God's Amazing Word, Part 1

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I have quite a bit to say this evening, so much so that I’ll have to finish this message up the week following Easter.  And the reason is because this is such an important topic—one which is on my heart, and which I felt necessary to bring to you this evening.  And because I have so much to say, I’m hard-pressed to introduce this topic the way it needs to be.  So I’ll try to keep this introduction brief.

The truth is in a war.  In Genesis 3, we come across the very first question in history.  Before this there were no questions, only answers.  And this is really a question that questions God.  The serpent has approached Eve in the garden, and his question is, “Hath God said?”  His strategy: get Eve to question the word of God.  Get her to elevate her own mind above what God has said, and to trust her own reason.  Did God really say that?  Could God be so indifferent to your happiness?  How could God be so needlessly restrictive?  And you know the story.  Eve acquiesced and ate, and Adam ate, and the human race plunged into sin.

This is the first attack ever on the truth, and it’s marked a long and arduous war, which has raged ever since.  And you and I are soldiers in this war, fighting spiritual battles.  And who is our enemy?  “Speculations”, Paul says, “and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.”  Our enemy is not man, but the speculations of man and their ideological fortresses which they have constructed in their minds.

And what are our weapons?  They are “not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction” of these fortresses.  And in Ephesians 6:17, we find our weapon: it is the sword of the Spirit, which is the very Word of God.  And like good soldiers, we need to know our weapon.  We need to know what it is capable of, and how we are to wield it.  We need to become master swordsmen.  And to do that, we need to be instructed by the Master, himself.  We need to let God tell us about capabilities of our weapon.

Of all the texts that speak on this subject, there’s no more comprehensive a passage than that which is found in the nineteenth psalm.  We find in this psalm a passage of amazing comprehensiveness.  While the writer of Psalm 119 pours out his heart for the law over the span of 176 verses, David does so in our psalm in just eight.  The passage is succinct and yet comprehensive in nature, expressing vast amounts of information in a very short time, and so for our purposes here this evening it’s ideal.  And so tonight I want to take us into verses 7-9 of Psalm 19 so we can get a look at the nature and the character of God’s amazing Word, our weapon in this Great War on truth.

Notice how David organizing these verses.  We have here a series of six statements, each parallel, yet each expressing a distinct aspect of Scripture.  And there are really three parts to these statements.  Scripture is given a name: The “law”, the “testimony”, the “precepts” and “commandments”.  And really these names all refer to Scripture as a whole, so we can’t put too much stress on the individual designations, except that they do emphasize a certain nature of Scripture.

Scripture is also given a description.  It “is perfect”, “pure” and “right”, “pure, “clean” and “true.”  They are the inherent nature of Scripture.

Third, Scripture is given an effect.  It is not idle.  It is not void of power.  Scripture has profound effect upon man, having the power to “restore”, and “make wise,” “rejoice” and “enlighten.”  And this, you’ll notice, is a comprehensive effect.  It reaches every facet of man, from the “soul” and “mind”, to the “heart” and “eyes.”  Every area of man comes under the scrutiny and the commanding power of the Word.

And we will look at these in more detail in a moment, but I first want to point out the one common element in these three verses.  It is a phrase that is repeated, word for word, six times.  It is the phrase, “of the Lord,” and I really do feel I need to take a moment to unpack this because it really is central to the rest of this passage.

If you would go all the way back to verse 1 of this psalm, you’ll notice David states that “the heavens are telling of the glory of God.”  And really David is stating the obvious fact that creation testifies to its creator.  He looks up into the sky and sees the handiwork of God.  He saw in creation the irrefutable evidence of the existence and the glory of God.  He saw, as Paul wrote in Romans, “His eternal power and divine nature.”

And notice the word David uses for “God” in verse 1.  He uses the Hebrew word El, which is the root word of the name Elohim.  This name denotes a sense of power in the creative act.  It’s saying that what we see around us is a testimony to the power of God to create.  But El is also the most general term used in Scripture to designate God.  It is, on occasion, even used to designate false gods.

