Of course, the great benediction and treasure of my life is to work with men and women who are a great joy to me and a great encouragement and a tremendous help. Rick leading that parade for a long time, many years been a part of my life and ministry—to my everlasting joy. Also a wonderful joy for me to be surrounded by others, and it seems one generation after another of folks—I kind of thought as I got older the church would get older, but amazingly as I’m getting older, the church is getting younger, which is greatly encouraging to me. I’m thankful for the fact that you young people are loving the Word of God and desirous of learning it even from somebody like me, many generations ahead of you. This is a great, great encouragement to my heart.
Now I’m very interested in this message this morning because I’m very interested to hear what I’m going to say. At this point, I’m not exactly sure how it will all come out, and that’s one of the great adventures of preaching. You can prepare your mind and prepare your heart and when you get into the moment, there is a serendipity in this, a sort of supernatural serendipity that takes me places that I never expected to go. And sometimes I say things that I’ve never even thought before. Those eureka moments, those divine, eureka moments are exciting and wonderful things. I don’t assume that will happen, but I do know my heart is full of more information that I can possibly give you and how the Spirit is going to mix that and fire it at you is a wonderful adventure for me to enjoy.
Going back to sort of our foundation at Resolved, Jonathan Edwards’ twenty-eighth resolution was this: “Resolve to study the Scripture so steadily, constantly and frequently that I may find and plainly perceive myself to grow in the knowledge of them.”
It is a curiosity that out of seventy resolutions the word “Scripture” only appears once and that is in the twenty-eighth resolution. Sixty-nine resolutions don’t mention the Scripture, but all sixty-nine are founded upon an understanding of Scripture. The Word of God is the source of all spiritual truth and the source of all spiritual blessing. Everything we need to know for salvation, sanctification, and the hope of glory is given us in the Scripture. We expect then that the Scripture will be under attack.
If the Scripture can be replaced or undermined, or misrepresented, or misinterpreted, or eliminated, all spiritual truth is lost. Everything comes down to one book—one book which contains all we need for life and godliness. So we’re not surprised when we turn to Genesis chapter 3—turn there with me, if you will—to find that the original assault that Satan makes on humanity deals with what God has said. In Genesis chapter 1, the serpent, Satan, approaches the woman with these words: “Indeed, has God said you shall not eat from any tree of the Garden?” This is the first question in history. Before this, there are no questions, only answers. There are no queries; there is no confusion; there are no doubts; there are no dilemmas. Satan introduces a question and the question is to question God. This is designed to start Eve on a path of questioning God, casting doubt on what God has said. And that is a very foundational temptation that is played out again and again and again in human history—and it is this, the temptation to subject what God has said to human judgment. God’s Word can be questioned. God’s Word should be questioned. And we have the right to sit in judgment on it, particularly if it is at all restrictive. “You shall not.” What is that? Why is there a “shall not” in the created Eden? What’s that about? Why is there a “shall not” in a perfect environment? Shouldn’t you ask God; shouldn’t you have the right to question God about a restriction? Can it be that somehow God is limiting you, limiting your freedom, putting some restraint on your joy? Isn’t God seem to you to be needlessly narrow?
This might even appear to be a flaw in God. In verse 2, “The woman says to the serpent, ‘From the fruit of the trees of the Garden we may eat, but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said you shall not eat from it or touch it, lest you die.’” God didn’t say that. God didn’t say, “Touch it”—she throws that in because she’s beginning to interpret the restriction. She’s now embellishing the prohibition. She is beginning to let go of trust in God’s goodness, and God’s wisdom, and she’s beginning to think that God has been restrictive, and she compounds that restriction.
God says you eat, you touch, you die. And then the serpent comes out with a full denial: “You surely shall not die”; God lied. You cannot trust what God said. He’s a liar; He is flawed; He is needlessly restrictive and narrow. And the immediate question is, “Well, why would He do that; why would He be that way?” And verse 5 answers it: “God knows that in the day you eat from it, your eyes will be opened and you’ll be like God. He is jealous and He is envious, and the day that you eat of that, you’re going to be like Him, and He doesn’t like that idea at all because He’s jealous.” You have got a serious flaw in the character of God now playing games with the mind of Eve.
She has now decided that God is needlessly restrictive. First of all, she decides you can question God, you can question what He said. He is needlessly restrictive. In fact, what He said may be an outright lie and it may be a protective lie in which He’s trying to keep you from becoming His equal because He doesn’t like that kind of competition. And so He has flat-out lied for some illegitimate, self-protective reason. She is now loosened up from her confidence in God. Verse 6, she sees that it’s good for food, delight to the eyes, desirable to make one wise—everything’s there, lust of the flesh, lust of the eyes, pride of life. She took from it, ate, gave to her husband, he ate—the whole human race fell.
