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"Is the Bible Your Authority?"
Most evangelical Christians would answer this question with a resounding 'Yes!' However, many of us, if not the majority of us, embrace unwittingly an authority above the Bible which results in the tendency to be resistive to God's word, choosing to maintain error and reject truth. A spiritual barrier exists which we ourselves have erected thereby hindering the reception of truth from God's word. It may be likened to a great fortified wall that used to surround ancient cities for defensive purposes. Protected by our secure walls we dwell content with what we assume to be the truth. We stand at our gates granting entrance to that which suits us. We believe that we are only permitting truth to enter and turning away error, but sadly, all too frequently, we allow error to enter and we turn away much truth. Let us consider this problem closely so that we may throw open our gates for truth to enter freely as well as permit error to be expelled from our midst.
This essay will address this subject by discussing the following issues. First, the essence of the problem will be identified. Second, it will be shown how this problem has been manifested through church history and how it has been "institu'tionalized" in our evangelical circles. Third, several practical suggestions will be proposed for solving this problem in a local church setting.
The Nature of the Problem
Shortly before the martyrdom of Paul, young Timothy received a letter from the apostle containing his final charge to his young friend:
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus . . . preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires; and will turn away their ears from the truth, and will turn aside to myths. (2 Tim. 4:1-4)
Paul told Timothy that he would encounter resistance and opposition from virtually everyone he would meet. It seems clear that Paul is not speaking of unbelievers, these are people who hear truth, sit under teachers, and would be exposed to the preaching of Timothy. Timothy could expect to find resistance in the churches of God to the truth of God. Church members would not want to hear God's Word; rather, they would desire to be rein'forced in their currently held doctrines, refusing to change or even listen to Timothy's instruction. Timothy would need to be resolute in his duty, faithful to his charge to preach the word because of the peoples' preference for "myths."
This is such a strange phenomenon. Why is it that we would choose myths (i.e. false doctrine) over truth? It can not be because we love myths more than truth, for every Christian must have received a love for truth in order to be saved (2 Thess. 2:10). Rather, we tend to prefer myths to truths simply because we perceive myths to be truth, and truth to be myths. Or put another way, our beliefs are assumed to be Biblical, therefore we are prone to reject actual Bible teaching if it is in conflict with our beliefs.
We gather to ourselves teachers and preachers who agree with us; we want our "ears tickled", that is, we desire that our beliefs be reinforced. In essence, our belief system subtly usurps the authority of the Bible. We filter all teaching through what we already assume to be true, and yet we would vehe'mently claim that the Bible is our sole authority. And so, we tend to buy books which reinforce our positions. Our favorite preachers are those which agree with us in doctrine. We choose churches based on whether or not the preacher preaches what we think is truth. We tend to reject those out of hand who may preach contrary to what we already hold to be true; whether or not they have scriptural warrant for their teaching becomes irrelevant. As soon as we hear something different than what we are accustomed to hear we immediately reject the message, and frequently the messenger as well.
This is not to say that evangelicals are an aberrant group which has no truth. We have always advocated strongly that the Bible is our authority. Yet not one of us has all of the truth; only the Bible is objective truth. Everyone of us possess a degree of flawed understanding regarding what the Bible teaches and unless we address the problem outlined above, we will con'tinue in our error. For we have stripped the Bible of its ability to confront and correct us.
This "canonization" of a belief system has occurred since Timothy's day both on an individual basis as well as in Christian institutions--churches, denominations, Bible schools and semi'naries. We will now examine how this has occurred and in what forms it may be recognized.
A Canon Within a Canon
Thankfully, God has given us His Word, the Bible, in which we have a depository of His truth. The Bible is to us (or so we claim) our canon, that is, our rule or standard, by which all knowledge of God, how He relates to the world, how we might know Him, may be discerned. Everything that we believe or prac'tice is to be measured by our canon, the Bible.
The First Centuries
How fortunate we are to have readily available a canon with all 66 books! Of course it has not always been so. Ear'liest Christianity only had the Old Testament books along with the testimony of the Apostles who were eyewitnesses of Christian beginnings. The first Gospel was not written until several decades after Pentecost. The Gospel of Mark was written around A.D. 50 to 60. Later Matthew and Luke-Acts were written (60'80's?), and later still the Gospel of John (90's). But even after these books were written, they probably were not widely circulated for some time. The earliest churches had the Old Tes'tament and a portion of the books of the New Testament. Imagine being a member of the church at Rome in about A.D. 60; perhaps the only books of the New Testament available were Mark and some of Paul's epistles. The message of each book must have been highly regarded as the books were copied and circulated among the churches.