But David does not use El in verse 7.  He uses revealed name of God, Yahweh, and he uses it six times.  This is God’s special name, the name He gave to Israel in Exodus 3:14, a name that is never used of false gods.  This is the special, revealed name of God, and it seems that David is making a point that we may know of God because of His creation, but cannot know Him unless He reveals Himself specifically to us.  For the first six verses of Psalm 19, David speaks of the created world testifying of God, and only once does he use the word “God”, and when he does, he uses the most general term.  But when he speaks of Scripture, he uses the revealed name Yahweh, and he uses it six times.

This is why theologians refer to two different kinds of revelations, general revelation, as seen through creation, and special revelation as seen in the Word of God.  It is because as clear as nature is, it can only point us to the fact that there’s a creator.  And He’s a powerful creator, with immense complexity, and a love for beauty and order.  But that’s about as far as it goes.  In order to know God personally and intimately, man has to have further revelation.  God has to reveal Himself to us, and He does so through His word.

The late Dr. Carl Henry, in his work, God, Revelation and Authority, defined revelation as God’s “gracious forfeiture of His personal privacy so His creatures might know Him.”  He didn’t have to reveal Himself.  He chose to because it pleased Him.

Looking back at Genesis even a cursory reading points out that man could know nothing unless God told him.  Here he was, surrounded by the wonder and beauty of the pre-Fall creation in the middle of the garden, and he had to be told directly from the mouth of God to tend the soil, to have babies, to name the animals.  Man could know nothing personally of God and of what God’s purpose was for him through creation alone.

So, coming back to our Psalm, it’s important to see this phrase as a clear and distinct indication of the divine source of Scripture.  It’s repeated six times for emphasis.  God, the Lord of all things, the great self-existent God, Yahweh, has revealed Himself to us!  And what I want to point out to you is the fact that your view of God has a direct bearing on your view of His word.  How big is your God?  How important is He to you?  Because I’ll show you how important He is to you by how you view and relate to His word, and how much you’re in it.  How can the swordsman wield the sword if he doesn’t think highly of the blacksmith who made it?

David wrote in Psalm 138:2, “For thou hast magnified thy word above all thy name.”  You show me a man who has a high view of God, and I’ll show you a man who loves God’s Word, because he knows this is where His God makes Himself known.  You show me a man who has a low view of God, and I’ll show you a man who isn’t in the Word, because there’s nothing of importance to find there.  True believers love the Word, their heart-cry is for the Word, like the psalmist, they proclaim, “I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.”  Because they know that there is a God revealed in those statutes that is worth knowing.  And so they cry with a loud voice, “With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments.”

Now, let’s take a closer look at our sword.  We know its maker, its source, so let’s look at its character.  We find in verses 7 to 9 six statements about the character and work of Scripture that we need to know as soldiers in order to wield it properly.

The first is in verse 7: “The law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.”  Scripture is referred to here as “law”.  And this is not necessarily denoting just the Ten Commandments.  This is speaking of the whole counsel of God.  “Law” means direction or instruction.  It’s talking about guidance down a certain path, and it really shows God as a teacher and instructor of men.

Now, the nature of this law, David says, is that it is “perfect”.  And really what this word means is whole or complete.  It’s used many times to denote the quality of an animal sacrifice.  Whatever the sacrifice was that was brought to the tabernacle, it was to be “without blemish,” meaning without any kind of defect.  It should be a perfect animal, in that there is nothing wrong with it, but it is whole and complete through and through.  Scripture is complete and whole and perfect as it is.  It needs no embellishments.

And it’s is true to say that Scripture is complete in that it has concluded.  Scripture is a closed canon.  Jude makes the comment that we have “the faith one for all delivered to the saints.”  But here the emphasis is on the completeness of the Word of God as it relates to us.  Scripture is whole and complete in that is speaks to every aspect of our lives.  There is not one area of life that is not addressed by God’s Word.  Scripture is perfect and complete because our whole life comes under the divine scrutiny of Scripture.  I suppose we could summarize this by saying that Scripture is sufficient.

