So shall My Word be that goes out from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it. ~ Isaiah 55:11

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Power of Priority Part Four

Continuing with part four of a five-part series on the need for diligent study of the scriptures for believers in Christ, I want to address a few more points that will help us see the priority God Himself places on our need to know Him more fully.  So far, we’ve learned that the scriptures tell us what God requires of us, that we cannot know Him outside of His Word, and that the Bible, unlike any other document or piece of literature in history, has the power to transform the human heart.  This time we will look at what part the scriptures play in our sanctification, the part that biblical knowledge plays in evangelism as well as building up the body of Christ, and in Part Five we’ll look at the part it plays in giving the Church the discernment it needs during these troubling and deceiving last days.
4.  As we learned in part three, the scripture itself has the power to bring men unto salvation (Romans 1:16).  But God not only desires salvation for people, His plan and purpose also involves their sanctification Sanctification is the process the Holy Spirit takes believers through from the time of salvation to the time the believer goes home to be with the Lord.  During this process, the Holy Spirit is continually at work in us to set us apart for holy use, making us more Christlike.  One dictionary defines the process this way:  “…the act of God’s grace, through the power of the Holy Spirit, by which the affections of men are purified or alienated from sin and the world, and exalted to a supreme love of God.”  But how does the Spirit do this work within believers?  Some may erroneously believe that since the Holy Spirit dwells within us upon salvation, that somehow we just “know” God and His Word through some sort of osmosis, therefore negating any real need for Bible study.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  While it is true that God Himself does indeed indwell the believer through the Holy Spirit, the grace that saved us now gives us the motivation, the wisdom, and the power to choose to obey what God requires.  In other words, as believers we now have a responsibility to act on God’s Word through obedience.  But how do we obey if we don’t know what’s required?  The answer to that brings us full circle—we study the scriptures to gain the understanding we seek.
How do we know that the scriptures have the power to sanctify us?  Let’s start off with some really great news.  Phillipians 2:13 says that it is “God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure.”  This tells us that it is God, through the Holy Spirit, that energizes and motivates His people to do the things that please Him.  While the believer has the responsibility to respond to the work of the Spirit, we can be encouraged that God Himself is doing behind-the-scenes work to foster our obedience.   We can never really understand how God’s sovereignty and our responsibility work together, but we do know that while God says He will finish the work He began in us at salvation (Phillipians 1:6), we also know that God rewards those who diligently seek after Him (Hebrews  11:6), and that we are instructed to search for His wisdom in His word as though searching for hidden treasures, thereby finding the knowledge of God (please read all of Proverbs 2).
What are some ways the scriptures sanctify us?  Romans 12:2 tells us that it is by renewing our mind that we are able to discern what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God.  John MacArthur’s note on this verse says, “That kind of transformation can occur only as the Holy Spirit changes our thinking through consistent study and meditation of Scripture.”  Renewing our minds means that our thinking becomes biblical.  Our minds are trained to think as God thinks, sharing His perspective in all areas of life.  This is called developing a biblical worldview.  This worldview changes how and what we think about in such areas as faith, relationships, finances, philosophy, science, history, etc.  A truly biblical worldview will change how we think about everything we encounter in life, especially how we see God.  This process takes place as we consistently subject ourselves to God’s holy truth, allowing it to replace our worldly, faulty, human reasoning.
We learn by studying 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that because all of scripture is God-breathed, it has the power to teach, reprove, correct and train us for righteousness—all the things necessary for our sanctification.  And why should the scriptures provide these things for us?  The answer lies in verse 17—so that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work.  Teaching and training for righteousness help us to know what to do, and reproof and correction teach us what not to do.  Both are for our encouragement! Romans 15:4 wonderfully reminds us that the scriptures are written for our instruction that we might have hope. David extols the glories of scripture in Psalm 19, telling of its reviving qualities, making foolish people wise, and warning us so that we can live life for God’s glory.  The power of scripture’s reproof and correction are beautifully played out in Psalm 119 where the author claims the correcting work of God’s Word in his own life saying, “Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your Word” (vs. 67).  He then follows in verse 71 declaring, “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes” (italics mine).  Affirming Hebrews 4:12, God’s Word truly is living and active, and we cannot possibly be the people God intends for us to be without this work of grace that only the scriptures can provide.
