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Articles posts of '2016' 'August'

“I Am the Light of the World”: A Meditation on John 8:12–20

This is the second devotional on the “I am” series of statements of Christ found in John’s Gospel. Read John 8:12–20 prayerfully and then keep your Bibles open.

The statement of our Savior focuses upon light. Light extinguishes darkness. As we come to our passage, we are reminded that by nature humans are in darkness. One way to describe the fall is that man fell from light. The world was plunged into darkness. (R. C. Sproul has written an excellent children’s book dealing with this theme called The Lightlings. Read it to your children.) The darkness of the human heart is what Jesus addresses in John 8:12–20. As you read this devotional article, ask yourselves what it means that Jesus is the light of the world and what our calling is in reflecting that light to those around us.

A Divine Claim

Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” This statement was profound, prophetic, fulfilling, angering or comforting, and divine. To help us wrap our minds around this, we must understand what is taking place. The Feast of Tabernacles or Booths is about to come to an end. This was one of three national feasts the Jews celebrated. In John 7:37, it refers to the last and greatest day of the feast. What happened on the last day of the feast and the others was that in the temple the two golden menorahs were lit, the candelabra with seven lamps or candles. The court of the women would be lit, the city would be illuminated, and from the surrounding hills the temple could be seen lit up. Once the candles are blown out, then darkness hangs over the city. It is in this context that Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.”

In the previous article, the significance of the use of the term “I am” by Christ was mentioned. In Greek, the two simple words ego eimi mean “I am.” Not only is this a reference to the divine and God’s revelation of the covenant name at the burning bush, but also, more specific to our text, is the fact that it was God who would be a light to the nations. There is a double reference to God as the light: He is light to the elect Jews and to the nations.

As we turn for a moment to the Old Testament, we can see that Jesus’ statement is a fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. Psalm 104:1–2 says, “Bless the Lord, O my soul! O Lord my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty, Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain.” God covers Himself in light. We must understand this to be the fact that God is adorned as light, Himself giving light its source. God is the light, and now Jesus is claiming to be the light.

Isaiah of all the prophets develops the messianic theme of light. Isaiah 9:2 says, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in the land of the shadow of death, upon them a light has shined.” That beautiful verse corresponds to John’s prologue, where we read, “In Him was life, and the life was the light of men. And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it. There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. This man came for a witness, to bear witness of the Light, that all through him might believe. He was not that Light, but was sent to bear witness of that Light. That was the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 1:4–9; for further reading, see Isa. 42:6–7a [John 9]; Isa. 49:6 [cf. Mal. 4:2]). When Jesus says that He is the light of the world, He is claiming to be the Messiah, the suffering servant of Isaiah, the one who would build His church by bringing light also to the Gentiles.

There is another Old Testament connection taking place in the earlier context of John. This connection is with the wilderness. The greatest miracles and blessings of the wilderness wandering culminate in Jesus Christ. In John 3, Jesus connects His death on the cross for the salvation of sinners with the serpent on a pole in the wilderness. As we get closer to John 8:12–20, we remember that previously Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.” He referred to Himself in John 6:58 as that bread which is greater than manna. In John 7:37–38, Jesus connects Himself to the water in the wilderness. But, unlike temporary water from the rock, Jesus will give streams of living water by way of the Holy Spirit. Now, Jesus calls Himself the light of the world. What was Israel’s light in the wilderness? Exodus 13:21–22 says, “And the Lord went before them by day in a pillar of cloud to lead the way, and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so as to go by day and night. He did not take away the pillar of cloud by day or the pillar of fire by night from before the people.” It was that pillar of cloud and fire that gave light and clarity to the Israelites and darkness and confusion to the Egyptians (Exod. 14). Now Jesus says, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Following the light is what Israel was to do on their way to the Promised Land. Do you see the redemptive theme? We also are to follow the light as we make our journey to the Promised Land. Now it should be getting clearer why the Pharisees were so angry at Jesus.

He not only calls Himself the “I am” a second time, but also He connects His person and work to God’s great work of redemption in history. As a light to the world, He expands the church outside of the walls of Israel. He is the light of the world. The bright candles in the temple which illuminate all around the temple are blown out. Jesus is the light that will pierce the darkness. His teaching here is directed at the hypocritical Pharisees, as we will see in a moment. In John 9:5 Jesus repeats this statement. This happens as He heals a man who was born blind. His whole life the man saw nothing but complete darkness, and Jesus miraculously restored the sight he never had. As this man’s retinas are filled with light, Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Jesus’ statement comes to the spiritually blind Pharisees and to the man born blind, who because he was healed by Jesus will be excommunicated from the temple.