The whole thing happened because she thought she had a right to question what God said. And it plummeted from there to thinking God did not speak the truth. You cannot trust what God says. That comes all the way down to us—you cannot trust the Bible. And it comes in many forms. I mean, if I were to just split up my little life, just kind of maybe split it up into pieces, I would say—and I never expected this when I came out of seminary, you know—it was like so many young guys. I wanted to preach and I wanted to pour my life into a church and be a shepherd and see what happened. I wanted to love my wife and raise my kids and just have a simple, normal life. And I never thought I’d be in an endless war. But as it turned out, when I came out of seminary, the battle was raging very hot on the issue of the authority of Scripture. Liberals had come along and denied the Scripture was inspired. They denied that it was authored by the Holy Spirit. They denied the fact that there was one divine author of Scripture. They said it was a human book, different people giving their spin on their religious experience. They denied the anologia scriptura of the Reformation. The Scripture was analogous to itself and consistent with itself. They denied inerrancy. I wound up on a council for ten years called The Council on Biblical Inerrancy. After ten years, a hundred people were involved in that. We came up with a Chicago Statement on Inerrancy—tremendous document—and out of that all kinds of books were written that are still staples to defend the inerrancy and the authority of Scripture.
But no sooner had that been set aside, then sort of the next decade of my life, psychology came into the church, and psychology didn’t even talk about Scripture’s inspiration—it just talked about Scripture’s lack of sufficiency. It redefined man as some kind of psychological being which put him outside the purview of Scripture, and he had to have psychotherapy before you could even begin to apply the Word of God. I remember being at a pastors’ conference and hearing somebody get up and give a message at the conference in which I was also speaking and said, “You can’t take people who have deep-seated anxieties and all kinds of problems and personal trauma and repressed memories, etc., etc., etc., and all kinds of addictions and just give them the Bible. They can’t even begin sanctification until they have had proper therapy.”
It just so happened in the following session I took issue with that, which created an interesting dialogue. But that was basically the idea that we have to deal with people therapeutically. The Bible is not sufficient—it is not sufficient to deal with psychological problems; it’s not sufficient to deal with sociological problems. I remember being in a debate with the leaders of the Metropolitan Homosexual Church. Troy Perry, who was the head of that church, who is a raging homosexual, who passed himself off as if he were a monogamous homosexual but had been arrested in Hollywood for all kinds of back alley trysts with various homosexuals, a very ugly situation. I was in the midst of a debate sponsored by Decision magazine—Sherwood Wert the editor at that time—and we were debating these kinds of issues, and their response to me was when I pointed out what the Bible said about homosexuality was that the Bible is psychologically, sociologically unsophisticated and it cannot be applied to contemporary life. It’s not really adequate for our time. And so those things were moving in evangelicalism extensively. And so the battle was over the sufficiency of Scripture—not the authority, but the sufficiency. Now we were talking about, “Does the Bible really apply to life in a dynamic way to accomplish everything that needs to be accomplished to transform people?” And I even wrote books and preached sermons all over the world on the sufficiency of Scripture.
No sooner had we sort of put that to rest, the next thing I knew comes the Seeker Movement, and all of a sudden they don’t want to talk about the Scripture’s sufficiency; they don’t even want to talk about the Scripture’s authority or inerrancy. The issue with them was the Scripture’s priority. They thought the Scripture didn’t need to be in the priority place. They just shuffled it out of the pulpit. They just pushed it aside and replaced it with entertainment and all kinds of trivial speeches. And so for a number of years I preached and wrote, and others along with it; and we began to attack that, and I put a book out, Ashamed of the Gospel, which addressed the fact that these people are not willing to bring the Word of God to bear upon the people who sit there week after week because they don’t believe that it holds the priority place, even though Psalm 138:2 says, “God has exalted His Word above His name.”
Well we attacked that. We fought that battle and I turned around not too long ago and there was another one. And the latest one, and I’m going to tell you young people, the latest battle is for the clarity of Scripture. The old word is the perspicuity of Scripture. The Emerging Church, which is a fast-growing movement, loves ambiguity—works really well for them. It fits in a post-modern world; it fits in a world where you can invent your own spirituality from the bottom up, rather than from the top down. Rather than a revelation from God, you have an intuition rising from man. It’s kind of spirituality without Scripture and without theology. And what these people are basically saying is, to sort of detach themselves from Scripture, is that the Bible is not clear. The Bible is not clear. You can’t really know what it means by what it says. The Emerging Church is really the product of what’s called “the hermeneutics of humility.” And that’s actually a term. The hermeneutics of humility goes like this: “Well, I am too humble to say that I know what the Bible means by what it says.” Come on, I would never be so proud, so arrogant, or so intolerant as to offer myself as the authority in interpreting the Word of God. I’m far too humble to say that I know what the Bible means by what it says.”
This is a very, very rapidly developing movement. John Armstrong, the head of Reformation and Revival—of all possible names for an organization—wrote this: “Certitude is often idolatrous. I have been forced to give up certitude. If there is a foundation in Christian theology, it is not found in Scripture. Theology must be a humble, human attempt to hear God; never is it about rational approaches to texts.”
What in the world is he saying? Certitude? I give up. Certitude? You’re a real help. We’re going to call on you ’cause you can come and tell us nothing about anything. If there’s a foundation in Christian theology, it’s not found in Scripture—if there’s a foundation, which is to imply that maybe there isn’t. This is paganism. Brian McClaren, who is the, I guess, sort of self-appointed guru of the Emerging Church says, “Clarity is sometimes overrated. Shock and ambiguity often stimulate more thought than clarity. So let’s be ambiguous and shocking, rather than clear.”
