By What Standard?

There’s a prophetic and sobering verse at the end of the book of Judges. I think it speaks directly to us today. Judges 21:25 says,

“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” Other translations say, “in those days Israel had no king, and everyone did that which was right in his own eyes.”

The truth expressed in those words was that there was no authority over the people of Israel (though God should have been), and therefore, the people did whatever they wanted to. It seems that we too live in a culture that shuns the whole notion of authority. We all know parents who have no authority in their homes, schools where countless students refuse to recognize the authority of the teachers, and communities where many citizens no longer respect the law as an authority over their lives.

The Church is not immune to this trend. It no longer commands the respect of its spiritual authority that it once did. How many times have you heard these words: “Well, my church believes this, but I don’t believe that.” Perhaps most sadly, the Bible, the Holy Word of God, is no longer held up as the authority for our lives. How often have you heard someone dismiss something that the Bible says because, according to them, the Bible is nothing more than what ancient people wrote a long time ago, and therefore, isn’t relevant to our day and age?

There’s no authority in our day, and “each person does what is right in their own eyes.”

Our culture is confused. English journalist, Steve Turner, put a humorous spin on this. He wrote what he called the modern day “Apostles’ Creed” to illustrate where he thought we are today: He writes:

“We today believe in Marxfreudanddarwin. We believe everything is O.K. as long as you don’t hurt anyone to the best of your definition of hurt and to the best of your definition of knowledge. We believe I the therapy of sin. We believe that taboos are taboo. We believe that everything is getting better despite evidence to the contrary. The evidence must be investigated, and you can prove anything with evidence.

We believe there’s something in horoscopes, U.F.O.’s and bent spoons. Jesus was a good man, just like Buddha, Mohammed and ourselves. He was a good teacher, although we think his good morals were really bad. We believe that all religions are basically the same, at least the ones we read were. They all believe in love and goodness. They only differ on matters of creation, sin, heaven, hell, God and salvation. We believe that after death comes the nothing– because when you ask the dead what happens, they say,– nothing. If death isn’t the end, and if the dead have lied, then it’s compulsory heaven for all- except Hitler, Stalin and Genghis Khan.

We believe in Masters and Johnson, what is selected is average; what’s average is normal; what’s normal is good. We believe in total disarmament. We believe that there are direct links between warfare and bloodshed. We believe that man is essentially good, it’s only his behavior that lets him down. This is the fault of society; Society is the fault of conditions; and conditions are the fault of society.

We believe that each man should find the truth that is right for him and reality will adapt accordingly;– the universe will re-adjust, history will alter. We believe that there is no absolute truth, except for the truth, that there is no absolute truth. We believe in the rejection of creeds and the flowering of individual thought.”

He then adds this important postscript:

“If chance be the father of all flesh– disaster is his rainbow in the sky. And when you hear a state of emergency: sniper kills 10; troops on rampage; bomb blasts school:– It is but the sound of man, worshipping his maker.” (Ravi Zacharias, Can Man Live Without God, pp. 42-44)

When there is no authority over a people, then man becomes the measure for all things. Thus we are forced to ask the same question of the late Francis Schaeffer: “How should we then live?”
It’s not my intention to depress you by stating what I suspect you already know. Instead, my desire is to wake you up to these important truths. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of two builders who built two homes which looked basically the same. Yet there was a profound difference between them. One man built his house upon the shaky foundation of sand. The other built his house upon the sure foundation of rock.

Jesus essentially said, that we are all builders of lives. And we’re either building our lives on the sand or on the Rock. Furthermore, when Jesus spoke of the sure foundation which should lie beneath every area of our lives, he had something particular in mind. He said the only foundation that can give us the strength needed to withstand the raging storms of sin and crises is his Word.

Francis Schaeffer compared this to the small bridges in Europe built by the Roman Empire 2,000 years ago. He said these small bridges have lasted centuries and centuries because they were strong enough to support people and even horses and carriages. Yet he said they would immediately crumble if a modern day 18-wheeler were to drive across one of them. They are strong enough for the light load, but the heavy load will destroy them.

I want to suggest that God’s Word is the sure foundation we need for every sphere of life. Paul wrote to Timothy, his son in the faith, to make this very point. Paul reminded Timothy that he knew Paul’s teachings and his way of life. Timothy knew how badly Paul was persecuted and suffered for the faith. Timothy knew how God rescued Paul from all of that. He then reminded Timothy that all Christians would likewise be persecuted, and false teachers would continue to run rampant, and even become more blatant in their deception.

However, Paul told Timothy to continue in what he had learned from the Holy Scriptures. Paul then explained to Timothy why the Holy Scriptures should be Timothy’s authority for his life. Paul wrote,

“The holy Scriptures are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:15-16).

