In 2016 Ligonier Ministries sponsored the State of American Theology study by Lifeway Research to measure the current theological awareness of adult Americans. Here are a few of their findings.
“Many self-professing evangelicals reject foundational evangelical beliefs. The survey results reveal that the biblical worldview of professing evangelicals is fragmenting. Though American evangelicalism arose in the twentieth century around strongly held theological convictions, many of today’s self-identified evangelicals no longer hold those beliefs.
STATEMENT NO. 6
God accepts the worship of all religions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
– 46% of self-identified evangelicals agree or somewhat agree with this statement.
STATEMENT NO. 18
By the good deeds that I do, I partly contribute to earning my place in heaven.
– 36% of self-identified evangelicals agree or somewhat agree with this statement.
The term evangelical locates within itself the gospel, the evangel. The heart of the gospel is the truth that Jesus Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life, and that His work alone accomplishes our redemption (John 14:6; Romans 3:21–25). The two above statements undermine the gospel, and significant numbers of evangelical respondents agree with them.
The first statement undermines the exclusivity of Christ. The second undermines the truth that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone. In 2016, we’re on the eve of celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. We find that evangelicalism is faltering. The stakes could not be higher. Salvation is found in Christ alone and not in any other mediator, any other religion, or by any other means.” (thestateoftheology.com)
What we believe still matters in our lives today. What we do flows out of what we believe. Who we are and who we think we are is directly influenced by our beliefs. Doctrines are not a side issue. They are foundational. They are crucial because they matter both for this life and for eternity.
When those who call themselves Evangelical don’t actually belief the gospel, there are even deeper issues. It reveals that large numbers of Evangelicals do not believe in the accuracy and the authority of the Bible. Last week we looked at what the Bible says about itself. The conclusion we shared is that the Bible is true and it is truth. It is without error in all that it teaches and in the words as originally written. It is the true revelation of who God is, of His creation and His activity in the world. In the Bible we have the very words of God. This is what the Bible teaches, and this is what Evangelicals say they believe. However, when pushed up against the wall of science, this belief in the authority of the Bible starts to falter.
“Many Americans live with a great deal of theological confusion and even hold contradicting sets of beliefs. 48% of people who deny that God is the author of Scripture also believe that science discredits the Bible’s claims. That’s not surprising. But 43% of people who agree that God is the author of Scripture also agreed that modern science discredits the claims of the Bible.
Americans both consider the Bible to be a divinely authored book and at the same time see the Bible as a book that fails to measure up to twenty-first century sensibilities. This issue is crucial for evangelicals. The authority of the Bible is the first and fundamental domino. If it falls, so falls the whole chain of beliefs.” (stateoftheology.com)
Why the Bible? Why should we memorize, meditate, learn it and live it? Why should we spend our time studying and hearing messages preached from the Bible? Because the Bible is Life.
Jesus said to his followers, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63)
As we said last week the words of the Bible are the very words of God. They were transmitted through people who received inspiration from the Holy Spirit, but the words are God’s. In fact, the words are Jesus himself.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.” (John 1:1-2)
God communicates and reveals. It is the nature of Jesus. His words are drastically different than human words. Although human words can be very powerful, they cannot cause life to appear from nothing.
“All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1:3)
The Bible tells us that in the Word, Jesus, was life. This life he gave to humans. When we think of life we think of breathing in and out, we think of heartbeats and eating and drinking, etc. But life came from Jesus speaking it into existence.
“In him was life,and the life was the light of men.” (John 1:4)
Life not only came into existence through the Word of God, it is also sustained because of the Word of the Lord Jesus.
“He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” (Hebrews 1:3)
We were made to have three dimensions: body, soul and spirit. All three dimensions need to be fed. We know how to feed the body. Our soul, which is the mind, will and emotions, can be fed by acquiring knowledge, being satisfied in the work we do and by loving, being loved and enjoying all the beauty and good things which God has given. But life is not lived in its fullness without feeding the spirit. Our spirit can only be fed by the Word of God.
“Jesus said to them, ’I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.’” (John 6:35)
Since Jesus is the Word, the Word is the bread of life. Our bodies can be fed by bread made with flour, but only Jesus can feed our spirit and give us fullness of life. But we must understand that we can’t nibble at the Word of God and expect to grow healthy in our spirit in the same way that we can’t nibble or eat junk food and expect our bodies to be healthy.
We must take it all in, the milk and the meat of the Word. That doesn’t mean that we understand all of the revelation of the Bible right away or even in this life or that have to read the whole Bible before we can personally know Jesus. We simply receive Jesus through faith. He comes to live in us. In a similar way to eating food we taste to see if it is good, then we eat the whole thing.
“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” (John 6:51)
The destination for everyone who eats this living bread is that while their bodies fall apart as they grow older, their spirit gets stronger and healthier and more full of life.
