“That Book in Your Hand”
I’d like to close this study of Scripture’s sufficiency with a passage we’ve seen repeatedly in the study of Bibliology, this time to look at how it relates to the doctrine of Scriptural sufficiency. Then, I’d like to discuss a few important applications of the doctrine.
Sermons on the nature of the Bible (Bibliology):
- The inspiration of the Scriptures, their divine nature, from II Timothy 3:16.
- The moving of the Spirit in giving us the Scriptures, from II Peter 1:19-21.
- The inerrancy of God’s Word (its complete reliability).
- The preservation of God’s Word.
- The illumination of the Scriptures, the work of the Holy Spirit in helping us to understand spiritual truths.
- The perspicuity of Scripture — the Scriptures can be understood and rightly interpreted.
- The canon of Scripture — this wasn’t a sermon, but it belongs in this study on Bibliology
- The unity of Scripture — it is one Book by one Author with one unifying message.
In this ninth topic (eighth sermon), the sufficiency of Scripture, I’ve written on the following:
- The Scriptures are perfect and complete, from Psalm 19. When God established a covenant with man, He didn’t fail to make full disclosure.
- The Scriptures are a sufficient guide and tool for holiness. They tell us God’s standard and equip us to follow it.
- The Scriptures are a finished work. Because God is no longer giving more Scriptures, we know that they address everything that needs to be addressed.
That the Man of God May Be Perfect
II Timothy 3:14-17
14 But continue thou in the things which thou hast learned and hast been assured of, knowing of whom thou hast learned them;
15 And that from a child thou hast known the holy scriptures, which are able to make thee wise unto salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.
16 All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
17 That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.
Verse seventeen is perhaps the best-known passage for teaching the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. It tells us that the Scriptures are sufficient to make us perfect, to completely equip us, not for most good works, but for all of them.
The Lord has made it so clear for us here.. The Scriptures are what God has provided so that we can be “perfect,” so we can be “throughly furnished” (in today’s language we would probably say “thoroughly equipped”) for every good work. If the Scriptures completely or thoroughly equip us, we certainly don’t need anything else.
Verse fifteen tells us the Scriptures are what we need to learn of salvation — they are sufficient for that. We don’t need to look at other sources to learn how to be saved. The Scriptures are able to make sinners wise unto salvation — nothing else is needed. If we put verses fifteen and seventeen together, we see that the Scriptures are completely sufficient to put us on salvation’s path and carry us through to the end.
The Scriptures are sufficient to teach God’s truth, to correct our course, to rebuke us when we sin, to guide us in everything. We need no other guide. We need no other authority. The Scriptures are the answer, and they need no supplement. Anything else only has merit in helping us understand the meaning of Scripture and learning how to effectively apply what it truly teaches.
Applying the Doctrine
In my first post on this doctrine (linked above), I wrote:
This doctrine is the antidote to the man-exalting traditionalism of many mainline churches (Catholic and Protestant), the dangerous mysticism of modern ”pop” Christianity, the pseudo-authority of God-ignoring psychology, the famous-preacher-worship of much of evangelicalism, and the cancerous imperial minister syndrome that infects many independent churches (Baptists and others).
I’d like to expand on that.
One of my seminary professors said, “Tradition often carries the wisdom of the ages.” It can help us do things “decently and in order.” It can help prevent an unnecessary and unhealthy focus on methods — how things are done. It can convey important things about what we believe, and reinforce Biblical truth.
“Traditionalism” exalts tradition to a place of authority. Tradition has value, but if the Scriptures are sufficient, human tradition is never our authority, and human traditions can always be changed (temporarily or permanently). They only have value as long as they A) serve Scriptural purposes B) do not violate Scriptural principles and C) do not usurp Scriptural authority.
Roman Catholicism claims to accept Scriptural authority, but their teaching specifically rejects Scriptural sufficiency. They exalt human tradition of the church to equal authority with the Scriptures — and inevitably, human leaders (present and historical) have greater authority than the Scriptures. Catholicism is man-exalting traditionalism.
Most mainline Protestantism rejects Scriptural authority, and has nothing to offer but human tradition. They also have abandoned the sufficiency of the Scriptures, teaching a weak and variable moralism in which morality is determined by tradition, society, and / or the opinion of the teacher of the day.