Although most of our New Testament books were acknow'ledged relatively early as being Scripture, some of the books (especially 2 Peter and Jude) were not universally recognized for several centuries. In addition, there existed several books which some Christians viewed as Scripture which were finally ac'knowledged by all to be non-canonical (perhaps the most notable being the Epistle of Barnabus). Many of us today may be sur'prised to learn that the earliest testimony of our New Testament as containing our 27 books and only 27 books is in a pastoral letter written in A.D. 367! We are most blessed that we have had for many centuries both testaments to testify of our faith in the Lord Jesus.
From Augustine to the Reformation
Even before the canon was recognized universally, early Christian leaders had begun to write treatises to summarize what they believed. Frequently these writings had an apologetic func'tion in countering heresies which threatened the churches. As the canon was more rigidly fixed, efforts were made to articulate the central message of the Christian faith. The Bible was now seen as a single depository of truth from which a unified message of the faith could be drawn. Perhaps the most notable and in'fluential Christian leader of this early period was Augustine. His writings governed the thought of Roman Catholics for cen'turies, particularly in the area of state-church relationships. Thomas Aquinas in the thirteenth century further shaped Roman Catholic thought through his blend of Biblical, traditional, and philosophical writings. His influence has continued to this day in Roman Catholicism.
The Reformation Period
The Reformation of the 16th century was a great movement to cast off the authority of Catholic tradition and reclaim the authority of Scripture alone. Reformation leaders wrote exten'sively on Biblical themes. Martin Luther emphasized that jus'tification before God was due to faith alone. John Calvin is known for his articulation of God's sovereignty in all areas of existence, but particularly of salvation. State churches arose throughout Europe rejecting Roman Catholic teaching. The leaders of these state churches developed creeds which were summaries of the Christian faith in order to counter Catholicism and instruct their citizens. These creeds became authoritative interpreta'tions of Scripture which were binding upon the people. If anyone or any group within the society differed or challenged the teach'ing of the "church", they were regarded as both traitors and heretics and were treated accordingly. Once these creeds were institutionalized, Scripture was seen and interpreted through the lens of the creed.
Herein lies the paradox of the Reformation. While the Reformers claimed Sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), their systems of doctrine became their authority above Scripture. Citizens were not allowed the freedom of conscience to discern for them'selves the Biblical message. The Reformers interpreted the Bible from their own subjective vantage point. A case in point is Luther's justification by faith. Luther saw this as such an over-arching principle that he desired to remove the book of James from the canon because he viewed its teaching as inconsistent with justification by faith!
When we speak of a canon within a canon it is this problem which is being described. Although the Bible is claimed to be the sole authority, in actuality, the source of truth is what one believes the Bible teaches. The Bible is searched for passages which substantiate one's belief system. Passages which may challenge one's belief system are either ignored or inter'preted so as to reinforce what is already believed. Creeds are dangerous things, whether they be written or unwritten, this is why many evangelical groups (notably the Baptists) have historically refused to use the word "creed", but rather refer to their summaries of Christian beliefs as "statements of faith" or "confessions."
The Modern Period
Evangelicals themselves are not without fault. Unfortunately, the tendency to "creedalize" beliefs is common to all people. We all want to have "our ears tickled"; that is, have our currently held beliefs reinforced and propagated. And so, we tend to buy books which support our positions. We hire preachers and flock to teachers who tell us what we want to hear (i.e. what we already believe) rather than what we may need to hear. We develop a "siege mentality"; we reject anyone who would threaten our doctrinal positions. Within this environment we need men of God who assume the charge of Timothy to preach what the Word teaches, not what people think it teaches or want it to teach. We need men like Jeremiah who preached to the people in Jerusalem that all was not well although there were a thousand prophets who said differently. Beware of listening to those who never rebuke, reprove, exhort or challenge your understanding of God's Word!
This tendency toward creedalism is commonplace among evangelicals. It may be observed readily in both institutions and among individuals. Let us consider some examples:
Institutional Creedalism. Since the Reformation many Protestant scholars have sought to delineate and articulate the Biblical material in an orderly fashion. We have already discussed the development of creeds; these were relatively brief, succinct statements of the faith. Scholars have also developed more exhaustive summaries of the faith. These "systematic theologies" are generally organized according to classical categories--theology proper, Christology, soteriology (salvation), ecclesiology (doctrine of the church), anthropology, and eschatology (last things), to name a few. Systematic theologies abound in number and although they may differ somewhat in arrangement, they all have this in common: they examine the Bible as a whole and attempt to articulate its teachings in various categories. Many systematic theologies are very helpful (I especially appreciate John Calvin's Institutes and John Gill's Body of Divinity, and Charles Hodge's Systematic Theology), but they have two major weaknesses which Christians should recognize.
