Today we begin a series of studies into the foundations of our faith. Over the next couple of months we will be studying some of the foundational principles and teachings which guide our faith and practice.
One of the things most lacking among Christians today is a firm grasp of the doctrinal truths. Now, I know, when someone mentions the word doctrine, many things come to mind. For some the very word conjures up images of stuffy classrooms where men in bad tweed suits drone on endlessly about theological minutia. For others, doctrine is frightening because they feel that they are somehow academically inadequate to grasp the complexities of theology. And for others doctrine is well and good but to them it seems far removed from their everyday experience where they struggle to live out their faith in practical ways.
But nothing could be further from the truth. Doctrine teaches us how to think and how we think always determines how we act. If we do not think right we cannot act right. Doctrine is the foundation whereupon our practice is built.
The Bible tells us that Jesus preached doctrinally. Matthew 7:28 says that after Jesus finished preaching the Sermon on the Mount, that the people were astonished at His doctrine (teaching).
Doctrine, simply put, is nothing more than a systematic way of understanding scripture. Doctrinal studies give us a panoramic view of scripture, allowing us to gain a comprehensive understanding of scriptural teaching on any given subject.
In the original language the word translated "doctrine" literally means teaching, instruction or that which is taught. In the New Testament it also carries the idea of a more developed set of truths or practices which are to be learned and followed. This is the foundation of our understanding of what doctrine is.
We begin this morning where all good theological studies should begin, with scripture itself.
If one were to look over the course of Church history one would notice that the first few centuries of the Church were preoccupied with the question: Who is Jesus? It was the council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. which settled that question, affirming both the humanity and divinity of the Lord. For more than a thousand years after this the question became: What is the Church? It was during this period that the Roman Catholic Church sought to be recognized as the only true church. Then the reformation came and in the early 16th century a renewed understanding of what makes one a member of God's family was ushered in by Martin Luther who preached that we are saved by grace through faith and that our salvation could not be dependent upon anyone other than Jesus.
But since the reformation the questions have shifted from the Son of God and the Family of God, to the Word of God. The raging battle during the last several centuries has been over the nature and authority of scripture. What is scripture? How can we know it is God's word? Is it reliable? What evidence is there that scripture is reliable and why did God give us His word?
Let's begin this morning by examining the nature of scripture, what is it. Then we'll look at the witnesses to scripture and finally we'll take a look at the purpose of scripture.
I. The nature of Scripture: The Word of God
As Southern Baptists our confessional statement, the Baptist Faith and Message, states that:
"The Holy bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the truth center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds and religious opinions should be tried. All scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation." (The Baptist Faith and Message 2000)
As we seek to understand the nature of the scripture, that is, what the bible is, there are three terms we should understand. The first is the term, "revelation."
A. The Bible is divine revelation
Revelation is the direct divine influence which communicates truth from God to man.
There are two types of revelation: General revelation and special revelation. General revelation is where God reveals His nature and purpose through creation and through history. Psalm 19:1 says that the "Heaven's declare the glory of God and the sky proclaims the work of His hands."
Romans 1:20 assures us that, "From the creation of the world, His invisible attributes, that is His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He made. As a result, people are without excuse."
That's why the scripture says that the fool has said in his heart that there is no God. One has but to look at the intricacies of nature or of the human body to realize that there is a Creator. Only a fool or a person with an atheistic agenda could come out and say that the universe was an accident. I've seen many accidents in my day and never had I seen one of them create a flower, a puppy, a child or a galaxy.
You see, God has revealed Himself to all humanity through creation. But general revelation, by itself, is insufficient to tell us all God wanted us to know about Himself and His plan for humanity. That's why He gave us scripture. Scripture, at its core, is God's written revelation of Himself to us. It is the only source available to us of certain knowledge about God. Without scripture, each of us would be left on our own to figure out Who He is, what He is like and how we can relate to Him. Scripture is God's written revelation of Himself to us.
The ancient Egyptians had no written revelation of their gods like we have from our God. They did not have the certain word we have about Who God is and how we can relate to Him. That's why the ruins of their temples are filled with depictions of their gods as half animal and half man. In their fallen state they imagined God's after their own image and after the image of created things. Because we have Scripture, God's revelation of Himself to humanity, we are not left to wonder. We don't have to grope in the darkness trying to imagine who God is and what He is like. Scripture tells us all these things. The Bible is God's written revelation of Himself to us.
The second term we need to understand in "Inspiration."
B. The Bible is divinely inspired
When the bible says that all scripture is inspired by God, it is speaking about a special kind of inspiration. It's not the kind of inspiration Mozart or Beethoven had when they composed musical masterpieces and it's not the kind of inspiration you have when you see a sunset and are moved to write a poem. This is a different kind of inspiration; a unique type of inspiration.
