Perilous Times Primer #27

Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth—Part Three

In our last post we used the article, The Student, the Fish, and Agassiz, as an example of the law of critical observation. Anyone who has ever puzzled over a passage of Scripture can identify with the frustration expressed by the student in the story. It seems that after looking over the passage, like the student observing the fish, everything that can be seen has been seen in a short period of time. The problem is that we simply do not see what we are missing. Often, we are blinded by preconceptions, or we become bored and give in to distractions.
The article about the student and the fish illustrated the necessity of what the Bible calls “meditation.” Whereas the Eastern religions seek to empty the mind in what they call meditation, the Bible exhorts us to fill the mind with the Word of God. Instead of the mind becoming a vacuum (which can open the soul to the influence of evil spirits), the mind should become a storehouse of revealed truth.
As has been stated, under the rule of critical observation, all the previous 12 laws of Bible study come into play. It is evident that one must be willing to invest time, give attention to detail, and also use comparison and contrast with other passages.
Compare and Contrast
“These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches
but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual with spiritual.” 1Co 2:13
It is evident that human intellect is inadequate to grasp spiritual truth. Without conscious faith-dependence upon the Spirit, no real progress will be made in grasping divine truth. Spirit-led Bible study uses the Bible as its own commentary. Using the law of non-contradiction (#6 of the 12 laws given previously), we compare Scripture with Scripture with the assurance that the Bible cannot contradict itself. It is inevitable that when we compare passages in this way, we will find not only things that obviously agree, but also things that appear to contradict. At this point, it is crucial to look at context. All too often, believers confuse passages about our initial salvation with passages about our on-going salvation (which we call practical sanctification, or spiritual growth).
For example, in Rom 4:2–5 and Eph 2:8–9, it is very clearly stated that we enter into eternal life “by faith, apart from works.” We are saved by faith alone, in Jesus Christ alone. Then, we turn to Jam 2:26 and read:
“For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”
The confusion at this point (which tragically is widespread, including with many pastors), is that James chapter 2 is not talking about initial salvation, but about the ongoing salvation of spiritual growth and fruitfulness in the Christian life. The context (which goes all the way back to Jam 1:22, about being “doers of the word, and not hearers only”) makes this distinction very clear.
Consider five things that remove the apparent contradiction:
1. The author is speaking to “brethren,” those who are already saved (see Jam 1:19; Jam 2:1, Jam 2:5, Jam 2:14).
2. The three examples he uses are all of known believers:
a. A brother who ignores the need of a fellow brother or sister in the faith (Jam 2:15–16)
b. Abraham, long after he had come to saving faith (Jam 2:21–23)
c. Rahab, also after she had already believed (Jam 2:25)
3. The use of a “straw man” (called a diatribe) in Jam 2:18–20, calls attention to the fact that while faith at initial salvation is passive (we receive eternal life), faith in the Christian life is active (we produce good works). This is made clear in Eph 2:10, immediately after declaring that salvation comes “not of works” (Eph 2:9), where we are told that, “we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”
4. James speaks of faith that is “dead.” He is not referring to someone who only “professes” to be a believer. Neither does he suggest at any point that the person is no longer saved. His point is that such faith is non-functioning and non-productive. Like the widow who is “dead while she lives” (1Ti 5:6), the goals and objectives of the faith are not being realized in life. Remember that both Abraham and Sarah were said to be “dead” sexually (Rom 4:19). The term is used to speak of their inability to reproduce and has no reference to eternal life.
5. The final graphic example (Jam 2:26) declares that “the body without the spirit is dead.” Someone who has died (believer or unbeliever) is a body without breath. Whether they are saved or unsaved they are “dead” insofar as the body is concerned. The figure could also be used of the Body of Christ—the Church. Take away the “breath” of the Word of God and you have a “dead” assembly. It is the right understanding of God’s Word that generates the “works” of faith, giving life both to individuals and churches.
Wherever we find “faith” (trust in the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior) without “works” (“the fruit of the Spirit,” Gal 5:22–23), whether in an individual or in an assembly, we find the “death” that results either from the absence of the teaching of the Word, or because of failure to apprehend its meaning and application to daily life. This brings us to a vital question regarding the spiritual life.
Why Read the Bible?
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind,
that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Rom 12:2
