What's This Book For?

What’s This Book For?

Why has the Bible been handed down to us in its present form?  Fundamental belief #1 of the SDA Church reads as follows:

The Holy Scriptures, Old and New Testaments, are the written Word of God, given by divine inspiration through holy men of God who spoke and wrote as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. In this Word, God has committed to man the knowledge necessary for salvation. The Holy Scriptures are the infallible revelation of His will. They are the standard of character, the test of experience, the authoritative revealer of doctrines, and the trustworthy record of God's acts in history. (2 Peter 1:20, 21; 2 Tim. 3:16, 17; Ps. 119:105; Prov. 30:5, 6; Isa. 8:20; John 17:17; 1 Thess. 2:13; Heb. 4:12.)

“The infallible revelation of his will, committing to man the knowledge necessary for salvation” That’s what we as SDA’s believe.  But what is the knowledge necessary for salvation?  Jesus makes a plain statement in this regard in John 17: ESV) 1 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.

So the Bible isn’t just a revelation of His will, rather, it is a revelation of God Himself!  The way God reveals His will is through a revelation of His character.  How does God reveal His character? The answer is not just intellectually but experientially.  We understand God by experiencing Him in our lives, better still, by having the indwelling life of Christ displace our own.  We learn about God as He abides with us in the person of the Holy Spirit.

The Bible itself makes it clear that the revelation of God in scripture is part of a progressive unveiling. 

Hebrews 1 (NKJV) (God’s Supreme Revelation) 1 God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, 2 has in these last days spoken to us by His Son, whom He has appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the worlds; 3 who being the brightness of His glory and the express image of His person, and upholding all things by the word of His power, when He had by Himself purged our sins, sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high,4 having become so much better than the angels, as He has by inheritance obtained a more excellent name than they.

Colossians 1: (NKJV) 15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For by Him all things were created that are in heaven and that are on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or powers. All things were created through Him and for Him. 17 And He is before all things, and in Him all things consist. 18 And He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in all things He may have the preeminence.

The Bible reveals that there is no clearer portrayal of the Father than in the person of His Son, so by necessity we must conclude that some parts of scripture do not reveal God as clearly as others.  Now why is this?  We as SDA’s understand the scripture to be thought-inspired, in other words, God inspired men to write, giving them ideas, but the words they used and the composition of them is their own.  The Bible, like Jesus, is a miraculous combination of the human and the divine.  Ellen White expresses it this way:

“The Bible is written by inspired men, but it is not God’s mode of thought and expression. It is that of humanity. God, as a writer, is not represented. Men will often say such an expression is not like God. But God has not put Himself in words, in logic, in rhetoric, on trial in the Bible. The writers of the Bible were God’s penmen, not His pen. Look at the different writers.” {1 Selected Messages 21.1}

It is not the words of the Bible that are inspired, but the men that were inspired. Inspiration acts not on the man’s words or his expressions but on the man himself, who, under the influence of the Holy Ghost, is imbued with thoughts. But the words receive the impress of the individual mind. The divine mind is diffused. The divine mind and will is combined with the human mind and will; thus the utterances of the man are the word of God.—Manuscript 24, 1886 (written in Europe in 1886).{1 Selected Messages 21.2}

Consequently, we need the Holy Spirit to discern the scriptures just as much as those men of old needed Him to write them.  Again, Ellen White cautions us to hold our views very lightly when it comes to offering our opinions on what the Bible teaches.

“We have many lessons to learn, and many, many to unlearn. God and heaven alone are infallible. Those who think that they will never have to give up a cherished view, never have occasion to change an opinion, will be disappointed. As long as we hold to our own ideas and opinions with determined persistency, we cannot have the unity for which Christ prayed.” {Counsels to Christian Writers and Editors, Page 37, paragraph 1}

I remember a morning devotional Pastor Carlos Ancheta gave at campmeeting some years ago entitled “Treasure Hunters”.  He was speaking from the text in Matthew 13: (ESV) 44 “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.  From his study the Pastor concluded something that I found quite fascinating; the field, he said, represents the word of God and the treasure, the Gospel.  Because I wasn’t sure if he fully realized the implications of that statement and I wanted to confirm it, I went and spoke with the pastor afterwards.  What composes a field I asked him?...a lot of dirt.  The Bible is not a sanitized book, it’s messy and painful and sometimes it doesn’t reflect God very well.  As we continued our conversation, I asked him the question “what if we are willing to make scripture our study and science, to dig down below the surface” and we both answered in unison “God will reveal Himself”.  It was at that point I knew we were in complete agreement and I had understood him correctly 

That morning, before I heard the pastor speak, I had just finished reading Joshua Chapter 10.  If you’re not familiar with that chapter, Joshua and the tribes of Israel had just conquered the King of Ai and made subjects of the Gibeonites.  When the king of Jerusalem hears this he makes a pact with four other kings of the Amorites to attack the Gibeonites because they are in league with Israel.  Then Gibeon calls Israel to come to their aid. Israel responds and completely routes the Amorites.  The story tells us that “the Lord threw down large stones from heaven on them as far as Azekah, and they died. There were more who died because of the hailstones than the sons of Israel killed with the sword.”

