Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Approaching God's Word

There is a Peanuts cartoon where Linus is shown lying on his stomach, reading a Bible. Lucy asks him what he is doing and he replies he is “looking for a Bible verse to back up my preconceived notions.” Unfortunately, this is all too commonly the way we approach Scripture. But if we are to live consistent with the idea that the Bible is the Word of God, capable of teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training us so we are equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16,17), we need to make it the authority in our lives. This means we start from what Scripture says and test other things by it. Otherwise, it makes it difficult for God to change us because we change Scripture to fit what we want it to say. James pictures the Word of God as a mirror which we look in to see our true self (James 1:22-25). But the question comes whether, having seen what we really are we change, or walk away and forget what we saw.   

But it is easy to take the world’s assumptions and read them into Scripture. For instance, our culture sees angels as the spirits of those who have died. They are pictured as having wings and white robes and sitting on clouds playing harps. They are not uncommonly pictured as cute. Scripture says angels are another part of God’s creation, distinct from human beings (Hebrews 2:5-16). They appear either in human form and not easily distinguishable from us (Genesis 19:1-11) or in complicated majestic forms (Ezekiel 1:4-21; 10:15-17). They are frequently so overwhelming that those who should know better are tempted to worship them (Revelation 22:8,9). This may seem a secondary issue, but I have seen the same principle at work in more crucial matters. For instance, I have seen people argue in favor of things clearly contrary to the Word of God, such as homosexuality (Romans 1:26,27) and racism (Acts 17:26).

There are things we can do to help avoid these types of errors. We should base our understanding on all of Scripture and not just a few odd verses. I am convinced that God is not shy, and the things He regards as important (such as what we must do to be saved) He says over and over again so we will get them. Also, we should understand issues based on the passages where God directly addresses them (for instance, in the case of salvation, the first half of Romans). If we find places which seem to conflict, frequently they reflect different aspects of the same truth and we need to ask how they fit together (for instance, James 2:14-26 is not explaining how to be saved, but what the results of salvation are in an individual’s life). But most of all, we should understand Scripture based on what it says, not what makes sense to us or what we have been taught. Only then will Scripture change us rather then us changing Scripture.

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