From another generation, but equally weighing in on this, Lesslie Newbigin: the gospel is not a matter of certainties. From another generation, but equally weighing in on this, Lesslie Newbigin: the gospel is not a matter of certainties. This is what we’re dealing with today, folks. In this post-modern world, we are dealing with people who conveniently say the Bible’s not clear—it’s ambiguous, and they like it that way. It’s so ambiguous that I just read a book last week in which the writer of the book says, “In our church”—he’s an Emerging Church leader—“in our church we would welcome homosexuals as members. Homosexuals living together in homosexuality, we would welcome them as members. Why not? We let fat people in and people who like chocolate. Why not?”
The Bible is not, from our viewpoint, ambiguous about homosexuality. But you can make it conveniently ambiguous if you want to tolerate those kinds of things. This is part of the new spirituality. It’s a spirituality without propositional truth. It’s a spirituality without theology. But it’s not biblical Christianity. Now we are in a war for the clarity of Scripture. I will tell you, it’s always been important to rightly divide the Word of truth, right? It’s always been important to interpret the Bible correctly. Now that is being abandoned as a pointless exercise, since it’s ambiguous to start with.
Let me give you a little thing to keep in mind. The meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture. The meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture. If you don’t know what it means, you don’t have the message. You understand that? You just put down a Bible and ask a Mormon, “Do you believe the Bible?” Yes. Ask a Jehovah’s Witness, “Do you believe the Bible?” Yes. It’s not about that in a generic sense. It is a matter of what it means by what it says and, mark it, the meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture. If you don’t know what it means, you do not have the revelation of God. Then, you know, people will go to a Bible study and somebody will open a Bible, read a verse, and say, “What does that mean to you?” Nobody cares what it means to you. What would it mean if you didn’t exist? What would it mean if you were dead? What would it mean if you had never been born? Who cares what it means to you. I want to know, What does it mean to God who wrote it? What was He saying? He wasn’t saying everything; and He wasn’t saying nothing. He was saying something, and what He was saying is critical—and that is why you must be diligent to rightly divide the Word of truth, and this isn’t easy. You have to have the meaning of the Scripture so you can get the message. And to just say, “Well, it’s all ambiguous and it’s all unclear. We can’t know what it means. There are all kinds of interpretations. And if you interpret it one way, you are arrogant, and you are intolerant, and you are heavy handed, and you are divisive, and you’re dogmatic, and you’re doctrinaire, and we reject all of that in a spirit of love.”
Look, you can’t even be saved without an accurate interpretation of Scripture because according to 1 Peter 1, “We are begotten again by the Word of truth.” You certainly can’t be sanctified without a proper interpretation of Scripture. Jesus in His High Priestly Prayer in John 17:17 said, “Sanctify them by Thy truth, Thy Word is truth.” It is the Word that saves, the Word that sanctifies. And the Word rightly understood—the meaning of the Scripture is the Scripture. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God so that we can be brought to full maturity—salvation—and then full maturity.
Let me show you how important this is, and I’m just going to kind of follow my heart here a little bit. I’m not giving you a sermon; I’m just talking to you. So don’t be looking for points. And I will throw one poem in, just so you feel at home.
I want you to look at 2 John, 2 John; this is just to help you get a little bit of a focus here. This is a postcard epistle. There are three of them at the end of the New Testament. They’re all tucked in the shadow of Revelation, and sometimes the shadow obscures them and that’s too bad. Because when the New Testament comes to its end, God who laid it all out this way makes a final statement that is unmistakably critical. Before the final book, which tells us the prophetic future, before we look down the path at the end of all things and the return of Christ and the New Heaven and the New Earth and the eternal state, before it all comes to an end, there is a very important, final message delivered in these little postcard epistles that could have been written on one sheet. Here’s the message.
“The elder, John, to the chosen lady”—some lady; her name isn’t given, but this is not speaking of the church as if it were a lady. This is a woman; this is a letter to a lady who is elect and her children. Now follow this. “The elder, to the chosen lady and her children whom I love in truth and not only I, but also all who know the truth for the sake of the truth which abides in us and will be with us forever. Grace, mercy and peace will be with us from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father in truth and love. I was very glad to find some of your children walking in truth, just as we received commandment to do from the Father.”
Now what would you say is the theme of that introduction? This is about truth. It’s about loving in the truth. It’s about knowing the truth. It’s about the priority of the truth. It is about the truth that is connected to love, and it is about walking in the truth. And love, verse 6, is always connected to truth. “This is love that we walk according to His commandments.” And, on the other side, beware; verse 7, ”Many deceivers have gone out into the world who do not acknowledge the truth about Jesus Christ coming in the flesh. This is a deceiver and an Antichrist.” Watch out for people who mess with the truth, or you’re going to get connected to them, verse 8, you’re going to lose some of your reward. If anybody shows up and goes beyond the truth, or doesn’t come to the truth concerning Christ, have nothing to do with that person. Don’t even let him in your house, don’t even wish him Godspeed or you’re going to wind up partaking in his evil deed. Wow!