Now this flies in the face of all modern mentality.  While God says that man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of His mouth, man says not everything God has said is relevant today.  Beginning in the 1970’s psychology entered the church, and it really hasn’t left.  And this in effect is an attempt to make up for a perceived lack of sufficiency.  There are even some evangelicals, who would affirm the inspiration and the inerrancy of the Bible, but who would say that although Scripture was enough in the past, when times were simple, in the twenty-first century we’re dealing with situations and circumstances that the Bible simply doesn’t address.  Man is a psychological being, after all, and that places him outside the purview of Scripture.  You can’t take people who have deep-seated anxieties and all kinds of problems and emotional trauma and repressed memories and just give them the Bible.  They can’t even begin sanctification until they have had proper therapy.

So Scripture is viewed today as being psychologically and sociologically unsophisticated and completely inadequate.  It simply cannot be applied to contemporary life because it’s not adequate for our time.  Whether you’re talking about psychological issues like abuse, or social issues life homosexuality, the Bible simply isn’t adequate to address these in our time.

Now, I understand that psychology by itself is not a bad thing.  It’s not inherently evil, and in fact it has been quite helpful in bringing us to a better understanding of some things.  But what man has done is lifted psychology above Scripture.  You place God’s Word on the bottom shelf because of its inadequacy to deal with modern issues, and you raise psychology up as the height of human achievement, fully expecting that that is what can change people.  You just figure out what they need and what they’re feeling, and you can help anyone.  It becomes the feel-good gospel.

The only problem is, psychology cannot answer the most basic, fundamental questions about why humans do the things they do.  Only Scripture can.  That’s why you never hear a person come out of a therapy session saying, “I see what my problem is…I’m a sinful person in need of a savior.”  Usually they walk out thinking their problems are the result of everyone but them.  My parents split up, my father abused me, etc., etc.  Sin’s never the issue.

And this was one of the indictments given by Jesus to the Pharisees.  He says in Luke 16:31, “If they do not listen to Moses or the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.”  The Pharisees had access to the Scriptures.  They were experts on the Scriptures.  They knew what God had said, and Jesus confirms that that’s all they needed.  Giving them something else won’t do anything for them if they rejected what God has written, which is exactly what’s going on today.  Psychology does not possess the ability to change people.

And David knows this, because he writes that “the law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul.”  God’s law is complete and whole, and speaks to every area of life, and needs nothing to help it, and it alone has the capability of transforming people.  That’s what restoring means…it means to bring someone back to a previous state or position.  It transforms.  And look at what it transforms: the soul.  Nephesh in the Hebrew.  It’s a word that is poorly translated in English, because both the Greek and English languages don’t have a true equivalent for it.  In the Greek thought, and similarly in English, the soul and the body are separate, distinct things.  You die and your soul goes one place and the body another.  But nephesh cannot be separated from the person.  It just means the inner person.  It’s who you are inside, the person no one else sees.  It’s your heart and your character and your thoughts—the totality of the person you are on the inside.

And Scripture alone is capable of that kind of inward transformation.  There are many in evangelicalism today who think the only way transformation takes place is if you change the message.  The gospel is just so offensive that if you leave it as it is, no one will accept it.  So you change the message.  You make it easier to believe.  You make it more palatable for the unbelieving audience.  You take out any kind of indictment of the sinner.  Instead, what you have to do is make your audience feel better about themselves.  That’s the key to transformation.

This is why someone like Robert Schuller, who’s really the architect of the modern church-growth movement, writes a book like Self-Esteem, the New Reformation.  In this book—I’ll just give you a few quotes from it—he writes, “It is precisely at this point that classic theology has erred in its insistence that theology be God-centered not man-centered.”  Later he writes, “this master plan of God is designed around the deepest needs of human beings which are self-dignity, self-respect, self-worth, self-esteem.  The pearl of great price is genuine self-respect and self-esteem.”  Again, he writes, “if we follow God’s plan as faithfully as we can, we will feel good about ourselves.”  Another quote: “God needs you and I to help create a society of self-esteeming people.”  And finally the last one: “Once a person believes he is an unworthy sinner it is doubtful he can really honestly accept the saving grace God offers in Jesus Christ.”

