A Close Look at “Sola Scriptura” (Part3)

September 4, 2005 | Speaker: Bro Jurem Ramos

  We are reviewing the important lessons the Lord has taught us for the past 9 years. We are doing this because, as I said, this is one of the ways we can best show our gratitude and praise to God for His gracious work in our midst. I am convinced that it is the neglect or abandonment of those truths that is the reason why the church in general is in a state of decline.   Among those truths are the gospel truths as found especially in the “doctrines that shook the world” five centuries ago—these are derived from the five Latin phrases: sola Scriptura, solus Christus, sola gratia, sola fide, and soli Deo Gloria (in English: Scripture alone, Christ alone, Grace alone, Faith alone, Glory to God alone).   For several Sundays now, we have been taking a close look at sola Scriptura (i.e., by Scripture alone). As we’ve learned, this declares that the Bible is absolute authority. The Bible alone has the authority to bind the consciences of believers as to what they are to believe and how they should live. But not only is the Bible absolute authority, it is also sufficient; the Bible is an adequate guide for all matters of faith and conduct. Scripture gives us every truth we need in order to be saved, sanctified, and live for God’s glory.  

Another Clarification

Last week I gave you two clarifications regarding sola Scriptura: (1) Sola Scriptura is not a claim that the Bible contains all secular knowledge. (2) Sola Scriptura is not a claim that the Bible contains all religious knowledge. As I’ve said, the Bible does not claim to give us every bit of knowledge that we could ever obtain, whether secular or sacred knowledge. We say that the Bible is sufficient because it contains all that is necessary to be known, believed, and observed, in order for man to be saved, sanctified, and live for God’s glory.   Let me give you one more clarification.  Sola Scriptura is not a denial of the usefulness of ministers of God’s word to teach God’s truth. To put it differently, the use of Bible commentaries does not violate the principle of sola Scriptura.   Occasionally I hear objections from listeners of our radio program as to my use of commentaries from gifted Bible teachers. Perhaps, some of our attendees in our Sunday services are also wondering why? They may be thinking that if I really believe in sola Scriptura then I should go directly to the Bible and use only the Bible.   Here is my response: Yes, only Scriptures are final authority, but the same Scriptures teach us that the Lord Jesus has given gifted teachers of His word to instruct the church. Ephesians 4:11-14 says,   It was he [i.e., Christ] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, 12 to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. 14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.   Here are other examples. Remember Philip and the eunuch in Acts 8:30-35.   Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. "Do you understand what you are reading?" Philip asked. 31 How can I," he said, "unless someone explains it to me?" So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The eunuch was reading this passage of Scripture:  "He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,   and as a lamb before the shearer is silent,   so he did not open his mouth. 33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.   Who can speak of his descendants?   For his life was taken from the earth." 34 The eunuch asked Philip, "Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?" 35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.   See also Acts 18:24-26:   Meanwhile a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was a learned man, with a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures. 25 He had been instructed in the way of the Lord, and he spoke with great fervor and taught about Jesus accurately, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26 He began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they invited him to their home and explained to him the way of God more adequately.   In 1Ti 3:15, Paul writes, “if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” Bible scholar, James White gives an explanation of that verse in his book, The Roman Catholic Controversy. He writes:   The description of the Church as the “pillar and support of the truth” is thoroughly biblical and proper. There is, of course, a vast difference between recognizing and confessing the Church as the pillar and support of the truth, and confessing the Church to be the final arbiter of truth itself. A pillar holds something else up, and in this case, it is the truth of God. The church, as the body of Christ, presents and upholds the truth, but she remains subservient to it. The Church remains the bride of Christ, and as such, she listens obediently and intently to the words of her Lord Jesus Christ, and those words are found in Scripture itself.  

