What is your attitude toward the Bible? As we continue our series, “The 7,” we focus on the first of the seven essential beliefs of Christianity: The Bible. The Bible is God’s story anchored in the context of history. It is our authority, our conscience, and our guide. We are firm where it is firm, and we are flexible where it is flexible.
Contending for the Faith
What is your attitude toward the Bible? As we continue our series, “The 7,” we focus on the first of the seven essential beliefs of Christianity: The Bible. The Bible is God’s story anchored in the context of history. It is our authority, our conscience, and our guide. We are firm where it is firm, and we are flexible where it is flexible.
Here are a few reminders from the first week of our series, “The 7,” talking about the essentials of the Christian faith:
Essential convictions make for a healthy, joyful, equipped, useful, fruitful Christ follower; and a church of Christ followers with essential convictions makes a healthy church.
The Bible is God’s story anchored in the context of history.
When you read your Bible, don’t ask, “What does this mean to me?” Instead, you must ask what the Authority meant, and you would do well to put yourself underneath it.
The timeless principles and truths of Scripture never change across time and culture.
Divine physician’s general warning: Ingesting false teaching WILL complicate your life, possibly eternally. Examine the Scriptures to see if the things you hear are True.
The Bible is our authority. It is our conscience, and it is our guide. We are firm where it is firm, and we are flexible where it is flexible.
To be a member at this church, you must hold to this conviction:
You don’t read your Bible as an intellectual exercise so that you know facts about God.
When you read your Bible, you want to make sure you read it as one who is approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
If you accept some parts of the Bible and reject other parts, it’s not the Bible you believe in, it’s yourself you believe in.
“The world is always at peace with a lukewarm church, and a lukewarm church is always pleased with itself.” -Charles Spurgeon
“If you want to save men’s souls, you must tell them a great deal of disagreeable truth.” -Charles Spurgeon
The Bible: read it in, pray it out, pass it on.
The reason God tells you what’s right and wrong in His Word is that He wants it to go well with you. (Deuteronomy 4:40)
“The more society drifts from truth, the more society is going to hate those who speak it” -George Orwell
Truth sounds like hate to those who hate the truth
The reason the church has so little influence on culture is because culture has had so much influence on the church.
Well, hello! How is everybody doing this weekend? It is great to be with you all. As you know, I have not been here physically present all of these last weeks. Sometimes I was sitting there taking notes, but I've been in different places teaching and encouraging the church around the world, and has it ever been encouraging to see what is happening around the world!
I've personally seen the way God is at work on the other side where the water swirls differently down the drain in Australia and where they drive on the wrong side of the road and have signs that can be confusing to Americans. I know you've been praying for me or I would not be here. I wouldn't be alive because you drive on the other side of the road there, which is not that big of a deal until you come to an intersection and you find out you'd better not do a left, right, left when it turns very quickly into right, left, right or you won't be all right for very long. I almost tested that reality.
We are in the middle of a great series. I'm excited to be with you today. We're calling this series The Seven, and we're talking about seven essentials. What I want to do is tie in, as we start today, a little bit back to what my friend, Blake, did last week when he did an amazing job making sure we understood what the gospel once and for all delivered to the saints was.
You can even go with the last series we did, if you've been tracking with us. Some of you guys just jump in and watch this message alone online. You ought to go back and watch the series we did called The Outsiders. It ended with Jesus' incredible love all the way to the end of a criminal's life as he shared essential truth about who he was or, at least, the man next to him had essential understanding about who Jesus was as he hung on a cross.
Last week, Blake showed you a chart, and the chart looked like this. It had essentials. Next to that were convictions, opinions, and questions. Last week, we were differentiating between essentials and convictions by talking about what it takes for the thief on the cross, what it takes for your waiter or waitress, your neighbor, your father, your mother, the person you love on the proverbial deathbed, for them to embrace and know as absolutely true for them to be saved. That's what we used last week when we talked about the word essentials.
Let me just give it to you this way. When Peter got done preaching the very first message ever when the Spirit of God came upon the church and they were his witnesses, the world looked at him and said, "What then must we do in light of what you just shared with us about who Jesus was?"