The last message in the New Testament is stand for the truth. Live it, love it, walk in it. Third John, the next letter, a little postcard written to a man. This time the man is named Gaius. But notice, “The elder to the beloved Gaius whom I love in truth.” Verse 3, “I was very glad when brethren came and bore witness to your truth.” What do I mean by that? That is how you’re walking in truth. “And I have no greater joy than this, to hear of my children walking in the truth.” Boy, there is a pastor’s passion right there. Walking in the truth. Verse 8, “We support the kind of men who are faithful because we want to be fellow workers with the truth.” Verse 12, “Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself.” You know what? Demetrius can be measured up to the truth and it’s a perfect match. And we know your witness is true also. It’s true, true, truth, truth, truth, truth.
And then you come to Jude, and you know what? Second John, Third John, affirm the truth—affirm the truth, affirm the truth—and then Jude is a warning epistle. Verse 3, “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write to you about our common salvation.” Have you ever done that? Have you ever just said...you know, you’re going to write a letter to somebody, and you sit down, you take out your little paper and, Dear Sam—ah—Do you do that? I made every effort. I did my...I want to write about our common salvation. This is going to be an encouraging...I don’t know if you guys do this, but as a preacher there are some Sundays when I say, “I just need to be encouraging. I’ve been polemic; I’ve been battling; I’ve been passionate. These people, you can’t just pound all the time. So I just need to be encouraging.”
Well that’s where Jude was. He’s saying, “I wanted to just write about our common salvation.” Isn’t it wonderful? Let’s just have a love fest around the glory of our salvation. But he said, “I made every effort to do it and I kept throwing it in the trash.” Why? “Because I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you can contend earnestly for the faith.” We aren’t even going to have a common salvation if we don’t go to war. Wow! It’s called a battle. “It’s for certain people have crept in unnoticed.” In where? In the church. These people are ungodly, licentious, and they deny a biblical Christology. They’re spiritual terrorists. They’re embedded in the church. Terrorists—that’s a new kind of warfare we’re finding out. What makes them so much more deadly than conventional soldiers is that they’re hidden, secret, embedded, and they don’t mind blowing themselves into eternity to take you there, too.
Well that’s a pretty good description of Paul’s teachers. They’re embedded. They’re religious. And they’re willing to blow themselves into hell to take you there. You can say all you want to say about the truth, and you could wish that we could just relish the truth and just rejoice in our common salvation, but we aren’t going to have a common salvation if we’re not willing to earnestly fight for that faith. The battle’s not easy. These people down in verse 12 are hidden reefs in your love feast, like a reef that sinks a ship. They feast with you without fear. They care for themselves. They offer nothing. They’re clouds without water, carried along by winds. Autumn trees without fruit, doubly dead, uprooted, wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam. Wandering stars for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever. Pretty graphic description of false teachers, wouldn’t you say? Who deny the clear teaching of the Word of God. They’re going to be judged, and they’re going to be judged severely.
Well, enough of that. The point is, we have got a serious battle on our hands. I want to read you a quote from Martin Luther, listen to this. “If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the Word of God, except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ however boldly I may be professing Him.” He went on to say, “Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proven and to be steady on all battlefronts beside is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
You’ve got to fight the battle where it rages. And right now, the battle rages on the clarity of the Word of God. The Word of God is authoritative. The Word of God is sufficient. The Word of God is the priority. And the Word of God is absolutely clear. Yet we have an avalanche of teachers pouring into quote/unquote Christianity who are implying that even believers cannot comprehend the Scriptures. You can’t be certain about anything. Don’t worry about it, just live your life in a nice, kind, happy way and think good thoughts toward God and toward Jesus and follow your own spiritual intuition. Scripture is hopelessly ambiguous; God has not spoken plainly enough. You find an outright denial of supernatural elements—that is the authorship of the Holy Spirit, really is a neo-liberalism. It would deny the clear statement, for example, of 1 John 5:12, “These things I’ve written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know...that you may know.”
How can the sinner be held responsible for the revelation of God in creation? How can the sinner be held responsible for the law of God written in his heart and his conscience and not be held responsible for the understanding of the revelation of God in Scripture if he’s with excuse for that which is revealed in creation and conscience? Believe me, he is doubly without excuse for that which is revealed in Scripture. It is clear; it is not ambiguous. God has not delivered an obscure and incomprehensible revelation. This isn’t allegory. This isn’t myth. This isn’t Gnosticism. This isn’t Kabala. The problem with understanding Scripture is not due to its ambiguity, but to the corruption of their own sinful minds.
Let me give you the real story. Turn to John 3. I was going to say this a little later, but I’ll say it now ’cause I might not say it, think to say it later. I think this puts it where it needs to be put. John 3, verse 19, “And this is the judgment that light has come into the world.” The revelation of God is always seen as light, not only the incarnation of Christ, who is the light of the world, but the revelation of God’s Word as well. Light is come into the world. It is light, that is, it’s clear; it reveals; it discloses. God’s Word is not darkness. It is not muddled. It is not hidden. It is not obscure. It is not ambiguous. It is light. It is come into the world, and here’s the problem, “Men love the darkness rather than the light because their deeds were”...What?...“were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light. Doesn’t come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed.”