The relevance of sola Scriptura for today’s church

  Last week, I said that the Bible is sufficient for evangelism. I was hoping that today I could give you three more areas where the sufficiency of Scriptures could apply—sanctification, guidance, and social reformation. But as I was looking at how most churches today feel that the Bible is incomplete and unable to offer help for people’s deepest emotional and spiritual problems, I thought I will devote more time on the topic, Scriptures are sufficient for Sanctification or Counseling, next week, the Lord willing.   Today, I’ll just focus on one area. Scriptures are sufficient for guidance.   From James Montgomery Boice Whatever Happened to the Gospel of Grace? (pp. 81-82)   Not long ago one of my staff gave me a script to be used for an imagined “evangelical psychiatric hotline,’ the kind of recorded message one might hear when he or she calls a participating church for psychiatric help. It went like this:   If you are obsessive-compulsive, please press 1 repeatedly. If you are codependent, please ask someone to press 2. If you have multiple personalities, please press 3, 4, 5, and 6 If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want. Just stay on the line so we can trace the call. If you are an evangelical, listen carefully and a little voice will tell you which number to press.   Is that how we are to find guidance from God for our lives? A little voice? Not at all. That is a kind of mysticism. “I prayed about it, and God told me to do the following.” In former days, a statement like that would be followed by a more matured believer asking for “chapter and verse,” meaning, where do you find that in Scripture? We need to get rid of that way of talking and of such false claims. God has given us all the guidance we need in the Bible. So if there is something we want or think we need that is not in the Bible—what job shall I take? Where shall I live? Whom shall I marry?—after having prayed for God’s providential guidance, we are free to do whatever seems right to us, knowing that God who cares always will certainly keep us in his way. In areas which the Bible does not speak explicitly, we are free to act as we think best, as long as we are obeying God and trying to live a Godly life. That does not mean that God does not have the plan for our lives in all areas. He does. He has detailed plan for all things, having pre-ordained “whatsoever comes to pass,” as the Westminster Confession of Faith says. But that does not mean that we have to know God’s plan in advance. In fact, we cannot. But what we can know, and need to know, is what God has told us in the Bible. What has God told us?   Allow me now to read from MacArthur. He is not exactly dealing with the topic of sola Scriptura but what he will say in his book Found: God’s Will gives us a very good example of the application of the sufficiency of Scriptures in seeking guidance or seeking God’s will. Adapted from John MacArthur’s Found: God's Will   “What is the will of God? Are there any concrete principles which may be simply stated and actually put into practice?” I believe there are! ... Can you know what job to seek, what school to attend, what girl or guy to love, what decision to make in any given situation? Yes. You no longer have to worry. The struggle is almost over, the search almost done. Let’s begin with a simple assumption. Since God has a will for us, He must want us to know it. If so, then we could expect Him to communicate it to us in the most obvious way. How would that be? Through the Bible, His revelation. Therefore, I believe that what one needs to know about the will of God is clearly revealed in the pages of the Word of God. God’s will is, in fact, very explicit in Scripture. If you want to know God’s will, you must be saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive, and suffering. That is the teaching of the Word of God.
  1. [God’s will is for a person to be saved. 1Ti 2:3-4, “This is good, and pleases God our Savior, who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” You say you do not know what God’s will is, but I’ll tell you what it is. First, that you know Christ and then that your neighbors hear about Christ. That is His will. So often we sit around twiddling our thumbs, dreaming about God’s will in some far distant future when we are not even willing to stand up on our own two feet, walk down the street, and do God’s will right now. God so desired that men be saved that He gave the One whom He loved most, His Son, and sent Him to die on a cross. That is the measure of His love, and that indicates how much He wills that men be saved!
  2. If you are already a Christian, God’s will is, next, that you are “Spirit filled.” Eph 5:17-18, “Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Christ’s will is. 18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit.”
Many Christians say, “I don’t understand why God hasn’t revealed whom I am to marry.” Others say, “Why doesn’t He show me what job I should take, what business deal I should enter into, what I ought to purchase, whether I ought to move to another home, or what I ought to do about some specific problem? Why doesn’t God do something for me and show me His will?” And all the time these people are not even Spirit-filled, which is clearly revealed as His will. Why should God show a person something if he is not even fulfilling that which God has already clearly stated as His will?