Peter said to them, "Repent! You have to turn from your self-dependent ways. You have to leave the dead religion and the understanding that you could earn God's favor by anything other than God's demonstration of love for you, in that while you were still sinners Christ died for you." He said, "Repent!" He goes on to say, "Each of you be baptized," which is so interesting because some people think it's essential that you're baptized to be saved, and I'll make it clear to you, as we go through this series, that's not at all what you have to do.
Baptism is an outworking of an inner faith, but you do need to turn your mind around. You need to repent. It is essential that you identify with the name of Jesus as the means of the forgiveness for your sin. You ought to be baptized. You ought to go ahead and declare that through an outward demonstration, but that is how we used the word essential last week.
A little bit later, Paul, when he was writing to the church in Rome, talked again about that essential of what it means to be saved. When he was talking to the Romans, he said in Romans 10:8, "The Word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart…" When he was quoting some Old Testament Scripture, he said, "That is the word of faith we are preaching."
Specifically, this is the essential. This is so important. If you're here as a guest, I want you to hear me say this. This is essentially what will make you reconciled to God and what will allow you to be called a child of God, that you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead. When you do that, you will be saved.
It doesn't mean you have a correct pneumatology, a correct bibliology, and that your eschatology is all squared away, that you have a correct anthropology, that your view of when life begins is all hammered out and consistent with Scripture. It doesn't mean you understand right then at that moment forever about binary gender and you have that locked down, that all of your sins and struggles have been dealt with, and your mind doesn't still need to be transformed. No. The one thing that has changed is that you know now that God is good and he has revealed his goodness through Jesus Christ.
It's why, when I'm sharing my faith with people, I don't want to get into secondary issues with them, secondary issues that have primary effect on the joy and the beauty of the life that individuals live, but I'm not going to talk about whether or not you need to move out from living with your girlfriend or if, whether or not you're a girl, you can have a girlfriend who you marry.
I want to talk to you about the faith. I want to talk to you about Jesus where God has demonstrated his love for you. Let me just finish what Paul said to the Romans. He said, "You have to understand and you have to agree with God that Jesus is Lord. He is God, the Creator of the heavens and the earth."
You have to believe in your heart that God affirmed he was that with power through the resurrection, because he says in verse 10, "…** for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness…" You have Christ's righteousness put on you when you ask God for mercy."…and with the mouth he confesses…"**
"I believe that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one comes to the Father except through him." Then, he experiences salvation. It's why, if you really want to understand this the way we talked about it last week, you need to put a bold red line right here, that this is what essentially you need to believe is true.
I'm going to say one more thing. It doesn't mean you believe those facts. It doesn't mean you just say, "I'm going to hold to these truths in a true-false sense." It means you put your trust in Jesus. It means you begin to follow him. Why? Because in James, chapter 2, verse 19… If you want to know anybody who has an absolutely correct understanding of the essentials about who Jesus is it's demons.
James 2:19 says, "You believe that God is one." **You believe God has revealed himself through the Son who was resurrected. That's awesome!"You do well; the demons also believe, and shudder."** They shudder in their belief because they know that means they are going to be judged because, even though they know Jesus is God and they know God is holy, they choose not to follow him. They believe facts. They don't believe in the way the Bible talks about faith.
Let me make something very clear. Last week, we talked about what is essential, in effect, for you to believe, and we separated that from what we called convictions, opinions, and questions. When you get a little further… What we're doing now in the series is we're going to talk about essential convictions we hold to because we do believe God is good and has revealed himself in his Son and we do believe he has revealed himself in the Word and we do believe the Bible tells us what we need to know about this Jesus.
So what you need to see is we really believe there is a red line here between the convictions. What you're going to hear as we go forward and what you'll see on our website with the seven essentials is we're not saying you have to have all of these things we're about to talk about hammered out before you can be a thief on the cross who is saved. What we're saying is this is essential for you to understand if you're going to be healthy.
There is a difference, if you will. Opinions would fall up here. We said last week opinions are things like, "What's better? Pork or beef barbeque?" Right? Something like when you ask yourself, "What's better? Luke Bryan or George Strait?" That's an essential. No, no. I'm sorry. It's close, but it's not. It's still an opinion. I hate to even say it's a question, but there are certain things that are out here, and I want to make a couple of quick comments.