You know what the problem with these people is? The Bible is clear but they don’t like what it clearly says because their deeds are evil and they hate the revelation that exposes them. On the other hand, verse 21, “He who practices the truth, comes to the light that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.” I can’t get the Word fast enough. I can’t run to the light soon enough. I want to go to the light and live in the light and stay in the light all the time. I want to expose everything I am at all times to the light of the Word of God—all its revelations I cherish as precious to me. These people, the light shines on them and they run from the light and claim ambiguity ’cause they cherish the darkness of their own sins.
When Jesus came, He never said this to the Jewish people, “Hmm...you don’t understand the Scripture. Well I can understand that. The Old Testament’s really tough. Scripture’s really not too clear.” You know what He said to them? “Have you not read, have you not heard.” He even said, “Have you never read in the Scriptures” (Matthew 21:42) or, “You are wrong because you neither know the Scriptures nor the power of God.” And the assumption is if you read it, you’d know what it said.
It’s not obscure. They should have been able to fully understand the Old Testament as written as light. Think about the New Testament. Corinthians starts like this, “To the church of God which is at Corinth.” Galatians: “To the churches of Galatia.” Philippians: “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi with the bishops and deacons.” Paul assumes I’m writing you a letter—Scripture—that you are going to read and understand, and He is simply encouraging them to read it, pass it along. “When this letter has been read among you, have it read also to the church of the Laodiceans and see that you read also the letter from Laodicea. Read this letter. Take in the information. Pass it on. Get one from them. Pass it around.” And by the way, these letters were written to Gentiles—the New Testament epistles written at large proportions of Gentiles who had no Old Testament understanding whatsoever, no previous background in any kind of Christian society. They weren’t raised in fundamentalism. They had no prior understanding of history, no biblical world view, knew nothing about Israel, and yet they were written to them—profound doctrinal theological treatises with no hesitancy on the part of the author to read it and understand it and to get it right.
And Paul even told the Corinthians, “Read the Old Testament and you’ll understand that First Corinthians 10, all that was written to lay out examples for you for how you now to live. The Word of God is clear. It is not ambiguous and people who say it is are trying to run from the light. All right, now since divine truth is so critical, that’s why it’s being attacked from Eve on—question God, question God—you have a right; sit in judgment. Did He really say that? Did He mean that? If we’re going to know the truth that saves and the truth that sanctifies, we have to hear God speak and to interpret it accurately—the meaning is the Scripture.
I want to tell you three things that have to happen in your life. These are very personal to me. These are the three things that work in my life through the Word. Number one is cognition. This is a little outline, cognition. You must begin by knowing what Scripture means. You have to know what it means. It’s the discipline of putting propositional truth drawn out of a right interpretation of Scripture into your mind. You may be...some of you sitting and saying, “You know, all of my sort of heroes are, you know, are my pastor, and my church is cool, and this band, and that band and I come here and you guys are talking about the people that lived 200 and 300 and 400 and 500 years ago. What’s the deal?”
Let me tell you something. The Bible cannot be, must not be, interpreted today any differently than it was 200 years ago, 300, 500 or 2,000. It means what it has always meant. It will never mean anything other than what it was intended to mean when it was originally written, and it is interpreted accurately the same way through all of human history. Those men in the past read it, they understood it, and they passed it along, and passed it along, and passed it along—and if you’ve got a new spin on it, and if you’re writing a new book to tell everybody that the doctrine of justification isn’t what we’ve always thought it is, and God isn’t who we’ve always thought He is, then I don’t believe you. Don’t tell me God doesn’t know the future, that’s what Openness Theology says. God has no clue about the future; He doesn’t know what’s happening until it happens. Cause it hasn’t happened, how could He know what doesn’t happen? So you don’t think God knows the future? No, He doesn’t know the future. He is just trying to adjust to what’s going on like everybody else.
Why would you come up with a silly view like that? Try to get God off the hook so He doesn’t have to be responsible for all the bad stuff going on in the world, a warped view of God. That’s what’s being offered in Openness Theology. And then the Emerging Church comes along and says, “Not only does God not know what’s happening in the future, but even what’s happening now He can’t communicate clearly.” Wow, that’s some kind of God. He’s not omniscient and somehow He’s disabled in communication. Watch out for all that stuff. The reason we go back is because the interpretations that historically occurred from the apostolic era on were always consistently the same as intended by God. You can go back and read the early church fathers. One generation after the apostles they were writing treatises and apologies and epistles dealing with that truth.
You have to come to the Word of God and understand that it is consistently to be interpreted the same way. People today have more information than ever. I mean, it’s just mindboggling. There’s more information than ever and less deep thinking than ever.
People say to me, “You know, you’ve got to be nuts preaching an hour in your church. People can’t tolerate that.” Which is ridiculous—of course they can. It’s not a toleration; it’s a joy to hear the Word of God proclaimed. Everybody in this society is used to the superficiality, surfeited kind of shallow consideration about things that need to be deeply thought about. Van Til said it many years ago, the great apologist, he said, “We need not just information but interpretation and accurate interpretation is always the same.” So what you’re in need of to begin with is cognition. You have to have your mental faculties wrapped around a right interpretation of Scripture. Sadly, the fastest growing, largest churches in Christianity are built on shallowness. The church has become like a Christian comic. The church is like a People magazine version of information. It’s a pop church. And I agree; we are counter-culture. We are counter-culture. We go completely against the grain of what is superficial and trivial. And I know this, young people. Many of you are struggling in your own church and you may be viewed as a problem person because you want more, you crave more, you hunger for more, you’re frustrated at what you’re not hearing and not being told. A kind of anti-intellectualism prevails and produces a sort of self-indulgent, theologically indifferent, entertainment-oriented, feel-good kind of environment where there is really no deep grasping with divine truth. And that’s what drives us backwards, see. We’ve got to go back until we find that.