“Though our outer selfis wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)
Where does fullness of life come from? Does it come from being able to enjoy the pleasures of this life? Does it come from the satisfaction of accomplishment or hard work? Does it come from the relationships that we share? All these add to life, but they are not the source of life or its fullness.
“And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.” (John 6:51-54)
The greatest “Word” spoken was through Jesus in his death for humanity on the cross. If we are to have life and have it in all its fullness, we must receive or eat of the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. We must fully embrace Jesus on the cross. This is the Word that brings life which transcends the life of our bodies and our souls.
You say, this is not news to me. I’m a believer in Christ. I believe in Jesus and in his death and resurrection. That is good. However, ask yourself if you embrace all of Jesus’ words or only parts of them? Some who believe in Christ only come to the Word of God, the Bible, when they are in trouble and need an emotional boost. The words of scripture are a “self-help” resource and might as well be on the same level as a motivational speaker or psychology guru.
Some who believe in Jesus are like the Jews in our passage. They didn’t understand what Jesus was saying and they didn’t want to embrace all the words that he was telling them. Eventually they came to a point where they just up and left and stopped following him. In fact it says that at this point many of his disciples turned away from Jesus.
The flesh, or our default nature which always points us away from God, wants to have veto power over God’s words. But there is a problem with the flesh – it doesn’t have the power to give life. It only has the power to bring death.
“It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all.” (John 6:63)
There are many who want to tell God what to do. They want to determine for themselves what is right and wrong. They will come to the Lord but only on their terms. Those who do this are guilty of not eating the flesh of Jesus and drinking his blood. In other words, they do not in reality put their trust in His Word but instead in their own flesh, their own human intellectual, emotional, relational abilities or willpower.
Yet anyone who trusts in Jesus must come to him fully and lay down everything at the foot of his cross. He is the Word, and his final and full word was as he lay dying. He said in no uncertain terms on that cross that human ability, initiative, will power and anything else that is human cannot bring life. We must embrace the Word without reservation and without looking back. As the saying goes, “If Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.”
Let me highlight one example which is the key issue of our day concerning what place God’s Word has in our lives. Here are the words of Jesus Christ, the one who died and rose again as written down by Moses in the book of Genesis. “And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he madeinto a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man.” Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” (Genesis 2:22-24)
Many people today, even many Bible believing evangelical Christians want to say that God was wrong when he created male and female and defined marriage as one man and one woman. But if we say that God’s words are wrong, then we are rejecting Jesus. To come to God’s word and determine whether or not it’s right or wrong is the work of the sinful, flesh nature and not the work of the Spirit. We do not have veto power over the Word of God. Isaiah the prophet says this, “The grass withers, the flower fades, but the word of our God will stand forever.” (Isaiah 40:8) If we are to stand, it will only be because we are standing on the Word of God.
People say that to reject their homosexual identity or their gender fluidity is to hate them. But is this really true? Does God hate us because He calls us sinners? Does God show His hatred for people through sending Jesus to earth as a man to suffer and die so that people can live? Does God hate people because He shows through His Word what is His design for life, because He shows us what is right and wrong?
Isn’t it instead true that to tell someone they are in danger of having their life destroyed is the kind and right thing to do? Instead of showing hatred, telling people the truth as revealed in the Bible out of kindness is love. Lying to people about God’s path for life and withholding from them the truth which has the power to set them free is not love at all. In fact, it is at the worst hatred and close behind it is indifference. If we have compassion on people at all how can we in good conscience withhold from them the very words that will bring them life?
These words, all of them, are the words of life. But if we sit in judgment on God’s Word we are sitting in judgment of Him and His grace does not apply to us. Jesus said, ”The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63) However, if we truly embrace Jesus, the crucified savior, then we will also embrace all of his Word, and we will have life in all its fullness just as the Lord promised.
When Martin Luther was defending himself and his belief that the Bible alone is the supreme authority in all matters of faith, belief and life at the famous Diet of Worms, he spoke these words, “Unless I am convinced by the testimony of the Holy Scriptures or by evident reason-for I can believe neither pope nor councils alone, as it is clear that they have erred repeatedly and contradicted themselves-I consider myself convicted by the testimony of Holy Scripture, which is my basis; my conscience is captive to the Word of God. Thus I cannot and will not recant, because acting against one’s conscience is neither safe nor sound. God help me. Amen.”
Throughout history people of faith have been challenged by the question of what they believe about the Bible. Today we must answer this question for ourselves, do I believe that the Bible is without error? Do I believe it is true in all it teaches? Do I believe that the Bible is life? Like Martin Luther we are being asked whether or not we stand on the Bible. And ultimately we are not being asked by a council, or by our friends or by the world around us. We are being asked this question by God Himself. Where do you stand?