What we did say last week to bring great clarity about the difference between what will put you into the kingdom of heaven and what will allow you to be a healthy, abiding believer is this one particular statement: Separate from the essentials of what makes you a believer, convictions are the beliefs that separate denominations and impact the health and vitality of a church.
We are charged by God to care deeply about the health and vitality of each of you, and that's why we're doing this series. We're not called to go and make converts before you meet your ultimate judgment like the thief on the cross. Jesus says, "Make disciples." You want to make sure the church, as the pillar and support of truth, teaches things that ought to be held absolutely as true. Conviction.
When you talk about a convict, literally the etymology of the word convict means somebody who has been proven guilty, that facts establish that person is this, and they are called a convict. What we're calling now going forward the seven essentials are things we believe the Scripture and the Word of God have proven are absolutely true, and that is why the seven essentials series is different than the essentials of what it takes for somebody to be saved. It's what you need to be a healthy, joyful, equipped, useful, fruitful Christ follower.
Last week, we said what the liberal church is going to do is pull the essential convictions of the faith and make them questions or opinions, and we don't want to be a church that produces individuals who play with deep truths, so we're doing this series.
What fundamentalists will do, though, is they will always drag down things you should talk about and say, "Anybody in this church who doesn't like country music can't be a member of our church." That would be crazy, although… No, that would be crazy. We want to make sure we talk about what it means for us to say, "We feel really good about you creating disciples." Sometimes people ask me, "Todd, who do you partner with?" I always say it this way.
If you go back to the chart with the bold line under essentials and convictions, I will lift up the name of Jesus with anybody who agrees to the things Paul talks about in Romans 10 and Peter talked about in Acts 2. I won't feel really good about you leading others to follow Jesus unless you hold to these essential convictions we're about to walk our way through. What are those seven and the implications and derivatives of them? Here they are.
Those seven include the Bible; a right understanding of the Trinity, which is a word that is used to describe how the Bible reveals the person of God; a thorough and biblical understanding of Jesus Christ (which is, obviously, very core to the way we used it last week); the role of the Holy Spirit and the use of his gifts and staying away from the abuses of what it means today to have a relationship with God and the Holy Spirit; man (who he is in his depravity and how God deals with him) and the distinctiveness between male and female (which is underneath the subset of man) and how there is no gender fluidity (which is core to being a healthy, joyful individual); salvation and how it comes (justification by grace through faith); and maybe not the details of how it's going to work out at the end times, but the fact that Jesus, who is alive, is going to return and is going to reign.
We're going to talk about these things. Today, we're going to focus on this one. The reason we're starting on the Bible is because it is what will help us with all of the other ones we're going to talk about. The Bible is where we go to learn about who God is and to see what he has done. The Bible is God's story anchored in the context of history, where God has revealed to us what he has been doing in the context of history.
It's not just a bunch of loose ideas and philosophies. It is a record of God interacting with, rescuing, and redeeming humanity in the world we live in. Here's how we word this essential. It flashed up a second ago, but I want to say this to you again. This is why we teach here and in your smaller communities every week.
Essential convictions make for a healthy, joyful, equipped, useful, and fruitful Christ follower, and a church of individual Christians who are healthy and joyful and equipped and useful and fruitful is what eventually makes a healthy church, so we are called to equip the saints. We're called to make sure you know what the gospel is once and for all delivered to the saints. Then, we are called to give you some essential convictions that you hold to be true. I'm going to show you that all through Scripture today. It's not up to us to take God's Word and thrust upon it what we think it means.
I had a chance when I was in Australia to do what I do every week when I'm on mission here in the Dallas/Fort Worth/Plano/Frisco area. That is, I engaged folks in conversation about things that matter, the most important thing in the world and the most beautiful thing I've ever come to understand, which is the love of God revealed to me through Jesus Christ.
I was actually in Sydney on my way down to Adelaide and over to Melbourne and other places my wife and I had a chance to go together. I had a chance to teach and minister with her and others we interacted with. I was riding in a car with my Uber driver who was taking me from my hotel to the Sydney airport, and we started to talk about different things. It turns out this individual was from Turkey, and he had a background within Islam, so we began to talk about things we both held as important and dear.
