This is the third article in the series “Five Things Every Christian Needs To Know.” Yesterday we examined the doctrine of Sola Scriptura or Scripture Alone. We saw that the first thing every Christian needs to know is that the Bible alone is the infallible rule of faith for the church. We further defined the doctrine, saw why it was known as the formal principle of the Reformation and examined what Scripture says about Scripture. Today we will examine the practical implications of this doctrine.
It seems that most Christians go through their lives feeling some measure of guilt that they do not love the Bible more. So often we take time to do devotions out of guilt and not because we truly desire to study the Word, learn about God and have Him challenge us. More often, perhaps, we do not read the Bible at all. In the past men and women have died to defend our right to read the Scriptures and even today people are dying for their devotion to the Word. Many more would give all they have for the ability to feed on the Words of God, yet so often we who have unlimited access to the Bible see it as a burden and not a delight. Ben Merkle wrote critically of today’s Christians when he said:
“We have created a culture that sees regular Bible study as a pain and not a blessing. We refuse to put effort into our Bible study, insisting on having our Bible studies livened up to entertain us. Instead of regularly reading our Bibles, we take a quick read of the uninspired, inspirational paragraph of our daily devotion book. Our Bibles are marketed by adding footnotes and short stories that are supposed to make the Bible relevant to today’s youth, the working mother, or nicotine patch users. Our eschatologies are shaped more by tabloids and TV, than by the study of Scripture. We are bored of our Bibles and truly need to reform our view of Scripture. What a joy it should be to read the Word of our Lord.”
Protestant churches continue to pay lip service to Sola Scriptura. Almost every church has within its statement of beliefs an affirmation of Scripture Alone. “The Holy Bible is…the supreme standard by which all human conduct creeds and religious opinions should be tried,” reads one. Another reads “We believe in the Scriptures of the Old Testament and New Testament as verbally inspired by God and inerrant in the original writing. We believe the 66 books of the Old Testament and New Testament are God’s completed and sufficient revelation for the total well-being of mankind.” It would be a rare (and probably heretical) evangelical church that did not profess such a belief. But, as we know, professing a doctrine does not necessarily mean we truly believe or understand it. Many Christians inadvertently and out of ignorance, violate this precious doctrine that they profess to believe.
In the previous article I suggested that the primary concern facing believers today as it pertains to Sola Scriptura is the sufficiency of the Scriptures and that will be our focus for today. Thus I am presuming a belief in the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, issues that confronted Protestantism at different times in her history. Here is a statement about scripture’s sufficiency, taken from Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology:
The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each stage of redemptive history, and that it now contains all the words of God we need for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly.
We will turn now to the practical applications of this doctrine.
Scripture tells us how we are to behave and what we are to believe
If we believe that Scripture contains all the words of God he wants us to have at this stage in the history of the redemption of His people, we can with certainty believe that it instructs us today what we are to do and to think. This does not mean that it will provide direct answers for any question that may confront us, but that it will shed God’s light on any issue of genuine importance. While God does not tell us whether the carpets in our home should be grey or black, the Bible will certainly instruct us as to how we should choose a country, city or house to live in. If Scripture is silent on an issue, we can safely assume that that God does not require us to act in a certain way or believe a certain thing in that situation.
The primary application for this is that we should carefully search the Scriptures on an ongoing basis so that we know what God tells us through them. How are we to know whether the Scriptures provide guidance on an issue if we do not know the Bible? Christians are duty-bound to know the Scriptures, so we can believe what God demands we believe and act in the ways He would have us act. We have no excuse for ignorance.
God does not require us to believe anything about Him or His redemptive work that is not found in Scripture
Everything we need to know about the life and work of Jesus in order to trust and obey him perfectly is contained in the Scriptures. This is not to say that everything Jesus ever said and did is recorded in the Bible, nor that it is impossible that some words and deeds of Jesus are recorded elsewhere. However, even if we found other teachings of Jesus, they would have no direct value to us in what we should believe or how we should live our lives. They certainly would not be needed to formulate doctrines and teachings, for everything we need is already recorded for us.
This tells us that we do not need to search outside of Scripture for what we should believe or how we should act. We do not need other Scriptures, nor tradition, nor the authority of a church to tell us these things.
God does not forbid anything that is not explicity or implicitly forbidden in Scripture
The first verse of Psalm 119 tells us that they are blessed “whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the LORD!” Nothing is to be considered sin that is not implicitly or explicitly forbidden by God in the Scriptures, for if a man were to adhere perfectly to what the Scriptures teach, he would be blameless before God. This is exactly what Jesus did on our behalf. Humans are adept at adding to Scripture all sorts of traditions that violate this rule. We add rules about alcohol, types of food, birth control and other legalistic “sins” that are not forbidden in Scripture.
It requires care to know what is sin and what is not, as the Pharisees found time and again when they attempted to test and chastise Jesus. A believer is to derive delight from obedience to God, but we can take no true pleasure and cannot bring God glory through obeying rules that we have created and elevated to the status of Scripture. Many believers live in constant guilt and worry about sins that are not sins at all!
God does require anything of us that is not explicity or implicitly commanded in Scripture
Just as nothing is sin that is not forbidden by Scripture, so God does not require of us anything that He does not demand of us in the Bible. This is perhaps the most relevant of all applications to today’s believer. So many Christians constantly search outside of the Scriptures to find God’s will. They look for external situations that they declare to be God’s leading. They search for inner peace or strong feelings that they call the Spirit’s guiding. There can be no absolute assurance when we search subjective means to find God’s will. Instead we are to dedicate ourselves to searching the Scriptures where God has already revealed His will for us. A most damaging teaching that arises in the church is that God has a secret will for our lives that we need to search out and find, less we live a second-rate Christian life. This is not so! God has revealed in His Word all we need to know to live before Him in joy and victory, bringing constant glory to His name.
God reveals to use what we should emphasize in our teaching and actions
A defining mark of cults is that they major on the minors, raising to prominence things that God does not emphasize. An example of this is the Mormon belief in baptism for the dead, a doctrine based on just one verse of the Bible and refuted by many more. By diligently searching the Scriptures we can gain knowledge of what God emphasizes and base our lives on what He considers most important. More often than not, an emphasis on the minor points of doctrine reveals human pride rather than a heartfelt desire for God’s glory.
Wrapping It up
Sola Scriptura was known as the formal principle of the Reformation and it continues to be of foundational importance to the church today. We, as the church of Christ, need to recover a biblical view of the Scriptures, not merely professing adherence to this doctrine, but truly living and believing it. Each of the practical implications of this doctrine centered around one thing: we need to know, honor and love the Word of God. We need to believe that it is authoritative, trust that it is inerrant and prove with our lives that we believe it is sufficient. I will close with some words written by John MacArthur:
This book contains: the mind of God, the state of man, the way of salvation, the doom of sinners, and the happiness of believers.
Its doctrine is holy, its precepts are binding, its histories are true, and its decisions are immutable. Read it to be wise, believe it to be saved, and practice it to be holy.
It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you. It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword, and the Christian’s charter. Here heaven is open, and the gates of hell are disclosed.
Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, health to the soul, and a river of pleasure. It is given to you here in this life, will be opened at the judgment, and is established forever.
It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and condemn all who trifle with its contents.
Read it, learn it, love it, live it.
- Scripture Alone by James White is an excellent and readable introduction to this doctrine. I have previously read and reviewed it here.
- Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem devotes chapters two through eight to The Bible.
- Whatever Happened To the Gospel of Grace by James Boice contains a great introduction to this doctrine as well as the other four solas. I have read and reviewed this book here.