J.P. Moreland wrote, “The mind is the soul’s primary vehicle for making contact with God.” The mind, it plays. He writes, “The foundational role in the process of maturation and spiritual formation. You must have a renewed mind.” Bishop Moule, words from a hymn, “Lord and Savior, true and kind, be the master of my mind. Bless and guide and strengthen still, all the powers of thought and will. While I ply the scholar’s task, Jesus Christ be near, I ask. Help the memory, clear the brain, knowledge still to seek again.” That’s exactly it.
Mary—C.J. talked about her the other night—Mary was sitting at the feet of Jesus, and Jesus said, “She has chosen the better part.” This foundation is absolutely critical; you must know the Word of God. Uncertainty is not a mark of intellectual superiority. It is not a mark of greater love and broader tolerance. It is a way to cut yourself off from the saving, sanctifying power of divine revelation. It is not arrogant to say you know what the Bible teaches. It is not arrogant to say I stand on the great interpretations of the great leaders of the past. It is the most unabashed and hypocritical arrogance to plop yourself on a proud perch labeled “humility” and be some self-styled skeptic sitting smugly, sneering in condescent not only at those who teach sound doctrine, but at all the generations of illustrious preachers of sound doctrine through the ages who studied and lived and taught and sometimes died for the truth they clearly knew and preached.
Don’t call that humility. You couldn’t find a more egotistical perspective than to say God isn’t clear and all the people who ever lived, who died for the truth that they thought was clear, were fools. Cognition, precision, know the truth; Paul told Timothy, “Understand it, guard it, protect it, it’s a treasure.” First Timothy chapter 6, verse 20, “O, Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to you.” Hold on to it; protect it from all the endless attacks. If anybody advocates a different doctrine, a different truth, do not agree—that does not agree with sound words, those of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the doctrine conforming to godliness, he is conceited and understands nothing. Anybody who assaults sound doctrine, the affirmations, the propositions that come out of the right interpretation of Scripture, he is proud, he is conceited, he understands nothing. Why would he be like that? It arises out of envy, strife, etc., etc., etc.
We have a battle on our hands for clarity in Scripture. Nothing new, by the way; just a little hint—Roman Catholic Church. The Roman Catholic Church denied the perspicuity of Scripture, denied the clarity of Scripture. The Roman Catholic Church always said, “The sense of Scripture can never be discerned by any person; it’s too difficult, too obscure, too oblique. People can’t understand it. The Church therefore becomes the only infallible interpreter of Scripture. You don’t need to give the people the Bible—keep it out of their hands; don’t let them get it. When they come to the church, talk to them in Latin, go through some holy motions, quasi-holy motions; but don’t expect the people ever to understand the Word of God. They can’t. The church then becomes the only interpreter of it that is authoritative and accurate.
By the way, this is a very effective ploy that Satan used to sustain the false church through the Dark Ages, by keeping people away from reading the Scripture and understanding it accurately because that would threaten the system. Turretin wrote, “Having concealed the candle under a bushel, the church reigned in darkness more easily.”
Then Martin Luther began to look deeply into the Scripture and the light of Scripture began to shine in the darkness. And the light became so bright that the Reformation took place and the truth was rescued, brought back to prominence. Amazing, isn’t it, to think that the so-called evangelicals today want to revert to the Dark Ages, and they’re saying exactly what Rome said, that the Bible is incomprehensible—only an even worse way because even the church can’t get it right. So there is no true interpreter of Scripture. So let’s invite the homosexuals and the people who are fat and like chocolate.
“Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet and a”...What?...“a light to my path.” Ignorance is dispelled by the truth. Take you back to Romans 10 for a minute. In case you’re wondering, I’m going to give you three points, but the last two are briefer than the first one. But I just...this is a good illustration, I think. Paul expresses a deep profound heartache, verses 1 and 2, Romans 10: “My heart’s desire prayer to God for Israel is for their salvation.” He says, “I bear them witness, they have a zeal for God.” The problem is, it’s not according to knowledge. It’s a big problem. This, I think would define a whole lot of religion. All other than the true faith would be a zeal for God without the right knowledge. There’s no premium on that, folks. That is not where you want to be.
Now what is it that concerns Paul? They lack knowledge, they lack knowledge. What don’t they know? Well, let’s look at verse 3. First of all, “Not knowing about God’s righteousness.” First of all, they don’t know how righteous God is. They don’t know how righteous God is. We were talking about that earlier—Steve was talking about it, I was talking about. We all affirm that everything begins with a right understanding of God. They didn’t have a right understanding of God. The only right understanding of God that is critical for you to understand both holiness, sin, righteousness and judgment, as well as grace and mercy to understand God…they didn’t understand God. They didn’t know God was, is, as righteous as He is. To understand the righteousness of God, the absolute holiness of God, the infinite perfection of God is critical. They didn’t know that. So therefore they didn’t understand issues of holiness and sin and judgment, etc. They didn’t understand grace and mercy and forgiveness in the light of the full grasp of the righteousness of God.
