The Bible in Renewal:
Discovering and Living By God's Wisdom
GEM 99:12:29a [article # 6, renewal series]
“Did God really say . . .?”
From Eden on, Satan has always first questioned the Word of God, then tried to replace it with a lie. As Jesus put it: "there is no truth in [the Devil]. When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is . . . the father of lies." [John 8:44.]
Sadly, Jesus had to continue: "Yet because I tell you the truth, you do not believe me." For, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God." [John 3:19 - 21.]
Indeed, we can all too easily observe that calculated evil, deceit and "a bodyguard of lies" intended to fend off the truth are characteristic marks of wrongdoers: "You belong to your father, the Devil, and you want to carry out [his] desire."
The end result is equally predictable: "My people have committed two sins: they have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water." [Jeremiah 2:13] As Solomon put it: "There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death." [Proverbs 16:25]
In short, to live by lies and lusts is, in the end, to destroy oneself: "each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death." [James 1:14 - 15.]
Thy Word is Truth
Clearly, we must face, seek, discern and live by the truth, or else we perish. But, how?
[I]n the last days . . . . evil men and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. But . . . you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. [2 Timothy 3: 1, &13 - 17.]
Paul therefore issues a crisp charge:
Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage — with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry." [2 Tim.. 4:1 - 5.]
Plainly, we have a duty to seek, to heed, to live by, and to bear witness to and teach the truth; truth that will cut right across our natural desires, comforts, prosperity and even safety.
Luke therefore outlines the life and service of the early church:
"Those who accepted [the gospel] were baptised . . . . They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer . . . they continued to meet together . . . praising God . . . And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved." [Acts 2:41 - 47.]
In the words of Hebrews 10:19 - 25:
"since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus . . . let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith . . . Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching."
In support of these tasks of Bible study, fellowship, prayer and witness, we have Jesus' great prayer on the night of his betrayal:
"Father . . . I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer for them is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one . . . Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world." [John 17:14 – 18, emphasis added.]
Bible Study, Fellowship and Prayer
Manifestly, we need to devote ourselves to Bible study, to fellowship and mutual support, and to worship and prayer. These good habits set the context for effective witness and service in the family, the church, the community and world as we " do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do," towards "attaining the whole measure of the fulness of Christ." [Eph. 2:10, 4:13.]
It is thus no accident that Luke highlights study: "[the early believers] devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching." For, this is the first step to heeding Paul: "Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will." [Rom. 12:2.]
Obviously, this requires that we seek out and devote ourselves to sound teaching and preaching. Thus, we see the value of a solid "church home," one that teaches, submits to and lives by the Word of God.
It also calls for daily reflection on the Scripture. As God counselled Joshua: "Do not let this Book . . . depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful." [Joshua 1:8; cf. Psalm 1:1 - 6, Proverbs 2:1 - 22.]
This leads to the need to set aside daily Quiet Times for systematic Bible reading, praise, thanksgiving to God, prayer, and changing our thinking and attitudes towards doing God's truth each day. Good devotional materials, such as Scripture Union's Daily Bread or Radio Bible Class's Our Daily Bread are quite helpful here.
Group Bible study using interactive inductive techniques is also very helpful. Whether we study in a Sunday School class, or a cell group, a neighbourhood circle, or an Office or Campus fellowship group, we need to "consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds . . . as [we] see the Day approaching."
Inductive Bible Study
"Inductive" is a bit of a big word; some explanation is appropriate. The basic idea is the way a good Detective works: he or she explores and confirm the specific evidence in hand, seeks further clues and draws out underlying patterns and relevant implications. This is also the basic technique of science.
Typically, we are exploring a Bible passage, in its context. Thus, our principal tools are the famous "Who, what, where when, why, how" questions, to help us OBSERVE the facts, INTERPRET (understand) what the facts mean, and APPLY the results to our lives:
- What does the text say? Who are involved, where, when?
- What happens -- events, issues, challenges, conflicts, outcomes?
- How is language -- original and translated -- used?
- What does the text intend to communicate?
What is the story: How do people interact with God and with each other?
- How does the text speak from its original setting into our lives today?
- How should we respond?
- truths to learn and live.
- sins, errors, deceptions to avoid or turn from.
- corrections, confessions, restitutions & reconciliations to make.
- truths and ways to practice, good skills and habits to build.
- promises to claim & conditions to meet [2 Peter 1:2 - 4].
- Where, when, with whom?
The first issue in Bible Study is self- (or, flesh-) mastery by the power of the Word of God to renew our minds under the leading and empowering of the Spirit. For, as Romans 8:5 – 14 points out:
Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with what the Spirit desires. The mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. Those controlled by the flesh cannot please God.