To put it in other words, Jesus is saying, “I am the light of the world” to the religious elite and to the religiously lost. What He is saying to the Pharisees and to us if we are not on guard is if we are not following Jesus, if we are not looking to the light, if we are not walking in the light, if we seek light from elsewhere, we are like the Pharisees. As Paul tells the Corinthians, to do many amazing things without love is nothing. So too, to live an outwardly religious life without the inward renewal of the spirit is nothing. To surrender our time, money, energy, even prayer to the Lord without the surrendering of our hearts, what profit is it?

This is what Jesus means by following Him. It means to believe in Him and to trust Him. The famous book by Charles Sheldon, In His Steps, written nearly a century ago, gets at this. What if in every decision you made in life, you asked, “What would Jesus do in this situation?” Now, there are some problems with the question, partly because Jesus would never get Himself into compromising situations as we often do, but the main thrust is the same. The result of believing or of following Jesus is that the deeds of darkness or of the flesh are taken off and the fruit of the Spirit is put on (Gal. 5). The tree must be good before the fruit can be good.

Remember that when outsiders come to worship. Don’t expect outward piety if there is not yet inward renewal. To expect people from the outside to act like Christians or talk like Christians before they have followed the light is a contradiction. It doesn’t make sense, and even worse, it might encourage a negative form of Pharisaism.

What Jesus is saying to those still in darkness is that there is a light that had come into the world. He will provide the only solution to those things which flourish in darkness: sin, brokenness, frustration, spiritual depression, loneliness. What Jesus provided the man born blind is the same thing He gives to those who follow Him: He gives them eyes to see. So, when sin or temptation arises, they can see it; when brokenness abounds, they can see through it and sail those waters. Following the light doesn’t mean that everything in the rest of your life will be easy. The man born blind was insulted by the Pharisees and then excommunicated. “‘Since the world began it has been unheard of that anyone opened the eyes of one who was born blind. If this Man were not from God, He could do nothing.’ They answered and said to him, ‘You were completely born in sins, and are you teaching us?’ And they cast him out” (John 9:32–34). They threw out the man born blind because they hated the one who healed him. In John 9:35–38, how did the man respond? In faith. He didn’t cry because the religious elite had barred him from their legalistic blindness; rather, he worshipped Jesus.

A Necessary Response

There is always a response to the proclamation of the good news. Jesus said, “I am the light of the world.” Jesus claimed to be God. The same is true with the preaching of the Word. “The flower fades, the grass withers, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.” Jesus is that Word, which John said has come into the world: “He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name” (John 1:11–12). “His own” is a reference to the Jews. How did they respond?

They raised all kinds of weak counterarguments (John 8:12–20). First, they claimed that Jesus cannot say those things because He wasn’t permitted to testify for Himself, so then Jesus’ testimony is not valid. This could be true if it was not for the fact that Jesus was the omnipotent, omniscient, sinless one. He says that His Father can testify for Him.

Second, they object about His father as a witness. In verse 19, they ask, “Where is Your Father?” Jesus reply was spot on: “You do not know Me or my Father.” They were spiritually blind: the Light had come to shine in the world and they did not recognize it. The law and the prophets testified to it, and the Psalms and the Wisdom literature testified to it. The suffering servant of Isaiah had come as a light into the world, and the very thing that Isaiah said would take place is about to take place. God will lay on Him the transgression of us all.

The third objection was to the fact that where He was going they could not go. They thought He was going to commit suicide (John 8:22). Jesus said He is not of this world, but they are; they are from below. He is not about to commit suicide; they are about to commit homicide. They are about to crucify an innocent man, though verse 20 reminds us that His time hadn’t yet come.

But they will commit homicide. They will seek to put out, to snuff out the light of the world, but they cannot. For this light is not a light from men. He is not the light of the candelabra which burns for a week and then everything goes out and all is dark again. No, this is the light sent from God. This is the one who said, “Whoever follows me will never walk in the darkness but will have the light of life.”