Secondly, not only did they not know about God’s righteousness, it says they were seeking to establish their own righteousness. Secondly, they didn’t know about their own sinfulness. They had a warped theology proper and a warped anthropology. They were wrong about God and they were wrong about themselves. They thought God was less righteous than He was, they were more righteous than they were, so they could meet God on their own terms. They had a low view of God and a high view of man, instead of a high view of God and a low view of man. They didn’t know other things.
They, verse 4, didn’t know that Christ was the end of the law for righteousness. That is to say, they didn’t understand the death of Christ; they didn’t understand how Christ brought the end of the law’s tyranny by dying a substitutionary death. That’s what’s implied there. They didn’t know who God was in terms of His holy perfections. They didn’t know who they were in terms of their utter inability to do anything to please God. And they didn’t know what Christ had done to bring an end to the tyranny and the condemnation of the law. They didn’t have the right theology proper, anthropology, Christology. This is a big problem.
Well that’s not all. The end of verse 4, they didn’t know that Christ was the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. They didn’t know that all of this is accessed by...What?...not by works but faith. They were wrong about faith. They were wrong about a lot of other things. But the word of faith was the key thing. They didn’t know that if you confess with your mouth, verse 9, Jesus is Lord and just believe in your heart God raised Him from the dead, you’ll be saved. They didn’t know that that was good for Jew and Gentile, verse 12; there’s no distinction between Jew and Gentile. Same Lord is lord of all, abounding in riches for all who call upon Him. Whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved. They didn’t understand the inclusiveness and the exclusiveness of the gospel. They didn’t get any of it.
So what’s the remedy? Do they live in their ambiguity? Is it okay to be ambiguous? Is it okay not to know? Verse 13, “How are they going to call on Him in whom they haven’t believed? How are they going to believe in whom they haven’t heard? How are they going to hear without a preacher? How are they going to preach unless they’re sent?” We have to get them the right knowledge about God, about man, about Christ, about faith, about the extent of the gospel and to whom it applies. All that has to be given to them because, verse 17 says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word.”
To tell a whole generation of preachers that the whole deal is ambiguous is ludicrous. It is no different than Satan arriving in the Garden and saying, “Did God really say that? God didn’t say that.” That’s a satanic ploy. That whole movement is satanic if it questions the clarity of Scripture. It is blow struck at God’s heart as if God can’t communicate what He intends to say and at the same time then holds us responsible for believing what isn’t even clear. What kind of God is that? That’s not the God of the Bible. Therefore that’s a blasphemy of God.
Now if I seem a little exercised on this subject, war is better than peace. There are some hills to die on and this is one. Cognition. Let me say something about the second word, conviction, conviction. Once you understand what the Bible means, what you understand these great theological truths, your knowledge will move to conviction. This progresses from knowing the truth to believing the truth. This is when the truth begins to get on fire in your heart. It becomes a convulsion and it starts moving your will and it moves your emotion. And it moves your action and you’re singing songs up there and as you’re singing those songs and you’re reading those great lines that describe the nature of God or describe the horror of our sinfulness and the glory of the doctrine of justification, you’re welling up inside because you get it.
Second Corinthians would be a place to look for a minute. Second Corinthians 4—may cost you something—when we talk about, when Steve talks about having blood on your uniform, it wasn’t the knowledge alone that caused these people to go to the extremity they went to—it was the conviction. It wasn’t that they knew it; it was that they owned it, that they believed it. And so it informed not just their mind but their will and their emotion and their action. Pay a price; look at verse 8, “We’re afflicted in every way” (2 Corinthians 4:8); just pick up the painful part. “We are afflicted, we are perplexed, persecuted, struck down”...verse 10...“always carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus.” That’s not a mystical Kasich experience. That simply means, you know, every day there were people out trying to take our lives. Verse 11 says it, “Constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake.” Verse 12, “Death works in us.” And somebody is going to say to Paul, “Why don’t you back off? Cool your jets, man.” When Paul went to a town, he didn’t ask about the hotel, he asked about the jail—that’s where he was going to stay. “Why do you do this? You just go from one disaster to the next, one crisis to the next. One escape after another, after another, after another. Why do you do this?”
Every day that he woke up he knew that one of the plots that was surrounding his life and trailing him could have hatched and he would have been done. Why do you do this? Verse 13, here it is: “I have the same spirit of faith according to what is written”...back in Psalm 116...“I believed”...I love this...“therefore”...What?...“I spoke.” How simple is that? So we believe, so we speak. But you might die. That’s okay, verse 14, “Knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also.” The worst that can happen, we die. And that’s the best. Look, I believe and I speak. What else can I say?
Why do you do that? Because I believe and I speak. And we talked about conscience last year. Told you about Bunyan who was so held by conviction that they said if he would stop preaching, he could walk out of a jail any day. And he was in there for twelve years and he could have walked out any day. He said, “I would make of my conscience a butchery and a slaughter shop. I would rather suffer till the moss grows on my eyebrows.” Conviction, conviction.