So if you believe you’re a sinner, you can’t be saved!  So you can’t make unbelievers feel like sinners or they’ll never believe.  You have to make them feel better about themselves.  You have to change the message.  But the message is perfect, it’s complete, it needs nothing else, and it is the only thing that has the power for transforming souls.

And maybe this isn’t you at all.  Maybe you’ve been faithful to keep the message just the way God wrote it, but maybe you think that you have to be clever in order to evangelize.  This speaks to a lot of us who have somehow bought into the notion that the only way people will come to Christ is if we have good enough persuasive skills.  In effect we’re placing the key to evangelism on our cleverness in how we share the message because we don’t have enough confidence in the power that the message has.

And I have to continually remind myself of this, as you should, too.  Whenever I feel like I have to modify the message, or add to it, or take something out, or enhance its presentation to make it more appetizing to unbelievers, whether in form or content or approach, whatever it is, I am undermining the sufficiency and the transforming power of the Word of God.  I am, in effect, making myself sovereign, because I have decided in my own mind that it’s up to me to make this person believe, and it’s up to me to make this person accept the gospel.  But it’s not up to me.  God alone is sovereign in all this, and God’s word has the power to accomplish His purposes.  Isaiah 55:11—“so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth; it shall not return unto me void.”

This is why Paul can confidently say, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.”  And that belief, he says later, “comes through hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (Rom. 1:16; 10:17).  It is the power of the Word of God that compels us to believe.  It is, as Paul writes to Timothy, “the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus.”

So there’s a transformation that takes place in the human soul and that happens in two elements.  One is salvation, as we’ve seen.  1 Peter 1:23—“having been born again, not of corruptible seed but incorruptible, through the word of God which lives and abides forever.”  And there is transformation on the level of sanctification, as our Lord asked in his High Priestly prayer, “Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth.”  And Paul, in Ephesians 5:26, writes that Christ “also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word.”  So the Word is capable of complete transformation.

Well, let’s continue on in our passage.  The second statement at the end of verse 7: “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.”  David refers to Scripture as a testimony, and what this does is view Scripture as testifying of its author.  Moreover it views God as a witness.  And this testimony, this reminder, is sure.  It is firm.  It is trustworthy.  Or we could say that Scripture is reliable.

You wouldn’t know that today, looking at most churches.  It was in the latter half of the 19th century that liberalism swept through the church.  Fueled by enlightenment thinking, man began to worship the human mind and Scripture was placed under the scrutiny of men.  Thus rationalism was born, and what it did was regarded the human mind as an independent authority capable of determining truth.  This, of course, was all rooted in existential thinking, and the theologians of the time, seeking to aid the church and aid the truth, ended up seriously attacking the truth and inevitably attacking the authority and reliability of Scripture.  In the words of one writer, rationalism “was not a system of beliefs antagonistic to Christianity, but an attitude of mind which assumed that in all matters of religion reason is supreme.”

And sadly many churches were swept away by this so that in America today, most churches, seminaries and institution are dead as dead can be because of the liberalism that has invaded them.  So that is one way in which the reliability and authority of Scripture has been attacked, and we see its fruits in lots of areas.  Liberation theology, social gospel, deconstructionism—it’s all a runoff of rationalism which says that all things must bow to the shrine of human reason.

But I think that the greatest threat to the credibility and reliability of Scripture in our day, and the one which needs to be contended for most earnestly by us, is the beginning of the story.  There has been no greater undermining of biblical authority in our time than the immense influence that evolutionary theory has had on the church, such that most Christians have disregarded the creation account as pure myth.  Think about it.  What movement has had such a wide effect and has eroded man’s trust in Scripture more than Evolution?  And it’s easy to see why.  When you take science and you place it at the pinnacle of thought, and you flush everything, including biblical truth, through that filter, you’ve just made science the highest standard.  You had exalted science as the authority.  Science, then, becomes the infallible source by which all truth must ultimately be tested.