5.  As the scriptures are at work in our own lives, we are responsible to teach others what we have learned.  Just as we cannot obey what we do not know, we cannot teach what we have not learned.  Teaching others is two-fold:  we teach other believers in order to build up the body of Christ, and we teach unbelievers the gospel so that they may be saved.  Doing either of these necessary works requires a good working knowledge of the Bible.  But are we actually commanded to teach?
First of all, Jesus Himself gave this command in what we know as the Great Commission in Matthew 28. Upon giving His final instructions to His disciples before ascending to heaven after His resurrection, He told them to “make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you” (vss. 19-20, italics mine).  Evangelism is not effective if we do not give the whole counsel of God, teaching not only about God’s love and His wrath, sin, and the offer of salvation, but of what genuine saving faith results in—obedience to God’s commands.  We are not just saved from sin, we are saved to serve; Jesus is not just our Savior, He is our Lord, to Whom we owe our allegiance and obedience.
Also, the Apostle Paul tells us the importance of the spiritual giftedness that enables the body to build itself up, so that we are complete and mature in Christ.  Ephesians 4:11-12 says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers…” for what purpose?  Verse 12 answers that they are to “equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”  But this admonition to teach is for every believer, because we are all called to make disciples according to Matthew 28:19.  But not only did Paul tell us that it is for the work of the ministry that the scriptures prepare us,  but so that we (and others) would “no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians  4:14).  If we fall for these “winds, cunnings, and schemes,” we are certain to pass on to others those things that we have wrongly perceived as truth.  We must prepare ourselves wisely.  Let us not be like those that the author of Hebrews addressed in chapter 5, verses 12 and 13, implying that his readers were immature concerning the Word, being unskilled in the word of righteousness, when they were supposed to be at the point that they should have been skilled enough to teach others.
The Old Testament gives an account of a scribe named Ezra, who led the second return of the Jewish exiles from Babylon back to Israel to rebuild the temple.  The book that bears his name tells of the success and blessedness Ezra experienced by God’s gracious hand.  Twice in chapter 7, we read that “the gracious hand of his God was on him” (vss. 6 and 8). Verse 10 then tells us the reason for God’s favor:  “This was because Ezra had determined to study and obey the Law of the Lord and to teach those decrees and regulations to the people of Israel.” Ezra is a humble model of study, obedience, and instruction that we would do well to imitate.
One last thought on this particular point.  Looking back to Psalm 119, verses 67 and 71, the psalmist humbly rejoices in the fact that his sin drew him back to God’s word, and the psalmist is clearly thankful.  He now rejoices in God’s Word because of its purifying effect (sanctification) in him.  We serve a glorious, gracious, and merciful God. What kind of a God do we serve that in our punishment and affliction, justly brought on by our own willful disobedience, would use His Word to clean us up, when He could just set us aside, or worse yet, throw us away.  But that is not the God we serve.  Upon his repentance for his disgraceful actions with Bathsheba and against her husband Uriah, David sought the Lord with a humble heart, asking for God to restore the joy of David’s salvation (see Psalm 51). And then what does David offer?  Verse 13 says, “Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, and sinners will return to You.”  What a wonderful word from the scriptures!  If you, dear reader, think you’ve gone too far to be restored to God, much less have any hope that you could ever be useful to Him in service, please know that He longs to hear from you in humble repentance (please see 1 John 1:9).  It is to him who has a humble and contrite heart that God loves to draw near (Psalm 51:17; Isaiah 57:15), and it is this person that is in a wonderful position for God to use to teach His Word effectively.
Next time, which will be the last post on this particular series, we will discuss discernment--what it is and why it is imperative that every believer cultivates it. Until then, may you be revived in your walk with the Lord and find new strength through the study of His holy Word. 

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