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  • This sermon was preached on January 24, 2016:

    Civilization is in a severe “authority crisis.”

    Parental authority, marital authority, political authority, academic authority, ecclesiastical authority are all being questioned and challenged.

    The big question: Who or what has the right, the authority, to determine what we believe and how we are to live? Who or what has the power and the right to receive and to require submission?

    I believe this authority crisis is largely due to the pervasive, widespread teaching that we live in a purposeless universe and that everything is a cosmic accident. Therefore, human beings are declared to be wholly free to impose upon nature and history whatever moral criteria they prefer. In this present post-modern world, human beings are lords of their own destiny and inventors of their own ideals and values. Tolerance is the new virtue. An acceptance of every opinion about religion is to be commended.  Thus we are hostile to any and all external authority.

    Of course I do not mean to say that if no one ever thought up the theory of evolution that we would all be perfect little angels who never question or doubt authority for evolution itself is the symptom of a deeper systemic problem – sin. What is sin if not rebellion against God’s rightful authority? Evolution, naturalism, post-modernism are all simply the latest in a long line of attempts of our sinful nature to throw off God’s sovereign rule and reign in our lives. Our world calls this human autonomy and creative individuality “coming of age” and celebrates being free of the shackles of narrow, repressive, outdated mythical conceptions but the Bible calls this revolt sin.

    Our great sin is we seek authority in ourselves. Liberal theologian Don Cupitt asserts that, “modern people want to live their own lives, which means making their own rules, steering a course through life of one’s own choice.” I agree with him. But that is not merely a modern phenomenon. That has been the case since the fall of Adam and Eve in the garden. Of course the irony of this is if we are our own authority, we enslave ourselves to ourselves, which is the worst bondage of all.

    You see, true freedom comes by submitting yourself to the authority of God our Creator. No one was more free than Jesus who knew the Father’s will and always did it. Jesus promises this same freedom to anyone who would submit to Him. “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Again he said, “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave to sin. Now a slave has no permanent place in the family, but a son belongs to it forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.”

    So while the world wrestles with an authority crisis, for the Christian the answer is uncomplicated: Who or what has the right, the authority, to determine what we believe and how we are to live? God! And he has revealed what we are to believe and how we are to live in the Word of God. So the Word of God has the final authority over all areas of faith and practice. Our battle cry is the same as that of the reformation – sola Scripture – Scripture alone! The ultimate basis of authority and truth is the Scripture. It has the final say. Not what the church says, or what my heart says, but what says the Scripture?

    Authority: What Does it Mean?

    Remember our definitions.

    Revelation

    This simply means “unveiling.” It indicates that God has taken the initiative to make himself known. This is a very gracious thing for whoever and whatever God may be, he is altogether beyond our knowledge. Job 11:7 – “Can you fathom the mysteries of god? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?” His infinite greatness is veiled from our eyes. We cannot discover him by ourselves. If we are ever to know him, he must make himself known.

    The Inspiration of Scripture:

    This is the chief mode God has chosen by which to reveal himself - by giving us a book that is God-breathed. Every jot, tittle, chapter, verse, book is God-breathed. It has come out of the mouth of God.

    The Inerrancy of Scripture:

    Because the Bible is God-breathed, it is the Word of God. And because God is holy, God cannot lie. Therefore every word in the Bible is true. It is free from error. It is flawless.

    The Infallibility of Scripture:

    Inerrancy flows out of an even stronger word infallibility. Not only is the Bible without error, it is impossible that it can have error. All that is recorded must come to pass. The Word of the Lord cannot fail. 1 Peter 1:24-25 says, “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” And remember this is an all or none proposition. The UCC recently had an add that says, “The Bible is like GPS. A brilliant guide. All-knowing. Occasionally wrong. Example of one cyanide pill in a full Tylenol bottle!

    The Authority of Scripture

    Because the word of God is inspired, inerrant and infallible it comes with the authority of God Himself. When the Bible speaks, God speaks. And when God speaks, He speaks with sovereign authority. God does not make suggestions or give us options. God’s Word is God’s law. It is binding.

