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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
February 28, 2010
Faith Worth Believing: The Necessity of Biblically Based Theology
The Necessity of Being on Guard – 2 Peter 3:17
For several months we have been studying the book of 2 Peter and examining his warnings about false teachers and mockers. (See: 2 Peter Sermon Series) Prior to that we studied Ephesians 6 and Paul’s warnings concerning spiritual warfare. (See: Spiritual Warfare Series) We must have on the full armor of God in order to stand firm against the spiritual forces of wickedness that seek our ill. We live in dangerous times and must be prepared to withstand the pressures that will come against us from all sources lest we be carried back into bondage of our old master, sin.
How important is this? It is so important that Peter concluded his letter with a final warning to be on guard as well as an admonition to continue to grow. He wrote in 2 Peter 3:17-18, “You therefore, beloved, since you know [this] beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him [be] the glory both now and forever. Amen.”
As Peter concludes his letter, he mentions Paul’s writings and that they were part of the Scriptures, though parts of them were hard to understand. As I pointed out last week, the Bible can be hard to understand for several reasons. It is the revelation of God who is an infinite being and we are but finite creatures. It tells us about things beyond our experience and understanding. We are sinful creatures and so we have a natural resistance to its call for us to walk in righteousness. We have the additional burdens of overcoming the language, culture and historical barriers. But hard is not impossible, and with diligent study and the ministry of the Holy Spirit we can understand the Bible.
Part of Peter’s warning is that false teachers will distort God’s revelation to their own desires and understanding leading to their own destruction. They may do this out of ignorance, being misled themselves by other false teachers or even demons, or they may be well aware of what they are doing and do it purposely, but regardless of their motives, you cannot distort the truth without dire consequences. Those who follow such teachings place themselves at risk for the same consequences.
In the weeks to come I want to expose the foundational errors of false philosophies and religions for they do desire to lead you away from your steadfastness in following Jesus Christ and into their errors. I will be focusing on the foundational errors of their theology since they are what give rise to all the specific heresies they teach. The specifics are not that important once the basic structure is exposed to be false. By way of analogy, a building inspector does not need to point out all the flaws in the features of a home if he can take you down to the basement and point out the rotting timbers of the foundation. You will avoid that house regardless of the persuasive efforts of the salesman. So it is with worldly wisdom, religious philosophies and cult groups. Their theological foundations are rotten, so the rest of the flaws in their house are of minor significance by comparison.
Our future topics will include: Demonic Deception – The errors of angelic based theology; Cultic Oppression – The errors of man made theology; Experts of Enigmas – The errors of mystery based theology; Tickets to Heaven – The errors of the market based theology; What’s Emerging? – The errors of Post-Modern theology; Spiritual Confusion – The errors of experience driven theology; Religions of My Fathers – The errors of tradition based theology and Worldly Wisdom – The errors of secular philosophical theologies.
Some of the errors will be very obvious while others will be more subtle, but all of them are dangerous. There is however another error that we must guard against lest we end up falling from our own steadfastness even while proclaiming to believe the truth. That error is failure to act on what you profess to believe.
Acting on what we believe.
It is a sad reality is that here in America the claim to be a follower of Jesus does not mean the individual will actually obey the Lord or follow the example of Jesus. Pervasive views within our society have a strong effect even on Christians unless they are diligent to be on guard. That is why Paul commanded in Romans 12:2, “do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” It is the failure to do this that has resulted in the church in America being little different from society as a whole.
There should be huge differences in the rate of social vices between those in the church and non-Christians, but the differences are not that significant. People who profess to be Christians even seek out the same type of raunchy entertainment. While doing some research for his blog, Jonathan found out that about one third of self professed “born again” Christians think that sexually explicit material in entertainment is okay, and over half of America’s church leaders view pornography. I would hope that rate would be a lot less among conservative evangelical pastors, but that may be more of a wish than reality. I have heard of too many pastors that have disqualified themselves from ministry due to sexual sin
This is the result of two problems. First, the gospel message has been so distorted that a large portion of those professing to be Christians are not so in reality. They may follow a religion, a defined set of social customs, and even revere the name of Jesus, but they are not actual followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Their Jesus is something other than the second person of the triune Godhead who became a man, lived a sinless life, became the voluntary substitute sacrifice for the sins of man, and then rose from the dead on the third day who has now ascended to the right hand of the Father in heaven and will someday return for His own. The Jesus who is God in human flesh demands fealty which includes obedience to His will. That is one reason that part of His Great Commission to the church is to teach His followers to obey whatsoever He has commanded (Matthew 28:19-20).