The man who was born blind and was healed humbled himself and worshipped Jesus. He believed that indeed Jesus was the Son of Man, the light sent from God. The religious leaders, hardened and angry, sought to destroy Jesus. They said He was a liar and an imposter. Who do you say He is?

Are you following the light? Is Jesus your light among the darkness of this world? A couple of years ago I went camping, and there was a trail, a shortcut through the woods to the bathroom. I went with my wife, and we took one flashlight. The trail narrowed, and she went ahead with the flashlight and I followed right behind her. But something happened. I tripped and fell over a tree root. The problem was that the light wasn’t bright enough, and I had not followed closely enough. Spiritually, sometimes we fall as we walk through the woods of life, don’t we? We stumble in sin and discontent. When we do, repent, but also ask yourself, are you walking close to the light, or have you slowly fallen back a bit? When you think about your life and your relationship with the Lord, isn’t it true that when you are most often in prayer and in devotion, in Bible study and Bible reading and worship attendance, that things seem to go better? The fact is that things might not be going much differently; however, if we are walking close to the light of God’s Word, our path is illuminated. We are reminded that we depend upon the Lord for guidance.

When the storms clouds come upon us, we are sheltered by God. In the darkness of a broken relationship, or a struggle with addiction, or a difficult child, or a difficult parent, it is Jesus who sheds light upon our path. Follow Him! He said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” Follow Him, live in Him, trust in Him, and be comforted in the truth that you belong to Him. The light has come into the world, and it is Jesus. Hallelujah, what a Savior!

 

Rev. Steve Swets
is the pastor of Rehoboth United Reformed Church in Hamilton, ON.  

The “In Christ” Relationship Dr. Harry Arnold

When I was a first-year student at Calvin Theological Seminary one of the required courses was New Testament Introduction. In that course, taught by Dr. William Hendriksen, we were introduced to the Book of Ephesians. One of the first things that Dr. Hendriksen said was that the “in Christ” relationship was central in Paul’s epistles. He also stated that Dr. C. R. Erdman of Princeton regarded the “in Christ” relationship as the most important phrase in the epistle. In Dr. Erdman’s own comments on the phrase (Eph. 1:1), he writes:

Furthermore, the phrase “in Christ Jesus,” is to be understood as usually employed by Paul. It denotes a vital union and fellowship with Christ. Possibly it is the most significant and characteristic of all phrases used by the apostle. He conceives the whole Christian life as being lived “in Christ.” So here the spiritual constancy and fidelity of these readers is regarded as due to their relationship to their Lord. They not only believe in him and are faithful to him, but they are in him. He is the very sphere of their existence; he forms the sum and substance of their being. For them “to live is Christ.” (Commentary of Paul to the Ephesians [Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1931], 24–25)

A little study of the use of this phrase in Scripture will indicate that these professors were correct in their assessment of its importance. It is quite evident from Ephesians 1:3 that every spiritual blessing has its origin “in the heavenly realms.” And that, of course, is where the ascended Christ lives and from which He reigns. Therefore, believers receive every spiritual blessing from Him. As Dr. Hendriksen notes in his commentary on Ephesians 1:1, “Those addressed are ‘in Christ Jesus.’ That is, they are what they are by virtue of union with him” (Ephesians, New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1967], 70). Furthermore, he adds: “Had it not been for their connection with Christ, a connection infinitely close, these people would not now be saints and believers. Moreover, their present life of faith has its center in him. For them ‘to live is Christ’ (Phil. 1:21). They now love him because he first loved them” (ibid., 71).

In complete agreement with the assessment of both of these New Testament scholars, Dr. J. R. W. Stott has written:

The commonest description in the Scriptures of a follower of Jesus is that he or she is a person ‘in Christ.’ The expressions ‘in Christ,’ ‘in the Lord,’ and ‘in him’ occur 164 times in the letters of Paul alone, and are indispensable to an understanding of the New Testament. To be ‘in Christ’ does not mean to be inside Christ, as tools are in a box or our clothes in a closet, but to be organically united to Christ, as a limb in the body or a branch in a tree. It is this personal relationship with Christ that is the distinctive mark of his authentic followers. (“In Christ”: The Meaning and Implications of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, address, 1983, published in Knowing and Doing: A Teaching Quarterly for Discipleship of Heart and Mind, C. S. Lewis Institute, http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/In_Christ_FullArticle)

The abundant use of this phrase by the apostle Paul indicates how central it was to his thinking. Consequently, when Paul writes that believers are “blessed in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3), we must realize that this is a comprehensive statement. It, therefore, implies that every aspect of our salvation is connected to Christ. Let’s consider for a moment some important aspects of our salvation which are involved.