We live in a “God told me” generation of Christianity. If I feel something, it must have been God. We’re told to test the spirits, but among Christians today, too often people don’t even know how to test their own feelings. They assume that what they feel and think is spiritual in origin, and that the only spirit that would try to influence them is God. This is extremely dangerous, both because our own hearts can’t be trusted (Jeremiah 17:9) and because there are spirits other than God that would influence us to evil if they can.
It is an absolute certainty that if you are looking for the voice of God in your experiences and feelings, Satan is going to do his absolute best to provide a counterfeit. How will you know what is real and what is false?
God said the Scriptures are sufficient. We shouldn’t be looking for extra revelations from God around every corner and under every tree, nor expecting to hear the voice of God embedded in every feeling and personal experience. If the Scriptures really do give us everything to make us perfect, why are we looking for something more? If God really gave a Book that good, why do we expect Him to add to it? If you aren’t a perfect Christian, the problem isn’t with the Book God gave us, that Book in your hand, the problem is that you haven’t followed it sufficiently. You don’t need something more than the Scriptures, you need to learn to follow them more faithfully.
“God told me” mysticism has generated great instability. Many Christians bounce daily, it seems, from one “God told me” to the next, without ever asking if it is really God that is dragging them from pillar to post. Even when Christians have enough of an anchor so that their “God told me” habit doesn’t drag them into great sin, they become unstable and waste great time and energy which could have been spent in the Lord’s service. If the adversary can’t destroy us, he’ll try to render us ineffective.
Our view of how people think and act, the things that motivate them, should not be influenced by psychological philosophies that know nothing of God and Biblical truth. When we reject the Bible’s sufficiency to describe the workings of the human heart, prideful self-focus becomes “lack of self-esteem.” Slavery to sin becomes “addiction,” an illness. Sin is a mere product of our bad environment, not an internal problem of the human heart.
These things minimise our sin problem, making us victims rather than responsible people who need a solution to sin. None of these approaches to the human condition are found in Scripture, and when we adopt them, we deny the truth that the Bible is sufficient to describe our problems, and we limit our ability to understand and apply its solutions. If we use man-invented psychology to diagnose our problems, we will inevitably end up with man-invented answers to those problems — and man has never yet devised a solution that will get man right with God or give true freedom from sin.
If the Bible is sufficient, we should let it be sufficient for identifying and solving the problems of mankind’s thinking and behaviour.
The Lord has wonderfully equipped some of His servants to understand, explain, and proclaim His Word. Unfortunately, too often Christians will exalt these men to the point where the teacher himself becomes the authority. When challenged on Biblical truth, there can be a tendency to say, “Well, Preacher X says thus, and Teacher Y agrees with him.”
Preacher X is not our authority, nor is Teacher Y. The Scriptures are sufficient, and we need no other guide. Preacher X and Teacher Y can help us understand the Scriptures, but they are fallible and should always be tested by the Scriptures to see whether their teachings are true. We must avoid either granting authority to human teachers or speaking in a way that implies they have authority. Their teachings are always open to examination and criticism. No matter how effective their ministry, they are not perfect. If we really believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, we would never speak as if they are.
No one’s problems are solved by listening to Preacher X’s preaching or reading Teacher Y’s books. Their problems will be solved by believing and obeying Scripture. I cringe every time I hear a Christian say something like, “He just needs to read S0-and-So’s book” — even if the book can help someone understand and apply Scripture. Intended or not, the statement is a rejection of the sufficiency of Scripture.
Imperial Minister Syndrome
In some churches, the pastor is king. What the pastor says is law and must be obeyed. The pastor’s rightful role in ensuring orderly worship and protecting right doctrine is expanded to the point where his preferences and opinions are law. His duty as teacher and counselor in helping believers understand the meaning and application of Scripture sometimes becomes an intrusive domination of the lives of the congregation.
Pastors (and congregations) need to remember that the Scriptures are sufficient. The Apostle Paul said he was a “helper of your joy” rather than exercising dominion over the faith of the Corinthians (II Corinthians 1:24). The Scriptures are sufficient to rule over our faith — we need no imperial pastors.
There are many other ways in which the sufficiency of Scripture protects us from problems. We would do well to train ourselves to always ask, “Do the Scriptures say that, or did it come from somewhere else? And if it came from somewhere else, why should we give it any credence?”