Feb 2, 2016
A page torn from an inspirational daily calendar of Bible verses is making rounds these days on social media. It features a pretty purple flower and a quote from Luke 4:7: “If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine.” It’s meant to inspire—until you realize who said it: Satan.
Now whether this was an oversight by the calendar designer, or a clever Photoshop job, the takeaway is the same: Context matters when it comes to Scripture. But today, there’s an even deeper problem with how we use Bible verses, and a recent article in the Huffington Post offers a sad example of why.
Brandon Robertson, a young Bible institute graduate, recounts how his faith was shaken when he couldn’t find what he thought he needed in the pages of Scripture.
“Every time I found myself in turmoil,” he wrote, “I would reach for the Bible…[but] I was most often coming back empty handed.” That disappointment, he explained, left him “radically disinterested” in God’s word.
Describing a moment of a particular personal crisis, Brandon looked to the Bible looking for comfort. “With tears in my eyes,” he writes, “I opened up the Scriptures and landed on Isaiah 3—a chapter about God judging and destroying his enemies… not exactly the encouragement I was looking for,” he said. “I turned to the typical ‘encouragement’ passages like Romans 8 and Philippians 3, but they didn’t seem to be working.”
Brandon recounts that his disappointment continued into college, until, during a lecture by biblical critic Peter Enns, he had an epiphany: “We need to be training our children to cultivate a relationship with God, not a relationship with the Bible.”
Now at face value, of course, this statement is true. The purpose of the Bible is to reveal God. But for a growing number of progressive Christians, the God they want can’t be found in the pages of Scripture. So they look for Him elsewhere—in personal experience, through relationships with other people, and through private interpretations of when they say God “speaks into” their life.
Effectively, this approach untethers God from the Bible. For example, the United Church of Christ recently insisted that “God is still speaking.” Another true-at-face-value statement, until you realize they’re actually suggesting that God’s changed His mind on issues like morality and marriage, and that their ideas of who God should be trumps the God His word reveals.
Many point to Jesus Himself as their alternative to Scripture. For example, Enns, in his book “The Bible Tells Me So,” writes that “for Christians, Jesus, not the Bible, has the final word.”
But in response, Christian blogger Derek Rishmawy asked a very important question: to which “Jesus” are these folks referring? “…[T]he only real Jesus we have intellectual access to,” observes Derek, “is the Jesus revealed to us in the Bible.” That Jesus reaffirmed the exclusivity of natural marriage, endorsed every “jot and tittle” of the Old Testament, and talked as much about hell and judgement as He did the Kingdom of Heaven.
The Jesus that progressive Christians claim has no source other than, well, themselves, their own feelings, beliefs, and preferences. J. Gresham Machen wrote back in 1924, “The real authority, for liberalism, can only be…individual experience; truth can only be that which ‘helps’ the individual man. Such an authority is obviously no authority at all.”
Our approach to the Bible is vitally important. God’s inspired word is not a calendar of inspirational, therapeutic quotes. When we open the Bible, we are stepping into God’s story, understanding our place in His design, and encountering Him on His terms. When we don’t find what we’re looking for, we should ask whether we’re looking for the real God—or remaking a god in our image.
— by John Stonestreet
In our world of electronic banking and credit cards, it’s easy to ignore what things cost. The same is true with sin. Our culture enjoys temporary pleasures while disregarding what God says is the price of transgression (Rom. 6:23).
The Bible tells what our sin cost Jesus. For our sake, He suffered…
Physical pain. During the hours leading up to His crucifixion, Jesus was mocked, beaten, and humiliated. (See John 19.) In His weakened state, He was forced to carry on His shoulders the instrument of His death—the cross. Then He was nailed to it and hoisted up to die an excruciating death.
Man’s sin. Jesus lived a perfect life on earth and never knew the disgrace of sin or the bitterness of regret. But at the cross, the Father placed all of mankind’s sins upon the Savior (2 Cor. 5:21). There, Christ experienced the fullness of our transgressions, guilt, and shame.