One weakness of systematic theologies is that by examining the Bible according to set, inflexible categories, a major biblical theme can be easily obscured. For example, it is generally agreed that the kingdom of God is one of the major themes of the Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke); it was the chief message of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus. But where in a systematic theology would you locate this major em'phasis of Scripture? And once it is included, would the class'ification render emphasis to the subject which the New Testament affords it?
Another major weakness inherent in systematic theologies is the inability to express the message of individual books and writers of the Bible. We must always remember that each book of the New Testament was circulated individually. Each was designed by its writer (and the Holy Spirit) to address specific Christian concerns. A treatment of the Bible as a whole will tend to overlook the messages of the individual parts. A writer of a systematic theology can unconsciously pick and choose his subject matter in order to arrive at desired conclusions. Systematic theologies are not objective treatments of what the Bible teaches, rather they are subjective conclusions of what one thinks the Bible teaches.
Perhaps the greatest danger of systematic theologies is the efforts of some to "creedalize" them resulting in an authority above the Bible itself. This is a very subtle error because very few recognize this is occurring. Nevertheless, churches, whole denominations, Bible colleges, and seminaries have been established to preserve and propagate their understand'ing of the Scriptures.
A certain seminary which is located in the Southern United States, a seminary which is conservative by everyone's standards, has fallen to this error. This school, which has graduated many fine servants of the Lord, claims to have the Bible as its authority; but in actuality, a systematic theology is the authority. The extensive study of this systematic theol'ogy is not only required course work, but the scheme of theology overshadows the entire curriculum. The graduates are equipped thoroughly to exegete Scripture, but they have been so indoc'trinated in their theological system, they are generally unable to deal with the Biblical material objectively. They tend to be extremely resistant to change. They have the truth; just ask them! Their position is firmly ingrained in their minds and remains so in spite of Biblical material which may challenge it. And so, even evangelicals who claim to have the Bible as their authority have unwittingly chosen "myths" over "truth." This seminary is just one example of dozens of evangelical institu'tions with the same outlook.
Evangelical denominations have exhibited this same ten'dency. There exists an entire Baptist denomination which has followed this pattern. Their "conservative" view of Scripture (in this case in the area of eschatology) was adopted about 30 years ago as a test of fellowship. Unless one embraces their in'terpretation of Scripture, membership is refused. I think of great Baptist preachers of the past who would not be permitted to join or preach within this denomination--John Bunyan, William Carey, George Mueller, Adoniram Judson, Charles Spurgeon, to name a few. A great Biblical principle has been forsaken, one which Baptists have maintained for centuries; namely, fellowship is to be extended to all who have turned from their sin to Christ and have followed him in baptism. Now, that is not enough, at least in this evangelical denomination. And sadly, many other churches and associations have followed this same pattern.
This problem is found also among evangelical para-church organizations. A few years ago a well known Christian leader resigned from the head of an evangelical mission organiza'tion to Jewish people. He came to believe the Scriptures taught a different position on eschatology than what the agency had al'ways held. His new understanding was not radically different than what was previously believed. His commitment to the Scriptures was steadfast and his concern for the Jewish people remained intact; nevertheless, his "error" was felt to be detrimental to the mission and the offer of his resignation was accepted. It would appear his study of the Scriptures which drove him to adjust his theological understanding, cost him his position and it probably soiled his reputation among his peers.
We live in perilous times, we are falling into subtle errors and we are not even aware of the danger. How we want our ears tickled," and how we want to protect ourselves from any who might challenge us from the Scriptures! May our prayer be, "Lord, don't tell me what I want to hear, tell me what I need to hear! Bring forth servants who will courageously proclaim truth over my objections!"
Is this problem being overstated? I think not. I have purposely avoided detailing the doctrines involved, because that is not the point. The issue is the innate attitude that is resi'dent within each of us which seeks to justify our own positions and castigate them who differ from us.