And once you become a person of conviction, you’ve just put on your uniform and you’re in the battle and you’re a soldier and you’re going to fight and you’re going to uphold the truth, and you’re going to defend it and earnestly contend and guard it. But it doesn’t end there. There’s a third word that I want to have you think about—it’s affection, it’s affection. You go from cognition to conviction, and the real high point is affection.
This is not a grind to me. It is not some kind of a mandate. I am not driven purely by this sense of conviction. I’m not angry. I’m not unhappy. In fact, as one well-known preacher introduced me one time, he said, “MacArthur is really much nicer in person than he is in his books.” I understand that because my books spell out my conviction. But when he met me, I guess in his mind a much nicer guy than I appeared. I just want you to know. I understand the war. I understand the battle. I am passionate. I am a man of conviction. But I’m also a man that is dominated by a love that literally overwhelms me at all times, and it is a love for the truth and the God revealed in this revelation. I have profound affection. I am a man in love. And that moderates my demeanor and my attitude in the midst of the war. And I am in love with the God revealed in the Word. I live in Psalm 1:2, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, who sits in the seat of the scornful, nor walks in the way of sinners and sits in the seat of the scornful, but his delight is in the law of the Lord. And in His law he meditates day and night.” That’s my delight. And I’m like that tree planted by the rivers of waters and I flourish.
I guess sometimes people think if you’re doctrinal and you’re strong, you must be miserable and some kind of a grinding person...unhappy. “I have found the law of the Lord,” Psalm 19:10, “more desirable that gold, and much fine gold; sweeter also than honey from the honeycomb.”
Rick Holland, who lately has been telling me what to preach and he’s right—he knows what I should preach. Tells me that I should preach a whole series on Psalm 119, and if I tell the people I’m going to do that, they’ll know most of them will never live to the end. So I’m going to have to sneak up on them. Now, Steve, you’re preaching 25 or 26 messages in Psalm 119, but Psalm 119 is about delighting; it’s about the affection for the Word. Look at Psalm 119, obviously we can’t look at all of this, a hundred and seventy-six verses, but just some points of contact. Verse 16, “I shall delight in Thy statutes”; verse 24, “Thy testimonies also are my delight”; verse 35, “Make me walk in the path of Thy commandments for I delight in it”; verse 47, “I shall delight in Thy commandments which I love”; verse 48, “I shall lift up my hands to Thy commandments which I love.”
I understand all that; so do some of you. “The law of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.” Verse 92, “If Thy law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction”; ninety-seven, “O how I love Thy law”; one eleven, “Thy testimonies are the joy of my heart”; one thirteen, “I love Thy law”; one twenty-seven, “I love Thy commandments”; verse one forty, “Thy Word is very pure, therefore Thy servant loves it”; one fifty-nine, “And consider how I love Thy precepts”; one sixty-one, “My heart stands in awe of Thy words”; one sixty-five, “Those who love Thy love have great peace”; verse one sixty-seven, “My soul keeps Thy testimonies and I love them exceedingly.”
The process of spiritual maturity, you start with knowing what it means and then you move to believing it so that it becomes a conviction. And then all of a sudden you wake up one day and it’s become an affection. Job says, “I’ve treasured Your words more than my necessary food. Boy, especially when you’re going through suffering.
We were with John Piper last week, and in his inimitable way he was telling us that he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer and wanted us to pray, and we did. He was talking about dealing with those issues and he said, “Well, when they tell you you have cancer, you can’t turn to the music, the band isn’t going to help you. You better have some convictions about the propositions of Scripture.” That’s what Job was saying. “In the midst of my suffering, I treasured Your words more than my necessary food.”
I feel like that baby in 1 Peter 2:2, “as babes, desire the pure milk of the Word that you may grow by it.” The picture is in the same way a baby wants milk, that’s how you want the Word. You can never get enough of it. A baby is a singular individual. I mean, mother cares about the curtain and the carpet and the bed and the foo-foo and the stuff that’s around the baby. The baby says, “Give me milk; deal with the consequences; give me more milk.” That’s it. It’s a very simple life—keep the milk coming; give me more. This is like Psalm 42:1, “In the same way that a deer pants after a water brook, so my soul pants after You, O my God.”
Well, we live according to the Word and Jesus said, “ Not by bread alone but by”...What does it say?...“every word that proceeds out of God’s mouth.” Every word is pure. Every word gives life.
Will you join me, young people, in the battle where it rages the hottest? Will you be a faithful warrior for the truth? We need a whole generation to stand up for the authority, the sufficiency, the priority, and the clarity of God’s Word. Do not join those who have fallen into the trap of Eve and believe they have the right to sit in judgment on the Word of the living God. Take your place with those. God has had them all His history who stand on the Word unwavering.
Our Father, we thank You for a wonderful time contemplating the glories of Your truth and we feel like little kids at the beach with a bucket full of water looking at the ocean stretching beyond. We haven’t even tapped a tiny drop of the glory of this revelation. But we have enough to know that it is the greatest treasure we have ever received. Help us to maximize this gift for our own blessing and the blessing of all those to whom we proclaim its truths. Seal all the good things that we have heard. Drive them deep into our hearts. May we never be the same because we’ve shared these days together. And we’ll give you all the glory and all the praise in Your Son’s name. Amen.