    Let me share with you some selected confessions of faith that summarize this attribute of Scripture:

    • The French Confession of Faith in 1559: We believe that the Word contained in these books has proceeded from God, and receives its authority from him alone, and not from men. And inasmuch as it is the rule of all truth, containing all that is necessary for the service of God and for our salvation, it is not lawful for men, nor even for angels, to add to it, to take away from it, or to change it. Whence it follows that no authority, whether of antiquity, or custom, or numbers, or human wisdom, or judgments, or proclamations, or edicts, or decrees, or councils, or visions, or miracles, should be opposed to these Holy Scriptures, but on the contrary, all things should be examined, regulated, and reformed according to them (Art. V).
    • Westminster Confession of Faith:
      • As the Puritans convened in 1643, called by the English Parliament, they were called to write the doctrinal statement that would govern the land. And in 1646 they completed their draft and ratification of the Westminster Confession of Faith. There were 121 scholars, theologians, pastors, and teachers, along with another 30 key laymen. They met in over 1100 sessions. It begins with chapter 1, entitled, “Of the Holy Scriptures:”
      • IV. The authority of the Holy Scripture, for which it ought to be believed, and obeyed, depends not upon the testimony of any man, or Church; but wholly upon God (who is truth itself) the author thereof: and therefore it is to be received, because it is the Word of God.
      • V. We may be moved and induced by the testimony of the Church to an high and reverent esteem of the Holy Scripture. And the heavenliness of the matter, the efficacy of the doctrine, the majesty of the style, the consent of all the parts, the scope of the whole (which is, to give all glory to God), the full discovery it makes of the only way of man's salvation, the many other incomparable excellencies, and the entire perfection thereof, are arguments whereby it does abundantly evidence itself to be the Word of God: yet notwithstanding, our full persuasion and assurance of the infallible truth and divine authority thereof, is from the inward work of the Holy Spirit bearing witness by and with the Word in our hearts.
    • Martin Luther spoke to this very issue at the Diet of Worms in April, 1521. Under intense pressure to recant regarding “justification by faith” and other truths from the Bible, responded to Meister Eck in this fashion: “Since then Your Majesty and your lordships desire a simple reply, I will answer without horns and without teeth. Unless I am convicted by Scripture and plain reason – I do not accept the authority of popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other – my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything, for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help. Amen.”

    The Bible, not personal experience nor tradition nor man-made councils nor the pope, is our final authority. It is the ultimate governing authority for the church and the believer. It is the ultimate authority of truth. This is not to say Scripture is the only authority there is. The Scriptures themselves mention a variety of authorities both in society and in the church. Romans 13:1 says, “there is no authority except that which God has established.” So there are other authorities but they are a delegated authority. But the Scriptures are the supreme, final, inerrant, infallible authority. Everything is subject to the dividing sword of the Word. All other authorities are to be tested and corrected by the Scriptures.

    Think of a magnificent, ancient temple and a foundation upon which everything rests. That's sola Scriptura. Everything that we believe, obey, embrace and hold dear in our convictions is based upon this foundation. There can be no intrusion, no additives, nothing augmenting this pure foundation.

    Our model is the Berean church in Acts 17:11 who upon receiving Paul’s message examined the Scriptures to see if what Paul said was true. This is sola-Scripture in practice. They are praised for testing the apostle’s teaching against the witness of Scripture.

     Let us follow that example.

    Authority: What is its Basis?

    Our claim then is that God has revealed himself by speaking; that this divine speech has been perfectly written down and preserved in Scripture; and Scripture is God’s written word, which therefore is true and authoritative.

    Let us follow the example of the Bereans and see if the Bible teaches this.

    This truth is thoroughly woven into the fabric of Scripture. It is the great presupposition of the whole of the Bible. It is the constant claim of the writers of the Bible.