First, to be “in Christ” involves God’s work of election. He has chosen these believers to be in Christ. From eternity God determined that they would hear the gospel and should believe in Jesus Christ unto salvation. The very foundation and certainty of their salvation is rooted and grounded in God’s electing grace. As Paul reminds the Ephesian believers: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not of yourselves, it is the gift of God—not of works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8–9). Their salvation is secure because the “good shepherd laid down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). Moreover, they were “predestined to be adopted as his [God’s] sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph. 1:5). In the words of an old song we can gratefully sing:

’Twas sovereign mercy called me And taught my opening mind;

The world had else enthralled me, To heavenly glories blind.

My heart owns none before Thee, For Thy rich grace I thirst;

This knowing, if I love Thee, Thou must have loved me first.

Josiah Conder, 1836
(Cent. Ps. Hymnal, 385:2)

Another benefit of being “in Christ” is referred to as “redemption through his blood” (Eph. 1:7). That is, the atoning blood that was required to cover sins was given by Christ Jesus. Scripture informs us that “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22). Jesus came into the world to save sinners; therefore, He shed His blood for forgiveness of our sins, “so that he was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people” (Heb. 9:28). Thus, when one is in Christ “we have our redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins” (Eph. 1:7–8).

Furthermore, because believers are “in Christ” they are sealed with the Holy Spirit, “who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance unto the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory” (Eph. 1:14). Thus, in vital relationship with Christ, Paul could write to the Philippian believers, “to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21). By the Holy Spirit’s working in them, believers can say with the apostle Paul: “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20–21).

Moreover, since believers are united to Christ as members of a body to the head, they also become members of each other by virtue of their union with Christ. Thus, the whole idea of the unity of the church as one body is related to the connection to Christ. And believers being “in Christ” bring joy to others as they live in Him. Besides, while “to live is Christ,” they also have hope for the eternal future because when they die they are going to be “present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Besides, since Christ is “the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep” (1 Cor. 15:20), believers who are in Christ also die in the hope that they “will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22) at the resurrection of the dead in the Last Day.

No wonder then that the phrase “in Christ” may be considered perhaps the most significant in the New Testament. In short, to be in Christ is the status of all believers in Him. If one is not in Christ, he or she is among the rest of the multitude of the human race who “remain under the wrath of God” (John 3:36). Therefore, we can say that unbelievers are not in Christ and consequently lack the comfort of union with Christ in the present life. They also lack any hope of a resurrection to life in the Last Day. These blessings are reserved for God’s chosen ones who profess to believe in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.

There are some who would question whether the Scripture teaches that only believers are “in Christ” since the apostle Paul writes to Timothy about having “our hope in the living God who is the Savior of all men, and especially of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:10). Surely, however, the apostle cannot be teaching in this text that all are saved. He definitely makes a distinction between those of whom God is “the Savior of all men” and those of whom God is the Savior of “especially those who believe.” The simplest and plainest way to understand what Paul is saying here is to acknowledge that there is a sense in which God is the Savior of all. As Jesus taught: “Love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35–36). God by His providential care and benevolence is the Savior, or Deliverer, Benefactor of all people, believers and unbelievers alike. The apostle Paul makes a similar affirmation regarding the activity of Christ when he writes: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Col. 1:17). That is all true in a general sense regarding all people. However, in the spiritual, redemptive sense, God is the Savior “especially of those who believe.” Those who believe are the ones who are in Christ. They are the ones whom God “in love predestined to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” (Eph. 1:5). Thus, believers in Christ are the objects of God’s electing grace, redemption, and forgiveness of sins, and of the Holy Spirit’s seal of their inheritance. Believers alone are the ones of whom it can be said “to live is Christ” and who, therefore, live with confidence of an eternal future in His presence.

This not to say, though, that among the unsaved there may not be some who claim to be “in Christ” without it actually being so. After all, many throughout the centuries have made profession of being the Lord’s people but in the judgment are rejected. As Jesus Himself teaches us: “Many will say to me on that day [of judgment], ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evil doers’” (Matt. 7:22).