We had a love for the prophets, we had a love for God, and we had a love for his Word, but it divided very quickly there about what the Word we should trust in is and specifically who Jesus was. We started talking about 'Isa, and we started talking about God's Word, and he said to me, "The problem I have with the Bible is that people think it means all kinds of different things." I thought to myself, "Do I kind of go with the Sunni Shiite thing because people think the Qur'an and the right understanding of Islam means different things?"
I just said, "Well, that shouldn't be a problem to you, the fact that different men read the same book and come up with different understandings. That doesn't mean the Bible is not true. For instance, I don't think you're driving fast enough." He goes, "Oh, you don't know much about Australia. I learned this about Australia. It is one of the most militant places, where cops will pull you over if there is any variance."
I talked to at least five different people who got tickets for doing one or two miles per hour over the speed limit, and you only get four of those tickets a year and you'll lose your license, so they are very careful to travel the right speed, but I told this guy, "You're not driving fast enough." He said, "What do you mean?" I go, "You're supposed to be doing 60. Look at the sign." There was a sign that popped up right there in front of us that I saw. This is what a speed limit sign looks like in Australia.
I said to him, "Let's go! Let's go 60." He looked down and said, "I am doing 59. I am doing 60." I go, "No, no, no! You're supposed to go 60 miles an hour. Let's pick it up." He goes, "No, no, no. This is 60 KPH." I go, "It's 60 MPH. I'm a driver. I know what a speed limit is." He goes, "No, no, no! Over here we do KPH not MPH." I go, "I'm telling you that's 60 MPH." He goes, "No, it's 60 KPH." Eventually, he started to get frustrated with me.
I said, "Let me just stop. Can I just tell you something? I know you happen to be right. I know you're supposed to do 60 KPH in Australia, but do you know why you're right? You're right not because we both looked at the same sign. What we shouldn't have done, because I read the sign differently than you, is assume that the sign is not relevant.
No, the reason the sign is 60 KPH is not because we're in Australia as opposed to the United States but because the authority that put that sign up told us what it must mean. You are right because you agreed with the meaning of the sign. That sign meant, according to the authority that gave it to us, 60 KPH."
You put that same sign in the states, and the authority says it means this. The problem you need not make here is speed limits or MPH or KPH don't change when you go around the spiritual world. When you're in Australia, America, or Turkey, there are certain truths that are true everywhere. Just because one man wants to make it KPH doesn't mean it's not MPH.
You have to ask yourself when you read the text, "What did the authority mean?" In fact, one of the worst questions you can ask yourself when you read the Bible is, "What does this mean to me?" That's not the way you're supposed to read your Bible. You don't want to read your Bible and go, "What does this mean to me?" What you want to do when you read your Bible is say, "What did the author mean when he wrote it? What was his intention with those he wrote it to?"
When you find out what the intention was applied to that culture, you can then go, "Okay. Now, I'm going to take that intention and I'm going to apply it to my culture," but the timeless principle and truth never changes across culture. If you will, just to use the speed limit scenario, in both places (the States or Australia) whether you use KPH or MPH, it's that you should be regulated in the way you drive at this level. There is regulation that goes across time.
When you read your Bible you don't want to ask yourself, "What does it mean to me?" Because that 60 to me meant MPH as an American, but I could tell you, if I drove 60 miles per hour in a 60 kilometer per hour zone, the authority there wasn't going to care much what I thought it meant. The question is…What does the authority mean?
God is the authority over all cultures. We have one God over Turkey, Australia, and America. It's my job to align myself with it. When you start to think about where you are shepherded, when you start to think about what you believe, it is imperative you get yourself around folks who know the authority or who can teach you how to understand meaning.
It's why one of my favorite things I ever did when we taught through 2 Peter, because 2 Peter is all about this, was I put this little sign up right here, because this sign is consistent all throughout Scriptures. It's a sign I'm going to hang up again as I teach today. This is the divine physician general's warning taken right off a cigarette pack. You smoke these and you might die, and our Surgeon General wants you to know that.
I'm telling you God wants you to know it's very important who your shepherd is, and you have to be discerning when you listen to what essential convictions are for you to be a healthy, joyful, adequate, equipped Christ follower so you can be fruitful for your King. When you start to mess with some of these things, you're going to find out it might mean you don't know who Jesus is really. You call him Lord. Yet, you go your own way.