The second problem is that a large portion of those who do have a genuine profession of faith in the Jesus Christ of the Bible are not taught to study God’s word for themselves like the Bereans of Acts 17. They have not become approved workmen who are not ashamed being able to accurately handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). This failure in turn creates additional problems that lead to a great discrepancy between the profession of faith and the actual manner of life.
First, because they remain ignorant of what God has actually revealed in His word they do not know the truth to be able to follow it. They will simply continue in their sinful habits in ignorance that what they are doing is sin.
Second, without that foundational basis of knowledge they will also lack the needed discernment to distinguish between what is true and what is false. This makes it easy for someone who sounds believable to lead them astray. They are persuaded by what sounds good to them instead of what is good before God.
Third, because they end up relying on their teachers as the source of truth,they can be easily led astray if their teachers err or become false teachers. They model themselves after their leaders instead of Jesus so they do or do not do what their teachers do or do not do in ignorance of what Jesus would desire for them. This can easily lead to people picking their teachers according to what they would like to hear. This is a problem Paul warns about in 2 Timothy 4 that will become a characteristic of the last days which we are in even now. The people will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance with their own desires; and will turn away their ears from truth, and will turn aside to myths.
The Importance of Truth
I cannot stress enough the importance of truth. When we studied the armor of God in Ephesians 6, we spent 20 weeks on the topic with 9 of those sermons on the belt of truth. To follow truth we must first know what it is.
Defining Truth. Webster defines truth as “the state of being the case: fact” and as “the property of being in accord with fact or reality.” Truth is that which actually conforms to reality. In our own time people tend to define truth according to their perceptions of what is real, but our perceptions are easily fooled, and when we also consider that our perceptions are heavily colored by our own experience we realize that they are very unreliable for determining truth. Perception and reality can be poles apart. We must have a better way of determining reality by what is actually true.
The Ramifications of Truth
The importance of truth is also seen in the ramifications of what happens when we do not have it and follow it. When there is a failure to comply with truth there will always be corresponding negative consequences. That failure could be from just plain ignorance or stem from open defiance, but regardless of the reason, the consequences will still come.
Failure to heed the laws of physics can lead to injury or death. Gravity functions whether you want it to or not, so if you find a means to go up, you better make sure you have a means to come back down in a gentle manner otherwise you will be injured.
Failure to heed basic truth in economics allows others to exploit you. There really is no such thing as a free lunch for someone has to pay for it. Salesmen and politicians continue to use the promise of a free lunch to exploit others. Ever stop to consider why time shares offer so many gifts to get you to come hear their sales pitch? Do you really think only businesses and the rich will pay the tax?
Failure to heed basic rules of health will have consequences. You might get away with a poor diet and health habits for a while, but eventually it does catch up with you and your body will pay the price.
Failure to follow the truth in religion also has negative consequences. There is only one narrow path that leads to life. All the others are the broad way that leads to eternal destruction. For the Christian, failure to follow the truth will lead to a life lived for wood, hay and stubble that bring no reward in eternity (1 Corinthians 3:12-15). Those who make false professions of faith in Christ will hear Him say, “Depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23), even though they did many things in His name. The non-believer will suffer the terrible consequence of being “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Truth matters. Failure to discover it and follow it results in negative consequences. At the same time, finding the truth and following it brings tremendous blessings. John 8:31-36 records the following dialogue between Jesus and the Jewish religious leaders that were antagonistic toward Him. 31 “Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free .” 33 They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How [can] you say, `You will be made free ‘?” 34 Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. 35 “And a slave does not abide in the house forever, [but] a son abides forever. 36 “Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed.”
God uses the truth to free us from the bondage of sin. What truth? The truth of the identity and work of Jesus Christ along with the revelation of God in His word. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.” In John 17:17 Jesus said, “Thy word is truth.”
The Bible as Truth
I could spend the rest of this sermon talking about the Bible and demonstrating it as the source of truth, but I have done that several times in the past so I will not be doing that again today other than to state the major reasons why we believe the Bible. (See: Why We Believe The Bible).
1) The Bible claims to be the Word of God.
2) The Bible is historically accurate
3) The Biblical writers were men of the highest integrity
4) The many fulfilled prophecies attest to a divine origin
5) The internal character and preservation of the Bible demonstrate God’s hand upon it.