Abandonment. In the final hours, Jesus was separated from His Father (Mark 15:34), their fellowship broken for the only time since eternity past. Our sin became the barrier that kept them apart until Jesus Christ’s work of atonement was finished (John 19:30).
Divine judgment. God’s wrath was poured out on Jesus because of man’s sin. Christ experienced the condemnation we deserved (Isa. 53:5-6; Rom. 5:9).
Our Savior suffered greatly on our behalf, shedding His blood so we might become part of God’s family (John 1:12). He calls us to a life of sacrificial service—doing the Father’s work and living to please Him. In light of what our salvation cost, how can we do anything less?
“Remembering without ceasing your work of faith, and labour of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, in the sight of God and our Father.” (1 Thessalonians 1:3)
Paul had begun the work at Thessalonica, and when forced to leave, he maintained an active interest in and contact with the Thessalonian believers. The book of 1 Thessalonians contains both encouragement and commendation for these believers. In the context of our text verse, he mentions some of their strengths, and it would behoove us to take note and apply these strengths to our churches.
Paul mentions the triad of faith, love, and hope so common in New Testament writings. The “work of faith,” that past work of salvation in the believer’s life, is amplified in verses 4-6, where we see that God has chosen to work His work of grace in them through the Word of God and the ministry of the Holy Spirit (v. 5). Their reception of the Word had been with both affliction and joy (v. 6).
Next, Paul commends their “labour of love.” They were committed to both outreach and missions, as we see in verses 7 and 8. Their testimony had not only affected the local area, but was “spread abroad.” Moreover, they had entered into proper worship of God, maintaining purity of doctrine (v. 9). The “labour of love” to others will inevitably follow as a means of serving God.
Lastly, Paul commends their “patience of hope”—their expectant joyful outlook on the future, waiting for Christ’s return (v. 10).
May our own churches have this same perspective on the past, present, and future work of Christ. May our own lives give attention to the same details, and have the same goals and outlook as those of the Thessalonian church. Purity in doctrine and a life of service constitute the best way to wait for our Lord’s return. JDM
This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord. And when I saw it, I fell upon my face, and I heard a voice of one that spake. —Ezekiel 1:28
These are elements that are always the same among men and women who have had a personal meeting with God.
First, these great souls always have a compelling sense of God Himself, of His person and of His presence. While others would want to spend their time talking about a variety of things, these godly men and women, touched by their knowledge of God, want to talk about Him. They are drawn away from a variety of mundane topics because of the importance of their spiritual discoveries.
Second, it is plain that the details and the significance of their personal experiences remain sharp and clear with true spiritual meaning….
The third element is the permanent and life-changing nature of a true encounter with God. The experience may have been brief, but the results will be evident in the life of the person touched as long as he or she lives.
Lord, may I too experience You in a way that overwhelms me with a clear sense of Your presence and changes my life so I never want to stop speaking of You. Amen.
Lord, to whom shall we go? thou hast the words of eternal life. (John 6:68)
Who can deny that there are certain persons who, though still unconverted, nevertheless differ from the crowd, marked out of God, stricken with an interior wound and susceptible to the call of God?
In the prayer of Jesus in John 17:11b, He said: “Father, keep through thine own name those whom thou hast given me.” Surely no man is ever the same after God has laid His hand upon him. He will have certain marks, perhaps some not easy to detect.
First might be a deep reverence for divine things. A sense of the sacred must be present or there can be no receptivity to God and truth.
Another mark is great moral sensitivity. When God begins to work in a man to bring him to salvation He makes him acutely sensitive to evil.
Another mark of the Spirit’s working is a mighty moral discontent. It does take a work of God in a man to sour him on the world and to turn him against himself; yet until this has happened he is psychologically unable to repent and believe!
Some persons say they cannot bear to be an hour in solitude; they have got nothing to do, nothing to think about. No Christian will ever talk so, surely; for if I can but give him one word to think of—Christ—let him spell that over forever; let me give him the word Jesus, and only let him try to think it over, and he shall find that an hour is naught, and that eternity is not half enough to utter our glorious Saviour’s praise.
From a sweet fountain of thought we shall have sweet waters of talk. It is sweet to live in the thoughts of those we love.