Several years ago John Shelby Spong, an Episcopal Bishop from New Jersey, wrote a book with an interesting title: Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism. In this book Bishop Spong says that those who interpret the Bible literally have put a straight-jacket on the scriptures and are killing Christianity. He dismisses the Virgin Birth as a myth; he denounces the miracles as exaggeration; he declares that the Apostle Paul was most likely a homosexual; and he states the resurrection never really happened. He says that we must go beyond the Gospel narratives, past the "myths and legends" in order to rediscover Easter. At the conclusion of the book, he reminds us that the words of the Bible are not holy--in fact, he says the words of scripture frequently blind us to the truth. The book is called, Rescuing the Bible from Fundamentalism, but if that is the Bishop's idea of a rescue, I'll be sure not to call on him if I ever fall out of a boat!
Though the book received critical acclaim for its "originality", it is important to realize that Bishop Spong didn't say anything new. He was simply parroting what liberal scholars have said for the past hundred years or so. More than anything, Rescuing the Bible is an accommodation to a culture that has lost its respect for, and belief in absolute truth. Bishop Spong's writings reflect the general attitude of secular society toward the Bible; it is regarded as a "Book of Myths" or as "Dangerous Propaganda." That's why there are high school teachers in this country who will not allow students to write papers on a Biblical theme, and there are high school principals who ban on-campus student-led Bible study--even though both are violations of the students' constitutional rights.
I recently received an e-mail from a man who had this to say about his college days, "I took some classes at the University titled "The Bible as Literature." They really undermine the authority and authenticity of scripture- not only in that class, but in the university as a whole. I mean, eventually, to most 'intellectuals,' all beliefs are equal because none of them are true in the sense that they exist outside of some subjective mind experience."
One of the reasons that the Bible isn't taken seriously in our society is that ministers don't take the Bible as seriously as they should. Most ministers don't give themselves to understanding the Word of God.
There's a story about a recent graduate from a Methodist seminary who was being interviewed by the Board of Ordained ministry. He was asked, "What part of the Bible do you like best?" He answered, "Well, sir, I like the New Testament." The board asked, "What book of the New Testament?" "Well," said the young minister, "I think it's the Book of Parables." One man then said, "Will you kindly relate one of those parables to this board?" This young graduate knew he was up against it, but he also knew it was possible that the members of the board knew less about the Bible than he did, so he proceeded as follows:
Once upon a time a man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell among thieves and the thorns grew up and choked the man and he went on and he didn't have no money and then he met the queen of Sheba and she gave that man, sir, a thousand talents of gold and silver and a hundred changes of raiments and when he was driving along under a tree his hair got caught in a limb and left him hanging there. Yes sir, and he hung there many days and many nights and the ravens brought him food to eat and water to drink and one night when he was hanging there asleep, his wife, Delilah, came along and cut his hair off and he dropped and fell on stony ground and it began to rain and it rained forty days and forty nights and he hid himself in a cave and the man went out into the highways and byways and compelled them all to come in. Then he went on and come up to Jerusalem and he seen Queen Jezebel sitting high up in a window and when she saw him she laughed at him, so he said, 'Throw her down out of there,' and they threw her down. He said, 'Throw her down again,' and they threw her down again. And he said, 'Throw her down again,' and they threw her down seventy time seven and the fragments they picked up were twelve basketfuls. Now, I ask you, "Whose wife will she be on the day of judgment?"
There was not one person on the Board of Ordained Ministry who felt qualified to question the candidate further, so he was passed.
This may be a slight exaggeration, but it is true that ministers and churches and seminaries have not placed proper emphasis on the scripture in this century, and the result is that Biblical literacy is at an all time low. In spite of this, the Christian Booksellers Association asserts that 90% of US homes contain at least one Bible; the average residence includes four. Also, the Bible is sold in more than 450 English language versions. The Bible remains the best selling book in the world. We own it, carry it, talk about it, but we don't really know what's in it.
The Bible is a powerful book! Those who attack it have reason to, because the Bible has been known to change people's lives. If you take the Bible seriously, if you read and study it, it has the power to change your life.
Today, we're going to examine two reasons to take the Bible seriously; and we will discover two ways the Bible can change your life. First of all,
1. THE BIBLE SHOWS US THE WAY OF SALVATION.
2 Timothy 3:15 (NKJV) and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
It is not the Scripture that saves us. The Bible itself does not save anybody, but the Scriptures are able to bring us to faith in Christ Jesus. He is the one who saves us. The Jesus who saves is the Jesus who is revealed only in the Bible. The only way we can come to know this Redeemer, this Savior of men, this One who can deliver us from the bondage of our own selfishness, is revealed in the pages of the Scriptures. That is the uniqueness of the Bible. In it, you will find revealed a Person, and he will become even more real to you than the Book itself. That is the wonder and the glory of the Scriptures.