Individual Creedalism. We all have this tendency to presume what we believe is the truth; Paul told Timothy he could anticipate this to occur among God's people. We, of course, would never consider cutting books out of our Bible because they conflicted with "our faith", as did Luther. Nor do most of us have a particular volume of systematic theology at home which we turn to every night to judge another's faith. But we all can ef'fectively do the same things by disregarding the message of cer'tain books of Scripture or by judging others by an unwritten "systematic theology" which each of us possess in our thinking. And generally, it is we, who are "older" Christians, who are most guilty of this.
It is with reluctance that I use the following illustra'tion. I hesitate to single out an individual by name, but the issue is such an important one, I feel it is necessary. More'over, the example set forth here illustrates the tendency we all have, myself included. Therefore, please receive it in the spirit that it is presented.
The predisposition to canonize one's theological position has been demonstrated in the debate concerning Lordship Salvation. This may be seen clearly in the contrast between two sig'nificant books: Zane Hodges' Absolutely Free and The Gospel Acccording to Jesus by John MacArthur. Both authors are fine men, both are servants of the Lord, both men are Calvinistic and both men preach Christ; in these things I rejoice. Yet how can two books present so much evidence but arrive at different conclusions? How can two men, who both profess the Bible to be their sole authority, both claim to be evangelical, differ so greatly? And given these two treatments, how do we determine which one is right? Well, most of us will simply stand beside the treatment which agrees with our present understanding. But how do we judge which position is Biblical? Let us examine this.
Take note of this fact at the outset, the discussion here is not what the Bible teaches about Lordship Salvation; I have my own position on the issue which will become evident, but that is not the primary concern of this essay. The point of emphasis in the following comments has to do with the approach and methodol'ogy of two different authors; the subject under treatment is secondary. Regardless of the position one holds on Lordship Sal'vation, one must acknowledge the approach to the subject is all important. Once this is recognized, I believe it will be apparent why these two men differ so greatly.
I will state forthrightly that I believe MacArthur approached the subject in a legitimate way, attempting to approach the subject in an objective manner. In contrast, Hodges, in my opinion, dealt with the issue in a subjective manner, his intent at the outset was to defend his position, not to discover what the Scriptures teach. It is because these two men approached the subject from two different vantage points that they arrived at two different conclusions.
Although a number of distinctions may be made between the methodologies of the two writers, we will restrict ourselves to two points. First, whereas MacArthur sought to explain Scrip'ture, Hodges sought to refute a position. MacArthur's approach may be regarded as exegetical and expositional, Hodges' approach was apologetic and theological. MacArthur's approach sought to discover truth, Hodges sought to defend truth. The two authors revealed their different concerns in their own words: whereas MacArthur sought to examine "Jesus' gospel and his evangelistic methods" (p. xiii); Hodges desired to defend a truth that he had held since a teen-age boy through years of "Bible study, in private as well as in a Christian college and in a theological seminary" (p. xiii). To put it succinctly, MacArthur sought an objective study of the Biblical text, Hodges sought to defend a subjective understanding of the Biblical text. Now maybe MacArthur's effort to exegete Scripture was a failure, that may be ascertained quite easily through careful study. But the success or failure of Hodges' treatment is extremely difficult to "check out." He subjectively selected verses to defend his position. He also used "strawman" arguments and appeals based on emotion (e.g. Chapter One, "Father and Son"). Hodges' approach to the subject was flawed from the beginning, he knew from the outset where he would conclude.
Personally, I always regard it "safer" to give an exposition of a text of Scripture rather than defend a position using Scripture. There is, of course, a place for an apologetic approach to a subject. Jude wrote that we must "earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (v. 3). The point being made here is that we must make sure the faith for which we contend earnestly is "the" faith, not simply "my" faith.
A second issue may be raised to distinguish these two authors. This highlights the subtle but dangerous error which this essay has sought to address. I believe (I want to be careful to point out these are only my observations; I could be wrong!) that these two books reflect two "different" canons from which information is drawn. They both claim the Bible in its entirety is the Word of God. But a careful reading of both books suggest the following distinction. Whereas MacArthur treats the Synoptic Gospels as Christian documents, that is, they are a source of instruction for the Christian life; Hodges, on the other hand, virtually dismisses the teaching of the Synoptics. Granted, his index of Scripture references suggest his use of these books, but after an analysis of his treatment of these texts one is left wondering if there was anything taught by our Lord which is applicable to Christians!