The apostle of our Lord also foresaw the appearance of such false professors and even contended against them. The apostle John, for example, wrote of those who once professed faith in Christ but then forsook His body, the church. In his first epistle he indicates that such apostasy is indicative of the presence of antichrists. Of such people he writes: “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19). In a similar way, there are many nominal Christians today who profess to believe in Jesus but want nothing to do with His church. This dichotomy between professing Christ and ignoring His church surely will be exposed in the Last Day when the Lord says, “I never knew you.” One cannot love Jesus and reject His body, yet still have a well-founded hope for the future! Rather, we believe with the Belgic Confession, regarding the obligation of church members, that all people are obliged to join and unite with it, “keeping the unity of the church by submitting to its instruction and discipline, by bending their necks under the yoke of Jesus Christ, and by serving to build up one another, according to the gifts God has given them as members of each other in the same body” (Article 28, par. 2).

It is obvious, therefore, that if one is “in Christ” he will profess Jesus as Savior and Lord not only, but also unite with the Lord’s body, the church. To be in relation to Christ is to experience union with His body as well. That the church will have to contend continually with false professors is evident from the apostle Paul’s warning to Timothy: “The Spirit clearly says that in later times, some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons” (1 Tim. 4:1). We must understand here that those who “will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits” are those who once professed to believe in Christ and gathered in worship with His church. In other words, they were presumed to be in Christ. But in forsaking the faith, they reveal their true identity as being outside of Christ. Truly, their judgment will be severe!

Inasmuch as being “in Christ” is the source of one’s salvation and of every spiritual blessing, we must ask the question: How then does a person get to be united to Christ?

The Scripture is very clear in teaching that the union between Christ and a believer is consummated by faith. We know, of course, that the elect are “in Christ” from eternity, and their salvation is, therefore, secure. However, from the temporal and experiential point of view, the following is also true, as Dr. Charles Hodge states it:

They [believers in Christ] are “by nature the children of wrath, even as others” (Eph. 2:3). They remain in this state of condemnation until they believe. Their union is consummated by faith. To be in Christ, and to believe in Christ, are, therefore, convertible forms of expression. They mean substantially the same thing and, therefore, the same effects are attributed to faith as are attributed to union with Christ. (Systematic Theology, 3:104)

Hearing the gospel and responding to it in penitence and faith is so essential to one’s salvation that the Reformed churches confess the saving power of the gospel in these words: “What, therefore, neither the light of nature nor the law can do, God accomplishes by the power of the Holy Spirit, through the Word or the ministry of reconciliation. This is the gospel about the Messiah, through which it has pleased God to save believers, in both the Old and New Testament” (Canons of Dordt, III–IV, Art. 6).

The church must take seriously, therefore, the command of the Lord to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:18). This is so because the gospel is the means of calling “sinners to repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). Only sinners who respond to the gospel in penitence and faith can experience being “in Christ.” Where such response to the gospel occurs we can be sure that the Holy Spirit has been active and has wrought regeneration and saving faith in the believer. Thus, God alone receives the credit, praise, and glory even when one comes to believe unto salvation. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8). As believers are those who are in Christ, our relationship to Him is like a branch in a vine, as Jesus Himself declared to His apostles: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

We conclude, finally, that since the source of all spiritual blessing is “in Christ” which we experience by faith, we should be motivated to seek to know Christ better. Our heart’s desire should be to be fruit-bearing branches in the vine, Christ Jesus, which will attest to our vital union with Christ Himself. Then we should be able to say with the apostle Paul that we want “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Phil. 3:10–11). Those who are in Christ will gratefully sing forever the words of John Newton’s hymn:

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost but now am found,

Was blind but now I see.

 

Dr. Harry Arnold
is a retired minister in the Christian Reformed Church and lives in Portage, MI.
He is a member of Grace Christian Reformed Church in Kalamazoo, MI.

 

Breathed Out by God

!n 1957, E. J. Young, a professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, wrote, “To say that Christianity is now at cross-roads is to engage in the trite and the commonplace.”1 If that was true then with Protestant liberalism, it is true now with so-called postmodernism’s infection in the church—which is just liberalism all over again.