A lady named Dee grew up in an affluent home in east Tennessee, having all she wanted, but not what she needed. Her parents never took her to church or taught her anything about Christianity. When Dee went to college, she began to abuse alcohol and drugs, and soon her life became a never-ending search for a party. One thing she and her friends liked to do on weekends was to rent out some rooms at a local motel and spend the weekend partying. On one such weekend, the group devised a contest to see who could steal the most from the room. One of the things Dee stole was the Gideon Bible. They all thought it was funny; Dee won the contest. Several weeks later, Dee's life began to fall apart. She discovered that she was pregnant. Abortion seemed the only solution; it was the solution she had used in the past. Her boyfriend left her, and Dee found herself all alone. One night, in the midst of her fear and uncertainty, she picked up the Bible she had stolen from the motel room and began to read. She flipped the book open to 1 Samuel, and as Dee read the words of Scripture for the first time in her life, God suddenly became real to her. She trusted Christ and joined a church. That was fourteen years ago. Today, Dee and her fourteen year old daughter share their powerful testimony whenever there is opportunity.
The Bible shows us how to be saved. The plan of salvation we discover in the pages of Scripture stands in sharp contrast to the world's plan. The world's idea is that salvation is something you earn; the Bible teaches that salvation is a gift from God.
Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, 9 not of works, lest anyone should boast.
All of the Christian life is a matter of grace. We are brought into God's eternal kingdom by grace; we are positionally and practically sanctified by grace; we are motivated to obedience by grace; we receive strength to live the Christian life by grace; and we receive both temporal and spiritual blessings by grace. The entire Christian life is lived by grace.
Grace is: "God's free and unmerited favor shown to guilty sinners who deserve only judgment." Grace stands in direct opposition to any supposed worthiness on our part. Please understand that grace and works are mutually exclusive.
Romans 11:6 (NKJV) And if by grace, then it is no longer of works; otherwise grace is no longer grace. But if it is of works, it is no longer grace; otherwise work is no longer work.
Romans 4:4 (NKJV) Now to him who works, the wages are not counted as grace but as debt.
Grace is: "God's free and unmerited favor." If you have to work for something, it is not free and it is not unmerited, it is earned. Our relationship with God is not based on merit, it is based only and completely upon grace.
The world's idea is that all religions lead to God; the Bible teaches that Jesus is the only way.
John 14:6 (NKJV) Jesus said to him, "I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.
Acts 4:12 (NKJV) "Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved."
The world's idea is that God helps those who help themselves; the Bible teaches that God helps those who can't help themselves.
Psalms 34:6 (NKJV) This poor man cried out, and the LORD heard him, And saved him out of all his troubles.
Parents, please notice that Paul says, "From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures." We should not miss that emphasis. It indicates that childhood is a wonderful time to get the truth of the Scriptures into a young person's heart. The Bible is a powerful book; it shows us the way to salvation.
2. THE BIBLE SHOWS US HOW TO LIVE
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
In considering this passage, it is difficult not to think that Paul had almost certainly told Timothy about the importance of Scripture before, perhaps on several occasions. Why is he emphasizing it again? The reason may be that often times, when we get into the heat of battle, as Timothy was, we tend to forget what is central and, therefore, move away from the most important things.
"All scripture is inspired by God." Paul says, "All Scripture", referring to the entire Old Testament, "is inspired by God." But we may apply this passage to all of sacred Scripture, including the New Testament.
2 Peter 3:15-16 (NKJV) and consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation; as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given to him, has written to you, 16 as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.
Peter considered what Paul wrote, the New Testament, to be scripture. So, all Scripture (both the Old and New Testaments) is inspired by God.
"All scripture is inspired"--unfortunately, the word "inspired" is exactly the reverse of the word that should be there. Inspired comes from a Latin word, "spiro" which means: "to breathe", and "in" means: "in," so it means: "to breathe in." But that is exactly what God did not do with the Bible. He did not breathe it in. He breathed it out. The Greek word means: "breathed out from God." What we ought to say is, "All scripture is outspired by God"-- breathed out from him. Peter says virtually the same thing in:
2 Peter 1:21 (NKJV) for prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit.
Peter says that men were carried along, much as a wind fills the sails of a ship and moves it forward, by the Holy Spirit. The personality of the authors can be seen in their works, but, ultimately, it is a book supremely correct in what it affirms, and without error because God is the superintending author. It is the very revelation of God himself.
