The Bible? Or the Holy Spirit? Or Both?

Friday, November 08, 2013

The Sufficiency of Scripture AND the Ministry of the Spirit


One of the hardest things for a believer who embraces the sufficiency of Scripture or Sola Scriptura is the idea that the Bible might not contain everything we need to follow Jesus.  To most of my reformed friends, that statement seems almost blasphemous.  I used to argue with forceful vehemence that if a believer thought they could find anything else for their life in Christ outside of the Bible, then they were listening to doctrines of demons.

Then I thought more about that.

And then I thought a lot about that.

I'm not there anymore.  And here's why.

The Sufficiency of Scripture Defined

The teaching of the sufficiency of Scripture, is based on 2 Timothy 3:16-17 and Jude 3
"All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives. It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is right.17 God uses it to prepare and equip his people to do every good work." (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NLT)
"Dear friends, I had been eagerly planning to write to you about the salvation we all share. But now I find that I must write about something else, urging you to defend the faith that God has entrusted once for all time to his holy people." (Jude 3, NLT)
In the words of John Piper, in his article entitled "Thoughts on the Sufficiency of Scripture,"
"In other words, the Scriptures are sufficient in the sense that they are the only (“once for all”) inspired and (therefore) inerrant words of God that we need, in order to know the way of salvation (“make you wise unto salvation”) and the way of obedience (“equipped for every good work”)."
But, as Piper continues,
"The sufficiency of Scripture does not mean that the Scripture is all we need to live obediently."
The New Covenant's Promise of the Holy Spirit

The New Covenant is the most central and important covenant for a Christian.  It was a promise given several hundred years before Jesus.  It prophesied something life-altering for God's people: forgiveness of sins as well as the Holy Spirit indwelling and anointing every man, woman, and child who follows Jesus for His service.  Specifically, as the New Covenant relates to the Holy Spirit, no longer were special individuals anointed to do God's work.  Now everyone who follows Jesus is anointed, called and commissioned for service in His kingdom.  In the words of Ezekiel and Joel,
"And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations." (Ezekiel 36:27, NLT). 
"I will pour out my Spirit upon all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your old men will dream dreams, and your young men will see visions. In those days I will pour out my Spirit even on servants—men and women alike." (Joel 2:28-29, NLT).
The promise of the New Covenant is about the Holy Spirit and His work in and through the person and work of Jesus Christ to us and in us.  That's a complicated statement, perhaps.  So let me say it another way. 

The Holy Spirit is God Himself.  When Jesus Christ died, rose from the dead, and ascended to heaven, He gave us the Holy Spirit, the Father's gift to us.  And His work, inside of us, is to lead us and guide us and minister to us.  He takes the ministry of Jesus Christ and applies it to us and in us.  He does that in ways that we can't possibly comprehend.  Read John 14-16 to see what Jesus Himself taught about this.  And read Romans 8 to see what Paul taught.  These two passages just scratch the surface.

The Bible is Not the Promised Holy Spirit

Now, notice something important.  Jesus and Paul (and others for that matter) never taught that the Scriptures were the promise of the New Covenant.  The Holy Spirit Himself was.

Shocking, I know.  It was quite a paradigm shift for me to go through personally, and it took me several years to become "okay" with that fact.  The Bible, the closed canon of Scripture, is not God's promise to us.  The Holy Spirit is.  And to make matters even worse, and perhaps even more conflicting, the Bible doesn't contain a promise to us anywhere that speaks of itself as a fulfillment of any promise, for that matter.  To do so is, honestly, reading something into the Bible that's just not there.

That's because that's not the Bible's function.  Paul tells us that the function of the Bible is to teach, correct, rebuke, and instruct in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).  And it further says that the Scriptures are theopneustos, or God-breathed.  That means that the Bible is the result of a divine and mysterious work of God working with and in a human to write truth that somehow ends up being a perfect representation of God's revelation of Himself to us.  