This is a fact. Ingesting false teaching or pulling out truth that wasn't meant in the text complicates your life, possibly eternally. You have to examine the Scriptures to see that the things you're hearing or observing or taking out there for your own application are so. This is what we mean when we say it's essential you believe this about the Bible.
In a pithy way, we say it this way. The Bible is our authority. It is our conscience. It is our guide. We stand firm where it is firm, and we are flexible where it is flexible. That essential conviction is something we're saying every single believer in this church (and to be a member of this church) must hold to.
In an expanded way, if you want to go look at how we articulate this, we try to figure out other communities of faith that we partner with and we say it this way. We believe the Bible to be the verbally inspired Word of God. It's interesting we didn't put the word plenary in there, but it's implied. When you talk about the verbal, plenary inspiration of Scripture (that's kind of a mouthful), verbal means every single word. God intended every single word to be in the text, and those words have meaning.
The word plenary… When you go to a conference and you go to the plenary session, that means everybody is there. It's not a breakout section. If you're at the conference, you're part of the plenary section. What we're saying is every single word, all of them together and the meanings of those words, is inspired.
It doesn't mean Paul saw a sunset and wrote the book of Romans. It means specifically God intended to bring forth what we have as the Word of God, and it is without error in its original writings, which is to say the autographs, the original effort of Scripture that God superintended for fallible man to bring forward with perfect truth… He did that.
I'm not going to go into what I call textual criticism or why we know we have a reliable and highly accurate copy of the original writings here, but scholars would tell you our text is pure to almost the hundredth percent and there's not a single matter of doctrine that is unclear. In other words, a lot of the textual errors we have as the Bible has come forward are on word order. Does it say, "Our Lord Jesus Christ," or "Jesus Christ our Lord"?
If a bunch of guys were copying the same original autograph and somebody wrote down one number and another guy wrote down another number, we're maybe not sure which number was there first, but we're sure that number doesn't affect our salvation or any ultimate core doctrine of the church.
It is the supreme and final authority in doctrine and practice. You cannot be… I'm going to go back to this statement. I'm going to say it again and again. This is why there are seven essentials. Essential convictions make for a healthy, joyful, equipped, useful, fruitful Christ follower, and that's what we want for you. I don't want you to come to Watermark. I want you to be a part of Jesus' church, and I want you to be a joyful believer.
I was talking with my friends who help lead with me here recently. Just to go back one more time to the original graph and the different arches that are here, if you think about what the word essential means in this chart, what we're saying is that's what makes you have the DNA of a sheep. This is what allows you to be part of the flock of God.
What we're going to say, though, essential convictions are, which is what the series about the seven essentials is, is what you need if you're going to be a healthy sheep, a breeding sheep that brings forward other healthy believers, a sheep that's going to move toward eventually becoming a shepherd of other people.
The DNA is to repent and believe. The DNA is confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, but if you want to be useful, faithful, and joyful, you'd better learn the text. I'm going to read this little deal to you. There's a guy named A.W. Tozer who wrote on the importance of being somewhere where the Word of God is taught correctly and where the meaning the authority intended is what's pulled out, where you take your authority from the text and you don't find what you want to believe in the text.
He says, "Our most pressing obligation today is to do all in our power to obtain a revival that will result in a reformed, revitalized, purified church." That's what we're doing here. We are reforming ourselves day after day not being conformed, if you will. I should say that again. Forgive me. We are being reformed. To use biblical words, we are being transformed by the renewing of our minds so we can live our lives in the good and acceptable way to the human condition that God intends for us because he's the Good Shepherd.
He says, "It is of far greater importance that we have better Christians than that we have more of them. Each generation of Christians…" This is true. "…is the seed of the next, and degenerate seed is sure to produce a degenerate harvest not a little better than but a little worse than the seed from which it sprang."
What we have an absolute commitment to do and an obligation to do is to make sure we are exhorting you toward a right understanding of the Word of God and a right application of it to your life. You don't read your Bible as an intellectual exercise so that you might know facts about God; you read your Bible so you know one thing, and that one thing is true, and that thing is that you should do these things not so you can be called good by God but because you know God is good and you don't want to miss out on any blessing he has for you.
When you read your Bible you want to make sure you read it in a way that you're going to show yourself approved as a workman who doesn't need to be ashamed, somebody who accurately handles the Word of Truth. Listen to what this gentleman said. "The scholar," which is what we all want to be (individuals who rightly divide the Word of Truth), "has a vitally important task to perform."