In 2 Timothy 3:16 the Bible says that all scripture is inspired by God. This word literally means, God-breathed. The doctrine or teaching of the inspiration of scripture simply tells us that the scripture is an accurate transference of truth from God to man in language which we can understand.
We hold to an understanding of inspiration known as the verbal plenary theory. Simply put this means that as a musician blows air through his musical instrument to create a specific sound, God's Spirit blew through the instrumentation of humanity to produce a certain and perfect word. Every word of the Bible is fully inspired and is exactly what God intended it to be.
Can you imagine how much God had to dumb it down for us to be able to get it? And the thing is, even though there is much we can understand, we will never understand it all. God's word is like its author: We can know Him truly but we can never know Him fully. Even when we get to heaven, when we are able to see more clearly and to understand more fully, we will ever be the creations and He will ever be the Creator. We will never fully understand all there is to know about God.
But there is a wonderful verse in Deuteronomy 29:29 which says, "The hidden things belong to the Lord our God, but the revealed things belong to us and our children forever, so that we may follow all the words of this law."
The divine inspiration of scripture assures us that it is the word of God not merely the words of man. It is exactly what God wanted us to know, nothing more and nothing less. It is inspired, or breathed by His Spirit. This gives us a confidence and a certainty that we can rely upon.
The third term we need understand is the word "Canon."
C. The Bible is a completed canon
You may have heard people speak to the Canon of scripture. What they are talking about is the completed record of God's word. A canon is a list or a catalogue of books. As Christians we have inherited the Old Testament from the Jews and the New Testament from the apostolic age. One scholar describes the canon as, "the collection or list of Bible books that are recognized as genuine, inspired Holy Scripture. The collection is complete with thirty-nine Old testament books and twenty-seven New Testament books in the canon." (Swindoll, Growing Deep in the Christian Life, Pg. 413)
Jude 3 says, "I found it necessary to write you about our common salvation, and exhort you to contend for the faith that was delivered to the saints, once for all."
Once for all means just that. God gave it and we are not to add to it. It is complete.
So scripture is God's completed and inspired revelation of Himself to humanity and through the providence and sovereign direction of God through the ages, God has preserved for us His inerrant and infallible word. The Bible we have is the complete canon or catalogue of books He wants us to have.
Understanding something of its nature, what witnesses do we have to the veracity of scripture? If we were in a court of law and were required to call witness to the stand to testify that the scripture is what we claim it to be, who would we call upon?
II. Witnesses to Scripture
A. Historical witness
The first witness I would call to the stand would be the historical witness to scripture. History itself has proven that God's word is true and can be trusted.
According to one scholar (G. Frederick Owen, the Thompson Chain Reference Study Bible, Archaeological Supplement) Archaeological investigations have been used to refute radical skepticism concerning the historical accuracy of the Bible. For example, it used to be alleged that the Hittites, mentioned over fifty times in the Old Testament, were an invention of biblical editors during a supposed lengthy evolution of various books of the Old Testament. Excavations of several Hittite cities and recovery of many of their written records demolished every one of the critic's arguments. It used to be assumed that Sodom and Gomorrah were inventions of the biblical writers. But then archaeologists found the ruins of the ancient cities southeast of the Dead Sea in modern day Jordon. We haven't time to list all the discoveries but they are numerous and all of them speak to the accuracy and veracity of scripture.
It is important for us to note that archaeology cannot prove that the Bible is true; it merely serves as a witness to the truth already set forth by scripture. It is also worth mentioning that no archaeological discovery which was properly understood has ever refuted the words of scripture but has only served to support scriptural claims. History speaks loudly to the trustworthy nature of Scripture.
The second witness I would call forth would be scripture itself.
B. Scriptural witness
Scripture clearly claims to be the timeless word of God and to be true without any mixture of fault or error.
1. In the Old Testament
Psalm 19:7-9 says, "The instruction of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is trustworthy, making the inexperienced wise. The precepts of the Lord are right, making the heart glad; the commandment of the Lord is radiant, making the eyes light up. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the lord are reliable and altogether righteous…"
Psalm 119:89 says, "Lord, Your word is forever; it is firmly fixed in heaven."
Psalm 119:160, "The entirety of Your word is truth, and all Your righteous judgments endure forever."
And the prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 40:8, "The grass withers; the flower fades, but the word of our God remains forever."
2. The New Testament
2 Timothy 2:16, "All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correction, for training in righteousness;"
2 Peter 1:21 says, "Because no prophecy ever came by the will of man, instead, moved by the Holy Spirit, men spoke from God."
And Jesus Himself said in Matthew 24:35, "Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away."
Friends, the Bible is not ambiguous, it does not leave us wondering about what it claims to be. It clearly claims to be God's inerrant and infallible word. It clearly claims to have God as its Author.