I conclude the discussion of these two books with the following propositions. First, I believe John MacArthur has given proper regard to the Synoptic Gospels as Christian documents. Granted, the teaching of our Lord within these books was given in a Jewish setting prior to His death and resurrection, and the material must be considered in the light of these events; nevertheless, let us remember, the Gospels were written by Christians and were preserved by Christians because they were recognized as God's Word for Christians. Second, I would suggest that Zane Hodges holds the position he set forth not simply because he believes it to be the teaching of Scripture (I do not for a moment question his motives), but because his treatment was influenced greatly by his theological background. Hodges' strong dispensational understanding, shaped in his youth, reinforced in his seminary experience, has stripped him of the Synoptic Gospels as Christian documents; he and all consistent dispensationalists have in effect cut these three books out of the Christian canon. The teaching of John the Baptist and the Lord Jesus is regarded as Jewish, not Christian. The gospel of the kingdom is not for Christians, thus, the strong statements of Jesus with regard to repentance, obedience, and enduring discipleship to him as being essential for salvation is effectively removed from consideration. Take note, lest there be misunderstanding:
obedience to Jesus is not the source of salvation, grace is;
without which, a person will encounter the wrath of God (Matt. 7:15-27). Sadly, what has resulted among many evangelicals is a teaching of grace and faith that promotes licentiousness. This has not been the intent, but it is the result of many of our teachers. Our churches are filled with careless "believers" who go about doing their own will, who can only be convinced of doing the will of God when they are persuaded it will bring benefit to them, either by relieving their suffering or in some other way make them happy. The warnings to professing Christians which abound in the Bible have been effectively cut out of our canon. After all, "they apply to someone else, I'm a believer!" False teaching has lead to this condition, and it is "the faith" that challenges and confronts this kind of Christianity for which we must contend. It is the teaching that "turns grace to licentiousness" which must be confronted and defeated (Jude 3,4).
How careful and prayerful ought we be as we approach God's Word! How humble and eager we ought to be to search the Scriptures for the truth of God! How do we know that we have not fallen into error? How do we avoid the pitfall of following the teaching of men who "tickle our ears" rather than being taught by the Spirit of God?
Let us suppose Hodges and others are right. Even if you take his position along with so many other sincere Christian men and women, how do you know for certain that you are right? How is it that other sincere men of this generation such as MacAr'thur, David Hocking, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, J. I. Packer and J. Montgomery Boice are in such error? What about preachers of the past who must also be regarded as in error? What of C. H. Spurgeon who wrote:
As long as God lives, there can be no promise of mercy to those who continue in their evil ways and refuse to acknowledge their wrongdoing. Surely no rebel can expect the King to pardon his treason while he remains in open revolt. (Spurgeon in All of Grace)
Hodges would regard this statement as contrary to the gospel of pure grace. He would respond to this statement that "beneath the surface lies all the hideous fruits of this disastrous way of thinking" (Hodges, p. 18).
The Way to Truth
The ramification of this whole matter is chilling to me. How am I going to know what is right? If men far more qualified than myself cannot agree, where will I turn for help? How are we, the people in the pews, going to make decisions of faith and practice that have far-reaching implications? There is only one answer of course, we must turn to our Bible as the sole source of truth, it must be the pre-eminent authority over all that we believe. Let us now turn our attention to some practical ways this may be done.
The Proper Attitude toward Scripture
Thank God that He has given us His Bible. We are not at the mercy of so many voices that say this or that about the Bible. We have it readily available for us to read and study. We have at our fingertips a depository of truth that the Old Tes'tament saints, the earliest Christians, and even angels would have longed to possess (1 Peter 1:12). But what an affront to God if we neglect that which He has graciously placed in our hands. Surely, we are stewards of what He has given to us and therefore we are accountable before Him to use it wisely. His Word should be appreciated greatly, its contents searched studiously, and its truth loved supremely. Let us be as the Psalmist,
With all my heart I have sought Thee;
The Proper Attitude toward Our Teachers and Ourselves
One might assume from what we have considered that we should be very doubtful of the teachers and pastors of our church. That is not so! We should be doubtful of ourselves if our pastor challenges our understanding of Scripture! He has the concern and responsibility to lead us to truth. He is watching for our souls. The Lord Jesus gave him to us and set him over us (Eph. 4:11,12; 1 Pet. 5:1-4). We should pray that God speak to us through him and trust that the Lord is doing just that.
Do we only give due regard to what the pastor says if it agrees with us? When he presents Scripture as teaching something contrary to our understanding do we become uneasy, shift our seating, and whisper among ourselves:
How could he believe that?
If the Berean Christians were sitting in our pews they would respond to the pastor much differently than we tend to do:
Could the position I have held all these years be in error? Better students of the Bible than myself have been in error, I must study out the Scriptures to see if what my pastor is saying is true. Lord, if I am in error show me; open my eyes to the truth of your word that I might know whether or not I have been wrong!
