Tuesday, June 24, 2008

What is Dependent on God’s Word?

That is, if not for the truth and power of God’s Word, what would we be missing?
1. life change that is more than cosmetic
2. a certain future shaped by promise
3. confidence in the midst of confusion

Let’s look at the first paragraph of Titus again: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began, and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;” (Titus 1:1-3 ESV)

We’ve covered (in previous messages and posts) faith-knowledge, and the fact that an eternal God who plans our eternal future chose people for faith in eternity past. Now we come to this subject of the truth. This idea is linked in this first paragraph to the character of God (He never lies), to the nature of much of His revelation (promise), and to ways that He has expressed Himself by Word and words, through His Son and messengers. I’ve also marked in my study Bible in the letter to Titus the many references to God’s Word, teaching and doctrine, so that we must conclude that when Titus was sent to “put things in order” (1:5), the use of God’s Word was absolutely critical.

1. God’s Word is absolutely necessary for life change.
If God’s Word in its truth and power is missing from my life, I will never change. Yes, of course I can change cosmetically. I can change the color of my hair. I can rearrange the furniture. I can change certain patterns and habits. I can re-invent myself in various ways, maybe even learn an accent. But I cannot change at the deepest level. I cannot change my heart. God does that through His Word.

And this is where I know, deep down, that I need to change. This is where the frustration and sadness really comes, when I see the kind of person that I really am, whether it has to do with self-centeredness, or lack of love, or twisted motives. I can paste a smile on. I can’t, by myself, change my heart.

So merely educating myself in the latest psychologies or motivating myself with some best-selling self-help is still only cosmetic. It is like adding volumes to a library that does not contain the answer. Dewey and his decimals do not hold the answers for the problem of a sinful heart.

Also, will-power, for all that it can do (cf. Tower of Babel) fails on two levels. It, also, does not change the heart. And it is guilty of producing unintended consequences. How many cancers are the result of a desperate will-power? How much mental dis-ease? How much nervous exhaustion, leading to an inability to rest or relax? When we saddle our own wills with the burden of responsibility for accomplishing things that only God can do, we will tend toward destruction and debilitation.

And so, if I truly desire heart change in my life, what will I do? I will bow my knees and devote my attention to God’s Word. I will read it prayerfully and ask that God’s Spirit would take its truth and imbed it in my heart, even as I purpose to submit and obey what I find there.

Further, if I fail to spend time with God’s Word, I must honestly admit that I really don’t want to change. I will, in that case, be telling God that I would rather do things my own way, and please leave my heart alone. If I neglect God’s Word, I am proclaiming my rebellion against being God’s person, whom He would reform and re-make into Christ’s likeness.

2. God’s Promise has the Power to Shape the Future
Secondly, God’s Word has the power to shape my future, since He so often speaks by way of promise. All other words, other than God’s Word, come across as so much propaganda. Much of it is wishful thinking, and all of it is subject to change.

But God’s promises are certain, so much so, that once He utters the promise, the outcome is as sure as though it had already happened. Think of Abraham, to whom God said, “I will make you a great nation.” That’s a promise, and it implies that there would be a son. Even though it would be 25 more years before a son was born, the certainty of there being such a son was absolute. Further, even though twice Abraham tried to give his wife away, God would not allow His promise to be sabotaged.

Another promise is repeated many times throughout Scripture: “I will be with you.” This promise was repeated to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and many times over, even to us, when Jesus ends his Great Commission with, “for lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” This shapes our future, so that we know that we are never alone. And so we, like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, make our decisions based on this certainty. These young men were faced with the test of bowing to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol, or being thrown into the fiery furnace. But the promise of God so shaped their future, that they were willing to enter the furnace, whether or not they would be delivered, knowing that they would certainly not be alone. And Nebbie himself was forced to admit that there appeared a fourth figure in the furnace.

If I fail to lay hold of the promises of God, then I consign myself to a life of good (or, not-so-good) intentions and wishful thinking. I may prove to be “the captain of my soul,” but it will be a soul that never reaches port. Only God’s Word can safely lay a course for tomorrow. These promises deserve memorization and meditation.

3. God’s Word is the only Source of Confidence in a Confusing World
Finally, we can live confidently in a confusing world only if we commit ourselves to the touchstone which is God’s Word. We live in a world full of experts who do not know what they are talking about. Week by week, we are warned against, and then advised toward, eating eggs and apples. We cannot agree on the condition of the atmosphere above us or the fossil fuels beneath us. And now we see a bunch of women carrying around little ugly dogs, just because Paris Hilton did it. I need direction that I can trust, that keeps me from being “tossed to and fro by every wind.” Where can I find the help that I need?

In the truth, in which God has made promises, and now has made available to us. And God does not lie.


Ben said...

I Cor. 2:10-13 These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person's thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
First, let me say that I'm happy that you are posting regularly again, and happy that I can actually read your posts :-)
This is actually something that we've been thinking a lot about the past few weeks. We've got a friend who loves reading the Bible, and sees the words of Jesus as being very good and very wise. But, those things are then put on the same level as other wise teachings. Good things to follow, good advice - possibly life-altering advice, but not eternally altering. That is because this friend is trying to understand God's word without the indwelling of the Spirit of God. In your post, the Spirit was only mentioned once. I certainly know that you believe that the Spirit is essential, but it was only mentioned in passing. I feel like that is a result of culture - a culture rooted in wanting to be able to feel and expound on truth, and that truth is easy to grasp if it is written down. But the Spirit is more messy than that. The Spirit is hard to nail down, and the interpretation and understanding through the Spirit is often downplayed because it is difficult to explain (with our worldview). But this very Spirit is essential, just as essential as the Word of God. Without the Spirit of God, we would not be able to understand the written word of God, because only the Spirit can know our minds and the mind of God.
Now, I am certainly not saying that the Spirit is more important than the word of God, or that we could do without the word of God. But I am saying that the Spirit is essential to understand the word of God, and without the Spirit, those words are just words.
Looking forward to talking with you in a few weeks.


swayz said...

Ben - not to be too cute, but part of the reason I didn't say more about the role of the Spirit was because, in this passage, from which I was trying to build my outline, Paul didn't. However, he says quite a bit about the Spirit later.
Also, I've been reading John Owen's Mortification of Sin this week, and he says a lot about the role of the Spirit. That we cannot mortify sin ourselves - and I think there are some parallels with what you said. Further, you allude to some cultural blindness due to our rational approach, and I think this especially afflicts our prayers. It says, "pray in the Spirit," and I don't know who in the world knows what that means. Thanks for your comment.