It seems every generation needs to have their own battle for the Bible against enemies outside as well as inside the church. The doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture is one of those basic truths about the Word of God we need to understand and fight for (Jude 3). Second Timothy 3:16 is one of the basic texts where this teaching is found.

What Inspiration Is Not

Sometimes it’s helpful in learning something to learn what it is not first. So let me briefly explain what inspiration is not.

When we say the Scriptures are “inspired” we are not saying this merely because they move us religiously, spiritually, or emotionally. For example, the inspiration of Scripture does not mean the same thing as when we say we felt inspired after reading a poem or hearing a speech. This has sometimes been called the “dynamic view” of inspiration. What these people mean is that the Holy Spirit affected only the writers and not their writings. Therefore inspiration is understood to be a literary or religious inspiration.

When we say the Scriptures are inspired we are not saying that they become the Word of God as we encounter them. This is the neo-orthodox view of Karl Barth and his followers, the Barthians. For example, they say that in the “crisis” of encountering the Word of God, it comes alive and affects us in a certain way. This places inspiration, again, in us, and not in the words themselves.

Finally, when we say the Scriptures are inspired we are not saying that they contain the Word of God like corn in a husk. Some say that the Scriptures are inspired in their theological and ethical teaching but cannot be trusted on issues of historicity, archaeology, and chronology. For example, there is a novel view today that says we believe Genesis 1–2 teaches that God created everything. Of course we would agree with this. The problem is that this is all some say the Scriptures teach. They say the rest we leave to science. Therefore, “Adam” was a product of evolutionary process since we all know evolution is fact. But the Scriptures never say to us, “Don’t listen to this part”; instead, it speaks with authority in all its parts and assumes that all its parts come from God.

What Inspiration Is

In contrast, we receive, believe, preach, read, and seek to live in obedience to the Word of God because its words are the very words of God to us. Why do we say this? In the words of the apostle, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim. 3:16). The Scriptures are “of God,” as the King James Version translates the phrase. The word Paul uses is theopneustos, which is literally “breathed out by God.”

The idea that Paul is communicating is that the Scriptures come directly from God. The imagery comes from the Old Testament:

The whole commandment that I command you today you shall be careful to do, that you may live and multiply, and go in and possess the land that the Lord swore to give to your fathers. And you shall remember the whole way that the Lord your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, that he might humble you, testing you to know what was in your heart, whether you would keep his commandments or not. And he humbled you and let you hunger and fed you with manna, which you did not know, nor did your fathers know, that he might make you know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord. (Deut. 8:1–3)

The commandments of God are described as coming forth out of the mouth of the Lord, that is, they are His very words. Psalm 33:6 also says this. The idea is that just as God breathed and the heavens and earth were created, so when God breathed out His word He was engaging in creative activity.

This means that we believe in a verbal inspiration, that is, the very words themselves are given by God. As Jesus says in Matthew 5, even the jots (the Hebrew letter yod) and the tittles (the serif part of a letter), are inspired. In Matthew 22:43–45 and in Galatians 3:16 entire arguments are based on the tense of a verb and the number of a word. This also means that we believe in a plenary inspiration, that is, that the entire words are the very words of God.

I mentioned before that this is why our forefathers called Scripture ipsissima verba Dei, “the very words of God.” And our Protestant forefathers said precisely what the holy catholic church has always said in saying this. For example, one of the earliest Christian apologists, that is, defenders of the faith, was Justin Martyr, who said, “When you hear the utterances of the prophets spoken as it were personally, you must not suppose that they are spoken by the inspired themselves, but by the Divine Word who moves them.”2 One of the great trinitarian theologians of the ancient church, Gregory of Nyssa, said, “All things the Divine Scripture says are utterances of the Holy Spirit.”3 Finally, in his Confessions, Augustine wrote like he was having a dialogue with God, in which God says to him, “O man, to be sure I say what My Scripture says.”4

Where Paul Learned It

We receive, believe, preach, read, and seek to live in obedience to the Word of God because its words are the very words of God to us. This is what Paul says in 2 Timothy 3:16. Let me further explain where Paul learned it.