6) The Scripture’s description of the physical world reveals what could have only been known at that time by the creator.
As has been said by others, the Bible is not a book that man could write if he would, nor such a book that man would write if he could.
For the rest of this morning I want to talk about the importance of having the Bible as our source of truth and making sure that our theology is developed out of careful study and correct interpretation of the Bible itself. As already mentioned, there are many other things that people use as a source in determining what they think is true, but a foundation that is false can only result in conclusions that are also false.
Definition. What do I mean by Biblical Theology? First, I do mean by that any reference to what was known as the “Biblical Theology Movement of the mid-twentieth century. That was an effort within liberal theology to correct some of its excesses, but it was still a theology founded in the idea that the Bible was a “fully human book” instead of one which has divine origins.
What I mean by Biblical theology is the understanding of God, His attributes,actions, will and all that He has created that is developed based solely in what God has revealed in the Holy Scriptures. It may be compatible with other theological systems to extent those systems are grounded in the Scriptures themselves instead of another competing source of authority.
For example, Biblical theology is compatible with Natural Theology to the extent the understanding of the particular system of natural theology is tied directly back to what God’s word says about nature and what it can reveal about God. Passages such as Psalm 19 and Roman 1:19-20 tell us that the physical creation does reveal certain things about God such as His divine power and glory. To the extent a natural system of theology limits itself to these areas it is compatible with Biblical theology, but if it goes beyond that it is incompatible. God defines nature, but nature does not define God. Natural theology cannot tell about God’s plan of redemption for man nor His future plan for the world.
Let me further define Biblical theology as I am using the term by explaining some of its distinctions.
Biblical theology recognizes that the Bible is of divine origin. It is the revealed word of God in whole and in every part even to the particular words and tenses used. It rejects all theories that deny the writers were inspired by God and moved by the Holy Spirit to record exactly what God wanted (2 Timothy 3:16-17; 2 Peter 1:21).
Biblical theology is grounded in the grammatical – historical method of interpretation. It strives to understand the meaning of the Scriptures as would have been understood by those to whom it was first written. This means that the language, history and cultural barriers must be overcome in order to gain a correct interpretation. This requires that the Bible is interpreted literally which means according to its plain sense in keeping with its particular type of literature. Narratives are treated as narratives. Poetry is still poetry. Figures of speech are figures of speech. Allegory is not used to explain away the plain sense of a text in order to make it fit within a theological system.
Biblical theology changes to match the proper interpretation of the Biblical text within its context. Most theological systems will interpret a text of Scripture according to its system so that it will fit within its system. Biblical theology places the priority on the Scripture text instead of its system. The result is that it would rather have the tensions thus created than resolve those tensions by forcing a text into its already developed system. An example of this would be the continuing tension between the Arminian and the Calvinist systems of theology.
The Arminian system stresses man’s “free will” to the point that it discounts the many verses that speak of God’s election of those that would be saved. The Calvinist system stresses God’s sovereignty to the point of discounting the many verses in which an offer of salvation is made to “whosoever will.” Biblical theology prefers to interpret each text in its context and live with the theological tension of the seeming logical contradiction of man being offered a choice yet only those God elects by His sovereignty will be saved.
Importance. The importance of Biblical theology lies in its stress on the Bible as the source of truth. All other systems can fall err to having its system compete with the Bible as the source of truth. While many theological systems within Christianity strive to keep the Bible a central or important focus, the success in doing so will vary a lot from being very close to Biblical theology to being heretical. Many cults claim to be Biblical and will cite many Scriptures in their doctrine, but they twist the Scriptures to make them fit within their theology. False religions and worldly philosophies range from being tolerant of the Bible to direct antagonism.
Biblical theology should directly effect not only our understanding of God,His attributes, will, work and what He has created, but also the manner in which we live our lives. Correct theology will magnify the Lord while explaining the characteristics He has chosen to reveal to us. Correct theology will explain how God’s will is demonstrated in His work. Correct theology will give us a correct understanding of nature. Correct theology will lead us into living holy lives that will glorify the Lord. Let me give you some examples of each of these.