According to the apostle, the Bible can do four things for everyone who reads and believes it:
First, it will teach you; it is "profitable for teaching." The Bible will instruct your mind about things that no one, except God, knows anything about. It will tell you things about yourself, what can happen to you, and what will happen to you, that only God knows. Everybody wants to know these things. For instance, everyone wants to know what lies beyond death. The human mind has been questing in that area all through history. But there is only one Book that will tell you the answer to that question. It tells about One who came back from the grave and told us what is beyond. He demonstrated, in ways that can never be denied, or explained away, that he had returned from death. Thus, this Book becomes a reliable guide in areas we know nothing about. The Bible has the power to teach men what they cannot otherwise know.
Second, the Bible has the power to reprove. The word is really "convict." How many of you have had the experience of reading the Bible and becoming aware that something you had been doing all your life, something you did not think was wrong at all, was the reason why you, yourself, were hurting or were hurting others? The Bible suddenly made you aware that, in order to be free, you had to change, you had to commit yourself to a different direction. That is called "conviction." The Bible has tremendous power to point out to people the areas of wrongdoing in their lives. But more than that, the Bible never does that without setting you on the right path, correcting you and making you walk in ways that lead to life. The amazing testimony of this Book is that, when taken seriously, it leads people to freedom and to life.
Finally, the Bible is for "training in righteousness." That phrase suggests that the Bible has the power to finely tune you, like a skillful coach, to enable you to walk day by day in a more righteous way; and righteousness always leads to
peace. So, the Bible is able to train us; to lead us along into ever-expanding experiences of righteous living.
"That the man of God may be complete"-- whole or mature. The world is constantly looking for the secret of wholeness. Everyone wants to be a "whole" person, healed of all his inner conflicts, able to cope, able to handle life. That is exactly why this Book is provided. It is the Book that goes with man. It is the instruction Book that will work out all your kinks and quirks, and enable you to be a whole person as God intended you to be, through faith in the Lord Jesus whom the Book reveals.
You cannot learn what the Bible has to say by reading it through once. There must be repeated, perhaps even daily, exposure to the written Word of God. The case for Bible reading is very simply put: There is no other way by which you can be exposed to the thinking of God, except by reading the Word of God. The Bible is not in tune with secular philosophy. It is different than all the other books in the world because it is a compendium of the thoughts of God about human life. God is the ultimate realist. In the Bible, he has condescended to give us his thoughts on everything about ourselves, about the world in which we live, about the morals and ethics of our behavior.
I want to point out two things that getting serious abut Bible study will do for you:
First, it will drastically alter your own thinking. You cannot read this Book without being changed. You will think differently about yourself and others; you will regard your husband, or your wife, and your children in a totally different way. You will regard the frantic pursuit of wealth and pleasure, which the world goes in for, in a different light. You will make decisions on a totally different basis.
This Book will drastically alter the way you behave. I could tell you stories by the hour of how individuals started to read the Bible and had their whole outlook changed, sometimes within a short time. There is, for instance, the true story of the Mutiny on the Bounty. A group of British sailors on the ship, H.M.S., Bounty mutinied in the early part of the nineteenth century, seized the ship and fled to the island of Pitcairn in the South Pacific. There they hid from British justice for many years. But they were such a community of cut-throats that their life there was desperate and dangerous. They were so debauched and degraded that they started killing each other off, until it looked as though their colony would only last a few years before it would be destroyed by their own debauchery. Then, one of the mutineers, Alexander Smith, found a Bible which his mother had placed in his trunk. He began to read it, and soon his own life was changed as he came to know the Lord through the Book. He taught it to the others and, rather quickly, life on the island took on a wholly different cast. When the mutineers were discovered, they were found to have an almost ideal community. There was no jail because there was no crime. They were godly people, every family among them transformed by the power of the Word of God.
That is the amazing quality of this Book. There is no other book in all of history that has that kind of a record. When you start reading your Bible, you will find your thinking changed. You will be enabled to live realistically, to adjust to reality, to detect the confusions and the illusions of the world around, and to correct the things that are destroying humanity. The truth of the Bible leads to life, not death. Anybody who believes that truth, and acts on it, will become enriched. Life becomes peaceful, calm, and joyful, even in the midst of trouble. The Bible invariably imparts an inner strengthening to those who live by it, as we read in the well-known passage from Proverbs:
Proverbs 3:21-26 (NKJV) My son, let them not depart from your eyes; Keep sound wisdom and discretion; 22 So they will be life to your soul And grace to your neck. 23 Then you will walk safely in your way, And your foot will not stumble. 24 When you lie down, you will not be afraid; Yes, you will lie down and your sleep will be sweet. 25 Do not be afraid of sudden terror, Nor of trouble from the wicked when it comes; 26 For the LORD will be your confidence, And will keep your foot from being caught.
That is part of the heritage of those who learn to understand and read the Bible. That will take some time. You cannot understand the Bible by putting it on the coffee table. Even putting it under your pillow will not work - it does not soak into the mind that way. You have to open it and read it.