But that's not the same as saying that the Bible is a fulfillment of God's promise to us.  Instead, the Bible is a record of those promises to us.  The Bible records those promises through stories, poems, prophecies, and instructions. It is not a dictionary or encyclopedia of every revelation and instruction God has or ever will make about Himself to humanity.  Rather, once again, it is a book of stories, poems, prophecies and instructions about Him revealing Himself to humanity.  The fact that it is "inspired" by the Holy Spirit means, therefore, that the Bible is the most objective standard of God's revelation of Himself to humanity.  But that does not mean that the Bible is the only means by which God reveals Himself to humanity.  

That's why we need the Holy Spirit.  Jesus says that the Spirit is our teacher (John 14:26).  He takes what belongs to Jesus - most of which we see in the gospels - and He somehow, mysteriously, but truly, applies it to our souls, our hearts.  Thus, the Bible is more or less the harvest of truth and the Holy Spirit is the divine chef who takes from the harvest what each person especially needs and specially prepares and serves it in a way that meets each person where they are.  

To say that the Bible is all we need is like saying that a harvest of food is all you need.  Someone's got to prepare the food and cook it.  And what's more, it's always more enjoyable when someone serves it with real class, in a way that makes you go, "WOW!"  The Holy Spirit takes God's Word and does that for each person in the family of God.  And that's why the Bible, though necessary for every Christian, does not provide everything we need to follow Jesus.  The Holy Spirit does.  

While the Holy Spirit often, though not always, starts with the Scriptures He inspired, He always brings God's people to Jesus Christ and reveals truth about Jesus in a way that is always guided by Scripture, and never contradicting it.  Ever.  That would be crazy.  He's never going to say something opposite of what He's already said.  He'll never say anything contradictory to what He said.  

Apologies & Corrections

I would offer a heartfelt, "I'm sorry" to friends whom I would label charismaniac, because they believe the Holy Spirit can and will and does reveal new truth to people that's not even rationally or remotely connected to anything in the Bible.  But I can't genuinely offer that apology.  You need to stop saying, "Thus says the Lord," if you're not reading your Bible following that statement.  And you need to stop saying God revealed things to you that in no way lead people back to Jesus Christ and what He taught in the Scriptures.  You're leading people away from Jesus, and the Holy Spirit will always lead people to Jesus.  That means you're doing the false prophesy thing.  Return to the Scriptures. It's the best and safest place to start afresh.

I'm also tempted to offer the same apology to my Roman Catholic friends who, whether they know it or not, are led by a church who believes that Roman Catholic church tradition is somehow equal to the Bible and can trump the Bible through the Pope.  But again, I can't offer that apology, even though I know that there are tons of genuine believers in the Catholic church.  They probably just don't know what their church really believes and teaches.  No traditions or speeches of man can compare to the Scriptures.  None.  And no words of a human being, even those we may look at as God's divinely appointed leader, can trump the Scriptures or change what the Bible says.  None.  Again, return to the Bible itself.  It's the best and safest place to start.

So there's my friendly corrective to those who threaten the sufficiency of Scripture in their approach to following God.  And here's my friendly corrective to those who exaggerate the sufficiency of Scripture.  Stop saying, teaching, preaching, and writing that the Bible is the end-all-be-all for the follower of Jesus.  It's not.  Jesus said the Holy Spirit was.  Paul said it, too.  Following Jesus is about being led by the Holy Spirit.  And we know that He's leading us when the things He says to us sound like the things we hear in His Word, or sound very similar to them and in a way that is guided by the Scriptures.  

A Challenge to My Reformed Friends

My reformed friends unfortunately seem to make the Bible an idol.  Faithfulness to God is ironically reduced to their exaggerated view of Scriptures.  For them, you know you're a real believer when you see the Scriptures as they do.  And this is where the Holy Spirit is the silent attendee in reformed audiences and meetings.  He hasn't left the building.  But He's unfortunately been relegated to something like a fixture in the room.  We know He's there, but since we've got His Word we're basically good-to-go.  

But the Bible isn't God, is it?  It's a book.  God is not a book.  That Book is about God, but it is not the substance of God.  It doesn't even contain God.  It's a record of the revelation of God.  It's only the foundation of truth about God.  But it's not God Himself.  My reformed friends would be wise to remember that when so much emphasis is placed on the exegesis, hermeneutics, exposition, and homiletics of Scripture, God is not the one being worshiped.  The Bible is.  And that's not what God wants.  

