The Sieve of My Life
I want you to know what this Mission Statement is meaning for me personally in these days. On Wednesday I spoke over at the Northwestern College chapel service. As I prepared, I was gripped by our mission and felt that when I go away from Bethlehem to minister other places I must be an emissary of what we as a church stand for. So I began my talk on living by faith in future grace by saying,
My mission this morning is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples, and I am here to recruit people to share that mission and that passion with me.
This Wednesday I am going down to Wheaton to debate Ruth Tucker on "What the Bible Says about the Family." (Please pray for me.) And I am going to stand in Pierce Chapel and begin the same way I began last Wednesday:
My mission tonight as I talk about what the Bible says about the family is to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. I care about the family and the biblical dynamics of love between husbands and wives for one main reason: because they are meant by God to manifest his glory in the world for the joy of his creatures. And that is what my church exists for and why they send me out on these ventures.
In other words already this Mission Statement is giving a sharpened focus and an energizing unity to my life and ministry. We exist—and therefore I as a leader in this church exist—to spread a passion for the supremacy of God in all things for the joy of all peoples. Everything passes through that sieve. If it doesn't do that, I don't do it. At least that's my goal. My prayer is that more and more of you will be drawn into that same passion.
But how do you do that? That's what page two is meant to answer—The Spiritual Dynamic that drives our Mission. Let's read it together:
We join God the Father
in magnifying the supremacy of his glory
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
in the power of the Holy Spirit by
treasuring all that God is,
loving all whom he loves,
praying for all his purposes,
meditating on all his Word,
sustained by all his grace.
This is our third Sunday unpacking this Spiritual Dynamic and trying to show that it is rooted in Scripture. The first couple lines repeat the Mission: to join God the Father in magnifying the supremacy of his glory. That's our goal in all we do—to show how great God is!
Then we talked about how this is only possible "through our Lord Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit." Jesus Christ died for our sins so that God's justice could be satisfied, and his wrath could be removed, and the curse could be lifted from us, and our sins could be forgiven, and the righteousness of Christ himself could be imputed to us, and God could look upon us, even in our imperfection, as a loved child, and so pour out his Holy Spirit into our lives and give us the patient, loving help that we need to live out our mission. We cannot live out our mission without pardon from Jesus and power from the Holy Spirit.
Then last week we took up the next two phrases and asked, how do we connect with the pardon of Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit? And the biblical answer was "through faith." "By grace are you saved through faith," the Bible says (Ephesians 2:8). It also says that God supplies the Holy Spirit to us not by works of the law but by hearing with faith (Galatians 3:5). But we have used the words "by treasuring all that God is" rather than the words "by faith" because we believe that is what "faith" means.
Faith is not just accepting a fact about God or Jesus. Faith is treasuring all that God promises to be for you in Jesus. The word, "treasuring," gets at the heart. Faith is a matter of the heart as well as the mind. Faith assents to truth about God with the mind, and it embraces, or cherishes, or treasures the reality of God with the heart.
And I tried to show that this is why faith always produces love—which is the next phrase in the Spiritual Dynamic—"loving all whom he loves." When your heart is satisfied by treasuring all that God is for you in Jesus, the power of selfishness is broken. To the degree that you rest in the treasure of God, you are freed from fear and greed and lust and despondency and bitterness and impatience and conceit and shame—all of the things that keep you from being a person for others.
Love, we said, was faith made visible. Faith is invisible. But when it frees to live for the good of others, it becomes visible in love. And love is what most of our fresh initiatives on page three are all about.
Faith Comes by Hearing . . . the Word of Christ
But now the question rises: Where does faith come from? Or: How do you become a person who treasures all that God is for you in Jesus? If faith works through love (Galatians 5:6), and love causes people to magnify our Father in heaven (Matthew 5:16), then the great question in life is, how shall we have this faith? How shall we come to treasure God like this?
One answer is given in Romans 10:14–17.
How then shall they call upon Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? 15 And how shall they preach unless they are sent? . . . 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ.
There is Paul's answer: "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." This is why our Spiritual Dynamic includes the phrase, "meditating on all his Word." Prayer has a crucial role to play too, which is why we say, "praying for all his purposes." For example, in Psalm 119:18 the psalmist prays like this:
Open my eyes, that I may behold wonderful things from Thy law.
In other words the Word of God contains wonderful things, but we will not see them without God's help—his illumination (2 Corinthians 4:4, 6); his opening our hearts like he did for Lydia (Acts 16:14); his opening our minds like he did for the apostles (Luke 24:45). And if we miss what is in the Word of God without his help, then prayer becomes the natural partner to hearing the Word. We pray, "Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things from your law."
We are going to spend two Sundays on prayer during Prayer Week at the beginning of the year (nine weeks from now). So I want us to focus on this other line in our spiritual dynamic this morning and tonight—"meditating on all his Word." "We join God in magnifying the supremacy of his glory by . . . meditating on all his Word." This is the way faith begins and the way faith grows—by hearing and meditating on the Word of God. And as faith grows—as we come to treasure more and more what God is for us in Jesus—we have more and more freedom and strength to love as we ought. And when we love as we ought, people will see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven. And our mission will be fulfilled.
Why Do We Believe the Bible Is God's Word?
So let's ponder these simple words for the rest of our time this morning: " . . . by meditating on all his Word." When we say "his" we mean God's. And by "God's Word" we mean the Bible—the 66 books of the Old and New Testament. Why do we believe that the Bible is the Word of God?