But sadly, instead of the attitude of the Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily to see if the preacher's words were true, we tend to search the Scriptures (if we do at all) to prove the preacher wrong. Our attitude tends to be diametrically opposed to the attitude of the Bereans who were commended in God's Word (Acts 17:11).
Yes, the Scriptures are our final authority and all teaching must be filtered through its pages. But unless I know that Scripture upholds my belief, I will maintain a healthy skep'ticism of myself, and I will consider the words of my teachers and particularly my pastor with the utmost prayer and regard. Let us all have supreme confidence in the truth of Scripture, but let us be ever aware of how easy it is for us to deceive ourselves.
The Proper Approach to Scripture
As we have seen, educated, well-intentioned Christians, who acknowledge the Bible as the sole authority for faith, can arrive at very different conclusions. How then may we know that we can arrive at a correct understanding of Scripture? There are several ways this may be done. First, a humble, teachable spirit must be present. There must be an eagerness to learn and a will'ingness to consider positions which are presently in conflict with ours. This may seem strange, but it is so. Most Christians are not even aware of the pertinent issues of the day yet alone be able to reason through them Biblically. Furthermore, we must avoid the spirit which reacts and rejects others who may differ with us. We are not suggesting to yield to heretics, they must be refuted. However, let us remember, to show deference to one who may differ from us is not compromise; compromise is changing one's position simply to conform to others.
Second, sitting under expository preaching and teaching is of primary importance. The exposition of a text or entire book of the Bible will enable one to recognize the specific message of each book. If an isolated text is under study, special attention must be given to the context in which it is found. The message of each passage should be regarded as authoritative and the inclination to impose an understanding on the text based on another passage should be resisted. This is not to say that the clear teaching of other contexts should not be used as a means to give illumination to a text under study; however, many times the meaning of a text is distorted by the imposition of an interpretation from another source. This should be avoided. The importance of expository preaching and teaching should not be regarded as the dismissal of other types of sermons. We would not dismiss topical preaching out of hand any more than we would discard our systematic theologies. Topical sermons are an important tool in the pastor's tool chest, but the inherent dangers should be recognized--subjectivity in topic selection and the tendency toward using proof-texts.
Third, a self-directed study of individual Bible books using an inductive method is the best corrective to any and all error. Inductive Bible study such as is presented through Precept Ministries is the best way a church may lead its member'ship away from error into truth. The focus of an Inductive study method is the message of the Bible itself in its various books. To study the books of the Bible one at a time is to study them as they were originally given by the Lord to His churches, one at a time. This method involves hard work and much time, but it renders great benefit to the Christian. As we open our minds and hearts to the message of the Word, the Lord will fashion us and mature us according to His will.
Fourth, and most importantly, Christ must be sought; He is the Truth! Although a text of Scripture may not deal directly with the Lord Jesus, He must be the central motivation and object of Bible study. The study of Scripture alone may not bring spiritual benefit; this is because the person of Christ is not sought or discovered through the study. Christians are transformed by their deepening relationship to the Lord Jesus. The more one knows Him, the more one will experience peace, joy, and righteousness. If you come to know Him better, you will become transformed more completely. Before you study and as you study ask the Lord to reveal Himself, as well as the meaning of the text. Only in this way will your study be of lasting benefit to you.
The Proper Attitude Once Truth Is Discovered
Truth is to be highly treasured and appreciated as it is obtained. But truth itself brings both danger and responsibility. The greatest danger is the tendency to make it a test of fellowship among believers. Our fellowship is in Christ alone. When someone comes to Christ for salvation, having repented from sin and followed the Lord in baptism, we receive that one as readily as we would receive Christ Himself. Of course, the critical truths which are essential to faith in Christ must be acknowledged; nevertheless, we receive that one for Christ's sake. Truth is to be sought, found, treasured, and defended, but a Christian brother or sister may be in much error and still allowed to remain among us.
This brings us to our final point. Truth is not to be kept to oneself. Any truth that is received from the Lord should be regarded as a stewardship. We are responsible to the Lord to employ what He has given us in service to His people. It is required of stewards that we be found faithful. We are stewards of the Bible which He has given us, therefore we must learn its contents. But then we become stewards of what we learn from the Bible, therefore let us go forth and serve others with what truth we have. Let us take to heart the Apostle Paul's words: "If I have all knowledge, but do not have love, I am nothing."