First, Paul learned this from the Lord Jesus Christ. Our Lord over and over again affirms the Old Testament as the very words of God (e.g., Matt. 5:17; 26:53–56; Luke 18:3ff., 22:37; 24:25ff.; 24:44ff.; John 5:39; 13:18; 15:25; 17:12). This is why He says in John 10:35 that the Scripture cannot be broken. This is why He says in Luke 16:17 that it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for a single stroke of one letter in the law to pass away. And as Lord of the church, Jesus approved the coming New Testament writings since He chose as His apostles those who knew Him during His entire ministry, those who witnessed His resurrection, and those whom He promised to send His Spirit upon to lead into all truth (John 14:26; 16:12–14).

Second, Paul “learned” this from his fellow apostles. For example, Paul calls the Gospel of Luke “Scripture” (1 Tim. 6:18). Peter puts Paul’s writings on the same level as the Old Testament in 2 Peter 3:15–16. Luke, in the Book of Acts, says the apostles spoke in the Spirit (Acts 2:4; 4:8; 6:10). The Book of Hebrews speaks of the Old Testament as the words of the Spirit (Heb. 3:7) and then tells us we need to pay attention to what we have heard from Christ, the apostles, and in his letter (Heb. 2:1–4).

Third, Paul learned this from his fellow countrymen, as a trained rabbi. This is why both Romans 3:2 and Acts 7:38 describe the Jews as keepers of the “oracles of God.”

Fourth, Paul learned this from the Old Testament itself. The prophets’ own witness is key here. They were conscious of bringing the word of the Lord: “Thus says the Lord” is used hundreds of times (e.g., Jer. 36:27).

Conclusion: So What?

Let me conclude by asking, So what? Why does this matter? In other words, what happens when we lose this doctrine of inspiration? In God Has Spoken, J. I. Packer offered five reasons why this is important in terms of what we lose if we reject the Bible’s own doctrine of inspiration.5

First, if we lose the doctrine of inspiration preaching is undermined. If Scripture is not breathed out as we have seen it, then a preacher becomes something other than a proclaimer and herald of the words of God. He becomes an entertainer, a stand-up comic, or a therapist. He proclaims his own words, not the words of God.

Second, if we lose the doctrine of inspiration teaching is undermined. If Scripture is not breathed out as we have seen it, then what are we to teach our children around the dinner table? Why get together for a women’s Bible study if the Bible is not the Word of God in everything it says? In the end, we will be led to ask Pilate’s sad question, “What is truth?”

Third, if we lose the doctrine of inspiration faith is weakened. If Scripture is not breathed out as we have seen it, then there is nothing sure to cling to by faith in the struggles and temptations of life. How can I know God’s comfort if I don’t know if He’s spoken and what He’s spoken?

Fourth, if we lose the doctrine of inspiration Bible reading is discouraged. If Scripture is not breathed out as we have seen it, then why read it? Put your Bible reading plans away. Stop waking up early to read it. Why waste your breath in reading it to your children? It is no different than Aesop’s Fables.

Fifth, if we lose the doctrine of inspiration Christ is hidden from view. If Scripture is not breathed out as we have seen it, then Jesus is not publicly placarded before His people, He is not the sum and substance of the various books, and He becomes a mere example to follow.

But we receive, believe, preach, read, and seek to live in obedience to the Word of God because its words are the very words of God to us.

1. E. J. Young, Thy Word Is Truth (1957; repr., Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1997), 13.

2. First Apology, 36.

3. Against Eunomius, 7.1.

4. Confessions, 13:29.

5. Packer, God Has Spoken, 28–30.

 

Rev. Daniel Hyde    
is the pastor of the Oceanside United Reformed Church in Carlsbad/Oceanside, CA.

 

Our “Famine of the Word”

Recently I had lunch with several friends. One of my colleagues had visited several days earlier with the pastor of a large evangelical church in an area where many Christian Reformed Churches are located.

The pastor mentioned that many Christian Reformed people were attending his church and that not a small number of them were joining. As we ate lunch that day we asked the question, “Why?” The suggestion was made that perhaps some of these people were hungry to hear the gospel: the church about which we were speaking is neither Reformed in its theology nor is it Pentecostal. It is known for its clear, forceful presentation of the gospel and the demands of the gospel upon daily life. Some members of the Christian Reformed Church seem to be finding there what they are not finding in their own churches.

As I have been reflecting upon our conversation I recalled a visitor in our own church several weeks ago who has been a leader in his own church, which is one of the larger congregations in our denomination and which is now without a pastor. As we chatted together following the service he said to me, “I can count on one hand the number of visiting pastors who have preached the gospel since we have been vacant.” And he was greatly burdened. I recall those occasions when our own family has sat under the preaching of Christian Reformed pastors who neglected to include in their sermons a call to repentance and to faith in Jesus Christ.