C. Human experience
But there is a third witness I would call to the stand, and that would be the witness of human experience. While all human experience must be measured by biblical truth, we have but to look behind us, around us and within us to see that God's word is true and can be trusted. What have some of the great men of our country said of the Bible?
George Washington, the first president of the United States said, "It is impossible to govern the world without God and the Bible. Of all the dispositions and habits that lead to political prosperity, our religion and morality are indispensable supporters. Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience both forbid us to expect that our national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."
John Quincy Adams, the sixth president of the United States said, "So great is my veneration of the Bible, that the earlier my children begin to read it the more confident will be my hope that they will prove useful citizens of their country and respectable members of society."
Abraham Lincoln said of the Bible, "In regard to this great book, I have but to say, it is the best gift God has given to man. All the good Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book. But for it we could not know right from wrong. All things most desirable for man's welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found portrayed in it."
Clearly, our great Republic was chartered and founded by men who understood the bible to be the Word of God and to be true. But your own experience should tell you that the scripture is trustworthy.
It contains the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers. Were it not for scripture you would not know of Jesus and if you did not know of Jesus you would be hopelessly lost in your sin.
If I were to call upon each of you this morning, to stand and give witness to the scripture, to its fidelity, to its impact on your life and to the way God has used it to bring you to Himself and make you who you are, we would be here all day, for each of you who have been born again would surly give witness to the power of the word.
So we have studied the nature of scripture, that it is God's inspired revelation of Himself to humanity. We have heard from witnesses to scripture, who have spoken to its power and its impact, but the final thing I would have you consider this morning is the purpose of scripture. What is the purpose of scripture?
III. Purpose of Scripture: Revelation toward application
It is true that the Bible is the bestselling book in America and yet remains one of the least read books. Some polls estimate that only ten percent of Americans read their bible every day. It would not do for us to have a show of hands to see which of you are among that ten percent. Remember that God did not give us His word to fill our heads; He gave us His word to change our hearts. That having been said we must understand that God gave us the Bible so that we can apply it, so that we can practice what it instructs us to do.
Consider three things then which will help as we seek to apply the Scripture to our everyday lives.
A. Know it
God expects for us, as His children, to know His word. The man who will not read his bible is no better off than the man who has no bible to read. How can a person claim to be born again, to be filled with the Spirit of God who inspired the very words of scripture and have no appetite for the word of God? How can a person claim to have Jesus on the throne of their heart and have no desire to receive instruction from the One they claim is their Master? It doesn't add up. If you have no desire for the word of God, you need to take a long hard look to see if you are a child of God.
If we are truly in love with God, if we have really been born again, then we will say with the Psalmist who says in Psalm 119, "I have treasured Your word with all my heart; don't let me wander from Your commands. I delight in Your commands, which I love…Instruction from your lips is better for me than thousands of gold and silver pieces. How I love Your teaching! It is my meditation all day long. Your word is completely pure and Your servant loves it." (Psalm 119:11,47,72,97, &140)
Colossians 3:16 says, "Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching admonishing one another in all wisdom and singling psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God."
Know it. But secondly, understand it.
C. Understand it
Many people read the scripture like literature, but fail to understand the spiritual significance of what they read. But such should not be the case for Christians.
Jesus promises us in John 14:26 that the Holy Spirit will, "…teach you all things and remind you of everything I have told you."
In 1 Corinthians 2:14-16 says, "But the natural man does not welcome what comes from God's Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to know it since it is evaluated spiritually. The spiritual person, however, can evaluate everything, yet for himself, cannot be evaluated by anyone. For: who has know the Lord's mind that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ."
So as Christians who have the Holy Spirit, we should be able to see clearly into the spiritual truths of scripture.
But you see here's the problem. Our ability to understand the scripture will ever be dependent upon the degree to which our hearts and lives are surrendered to the influence and control of the Spirit of God. The more control He has, the more illumination or insight we have. The less control He has of our hearts and lives, the more opaque and obscure the scriptures will become.
I believe one of the reasons many Christians have difficulty understanding scripture is because they need to get things right with God in their lives. If you are walking with Him, he will give you light; He will give you understanding so that you can obey. But if you are not walking in fellowship, then you will find little joy in reading scripture and its depth and profundity will be hidden from you.
To understand it you must be right with God. But not only are we to know it and understand it. The ultimate goal of scripture is for us to put it into practice.
D. Practice it
Somewhere along the way we got the idea that all we had to do with the Bible was to study it and understand it. We substituted knowing for doing, illumination for application. But the purpose of scripture, at the end of the day, is action oriented. It was given so that we can do it.
James 1:22 says, "But be doers of the word and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves."
Our problem is not that we don't understand what it says; our problem is that we don't want to do what we understand.
Jesus puts it about as plainly as it can be stated in Matthew 7:24-27. (read passage)
What about you this morning? Are you like the wise man or like the foolish man? What is it that God has told you to do? What is it that would keep you from obeying Him today?