In the Upper Room, Jesus made it clear that His intent is for every believer to glorify the Father in Heaven by being fruitful and productive (Joh 15:4, Joh 15:8, Joh 15:16). God has a plan and purpose for each of us—the “good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” We are to realize this plan, not by knowing it up front, but by realizing it through “the renewing of [our] mind.”
Paul makes it clear that this renewing process has both a positive and a negative effect. It guards us from being conformed to this world and, at the same time, transforms us into a reflection of Jesus Christ. As the rest of Romans chapter 12 makes clear, this transformation has a great impact both on fellow-believers and unbelievers alike. A fruitful life of faith both encourages and strengthens our fellow believers, and also convicts the unsaved around us, pointing them toward the Savior.
As this is being written (January 14, 2016), Nan and I visited a lady named Betty Rabbone, who is in a nursing home here in Perth, Australia. Betty has listened to our classes for years, prays for us faithfully, and often has given bags of change she has collected for the children’s ministry in India. She has suffered many health problems—being near death at one point—but God is not through with her yet!
As we spoke, she told of a lady she had witnessed to for some time, who finally came to faith in Jesus Christ. This lady has gone on to grow in faith, and now is active in children’s ministry, leading many children to saving faith. Since she had earlier spoken of some of her discouragements and disappointments, we were able to use this as a means of encouragement to her. If, in our lifetime, we only led one person to Christ, who then went on to bring others into the faith, how rich and worthwhile would our life be in light of eternity?
I ask that you remember Betty in your prayers as she continues to witness, give books and articles, and lives her life as a light in a dark and troubled world. Her faith and service is a great encouragement to us, and we praise God for her example of living faith!
Living Faith is a Working Faith
“Increase our faith.” Luk 17:5
This response from the disciples came as a result of being told by Jesus that faith must work. In the immediate context, two things are emphasized. First, faith must be willing to forgive others (Luk 17:1–4). Second, faith must serve without motives of personal gain or profit (Luk 7:5–10).
Either of these situations can often cause us to become discouraged. Like the disciples, we recognize our need for strengthened faith. But to find out how this increase in strength comes about, look back to the close of the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luk 16:29–31). Abraham, speaking to the rich man in Hell, says that the revealed Word of God is sufficient to bring a lost soul to saving faith.
But, it is from this truth that Jesus turns to the disciples—who already are believers—to shine the light of truth on the importance and impact of God’s Word on the believer’s life. The child of God who is unfruitful is an “offense” to the unbelieving world (Luk 17:1–2). Such a believer will also prove to be a trial to fellow-believers, and will often stand in need of forgiveness. The forgiveness of the unfruitful believer is both an offer and a challenge to him or her to become “a doer and not a hearer only.” Our willingness to continue in faithful service—often in the face of apathy, opposition, or even persecution—becomes a call to service for those who have fallen by the wayside. The fruitful, productive life of each and every child of God serves both to call the lost to faith, and to call the inactive into the service of our Lord and Savior. Thus, we desperately need the Lord to “increase our faith.” How is this done?
Faith Comes by the Word of God
“So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Rom 10:17
Only the Word of God can increase our faith. This is why not only “hearing,” but also reading the Bible is so crucial to a vital and effective Christian life (see also Rev 1:3). In fact, the daily and habitual reading of God’s Word is critical observation in action. It is the holding before the eye of the soul, not just a portion, but the whole of the Word of God. In a variety of passages, we find the same common themes being reinforced and repeated. Those things we do not understand are gradually made clear by comparison with those passages we do understand. The mind is constantly renewed in the truths of God and the ways of faith, and the inner life is refreshed and cleansed. Just as we bathe the body in water and feed it on nourishing food, so the Word of God becomes both to the soul.
Whatever discouragements or difficulties we may face in this coming, turbulent year of 2016, be sure that you do not foolishly deprive your soul of the Word of God—the very Breath of Heaven.
I pray that you will learn to “live in the Word of God,” and that the Word of God will live in you. If you truly count the wisdom of God as greater value than the riches of this world, your life will be filled with power and joy, and you will be a lamp shining in the darkness of this age—calling men and women to the Fountain of Life and the Light of the World.
Such a life is the only life worth living!
Professor Gene

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