You, however, are controlled not by the flesh but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ . . . .
Brothers, we have an obligation — but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. For if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live, because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. [Emphases added.]
Clearly, it is by the power of the Spirit who lives in those who put their trust in Christ that we can live according to God’s will. But, this means that we face a struggle, as our minds, naturally focussed on our feelings, fears, passions and all-too-limited human perceptions, conflict with the leading of the Spirit.
Thus, a key insight is the importance of the focus of our minds: “Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with what the Spirit desires.” This is compounded by a key subtlety: one can focus on the flesh by lustfully giving ourselves over to power, pleasure, prestige — that is obvious. But equally, we can be sucked into a whirlpool of despair and bondage to sin as we struggle in vain to resist sensual, painful, angry or self-condemning thoughts, feelings and impulses.
For, as we struggle to resist such sinful or destructive thoughts and urges, our focus is still on them. And so, they retain their power to suck us down into despair and sinful bondage.
Instead, we must learn to switch our thoughts to those given to us by the Spirit, and focus on these instead, so that we can learn to “keep in step with the Spirit.” [Gal. 5:26b.] This brings the Scriptures to the fore, for they are the secret to renewing our minds and lives — they “are able to make [us] wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the [people of God] may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” [2 Tim. 3:15 – 17.].
Consequently, Paul urges:
offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. [Rom. 12:1, 2.]
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. [Colossians 3:16, 17.]
Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus . . . whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is admirable — if anything is excellent or praiseworthy — think about such things. [Philippians 4:6 – 8.]
Godly Truth as Salt and Light
Plainly, the cutting edge of Bible Study is application, whether to our thought lives, or to our relationships and activities, or to the communities where we study, work and live.
Equally plainly, given a world full of people whose minds are set on the flesh, it is also its most controversial aspect. For, salt stings when it touches our open sores and light exposes the hidden evil of our ever so deceitful hearts. It is thus no wonder that God's Word will always face resistance in the community: "one man's renewal will always be another man's rebuke."
However, it is our duty to face, live by and apply "the truth in love" as individuals, in our families and collectively in our communities.
Of course, this cannot justify oppression or violence to others in the name of truth. Of this, there has been a long, sad, and as yet unfinished history. (On this point, it must also be said that there has also been a long, equally unfinished history of communities rejecting godly truth and persecuting their prophets, to their own ruin.)
But also, “thy word is truth” seems to be nonsense to many of our educated elites in the Caribbean. To such people, the firing off of a Bible quote has all the impact of breaking wind in public. For, they believe that the Bible is nothing more than an ancient collection of fables and oppressive rules, outmoded by the advance of Science and culture.
Consequently, they believe that those who want to use the Bible as a guide to life, family, community, governance, law and public policy are a menace to modern society. For, in their eyes, any attempt to raise questions of biblical morality in the community is actually an attempt to impose a right wing, “fundamentalist” power grab.
Such a power grab, in their opinion, would force gays back into the closet, chain women to the kitchen, impose utterly unacceptable restraints on private and public sexual expression, and fill the minds of school children with discredited, destructive rubbish. They therefore view and respond to biblical Christian faith as a threat.
Such thinking hinges on two key, but quite problematic, assumptions: (1) the validity of relativism, and (2) the mythical character of the God of the Bible. For, if there is nothing more to truth, rights and morality than what people and communities are willing to accept as true, fair and good, then of course those who think they have a cosmic, God-given standard to judge thinking and behaviour are both deluded and dangerous.
The problem with such thinking, though, is exactly these same assumptions. First, as we saw above, relativism asserts the self-contradictory principle that it is wrong to assert binding moral obligations. Thus, relativist morality saws off the branch on which it sits, and falls of its own weight.
Second, evolutionary materialism leads to the logical conclusion that all human thinking is the product, without residue, of accidents of evolution and psycho-social conditioning, undermining the validity of thought itself. That, of course, includes the thoughts that lead to relativism and evolutionary materialism. So, why should we trust the musings of an overgrown monkey brain — one shaped and controlled by its potty training and class conditioning — that can only lead to the recommendations of just another puzzled rat in the cosmic maze?
In short, relativistic, materialistic thinking is riddled with theoretical and practical inconsistencies. For instance, how can one protest the binding nature of moral principles and in the next breath object to the claim that some races are more highly evolved than others and so may freely exert their power over lesser mortals?
In fact, there is considerable positive evidence for the God of the Bible. To start with, the highly ordered, complex molecular biology of the so-called “simple” cell strongly demonstrates the sophisticated, mind-bogglingly intelligent design of all living systems. So, while there is room to debate interpretations of how creation has been done and how long it took, it is those who assert that “the Lord Chance made them all” who have yet to advance a sound proof for their claims. That is, belief in an intelligent Creator is eminently reasonable.