It is indeed very well possible that there are members of the Christian Reformed Church who are hungry for the gospel and who are looking elsewhere for what they cannot find in their own churches. As the authority of the Bible is increasingly coming under attack in our denomination and as some lose confidence in the power of the Word preached to attract sinners, we find some preachers becoming more and more enamored with innovations and novelties. This often takes place at the expense of the proclamation of the Word which alone can fulfill the need of the seeking sinner.

Recently while waiting in an airline terminal for a flight I met a pastor who had completed ten years of service in the Netherlands. He made the observation that where the gospel is proclaimed the churches in the Netherlands are well attended. This, he said, is in contrast to the poor attendance at the churches where the Word is no longer being preached. Do we note a similar situation in the United States and Canada?

Preachers and parishioners, what is being preached from your pulpit? Is it the word of man which leaves the hearers hungry and searching?

Or is it the gospel which is God’s power unto salvation to all who believe and which alone satisfies the deepest and greatest need of man’s soul?

Rev. Arthur Besteman
was pastor of the Beverly Christian Reformed Church in Wyoming, MI in 1988. He retired in 1999.

 

VBS . . . Why Do We Do It?

God calls us to teach the little (and not so little) children, we all know that. But does VBS really make a difference? Is it worth all the work, stress, and hassle? We learn the theme a year in advance, pray and plan for months, ask for volunteers (some end up less voluntary than others), gather what amounts to several recycling bins of “fun craft” items. Later we’ll bake dozens of cookies and pass out flyers. The list goes on and on.

Most of the children who come have some kind of Christian background—how many will hear of the love of Christ only at VBS? It does matter! Jesus would have died on the cross even if it was only my sins He was suffering for. The least we can do is hold VBS, praying that God will touch the heart of a child through VBS and the seeds of salvation will be planted in their lives there.

Our theme for the year was “Your mission, should you choose to accept it.” I had been excited about this theme since I first heard it. Last year I had taught a class that had twenty-nine to thirty-three little, squirming bodies, and I have the same class again this year. I knew they would love the theme—especially since the class was almost three-quarters boys. Monday morning I came overflowing with enthusiasm—until we began the opening session in the sanctuary. There was a new boy in my class who didn’t want to cooperate; he proclaimed everything was “stupid”: the songs were “stupid,” the skit was “stupid,” the other boys and girls were “stupid.” It wasn’t twenty minutes into the first day and already I was thinking, “Your mission will self-destruct in 5, 4, 3, 2 . . .” Where did all my excitement go? How could I lose the focus of my calling so quickly? “Please, God, give me insight, patience, encouragement,” I prayed.

Our next stop was the fellowship hall for cookies. A young boy who came to our VBS last year, whom I know to be unchurched except for the week(s) he spends at VBS, came up to me and energetically said, “If I could travel in time I would go to ‘Odd and Even.’” Now, because my youngest is twenty and I’m not up on what the kids are into today, I asked if that was a TV show or movie. “No, you know—when they lived in the garden and there wasn’t any weeds . . .” Now I get it: “You mean the garden of Eden?” I asked. “YEAH,” he said, “and if I had a time machine, I would go back there and say, ‘Dooooon’t do it!!’” He not only heard what was taught last year, but he remembered it! And that, my friends, is why we do VBS.

Oh, yes, by the end of the week my “challenging” boy was saving a seat next to him for me. I do find VBS to be fun, challenging, and rewarding. I look forward to it every year. I ask you to pray about how God may want to use you next summer. If you can’t be there physically during the week, you can still help prepare for VBS, and you can always be a prayer warrior, which is every bit as important.

 

Mrs. Shellie Terpstra
a member at Bethany URC, Wyoming, MI, has been involved with VBS for several years. She is the business manager for Reformed Fellowship.


Current Issue: November/December 2018
Volume 68 Issue 6

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Listen to a 42-minute audio lecture by Dr. Carl Trueman
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This lecture was given at the annual meeting of Reformed Fellowship held November 7, 2008, at Trinity United Reformed Church, 7350 Kalamazoo Ave SE, Caledonia MI.

 

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