  1. The third principle is sanctified. To some people who have been looking for the will of God for a long time, this is going to seem quite obvious. “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” (1Th 4:3–7). God desires every believer to be sanctified. What does “sanctified” mean? Christ is talking in this passage about practical purity and he says, “avoid sexual immorality.” Stay away from sexual sin. Stay away from immoral sex … It is absurd for a young person (or anyone else) who is living in sexual impurity to say, “God, show me Your will.” Such a person is not even doing what this text of Christ says is His will. Why should God disclose some further will?
  2. The fourth principle is submissive. Picture a young man who is very earnestly wanting to know God’s will for his life’s work. He’s so dedicated to God that he’s even willing to be a missionary, which seems to be the ultimate sacrifice in the eyes of some people. But our young friend, despite his dedication, has some problems. He is a little headstrong. He seems to have trouble getting along with those in authority over him. His reasons for rebellion are very good, of course, at least in his eyes. Finally, our young seeker-after-God’s will takes his problem to a wise old pastor.
“I believe God wants me to be a missionary,” he says, “but I’m not sure whether He wants me to be a home missionary or a foreign missionary.” The pastor looks him straight in the eye. “Young man,” he says, “what you need to be first of all is a ‘submissionary.’ You need to learn what submission means.” Hard words? Perhaps. But true. The Apostle Peter wrote in 1Pe 2:13-15, Submit yourselves for the Christ’s sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. 15 For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. What is it God wills that you do? Submit. What kind of submission is He talking about? Peter outlines several kinds, including to parents and other believers. But here Christ calls specifically for the kind of submission that makes you the best possible citizen in the society in which you live.
  1. The last principle is suffering. The Christian must be willing to suffer for Christ if he is to know God’s will.
    • 1Pe 4:19 So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.
    • 1Pe 3:17 It is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.
    • 2Ti 3:12 In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Christ will be persecuted,
    • Php 1:29 For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe on him, but also to suffer for him…
  God’s will is that you be saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive, and suffering. God’s Word makes all this clear. Now, the final principle is this. If you are doing all five of the basic things, do you know what the next principle of God’s will is? Do whatever you want! If those five elements of God’s will are operating in your life, who is running your wants? God is! The Psalmist said, “Delight yourself in the Lord; and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps. 37:4). God does not say He will fulfill all the desires there! If you are living a godly life, He will give you the right desires. … You see, the will of God is not primarily a place. The will of God is not, first of all, for you to go there or work here. The will of God concerns you as a person. If you are the right you, you can follow your desires and you will fulfill His will.   Let’s read Romans 12:1,2: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God--this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will. Look at what verse 2 says, Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. How do you think does a person renew his mind? Well, it’s by being saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified, submissive, and willing to suffer. And what will be the result if your mind is renewed? Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is--his good, pleasing and perfect will.   There is the confirmation! If you want to know God’s will, the secret is not some mystical approach but by doing what the Bible explicitly teaches. Find out what is clearly taught in Scripture as to the will of God and obey them.   Let me close by reading to you two passages from the Old Testament.   Ps 119:97-104 Oh, how I love your law! I meditate on it all day long. 98 Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. 99 I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. 100 I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey your precepts. 101 I have kept my feet from every evil path so that I might obey your word. 102 I have not departed from your laws, for you yourself have taught me. 103 How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! 104 I gain understanding from your precepts; therefore I hate every wrong path.   Look at what the Bible can do to you. It will make you wiser than your enemies, give you more insight than all your teachers, give you more understanding than the elders. Because of the understanding one gains from meditating on God’s precepts, he does not fall into the wrong path. Is this not the reason why we are want God’s will? So that we do fall into the wrong path.   And one more passage.   Ps 19:7-11 The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. 10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. 11 By them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.   There you are again. Do you want wisdom, joy, illumination, great reward? Let the word of God be your infallible and sufficient guide, your absolute authority.