The answer to that question is very important, and it's not exactly the same for every person. All of us don't get persuaded in the very same way. But at the heart of the answer for all of us, I believe, is this: Jesus Christ, as he is presented in the New Testament, has won our trust and we have embraced his view of the Bible as we have his view of everything else he talks about.
In other words we are persuaded that Jesus is such a powerful historical figure that nothing has been able to conceal him in his true glory. He has broken through every human limitation and revealed himself as so authentic, and so loving, and so penetratingly wise, and so uniquely authoritative, and so devoted to God, and so powerful in words and deeds that there is none like him. In this way he has won our trust. And this we embrace in view of the Scriptures.
Can We Trust the Bible?
From time to time we allow ourselves to ask: Is the portrait of Jesus that we have in the New Testament a result of fanatical delusion? Did some religious zealots hallucinate and create the teachings and deeds and deity and atoning death and resurrection of Jesus? Is this magnificent Christ just the froth of unstable minds?
Or we ask: is this portrait an intentional deception and fraud that some group shrewdly conceived and foisted onto the world? Was it a kind of plot? One they were willing die for, strangely.
Or we ask: is there only a tiny kernel of truth in this portrait of Jesus, which within a few years, had been so overgrown with exaggerated tales that no one could ever get back to the real Jesus of history? Which would mean that the magnificence of this person that we meet in the New Testament is really the magnificence of some people's imagination with no valid cause greater than an ordinary man?
And when we let ourselves ask these questions, we come back again and again to this: these witnesses do not have the flavor of hallucination or fraud or indifference to truth. And the portrait of Jesus that comes through is gloriously authentic and filled with insight that illuminates all of reality that I know. And therefore I believe him. And when he teaches that he is the fulfillment and center of the Scriptures, I believe that too, and conclude that they are indeed, as he says, the Word of God (Matthew 5:17–18; 19:4–5; Mark 12:36; John 10:35).
Your Life Hangs on This
We need to pause here so you can make this personal. It is not academic. Your life hangs on this. Does Jesus stand forth from the New Testament witness as an authentic and glorious person worthy of your trust and worship, or doesn't he? If he does, believe him; treasure him above all things; bow and worship him. If he does not (yet!), don't play games with Christianity. Don't call yourself a Christian for convenience, or because you don't want to scare your wife, or because you are afraid of hell. Instead give yourself to prayer that God would help you see what is really there.
Believing that the Bible is the Word of God is a gigantic event in the soul. Therefore God does not leave it merely to man. He himself is involved every time someone comes to believe in the Word of God.
Let me illustrate this from one of Paul's letters, 1 Thessalonians 2:13,
We also constantly thank God that when you received from us the word of God's message, you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in you who believe.
The main thing to see here is that Paul thanks God constantly that the Thessalonians received the teaching of the apostles as the Word of God, and not merely the word of man. What this shows is that if we are left to ourselves, we will not see Jesus in this Word as self-authenticating and trustworthy and glorious. We will just hear religious opinion—the way some people stand on the edge of the Grand Canyon and just see a big ditch.
Why We Believe the Bible Is the Word of God
So our answer to the question, "Why do we believe that the Bible is the Word of God?" is this: through the witness of the New Testament Jesus Christ stands forth as an authentic and glorious person worthy of our trust and worship—he breaks through every human limitation and commends himself to our mind and our conscience. What he is and what he does and what he says illumines reality—it helps make sense out of the world. But the bottom line answer to why we believe the Bible is the Word of God is the same one Paul gave in 1 Thessalonians 2:13—God revealed himself to us in the Word. God opened our eyes. God took away our blindness and overcame our resistance. To God belongs all the glory even for our seeing his glory.
The Word of God in the Life of Bethlehem
Now we believe that the Bible is the Word of God. Which raises the question, What shall we do with it? The answer of the elders and the Master Planning Team was: We will base our values on it and saturate our values with it and make it the authoritative litmus test for all things at Bethlehem Baptist Church. That is, we will be a people of the Book.
For example, look at page 5, "Values Relating To Bethlehem's Spiritual Atmosphere." We value . . .
- 3. Personal Bible reading, reflection and memorization among all our people.
- 5. The indispensable role of teachers and parents to impart biblical truth to the mind, and the indispensable role of the Holy Spirit to awaken love for truth in the heart.
- 6. Keeping the main things the main things. Maintaining biblical proportion between the importance of a truth and the attention and energy devoted to it.
- 7. The study of sound biblical theology so that we will not be children in our thinking.
- 8. Being people who are humble and teachable before the Word of God, always growing and being refined in our grasp of God's truth and grace.
- 9. All services, committees, small groups, and relationships permeated with the Word of God.
- 11. Biblical self-denial as we take thought for the good of others.
- 19. Efficient administrative structures shaped by the Word and sustained by prayer.
That is our aim as a church. What does it mean for each of us as individuals? It means that we will want to be like the psalmist in Psalm 1.
1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers! 2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. 3 And he will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither; and in whatever he does, he prospers.
We want to be a people who meditate on the Word of God day and night. We want to be like Charles Spurgeon who said,
It is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible, until at last you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord, so that your blood is Bibline and the very essence of the Bible flows from you. (Quoted in John R. Stott, The Preacher's Portrait [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1961], pp. 30–31)
How we do that and what it means to meditate on the Lord day and night is what we will talk about tonight.