This is my job when I teach every week. My job is to make sure I guarantee the purity of the text. I get as close as possible to the Word as it was originally given so I might compare Scripture with Scripture until I've discovered the true meaning of what the author intended, but right there is where my authority ends.
Tozer says, "The scholar must never sit in judgment upon what is written. He dare not bring the meaning of the Word before the bar of his reason. He dare not condemn or commend the Word as reasonable or unreasonable, scientific or unscientific. After the meaning is discovered, what does the authority mean? That meaning judges him; never does he judge it."
It's why I tell people all of the time, if you read your Bible and you accept some parts of the Bible and reject other parts of the Bible, it's not the Bible you believe in; it's yourself. You don't want to be somebody who gives lip service. You don't want to be a Bible-believing heretic, somebody who is a follower of a non-biblical Jesus. This is what is happening all around the world today.
You have a liberal church that doesn't hold to essential convictions. Therefore, the church has lost its influence. By the way, I would tell you this. Spurgeon observed this almost 200 years ago. He said, "The world is always at peace with a lukewarm church, and such a church is always pleased with itself." People are going, "You're acceptable to me. What you say isn't too hard for me. I can hang out with you. I think you're a more loving church than some of those other people who say this is what God means."
Spurgeon also said, "If you want to save men's souls, you must tell them a great deal of disagreeable truth." Peter did that. He said, "Repent!" You're not here to judge the Word of God; the Word of God judges you. Your job when you read the Word of God is to pull out the meaning of what the text says and not try and find an excuse to believe what you want in it.
I'm going to tell you not only is it true that if you want to save men's souls you must tell them a great deal of disagreeable truth, but I even with my pastor friends say a lot of disagreeable things to them because they need to hold to essential convictions that the church is increasingly not holding to. May that never be the case here!
The Bible says, "All Scripture is inspired by God…" There's that verbal, plenary inspiration. Every single word is given to us in totality from God, not so we can play with it but so it can teach us what is right, if you will, reprove us of what isn't right, and correct us and tell us how to make it right, so we might be trained in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Then, it goes on in verse 17, "…so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work."
What we're saying as we start this series, The Seven, today in earnest is the most essential conviction you can have, because it's where God has revealed himself, is that the Word of God is the verbally inspired Word of God, and it's without error in its original writings, and it is the supreme and final authority in all doctrine and practice, and you're going to stand firm where it's firm and be flexible where it is flexible. It's what we must do. It's what we try and do.
Let me just share with you a couple of Scriptures as to why this is such a big deal to us. Acts, chapter 20, is the very first time and only time in the book of Acts… I mentioned this when we studied the book of Acts. You might have been here with us the two years we did that. When we were studying the book of Acts, in Acts, chapter 20, I said, "This is the only place in the whole book of Acts that the body of Christ is addressed."
Everything else is an evangelistic message or a testimony about somebody being evangelized, but right here in the book of Acts, the church is being addressed, and this is what Paul says. He says, "Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers…" Scholars who are to make sure the meaning is held on to.
"…to shepherd the church of God…" You should make sure these sheep who really have the essentials of who Jesus is are healthy and led by green pastures and still waters so they can grow and be joyful. "…which He purchased with His own blood." He loves them. He says, "I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you…" They won't hold to essential convictions.
They'll make essential convictions opinions and question them, and they'll redefine man, and they'll redefine woman, and they'll redefine marriage, and they'll redefine the lordship of Jesus Christ, and they'll redefine what the true works of the Spirit are. He says, "You have to watch because these guys won't spare the flock. They're only going to want to do things that the world will celebrate and take as easy."
He says, "…** and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them. Therefore be on the alert, remembering that night and day for a period of three years I did not cease to admonish each one with tears."** Folks, I can't overstate the importance of your loving this book. I have never seen a single mature, useful, healthy, thriving, joyful Christian who was not a student of God's Word.
I was talking to a guy this week, one of the more appropriately celebrated Christian leaders in our country who God is increasingly using around the world. We were on the phone actually yesterday. As we were talking, he said, "I don't know what I would do without God's Word. If God's Word were inaccessible to me, if it wasn't in my language, I'd tell my wife, 'Honey, we need to sell our house to buy a copy. Can we not eat for a couple of days?' Because I don't know what I would do without the Word of God."