John Wesley beautifully expresses this idea. He says:

“I want to know one thing– the way to heaven, how to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach me the way. For this very end he came from heaven. He hath written it down in a book. O give me that book! At any price, give me the book of God! I have it: Here is knowledge enough for me. Only God is here.”

The Bible is authoritative for us, Paul says, because it is God’s book. It is God-breathed. Some translations say “inspired,” but the N.I.V. here translates the Greek correctly. The idea is not that the Bible is inspired the way we might say, “that was an inspired performance in a play.” Instead, the meaning of the words “God-breathed” literally mean the breathed out words of God. The idea here is that the words of Scripture are literally God’s words to us.

And, what did God, as John Wesley said, “condescend to teach us?” Well, in addition to the way to heaven through Christ, Paul declared that all Scripture is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness. We’ve been given Scripture for a reason. Paul is saying that Scripture is sufficient to be our comprehensive guide and authority for life.

The first thing he says is that Scripture is useful for teaching. Here he’s not concerned with style or method, but content. Timothy’s primary responsibility is to use the Scriptures to give sound instruction in the gospel to God’s people. The truths of God’s Word are spiritual wealth that we should continually be putting into our minds and hearts. Like deposits of money in our bank account, the deposits of divine truth become spiritual assets that we can draw on readily when confronting temptation, when making moral choices, and when seeking God’s will and guidance for our lives.

Paul next says that Scripture is useful for rebuking. This is the other side of the coin. Timothy must use Scripture to expose the errors of the false teachers and their teachings. Scripture is our lamp for our feet and a light to our path. It steers us away from sin and toward righteousness. But the idea here is that it is impossible to genuinely seek righteousness and truth if we don’t hate and renounce sin and falsehood.

Thirdly, Paul says Scripture is useful for correcting. This is a companion word of rebuking, except that it emphasizes the behavioral and ethical side of things. Correction is Scripture’s positive provision for those who accept its negative rebuke. In correction, Scripture sets us on the right track again.

Finally, Paul tells Timothy that Scripture is useful in training us in righteousness. This expresses the idea that we are to be built up by God’s Word. The teaching, rebuking and correcting are tools through which believers are trained in righteousness. What Paul is telling us in this text is that as our authority for life, Scripture with its convincing and convicting power of the Holy Spirit, is God’s provision for every spiritual truth and moral principle that we need to be saved and to be equipped to live righteously. Through Scripture we receive the marching orders from our Lord.

R.C. Sproul tells the story of a time when he was preaching on the authority of Scripture. After the service was over he saw a familiar face walking toward him. It turned out to be his college roommate. Sproul had not seem him in years. His friend had gone to the mission field for three years after college and then came back to the U.S. to attend seminary in New York. Sproul had attended seminary in Pittsburgh and then went to Europe for doctoral studies and they had lost contact.

The reunion was a happy one, and they decided to catch up over dinner. During dinner, Sproul’s friend said to him, “R.C. before we begin visiting, I want to tell you that I heard your sermon tonight where you affirm your confidence in Scripture as our authority for life. But I have to tell you, after having been a missionary for three years where I learned about all these other religious books, and after going to Seminary in New York, and learning all about biblical criticism, I don’t believe in the authority of Scripture anymore.”

Sproul said he was a bit surprised to hear his old friend say this, so he asked him, “well what do you still believe?” His friend said, “Oh, I still believe that Jesus is my Savior and my Lord.” Sproul said he was delighted, of course, to hear that. However, he asked his friend, “You say that Jesus is your Lord. Well, how does Jesus express his Lordship over you? That is, a Lord is someone who issues commands. How does Jesus, as your Lord, give you your marching orders?”

His friend said, “through the church.” Sproul said, “What church? The Presbyterian Church, the Methodist Church, the Lutheran church, — what church?” His friend said, through the Presbyterian church.” “Which Presbyterian church,” Sproul asked, “the one in New York or the one in Dallas or the one in Atlanta?” “The General Assembly for the Presbyterian Church,” his friend responded. “Which General Assembly,” Sproul asked, “the one that voted one way last year, or the one that voted a different way this year?” “Well, I guess I have a problem,” his friend conceded. “Yes,” Sproul said, “You have a Lord who is unable to exercise Lordship over you.” (from Sproul’s video: “Hath God Spoken?”)

Is Jesus your Lord? Is Jesus the authority over your life or is he impotent? If he is your Lord, then let us say with John Wesley, “O give me that book! At any price, give the book of God! Here is knowledge enough for me.” Only the Spirit of God working through that book, the Bible, will bring you to spiritual life and save your soul. Only that book and the Spirit of God working through it will sanctify you, making you like Jesus. In a world full of people and things competing for your allegiance, seeking to be your authority, there’s only one standard worthy to be your sure foundation. May it be for you the Word of God.

Stand Firm,
Dale