Then, there is considerable evidence that many millions of people across the ages have encountered and thus have come to know just such a Creator, personally. Such encounters have transformed lives and civilisations. Indeed, the Old Testament is the written record of a culture that was based on such encounters with God.
In turn, the Gospels record how the Messiah promised in the Old Testament came to his people. He loved, taught and did many miraculous wonders among them — only to be betrayed and unjustly put to death by scheming religious leaders and politicians. But, it did not end there, for, with over five hundred eyewitnesses, God raised Jesus from the dead and sent out his disciples to bear witness to the Messiah in the entire world.
The rest of the New Testament is the record of the first generation of those disciples, as they went out into the world with the gospel, in miracle-working power. Especially important is the record of Saul of Tarsus, who we first encounter as the man who laid waste to the church. But, on the road to Damascus, the Risen and Glorified Christ arrested his man, in person, and sent him out as his chosen messenger.
As Paul would later say, he “was not disobedient to the heavenly vision,” and so as Apostle to the Nations, he launched on perhaps the most remarkable second career in recorded history. He paid with his life for his work, of course, but he transformed western culture and through his impact on Europe, the whole world.
However, in our time, many have rejected the foundation on which the modern world was built, and have turned their backs on God. So, they assume that the existence of natural laws proves that miracles are impossible, and on the strength of that assumption dismiss any record that includes the miraculous. In particular, they reject the Bible as a collection of pious myths, and so feel free to deny that the God who speaks through the Bible has any claim on their lives today.
But, the existence of natural laws proves no such claim, nor could it conceivably do so. For, what Scientists do is to investigate the general operations of the natural world through experiment, observation, modelling, theorising and calculation, and then try to interpret their findings based on their philosophical assumptions about the world. So, Scientific reasoning makes inferences from particular cases to provisional general conclusions, in light of the paradigms held by the Scientists in question. That is, the process is one of open-ended discovery of patterns in the world, rather than one of proof beyond reasonable doubt.
But, such a reasoning process simply cannot address events that, by definition, take their significance from the very fact that they stand out from the common course of nature. In short, Biblical supernaturalism expects to find a world in which there is order and predictability. In fact, it is this Biblical worldview that led to an intellectual climate that, believing in a nature governed by laws, provided the basis for the Scientific Revolution.
Further, as C. S. Lewis points out, what makes miracles more or less probable is the existence of a Creator who has an interest in his creatures. If such a Creator does not exist, then of course miracles are highly improbable or impossible; but that is to be established based on the evidence, not smuggled in as an assumed criterion used to assess the evidence. In short, it is not appropriate to beg the question as a basis for investigating it.
There is another, less polite, word for such question begging: prejudice. So, let us rather open our minds and hearts to the facts of the case, and to the voice of the millions down through the ages and today who have met God in his miracle-working power and glory. And, through the record of their witness, let us listen to the God “who is there and is not silent.”
As Paul pointed out to the Athenians, God’s message is to all nations:
The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. From one man he made every nation . . . and hedetermined the times for them and theexact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him . . . . since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone — an image made by man’s design and skill. In the past, god overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he shall judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead. [Acts 17:24 – 31. Emphasis added.]
Thus, through Bible Study, we return to the four R's of revival: (1) repentance as we surrender to the truth; (2) transformation of our lives through "the renewing of [our] minds”; (3) revival as God pours out "times of refreshing”; and, (4) reformation as repentance, renewal and revival spread through and fill communities and nations with the light of God's glory in Christ.
Thus, this chapter on Bible Study sets the context for the rest of this book, in which we will explore several strategic breakthrough teachings, relating to:
§ Prayer in revival
§ Revival in business, the professions, arts, media and education
§ Revival and community leadership
May we be blessed with seasons of refreshing from God in our time, across the Caribbean, and beyond as we apply these truths to our lives and communities.
§ Would cells be a useful structure for doing this?
§ In the chapter, the OIA inductive approach to Bible study is emphasised. Is it sound? Practicable? Balanced?
§ Given the hostility which now so often greets the Bible in the wider community, how can we go about applying biblical insights to life, work and service in the wider community?
§ How, then should we go about responding to major intellectual challenges and secularist, heretical or even pagan agendas in our region?
§ How would this contribute to renewal and reformation?
 NIV marginal readings for sarx, the flesh. Emphases added.
 Rom. 5:1 – 5.
 As C. S. Lewis pointed out in his Miracles.
 Francis Schaeffer.