Let me ask you a question. Is that your attitude? Do you really see it as your authority, your conscience, and your guide? Is it the supreme and final authority in your life for all understanding and practice? If not…if not…you will not be a healthy, joyful, equipped, useful, fruitful Christ follower, and if there are enough of those folks here who aren't doing that, we will not be a healthy church.
These seven essential convictions cannot be toyed with, and we in good conscience can't tell you to go and be shepherded at places that don't hold to these, and in fact, what I'm going to tell you is if you go to places where these things are trifled with you're going to ingest false teaching and it complicates your life and possibly even eternally.
Paul said, "Make sure you shepherd well the flock of God among you." Make sure you pull out the meaning from the text and it's meaningful in your life. When Peter was writing in 2 Peter, chapter 1, he starts, "I'm a bondservant. It's not about me. It's about Jesus, and I want to be a good under-shepherd to Jesus' supreme shepherd."
He goes down. He says in verse 2, "I'm going to try and multiply grace and peace in your life." Then, he basically tells, "You've been given everything for life and godliness. His divine power has been given to you. Everything you need to experience life and godliness," there in verse 3. He goes through and says, "I want you to give attention to certain things," and it includes a growing in knowledge and growing in understanding of what the Scripture says. Here's why. Look in verse 8.
He says, "For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful…" If you don't have a right knowledge of God… In other words, if you look at this book and go, "I think it means this," without being careful to go, "No, this is the meaning that's there and it judges me; I don't judge it," in Australia you'll lose your license. Here, you lose your life.
You'll lose your life, possibly eternally, not because you had it and you lost it, but because you never had it, and the fact that you never put yourself subject to the one you said was Lord and the Word he said you should trust, because this is what the Bible says in John, chapter 17, verse 17: "Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth."
Jesus said, "There is not a single jot or tittle…" which are the two smallest marks you can make in Hebrew to change the different letters that make up the words. "All are intended for you." Jesus says, "If you move a dot or a dash that changes the meaning, you have perverted the text. There is not a single jot or tittle that is going to be affected before the end of time. It's going to be fulfilled and never abolished."
We would do well to pay attention to it. Colossians, chapter 1, verse 28: "We proclaim Him, admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom…" **This is what shepherds do. It's why it's essential that we teach the Word of God. You read it. You ingest it. You read it through. You pray it in. You live it out. Then, you pass it on. We proclaim Jesus, we admonish every man, and we teach every man with all wisdom,"…so that we may present every man complete in Christ."**
Can I tell you again why I'm so passionate about this? Here is the overriding truth I want you to get from today. Essential convictions, which are a right understanding of the Word of God, make for a healthy, joyful, equipped, useful, fruitful Christ follower. We care deeply about your understanding of these things. A church of Christ followers with essential convictions makes for a healthy church, and a healthy church is a source of grace to the world that Jesus intends we should enjoy with him.
We are warned by Peter again in 2 Peter, chapter 3. He says that some of what Paul wrote is hard to get the meaning and to know what he means in there. In verse 16, he says, "…** as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction."**
That's why Paul said when you teach you should pay close attention to yourself and your teachings in 1 Timothy, chapter 4, because by doing so you will ensure salvation both for yourself and those who believe. Let me just close with this. This idea that we are called to teach the Word of God and to not be shy about holding to the Word of God…
Sometimes people go, "Do you really hold to that? That's kind of offensive to other people." I go, "I am a servant of Christ and a steward of the mystery of God. It is not up to me what is true and what is not. I don't get to pick my speed limit. I don't get to say, 'I'm an American when I'm in Australia,' and you don't get to say you're anything other than a child of God wherever you are."
All men are going to be judged by that authority, so you would do well to put yourself underneath it. When you speak to men, it's not going to go well with you always, because the world doesn't like those who will speak truth against it. I've said this. The world suppresses truth and righteousness. It doesn't want to know there is a God they're accountable to. It doesn't want somebody who tells them what is right and what is wrong. They don't like when folks remind them of that as servants of the one who said there is a right and there is a wrong.