The kings of the Amorites are forced to flee and they find refuge in a cave.  They are eventually found and Joshua instructs his men to put large stones in front of the mouth of the cave so that they cannot escape until the mopping up operation of the Amorite armies.  Then Joshua brings the five kings out of the cave and executes them on the spot.  Next, the Israelite army undertakes to visit each of the cities represented by these kings and systematically exterminates their entire populations.  These are the kind of verses unbelievers point to when we suggest our God is a God of love.  How can He be, they ask, when He endorses genocide and ethnic cleansing?  I have asked myself why these kinds of stories are even in the Bible.  How can we begin to reconcile these pictures of God with the way Jesus describes Him in the Gospels?  How can the God who condones such violence be the same God who says:  Matthew 5: (ESV) 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48 You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jesus tried to get His disciples to see a radical picture of God not as one who’s out to destroy men’s lives but as one who strives to reconcile and redeem mankind.  Remember when Jesus was requesting to pass through a Samaritan village and He and His disciples were refused entry.  His disciples were indignant:  Luke 9: (NKJV) 54 And when His disciples James and John saw this, they said, “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?”  55 But He turned and rebuked them, and said, “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. 56 For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them.” And they went to another village.

So back to our original point; there are parts of the Bible that reveal God more clearly than others.  The Bible was written by men who were struggling to understand, wrestling with the evidence of their circumstances, just to get a glimpse of God, just as we do.  Even Jesus in the Gospels was not able to reveal God as clearly as He would have liked.  That is not due to any lack on His part but because the people He was addressing, His audience at the time, were not ready for the full truth.  Are we?  John 16: (ESV) 12 “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

So it logically leads to the question: are there things Jesus would like to reveal to us today that the Holy Spirit cannot disclose because we are not ready? Certainly, the Book of Revelation penned by the apostle John some years after the Lord’s resurrection, was a further revelation than when Jesus was present on earth.  We might even ask…”is that all there is?”  The prophet Joel reveals:  Joel 2: (ESV)28 “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions.  Is the Holy Spirit not still working today?  Will there be more revealed about God in the last days? According to Ellen White, there is:  Those who wait for the Bridegroom’s coming are to say to the people, “Behold your God.” The last rays of merciful light, the last message of mercy to be given to the world, is a revelation of His character of love. The children of God are to manifest His glory. In their own life and character they are to reveal what the grace of God has done for them. {Christ's Object Lessons 415.5}.  Is the Gospel message that we proclaim a revelation of God’s character of love?  Are we proclaiming the Gospel in truth as it is in Jesus?  If not, we need to adjust our thinking and our message, both individually and as the body of Christ.

In that morning devotional, Pastor Ancheta asked the question: “Why is the treasure buried”?  Of course the answer is:  because it just is, that’s the reality.  God would make it plain for us if He could, be we have buried it under a lot of misinformation and misunderstanding about Him.  But if we truly desire to know God (John 17) we will find the treasure.  Jeremiah 29: (NKJV) 12 Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. 13 And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; Did you catch that…when you search for Me with all your heart”.  God wants us to uncover the treasure, He’s longing for us to find it, but we keep throwing more dirt on top of it!  We keep obscuring the truth as it is in Jesus (Ephesians 4: 21).  When we find God as He promises we will, He will restore our captive hearts and we will be free to love as we were meant to.

There is a controversy taking place on planet earth. This controversy is about who God is, what is He really like.  It is true that we are formed into the image of the God we believe in.  Islamic State (ISIS) is only the extreme manifestation of a people who have allowed a false image of God to form them into that image.  It is our duty, our purpose to reveal the true image of God to the world.  What we believe does make a difference!  

What’s this Book for?  Its purpose is to form us into the image of the only true God.  Only when the world witnesses the image of God demonstrated in the lives of believers, will it be restored to what God intended in the first place.  Jesus perfectly reveals God’s heart and His ways.  It is high time we cease to sit by idly while professed Christians, yes even some Adventist Christians, persist in acting unlike Christ and misrepresent the character of God.  It is our responsibility, within our sphere of influence, to make sure that doesn’t happen. Sometimes that means we have to stand up and challenge the status quo.  The Church is us, and it’s about time we take ownership of it.  What we must be aware of, and careful about, is what we present as truth.  The message of the Gospel is the most valuable treasure we have and it’s important we get it right.  Before we purport to speak for God we should always ask ourselves the question; “does what I am about to say uplift Jesus as the clearest revelation of what God is like?  Will it portray God in a way that is winning and attractive like Jesus did? “  If not, perhaps we should hold our tongue.  In words of a popular contemporary Christian song by Hawk Nelson:

“Words can build you up
Words can break you down
Start a fire in your heart or
Put it out
Let my words be life
Let my words be truth
I don't wanna say a word
Unless it points the world back to You” 

- John Schneider