Does the Bible Work for You?Friday, November 11, 2011
I was talking with a friend about God using the circumstances in our lives to show us what’s in our hearts. For example, if the teenage boy’s drum playing next door angers you, it’s not that he’s making you angry. You actually have anger in your heart that God wants you to deal with and the drum playing simply exposes your problem. The Bible is clear that what we do flows from the heart (Lk. 6:45); it’s God Word that shows us our sin (Heb. 4:12); and it’s God’s Word that shows us how to deal with sin at the heart level. But my friend disagreed. He told me that those biblical principles just don’t work for him.
That’s a real issue: does the Bible work for you? My friend is not alone in his conclusion; there are many who have simply said the Bible doesn’t work for them. How then can we make it work?
First, take it for what it is: absolute truth revealed from God. The Bible is no mere religious book or simple collection of wisdom, good advice, or high ethical standards. It has those things but it’s much more than that; it’s God’s Word, so much so, when you read the Bible it’s as if Jesus Himself were in the room with you telling you what to think or do. The Bible trumps pop theology, man’s philosophy, political correctness, home-spun wisdom, the majority opinion of the culture, and everything else. It is God’s truth without any mixture of error.
Second, don’t judge the Bible by your experience. You may have studied economics, public policy, science, or any number of things. That’s good. But what you can’t do is read the Bible through the lens of what you’ve studied. On the contrary, you must study those things through the lens of Scripture. It’s the Bible that helps us to have the right view on economics for example, not the other way around. Too many people have twisted the Scriptures by getting this one principle backwards. Paul warns against being kidnapped by human wisdom (Col. 2:8).
Third, learn to interpret it properly. Often people conclude the Bible doesn’t work for them because they don’t understand it at a particular point. You can almost make the Bible say anything you want. But you must lay aside your preconceived notions as best you can when you come to Scripture. You then have to understand a text in its historical context. What did it mean to the original readers who lived in a very different time and culture than you? What is the background, tradition, and understanding they would have had in hearing this text? Remember, a text can never mean today what it never meant when it was written; it has only one meaning (though we may apply it in different ways). Beyond that you have to understand the type of literature you’re dealing with as the Bible contains different literary forms; you have to deal with the grammar; and you have to deal with the overall flow of the Biblical writer’s argument or point. Proper interpretation is not impossible, but it does take a little work.
Fourth, make sure you apply it to your heart. Paul says knowledge makes us prideful (1 Cor. 8:1). Even knowing the Bible can make us prideful if we don’t then take what we know and apply it. In other words, we have sin in our hearts. It’s the Word that shows us what that sin is and its opposite. If I have an anger problem, it’s not enough for me to know the Bible says the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God (Jas. 1:20). I have to deal with the anger in my heart by putting it off and replacing it with peace, joy, forgiveness, humility, and so forth. I do that by renewing my mind with the Bible (Rom. 12:1-2).
Fifth, see the importance and relevance of all of it to your life. The liberal pastor Harry Emerson Fosdick once said, “Only the preacher proceeds still upon the idea that folks come to church desperately anxious to discover what happened to the Jebusites.” His point was that people are not concerned about what happened to the Jebusites and preachers therefore should not be so concerned with Bible events but should rather focus on the felt needs of people. Well, that logic is flawed: felt needs are often not the same as true need. It is God who tells us what our true need is through His revelation (Bible events). We should be very concerned about what happened to the Jebusites and what God would say to us through them. Yes the Jebusites are ancient, but God’s revelation in connection to them is relevant today.
Sixth, submit to its authority even if you don’t understand. Sometimes when a person says the Bible doesn’t work, he means he doesn’t understand the Bible, how it applies to his situation, or the situation itself. He may mean the Bible confronts his sin and he doesn’t like that confrontation. Whatever the case, we must have a source of authority apart from ourselves. There are as many opinions or feelings about a thing as there are people on earth. How do we decide which opinion or feeling is right? We need God to tell us. He’s the Creator and it is His character from which flows that which is right and wrong. Therefore, even if we don’t understand what God is doing, or why something is right or wrong according to the Scriptures, we must accept it or find ourselves fighting against God. He knows best and has our best interest at heart.
Seventh find peace in God and what He says, not what’s happening in your life. You’ll never find peace if you don’t understand this one thing: God is not out to eliminate or remove the difficult circumstances in your life. Most people get mad at God or their circumstances because their focus is on the removal of the bad circumstances when that is not God’s focus at all. His focus is on you becoming more like Christ; on you putting His power on display by reacting well in the circumstances; on you finding peace in Him and not in happy circumstances. Life’s a mixed bag; good things and bad things happen. You have to find what’s constant and the only thing constant is God. Trust Him by trusting His Word no matter how you feel and you will have peace.
That’s how to make the Bible work for you. When you focus on God by focusing on His Word, then the world, your life, and your circumstances will begin to make more sense and they’ll make even more sense over time. The Bible will work for you because God will be at work in your heart. And you can thank Him for using the teenage drummer next door.
Dr. Paul Dean invites you to discover more about the role of Government, the role of the church, and the role of the market . . . and develop a Christian worldview. Dr. Dean is a pastor, cultural commentator, and author. Please visit http://www.governmentcurrentevents.com