GOD wants to be worshiped.  Jesus said in John 4 that the Father is seeking worshipers.  He said the Father wants those who worship in spirit and truth.  When I was reformed-only, I redefined "truth" to refer to the Bible, and therefore essentially redefined worship.  So I worshiped the Bible instead of God.  Too much reformed worship today, in my opinion, is Bible-worship.  And because it's misunderstands the function of Scripture, the Holy Spirit is devalued...and therefore, dismissed.

In my view and experience, the reformed view of the sufficiency of Scripture needs a downgrade.  Unfortunately, conferences, seminars and workshops keep giving it an upgrade.  Consequently, the Holy Spirit is the One who keeps getting downgraded.  That's how we end up with conferences like Strange Fire (#StrangeFire).  Man ends up unwittingly exalting God's Word over and above God, making the Bible equal with God, while doing so in the name of genuinely worshiping God.  

A return to the promise of the New Covenant and Jesus' teaching on the Spirit and its fulfillment at Pentecost will elevate God above the Bible.  Such a return will cause people to discontinue the practice of using the Bible as a means of attempting to contain God and define what He will and will not do any longer.  Honestly, it's only an erroneous view of Scripture that uses Scripture to say that the miraculous works of God found in the Scripture are things God no longer needs or wants to do today.  It's a stunning and speechless display of un-submitted intellectualism to say the Scriptures teach that much of what's in the New Testament Scriptures are no longer happening because we have the Scriptures. 

The church needs more of the Holy Spirit.  HE Himself is the promise of God to us.  The Bible tells us so.  We believe the Holy Spirit is the fulfillment of that promise found in the Bible.  We do not believe the Bible is the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit, nor that the Bible is the equivalent of that promise. The thing the Holy Spirit inspired is not equal to or above the person of the Holy Spirit Himself.  Rather, it is the tool the Holy Spirit uses to teach us, correct us, rebuke us and instruct us...about Jesus Christ.  

Conclusion: Some Practical Help

How do you see the Bible?  How do you use the Bible?  Are you led by the Holy Spirit?  Or are you led by your Bible? There is a difference, believe it or not.  The distinction can honestly be found in how much more you pray than study your Bible.  If you study your Bible more than you pray, you probably worship the Bible instead of God.  You probably tend toward rooting your relationship with God in your brain, your ability to discover, decipher and formulate the truth that's found in the Bible.

But if you pray more than you study your Bible, you probably worship God.  You probably understand better than others what it means to be led by the Spirit and to walk in the Spirit.  You understand that you must hear from Him about how to obey the things Jesus taught you in the Scriptures.  You realize that while the Bible is a table full of harvest, the Spirit must help you understand it and how to specifically apply it and obey it in your personal life and context.  

The amount of time I spend with the Bible and in prayer is the most easy way I've found to tell the difference and help me in my own life.  It may oversimplify things.  But not necessarily.  Jesus told us that following Him is about childlike faith.  Children don't naturally gravitate toward studying a book.  They gravitate toward reading it and then attempting to pretend to live out the stories in it.  That approach more closely resembles the life Jesus intends for His children, I believe.

The Scriptures are sufficient.  They contain the foundational revelation we have of God and His Son, Jesus Christ.  But the Bible also contains a trajectory for the kind of revelation the Spirit will continue to make about God. The Holy Spirit is the person who actually takes that revelation of God and makes it mean something to us and inside of us. And He will continue to reveal more about God to us, but always in a way that is in keeping with what He's already said about God.  I'll end this post with the prayer Paul prayed which points us in this very direction.
"I do not cease to give thanks for you, or remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him,  having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe..." (Ephesians 1:16-19, ESV).

About the Author: Rob is a follower of Jesus at Jubilee Church.  From there he pursues Jesus' mission at Revive Consignment as the Business & Operations Development Director, as well as at Jubilee Church of Atlanta, in Woodstock, GA. From there he envisions and pursues missional-shaped business for the kingdom. He and his wife Sherri have been married for 20 years and together have three sons and a daughter. Rob believes the mission of the gospel is summed up in four simple phrases: know God, obey Jesus, make disciples, and plant churches. This is the pursuit of his life, as well as the point of his blog.

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