us in the faith - “All Scripture is… useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Once we have come to faith, Scripture is supposed to help us grow so that our faith can mature.
Understanding and Interpreting Scripture – Through the Holy Spirit
With this understanding, we can begin now to look at how we can use Scripture as our guide to faith. We need to acknowledge the fact that Scripture is complex though. There are passages which are confusing and that seem to contradict themselves. In the Christian school where I grew up, I was taught to ignore these things because the Bible is “error-free,” without fault and to question the Bible was very, very bad. We were supposed to just accept on blind faith that the entire Bible at face value and not question what seemed to be confusing. But that never made much sense to me.
I’m sure that wouldn’t make a lot of sense to many of you either. I’ve heard people express confusion about the Bible, particularly the four Gospels. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John each tell the story of the life of Jesus slightly differently. Sometimes stories of events are found in just one of the Gospels and other times a couple of Gospels might have the same story but differ on some of the details.
But that’s where our Gospel lesson from John comes in this morning: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).
If the purpose of Scripture is to point people to salvation – then clearly God intended for his word to be understood. And he does not leave us to our own devices to figure it out. We have the Holy Spirit to help illuminate the word of God, to make it living and active for us. I Corinthians 2:12 tells us: “We have…received… the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us.”
That’s why every Sunday I pray before I preach for the Holy Spirit to prepare our hearts and minds for the message of Scripture, so that we might be able to better understand what God is trying to tell us through His word.
The Treasure of Scripture – Encounter and Be Transformed
But the real treasure of Scripture goes beyond just understanding its’ authority and purposes. The real treasure of Scripture goes beyond having the Holy Spirit help us interpret it. The real treasure of Scripture comes when we encounter it for ourselves and are transformed. James says it this way: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law… and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it – he will be blessed in what he does” (James 1:22-25).
That’s the point of the congregational response we say each week after the second Scripture lesson: May God add His richest blessings to the reading, the hearing and the living out of His Holy Word.” It’s not just about the reading and the hearing – it’s about the living out of the Word – the life application.
The Bible is God’s way of entering into our souls through the Holy Spirit – the word becomes “living and active” (Hebrews 4:12). Unfortunately though, many people don’t take advantage of this. If you were to add together all the different translations and versions sold worldwide, the Bible is the best-selling book of all time. Yet it’s probably one of the least read of all time. While most Christians believe the Bible to be God’s Word, very few read it on a regular basis, very few can name the four gospels, or quote ANY Scripture verses. It would certainly be hard to understand what God wants you to do in your life if you never open His instructions.
One of the things I enjoy the most as a pastor is the opportunity I have to encourage folks to read the Bible and watch them fall in love with it – the look on someone’s face when they read it and understand something that they hadn’t before. A lot of folks tell me they want to spend more time reading the Bible, but find it hard. I certainly understand that and can relate to it. I think one reason for inconsistent or dull Bible study is lack of planning. When you open the Bible and read without focus or purpose, it’s not reasonable to expect God to flood you with excitement and enlightenment. The Bible comes alive when you treat Scripture for what it is: a love letter from your Creator to you.
So some tips to guide your time:
1) Begin With Prayer - Ask God to open your eyes to what you will read. Ask Him to show you the meaning and application for your life. Ask Him to bless your time with excitement.
2) Read As An Active Participant – Think about the words. Ask questions: who, what, when, where, why, and what does this mean for me? How will this change me into the image of Christ and bring glory to God?
3) Get A Reading Plan - If you struggle with consistency, a good way to start is to use a Bible reading plan. Plans that include small portions of both the Old and New Testaments each day generally keep your attention better than just starting at Genesis and reading straight through. I use a plan that has me reading 4 chapters a day which takes you through the OT once and the NT twice in a year. I put the schedule up weekly on my blog.
4) Finally – If You Miss A Few Days, Keep Going! Don’t get discouraged and quit. Just move on! Catch up later if you can, but don’t allow the stress of missing cause you to give up. The important thing is to start with something and be consistent. Don’t be impulsive and try to be some kind of “super Christian.” If you have experienced inconsistency and failure up to this point, start with a goal you know you can realistically keep.
Few people have enough talent to play a sport or learn an instrument without help – most people need a mentor, a manual, or lessons to become really adept at something. In matters of faith, our mentor is Jesus Christ and our manual, our guide and standard for what to believe is the Bible.
Scripture is inspired by God – it’s a record of God’s revelation to people and people’s response – designed to point us to faith and salvation – and we have the power of the Holy Spirit to help us in understanding and interpreting Scripture. That’s a whole lot more than we can fit on a bumper sticker.
“God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” – That’s kind of a cop-out. One that prevents you and I from diving in and wrestling with Scripture, trying to understand it. Don’t settle for taking what other people say about Scripture at face value – open the book, read it yourself, praying for the Holy Spirit to make it living and active for you.