How do we know the nature of God? The Bible tells us. He is not a mystical power emanating from all life forms as in many of the Eastern mystical religions and in the “force” of the Star Wars movies. He is not contained within nature as in pantheistic religions. He is not a glorified resurrected man as in Mormonism. God is a personal and perfect Spirit who is self-existent, infinite, eternal and unchangeable in His being and attributes. He is personal for He has all the characteristics of personhood for He is rational, emotional and volitional,i.e., He can think (Isaiah 1:8), feel (Genesis 6:6) and make decisions (Genesis 1:26-27). He is a perfect spirit (John 4:24) who is self-existent (Exodus 3:13), infinite (Psalm 147:5),eternal (Isaiah 40:28-29) and unchangeable (Malachi 3:6).
What is God like? The Bible tells us. His many attributes include being omniscient (Hebrews 4:13); omnipresent (Proverbs 15:3); omnipotent (Philippians 3:21); sovereign (Psalm 103:19); holy (Isaiah 6:3); just, righteous and faithful (Deuteronomy 32:4), loving (1 John 3:16); and true (Titus 1:2).
What has God done? The Bible tells us. He has created all things (Genesis 1; Colossians 1:16); judged man’s wickedness in the past (Genesis 6-9); chosen a people for Himself (1 Peter 2:9); loved the world and sent His only begotten son into the world to die as the sacrifice for sin that man might be redeemed (John 3:16; Titus 2:14); provided salvation from sin for mankind by His grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2); raised Christ from the dead (Galatians 1:1).
What will God do? The Bible tells us. He will forgive the sins of those who confess their sins and turn in faith to Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:13-14; 1 John 1:9). He will bring to heaven those that belong to Him to dwell in His presence forever (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). He will pour out His wrath on the wicked (Ephesians 5:6; Revelation), set up a millennial kingdom (Revelation 20),judge the wicked at the great white throne (Revelation 20:11-15); establish new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).
What is God’s will? How does God want you to live? The Bible tells us. He desires for all men to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). He desires for all men to give thanks in everything (1 Thessalonians 5:18). He desires our sanctification including abstaining from sexual immorality (1 Thessalonians 4:3). His will for believers is for them to properly submit to authority and receive their praise for doing what is right (1 Peter 2:13). God desires for us to no longer live for the lusts of men, but for the will of God (1 Peter 4:2). God wants us to be holy for He is holy (1 Peter 1:16).
There are of course many, many specific commands and principles by which Christians are to live. That is why Jesus commissioned the church to teach His followers to obey whatsoever things He has commanded (Matthew 28:20). If we want to know how we are to live, we go to the Bible to find out. It is to be the basis for our theology which in turn should determine our view of the world and how we live in daily life.
Our society is in the midst of many debates that will determine the future direction of our nation. What seems to be most left out of the debate is Biblical theology, yet it is the Bible that will give us the answers to these societal questions if we will go to it. I can’t think of anything our society is facing that does not have a Biblical answer either in specific or in principle. The Bible gives us direction in how to deal with abortion, embryonic stem cell research, adultery, broken marriages, homosexuality and other sexual perversions, care of the environment, helping those in need, dealing with crime,carrying out justice, relationships between people groups and business practices. The Bible even addresses man induced global warming, but it is not what the environmentalists are advocating. As we saw last week in 2 Peter 3, God will punish the wickedness of mankind with the earth being destroyed by intense heat causing the elements to melt. The ultimate in global warming.
The Bible addresses how we should behave toward others with all the many one another verses dealing not only with fellow believers, but also those outside the church and even our enemies. It addresses all the vices common to our society as well as the heart issues that underlie them. Perhaps that is the reason people do not go to God’s word for answers for it is sharper than a two edged sword able to divide between the soul and spirit judging the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). People do not want their sinfulness exposed, yet it is only in that exposure that the sin can be confessed and forgiveness received.
Do not be like those God warns in Isaiah 5:20-21, “Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter! 21 Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes, And clever in their own sight!” We live in a society that does just that. Many can no longer make a distinction between right and wrong, good and bad. I met someone recently that professes to be a Christian, yet is addicted to movies and by his own admission he has no standards. He likes them all. He does not have standards, but God does. The greatest tragedy is that he is indifferent to what God says about what we see,hear and experience.
What about you? What is your real desire in life? Do you desire to actually walk with God in holiness and bring glory to His name? If so, then the Bible is to be your foundation for living and your source of truth. Do not be persuaded by anyone or anything to stray from the truth of God’s word.
If not, then you will make something else your foundation and source of truth and you will bear the consequences of following what is false even while believing it to be true. God’s woes will be upon you. I plead with you to repent, confess and place your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ that you may know the joy of being forgiven and the blessing of walking with Him in righteousness.
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