Let me ask you this: if you don’t trust the Bible in Genesis 1—if you don’t trust that it means what is says it means in plain language—when do you start believing the Bible?  When does it start being true?  After creation?  After the Fall?  After the flood?  After the Tower of Babel?  When can you trust Scripture, if you can’t trust the beginning of the story?  What has happened, by disregarding the biblical account of Genesis 1 through 11 is you have just undermined the authority of Scripture all the way to Revelation.  How can I expect anyone to believe the gospel account if they think that science has disproved the veracity of Scripture?  How can I expect anyone to take my evangelistic efforts seriously if I myself don’t believe God’s own testimony from start to finish?

Did you know that every major doctrine of Scripture has its roots in Genesis 1 through 11?  We find in this account the doctrine of God, theology proper, the doctrine of man and sin, as well as the doctrine of salvation, just to name a few.  The beginning of the story matters, folks.  And believe me when I say its hard, whether you’re a Christian or not, to separate your mind from science today.  All the way up until the middle of college I just thought the Bible taught evolution, that somehow it fit in, with day-ages and theistic evolution and the like, because that’s all that I had heard.  And it was hard for me to allow Scripture to form my beliefs, because for so long I’d given full credence to science and popular thinking.  Scripture then had to be molded around what modern science had “proven”…and I say that slightly tongue-in-cheek because evolution seems to disprove itself.  But it wasn’t until the convicting power of the Spirit of God showed me just how important this was, and thanks to God, my convictions changed.  You can’t subject Scripture to the authority of science, it has to be the other way.  You have no idea how this hurts evangelism!

But the fact remains that Scripture is trustworthy.  “So I will have an answer for him who reproaches me, for I trust in Your word,” Psalm 119:42.  Now I want you to notice, most of all, the effect of this.  Because it is firm and capable of our complete trust, it has the power to make “wise the simple.”  That word simple comes from a root word that means an open door, and it really paints a vivid picture of the mind of a simple person.  Such a person has a mind whose door is always open.  You always hear that having an open mind is good, and of course we don’t reject that, but this kind of person doesn’t know when to shut that door.  There’s a point where one needs to exercise discernment.  He needs to know when to shut the door and keep out the bad things and only let in the good things.  The simple person can’t do that.  They have a mind that’s always open, hearing everything, and making no discernments between what’s helpful and what’s hindering.

But the Bible takes such a person’s mind and makes it wise.  In effect, it shuts that door and gives him the know-how to make discerning judgments about what to let in and what to keep out.  This is the essence of biblical wisdom, and for our purposes here I’d like to give kind of a general definition of wisdom.  Wisdom is taking principles from Scripture and correctly applying those principles to practical life.  In other words, you take what Scripture teaches and you draw from those teachings principles that you then apply to situations in life.  So you grow in wisdom when you grows in your understanding of Scripture.  But notice this isn’t a collection of data.  It is the mind filled with the significance of Scripture.  This is why Paul, in Colossians 1:9, was asking God to fill the Colossian Christians “with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”  It was great to know the will of God, but wisdom is taking that knowledge and knowing how to apply it toward godly living.

And what this involves is a mind that is completely saturated with the Word of God.  J. P. Moreland wrote, “The mind is the soul’s primary vehicle for making contact with God.  It plays the foundational role in the process of maturation and spiritual formation.  You must have a renewed mind.”  Romans 12:2, be transformed by the “renewing of your mind”, the reason is “so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”  Knowing what the good and the acceptable thing to do is conditioned upon proving what the will of God is, and that can only happen when our minds have been renewed.  We need to be saturated in our minds with the things of God.

I read an interesting article in Scientific American the other week about chess grandmasters.  Most people think these chess grandmasters have these incredible minds and they’re thinking ten moves ahead and that’s the reason they’re so good, but studies have shown that the reason these chess experts are so good and they win so often and in such a short amount of time has nothing to do with their intellectual capacity, although that may play a part in some cases, as much as is has to do with how much they’ve played over their lifetime.  The article explained that these grandmasters are so good because they have a database of board setups catalogued in their mind.  They’ve played so much and experimented so much that any given situation that they face on the chess board, they remember back to the times when they were in the same situation and make the move that proved the most advantageous in the context.  So it would seem that the better chess players aren’t any smarter, they just have a larger database of moves that they’ve collected.  So when their opponent moves his piece to this square, they know exactly what they need to do to turn the table to their advantage because they’ve faced that same situation in the past and this move worked the best.

