In the last post we took a quick look at some of the problems there are concerning the issue of authority in our day. I mentioned that whether we are speaking of great institutions or the role of parents, it seems that there has been a decline in general respect or appreciation for authority. For a number of decades writers have commented that the general perception in our culture is, like the Book of Judges points out, people now regard themselves as autonomous agents doing as they please. It’s not necessarily a new problem… but it is prevalent and widely accepted as okay… even normal.
I also mentioned in the last post that we, as well as every age and culture, are in desperate need of a transcendent authority that does not blow with winds of change. We need an anchor to prevent us from helplessly drifting in the dark. And while I’m mixing metaphors, we need a sure compass that will always point us in the right direction. God’s word provides all that and more.
John Wesley beautifully expressed this idea. He wrote:
“I want to know one thing – the way to heaven, how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Only God is here.”
The Bible is authoritative and sufficient for us, Paul says, because it is God’s book. It is God-breathed. Some translations say “inspired,” but the N.I.V. gets it right. The idea is not that the Bible is inspired in the way we might say, “The actor in the play gave us an inspired performance.” Instead, the meaning of the phrase, “God-breathed,” literally means words breathed out by God. Paul is teaching us that the words of Scripture are literally God’s words to us. We have in Scripture precisely what God wants us to have – the way he wants us to have it.
And what did God, as John Wesley put it, condescend to teach us? Well, in addition to the way to heaven through Christ, Paul says that all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. We have been given Scripture for a reason. Paul is reminding us that Scripture is sufficient for all of our needs and should, therefore, be our comprehensive guide and authority for every sphere of faith and practice (the practice of life, by the way).
Reformed writer, R.C. Sproul, once shared the story of a time when he was preaching on the authority of Scripture. After the service was over he saw a familiar face walking toward him. It turned out to be his college roommate. Sproul had not seen him in years. His friend had gone to the mission field for three years after college and then came back to the U.S. to attend seminary in New York. Sproul had attended seminary in Pittsburgh and then went to Europe for doctoral studies. They had lost contact over the years.
Their reunion was a happy one, and they decided to catch up over dinner. During dinner, Sproul’s friend said to him,
“R.C., before we begin visiting, I want to tell you that I heard your sermon tonight where you affirmed your confidence in Scripture as our authority for life. But I have to tell you, after having been a missionary for three years where I learned about many other religious books, and after going to Seminary in New York and learning about biblical criticism, I don’t believe in the authority of Scripture anymore.”
Sproul said he was a bit surprised to hear his old friend say this, and so he asked him, “Well, what do you still believe?” His friend said, “Oh, I still believe that Jesus is my Savior and my Lord.” Sproul said he was delighted, of course, to hear that. However, his friend’s answer led Sproul to ask a follow-up question. “You say that Jesus is your Lord. Can you tell me how Jesus expresses his Lordship over you? That is, a Lord is someone who issues commands. How does Jesus, as your Lord, give you your marching orders?”
His friend said that it was through the church. Sproul responded by asking, “What church? The Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, the Lutheran church – what church?” His friend answered, “through the Presbyterian church.”
“Which Presbyterian church?” Sproul asked. “The one in New York or the one in Dallas or the one in Atlanta?” “The General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church,” his friend responded. Sproul followed by asking, “Which General Assembly, the one that voted one way last year, or the one that voted a different way this year?”. “Well, I guess I have a problem,” his friend conceded. “Yes,” Sproul said, “You have a Lord who is unable to exercise Lordship over you.” (from Sproul’s video: “Hath God Spoken?”)
Is Jesus your Lord? Is Jesus the authority over your life or is he unable to lead you? If he is your Lord, then let us say with John Wesley, “O give me that book! At any price, give the book of God! Here is knowledge enough for me.” Only the Spirit of God working through that book, the Bible, will lead you to Christ and real, abundant, and eternal life. Only that book and the Spirit of God working through it (and in you) will sanctify you, making you more and more like Jesus. In a world full of people and things competing for your allegiance, seeking to be your authority, there’s only one standard worthy to be your sure foundation. May it be for you the Word of God.
Grace and Truth,