Let me suggest what may, perhaps, be the most helpful thing in making that possible - turn off the television. Our generation is being robbed of great opportunities to learn the truth of this amazing Book by the continual flood of entertainment offered on television. It is so easy to sit in front of the TV and keep yourself occupied with entertaining ideas and thoughts - sometimes very boring entertainment, too - when this Book lies ready at hand to open you to realities that will never forsake you. So, I want to urge you to read the Bible, and read books that explain the Bible. Fill your mind with the Scripture. That will steady you in times of stress, like nothing else will.
It does not do a bit of good to say you believe the Bible from cover to cover, like some people do, if you do not practice the truth, act on it, take it to heart. The process begins with the mind being instructed; then believing what it says; then you must practice what you believe.
I don't know what it was that may have helped Timothy, but I am sure that when he read a statement like, "Lie not one to another" (Col 3:9), he was careful to watch his words and stop lying, if that was what he was doing. When he read, "Bless those who persecute you" (Romans 12:14), he realized that even though he, like everyone else, felt anger rising within him and he wanted to strike back when he was mistreated, that was the wrong thing to do. The Word of God taught that it was necessary for him to lean on the grace of God, to pray for people and find a way to do something good rather than evil in return.
In the early 16th century, a young monk, named Martin Luther, was at a cathedral in Rome, climbing steps on his knees while saying his prayers in an effort to earn God's forgiveness, when suddenly the words of a Bible verse hit him like a thunderbolt from heaven. The verse is found in:
Romans 1:16-17 (NKJV) For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, "The just shall live by faith."
This event set into motion a chain of events that altered the course of human history. Martin Luther realized that much of what he had been taught simply wasn't consistent with Scripture. He began to challenge the authority of the church, claiming that the authority of Scripture was greater. Eventually, Luther was kicked out of the church, and the Protestant Reformation took place. The Reformation was not just a religious event; the political, sociological, and economic repercussions were felt world-wide. All of this happened because one monk decided to take the Bible seriously.
This is why the enemies of the Bible consider it to be such a dangerous book. It is not a book that people merely read; it is a book that people live. When people begin taking the Bible seriously, they have the power to change the course of history.
We are not only to live out the truths of God's Holy Word, we are to proclaim them to the world.
Chuck Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship, was in a meeting with the chairman of a giant publishing company who boasted, "Our newspaper chain was instrumental in the removal of the Ten Commandments from the walls of our public schools." Colson asked him why he thought they should be removed, and the CEO answered, "They offend people of other religions. Besides, we must separate church and state." Later in the meeting, this same executive brought up the subject of juvenile crime. He asked, "What are we going to do about the rising rate of teen delinquency? Occurrences of theft on the school campus have increased at an alarming rate over the past decade. What can we do to teach kids that stealing is wrong?" Chuck Colson said, "Maybe we should put a sign on the wall that says, 'You Shall Not Steal'." The newspaper man said, "That's a good idea!"
A minute ago, I talked about the Protestant reformation; now I'll say something about the Catholic church. As you probably know, the Catholic church is under a great deal of pressure from forces within and without to change some of its practices and beliefs. There are many who want to see the ban on birth-control lifted, and many who want to see women ordained as priests, and many who want the church to soften its positions on abortion and pre-marital sex. During the pope's last visit to America, he was confronted with these issues, and this is how he responded: He said, "It is not the church's mission to change with the times; it is the church's mission to change the ethos (beliefs) of the times." What a great answer! How desperately the people of God need to stand in the midst of the relativism of modern culture and echo these words.
This is what Paul is saying to us in 1 Timothy. He is saying that we can't let the world change us; it is our job to change the world. The Bible is a powerful book; if we faithfully present its message, we can change the world.
The Bible is not a book that can be ignored. Throughout history it has been burned, banned, ridiculed, distorted, outlawed and abused-but it cannot be ignored. It is simply too powerful. In spite of tremendous opposition, it remains the best selling book in the world. But it does us no good just sitting on the shelf. It is a book that demands to be taken seriously; and if we will take it seriously, it has the power to change our lives, and the rest of the world, too.
We ought to take to heart John Wesley's great words about the Bible:
I am a creature of a day. I am a spirit come from God and returning to God. I want to know one thing: the way to Heaven. God himself has condescended to teach me in that way: He has written it down in a Book. O, give me that Book. At any price give me the Book of God. Let me be a man of one Book.
That summarizes beautifully the Christian view of the Scriptures. The Bible is the Book which points the way to God, which opens the mind of God to us, and thus enables us to think God's thoughts after him.
I hope and pray that this congregation will be men and women who cry out, like John Wesley, "At any price give me the Book of God. Let me be a man of one Book." The glory of this Book is that it can instruct the mind, touch the heart, and lead us unto full salvation.