You need to know this. The reason God has told us there is a right and wrong is because he wants it to go right with you. He wants you to live in a way that is good and acceptable and perfect to the human condition. I'm going to warn you. If you seek to be God's man and God's servant, as you must be if you are going to be faithful to Christ, it's not going to be a popular thing, and increasingly so in our world.
I love what George Orwell said a long time ago. You know George Orwell is not exactly a contemporary. He said, "The more a society drifts from truth the more it will hate those who speak it." I've said this. Truth sounds like hate to those who hate the truth. Orwell also said, "We have now sunk to a depth at which time the restatement of what is obvious is the first duty of intelligent men."
It's amazing the things that we're going to have to state the obvious about going forward…that all life matters, that there is a distinction between male and female. I could go on. It's our job to be ruthless with truth but to be patient with people. This book tells us when we speak to do it with gentleness and reverence to other people.
There was a lot of wisdom last week in talking about how we live with humility and we wisely interact with our culture, but just be clear about this: the reason the church has so little influence on our culture is because the culture has had so much influence on the church. The church has started to say, "What will culture accept about what we teach in this book?" That's not what you do! This is what is true of a person who holds to the essential truth of the Word of God.
In Ezekiel, chapter 3, God is talking to his prophet, and he says to Ezekiel, "Son of man, eat what you find; eat this scroll, and go, speak…" I am begging you to eat this scroll. I am begging you to see it for what it is. It's the Word of God, sweeter than honey from the honeycomb. He told Ezekiel to eat it.
Ezekiel said, "** So I opened my mouth, and He fed me this scroll."** You can do that every day with Bible study. You can go, "I think this is what the text means. Do you agree? Let's look at this together. Let's talk to older brothers and sisters. Let's see if this is what God wants us to understand from this."
He says in verse 3, "'Son of man, feed your stomach and fill your body with this scroll which I am giving you.' Then I ate it, and it was sweet as honey in my mouth. Then He said to me, 'Son of man, go to the house of Israel and speak with My words to them. For you are not being sent to a people of unintelligible speech or difficult language, but to the house of Israel…'" You're being sent to other English-speaking folks in the world today. Now watch this.
He says in verse 7, "…yet the house of Israel will not be willing to listen to you, since they are not willing to listen to Me." If you go speak the Word of God, don't be surprised a lot of folks aren't going to like it. Why? Because they don't like what God has to say. This is Ezekiel's world. He says, "Surely the whole house of Israel is stubborn and obstinate." You're going to run into stubborn and obstinate Americans. Believe me. They're in Turkey and Australia as well. Behold, though, if you are essentially a useful and healthy sheep, you're going to be like Ezekiel.
"'Behold, I have made your face as hard as their faces and your forehead as hard as their foreheads. Like emery harder than flint I have made your forehead. Do not be afraid of them or be dismayed before them, though they are a rebellious house.' Moreover, He said to me, 'Son of man, take into your heart all My words which I will speak to you and listen closely. Go to the exiles, to the sons of your people, and speak to them and tell them, whether they listen or not, "Thus says the Lord God."'"
That's our great task and privilege this week, but we don't just tell them, "That's what the Word of God says." We show them, "This is the Word of God embodied as I yield to the Spirit, as I follow my Lord and King, Jesus Christ, because I am his sheep, and he is my shepherd." Church, it is an essential conviction here and any place where you are an individual who wants to be a healthy, joyful, equipped, useful, fruitful Christ follower that you give your life to this book and you pull the meaning from it out and you walk in it. Let's go, church!
Father, I pray we would be a people of the Book, that we would be humble and kind, that we would teach, reprove, correct, and exhort in season and out of season. I pray we would pay close attention to ourselves and our teaching, and I pray that as a result of that, Lord, we would be useful to your people.
Lord, I pray we would be as stiff-necked committed to your kindness as the world is stiff-necked and hardheartedly committed to rebellion, that we would persevere in these things, that we would not grow weary in doing good, that we would be prophets of our age to our Israel that grace may come to our age and our Israel the way it came through Ezekiel to your people then.
Lord, let us eat the honey, the nectar of heaven, the Word of God. May it transform us! May your goodness and perfection and will be seen in us that the world may ask us to give an account for the hope that is within us, and may we do it with gentleness and reverence! I pray in Jesus' name, amen.