Advice to the new (or old) believer, pt. 5

Part 5 in a series. Click for Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, and Part 4.

The Foundation: God’s Word

In the Evangelical Christian tradition, the primacy of God’s word (The Bible) is difficult to overstate. Sola Scriptura (scripture alone) was a rallying cry of the Reformation. In order words, “We are going to only trust the Bible for our understanding of God, not the Pope or the Catholic church.” Unfortunately, for some Evangelical Christians, this has gone so far that bible study and doctrine end up supplanting relationship with God. This can result in legalism and hypocrisy, as people “try harder” to be holy and live up to scriptural standards, begin comparing themselves to others in terms of how holy they are, but then can’t maintain it and end up living in shame and defeat.

On the other hand, among Christians that stress relational intimacy with God and the ministry of the Holy Spirit, there is often less emphasis on bible study. After all, they might think, “I know God personally, why do I need to constantly study this book about Him?”  Unfortunately sometimes this can lead to unbiblical ideas, as some believe they hear God leading when it is maybe just their own emotional neediness hearing what they want to hear.

So where is the balance?  It is through reading and studying God’s word that the believer is typically first introduced formally to God’s words and God’s character.  We get to know God through his word.  But what’s awesome about the Bible is that it tells us all these stories of people having relationship with God, not with a book.  If you examine the lives of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Paul, etc., you find that they walked by faith, with the Lord leading them, often directly and supernaturally, throughout their lives.  They modeled for us the life of faith.

So then, does this mean that the Bible is just merely a primer for us to learn about God, which we leave behind as we learn to have relationship with him directly?  No, far from it. Consider these points:

  1. First, the content of the Bible is so rich and deep, that one person cannot master it in their lifetime.  Our blessing and wisdom increase each time we drink deeply from it.  Even when I think I understand a passage, God constantly shows me new things.
  2. Second, God’s word is our anchor when our feelings our going crazy.  We go through phases where it is difficult to hear God’s voice and discern his leading.  Experience can be subjective.  God’s word in the Bible is a more objective standard to guide us.
  3. Third, God often speaks to us in our current circumstances though the Bible.  Have you ever been reading the bible when a certain verse burns itself into your heart?  I believe this is the Holy Spirit speaking to you directly.  But be careful here: don’t assume that what God gives to you is for everyone else also.  This often results in legalism or other weirdness.  When God speaks to your heart, it is for you.  If it’s for someone else, he will tell you that.
  4. Fourth, it is by God’s word that we “test” what we believe to be God’s leading.  If I feel like God is speaking to me about something, an unspoken question going through my mind is, “Is this word I am receiving consistent with what I know about God from the Bible?”  And here is the critical point: the less I know about the Bible, the more likely I am to make mistakes listening for God’s voice, and the more likely I am to be led astray.  Some people see this happening in others’ lives or other churches, and they throw the baby out with the bathwater.  Out of fear, they turn to the belief that God only speaks through the Bible, and end up turning faith into an intellectual exercise of understanding the Bible better than anyone else.

So the bottom line is that understanding of the Bible is critical for our faith.  It is our major source of knowledge about God and can be trusted (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  Study of it is essential for our spiritual growth, partly to help us identify God’s work in our own lives.  But let’s be careful that pride doesn’t come in and lead us to put our trust in our knowledge of the Bible (1 Cor. 8:1-3).  Faith is not intellectual mastery of a book, it is the passionate pursuit of its source (1 Cor. 2).

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  1. Advice to the new (or old) believer, pt. 4 « In the Heights

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