And that is almost parallel to biblical wisdom.  You grow in wisdom when you have such a grasp of Scripture that whatever situation or circumstance comes about, you know the biblical thing to do because your mind is filled with “the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding.”  It’s not idle data, but truth that you have processed and have understood the significance and how it pertains to practical living.  And it is the firm, trustworthy testimony of God laid out in His word that gives us this wisdom, giving us the ability to shut that door to our minds and make discerning judgments about what goes in, and also to correctly apply biblical truth to every situation we come to.

Now, moving on, we come to the third statement in verse 8: “The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.”  The Scripture, David says, is where true Christians go to find their joy.  Is that where you go to find your joy?  When everything’s gone wrong, and even your friends have failed you, where is it that you find joy for your heart?  David went to the Scriptures.  He found his delight and his joy in God’s law.

Why is that?  What is in God’s word that would rejoice our hearts?  What is it about Scripture that lifts our spirits and encourages our hearts when everything else has failed to do so?  David says it is because “the precepts of the Lord are right.”  He calls Scripture precepts, which means a principle or statute.  The Bible, here is looked at as divine guidelines for life.  They’re signposts which point the way down the true and the right path.  They are without fault.  They don’t point down false ways but are accurate.  Or, we could say that Scripture is infallible.

If you’ve ever driven in a large city then you know how confusing freeway exits and signs can be.  Pastor Eric and I were down in Los Angeles several weeks ago for a conference and when we arrived we had the rest of the evening to kill.  Since we were fairly close to Eric’s almamater, Biola University, he and I hit the L.A. freeways to try to find this school.  Well, after several hours of driving—I don’t recall how long this trip took in total—but we finally found our way there, but all it took was one wrong turn, and the fault was not ours.  It was the traffic signs.  It said this lane goes to this street and this lane goes to that street, and so we took what we thought from the freeway signs was the right road and we got lost.  It didn’t lead where it said it did.

 Imagine a guidebook for life that was like that.  Imagine life-principles that didn’t always point the way you were supposed to go.  How would the follower of God ever feel confident in life?  This is why the writer of Psalm 119 said in verse 128, “Therefore I esteem all thy precepts concerning all things to be right; and I hate every false way.”  How would you ever find joy in life, knowing that the revelation of your God didn’t always point you down the path you were supposed to go?  What if it led you to false ways…even into sin?  Let this verse be a mirror to your own heart.  Echo the words of the psalmist when he says, “Blessed is the man who walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor standeth in the way of sinners, nor sitteth in the seat of the scornful.  But his delight is in the law of the Lord; and in His law doth he meditate day and night.

Psalm 119 is dripping with this sentiment.  Verse 14: “I have rejoiced in the way of thy testimonies, as much as in all riches.”  Verse 24: “Thy testimonies also are my delight and my counselors.”  Verse 54: “Thy statutes have been my songs in the house of my pilgrimage.”  Verse 92: Unless thy law had been my delights, I should then have perished in mine afflictions.”  Verse 111: Thy testimonies have I taken as a heritage for ever: for they are the rejoicing of my heart.”  Verse 143: “Trouble and anguish have taken hold on me: yet thy commandments are my delights.”  And verse 162: “I rejoice in thy word, as one that findeth great spoil.”

I hope you’re beginning to see how all these principles we’ve discussed interrelate.  I said at the beginning that God, as the divine source of Scripture, is the unifying element in all this.  Therefore, Scripture is sufficient, reliable and infallible because these are characteristics of God.  And, all these elements of Scripture like infallibility and trustworthiness and sufficiency all relate to each other.  Scripture is trustworthy because it is sufficient and infallible.  It’s infallible because it is trustworthy and sufficient.

Well, that’s all that we will have time for this evening.  And when we come back in two weeks, on the 14th, we will jump back into this wonderful psalm and glory in the wonders of God’s amazing word.  Let’s pray.

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