    • It is unmistakably obvious from Genesis 1 – “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” and the continual refrain of “And God said let there be…and it was so.” Original and ultimate authority resides with God and God alone. He did not inherit it or receive it or earn it or seize it. Nor did it come by way of election. God is the great “I AM” and therefore embodies authority so it is not surprising that the first few pages of the Bible are soaked with his authority also. God’s Word authoritatively creates the heavens and the earth and all that is within. God’s Word commands Adam and Eve what to do and not to do. God’s Word commands Noah to build an Ark and Abraham to get up and go. The Hebrew word for God in Genesis 1 is “Elohim” which means that He is supreme above all things. In Genesis 17 he reveals himself to Abraham as “El-Shaddai” which means he is God Almighty, He is invincible and all powerful and so is His Word.
    • This is why in Deuteronomy God promises blessing if you obey his word and cursing if you don’t. Deuteronomy 18:14-20The OT prophetic formula: “thus saith the Lord.” Or “the word of the Lord came to me” See Ezekiel 3:26-27
    • Isaiah 55:10-11
      • But the central comparison is that just as rain cannot fall on the earth without fulfilling the role God gave it, so God’s words cannot fall from God’s mouth in heaven without fulfilling the role God gave them on earth. God does not make impotent threats or empty promises;
      • Specifically forgiveness (v. 7)
    • Jeremiah 23:29
      • False prophets were speaking lies in God’s name. They claimed that God has given them revelation in a dream but they were delusions. There words had no force. But God’s Word is a fire and a hammer. It is effective. Nothing can prevent God’s Word from being fulfilled.
      • The word of the Lord is like fire in that it purifies and separates that which is valuable from that which is worthless (see Isa 1:25; Zech 13:9). By its convicting power, God’s word is also like a hammer that can break a rock in pieces. It shatters all pretension and self-confidence (cf. Heb 4:12). It is far different from the soothing words of the false prophets.
    • Jesus endorsed the OT scriptures as the Word of God both in specific statements and in how he used them and then submitted to them.
      • He declared that it cannot be broken (John 10:35) and that heaven and earth will pass away before any word of God fails – Luke 16:17; Matt. 5:18
      • Resisted temptation from Satan in the wilderness through quoting Scripture – Matthew 4:4, 7, 10
      • Matthew 26:54
    • When the OT is quoted in the NT statements like, “God says” or “and the Holy Spirit says” are frequent. The phrase “it is written” is often used in the NT also for the OT was authoritative. It settles the matter beyond dispute.
    • 1 Corinthians 14:37 – “What I am writing to you is the Lord’s command…”
    • 1 Thessalonians 2:13 - And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.
    • 2  Peter 1:19- the Word of God is more certain than our senses
    • So complete is the equation between Scripture and the message of God that on several occasions they are used interchangeably – Genesis 12:3/Gal. 3:8; Exodus 9:16/Rom. 9:17; Genesis 2:24/Matthew 19:4-6; Mark 7:9-10; Acts 2:16-17
    • Revelation 22:18-19: I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. 19 And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. The Scriptures concludes the Bible with the strongest words imaginable. Anyone who treats this as anything else other than the very Word of God with all the authority inherent is in danger of eternal judgment.

    Thus I have shown you from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22 how the Bible teaches it is authoritative.

    The authority of the Scripture, then, is not located in human brilliance or witness. It is not found in the person of Moses, Paul, or Peter. The authority is found in the sovereign God Himself. The God who "breathed out" the words through human writers stands behind every statement, every doctrine, every promise and every command written in the Scripture. After all, it was "In the past [that] God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways" (Hebrews 1:1).

    Authority: How We Are Persuaded

    It is one thing to affirm that the Bible claims to be the words of God. It is another thing to be convinced that those claims are true. Where does this conviction come from? When the Holy Spirit speaks in and through the words of the Bible to our hearts and gives us an inner assurance that these are the words of the Creator.

    1 Corinthians 2:13-14 - This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, explaining spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words.[c] 14 The person without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considers them foolishness, and cannot understand them because they are discerned only through the Spirit.

    Apart from the Spirit of God, a person will not receive spiritual truth. The same Spirit who spoke through the mouths of the prophets in the OT must also penetrate into our hearts to persuade us.

    This is not to deny the importance of advancing helpful arguments to support the claim that the Bible is God’s Word. It is helpful for us to learn that the Bible is historically accurate, internally consistent, contains hundreds of prophecies that have been fulfilled, and that it has transformed the lives of countless numbers of people. But all of these arguments taken individually or together cannot finally be convincing.

    1 Corinthians 2:4-5 - My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, 5 so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power.

    1 Thessalonians 1:4-5 “For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit, and with deep conviction.”

    If one is persuaded by human words than their faith rests not on God but on man’s ability to reason. That is a serious problem. For example, what happens when someone comes along with an argument for God’s Word being false that is better sounding than the one that persuaded you it was true? Furthermore, the moment you believe the Bible is true because some outside source like science or history tells you it is true you have changed your authority. You have made history your authority not the Bible. You see? If an appeal so some other authority like logical consistency is used to prove that the Bible is God’s Word then the Bible is not the supreme authority but human intellect is!

    You see, the Bible is self-attesting! The Words of Scripture are proved by the Words of Scripture.

    Now immediately someone will say that is a circular argument. Of course it is, we don’t deny that! The Bible is an ultimate authority! If we appeal to something else for proof it would not be authoritative! That is self-defeating! This is why the children’s song “Jesus loves me this I know for the Bible tells me so” is wonderful theology.

    By the way, this is not a problem unique to Christianity. Everyone uses some sort of circular argument to defend his position. “I know there can be no ultimate authority because I do not know of any such ultimate authority” but how can you know that unless you are an ultimate authority? I once had a conversation with someone who told me I was using a circular argument so I said, “OK, what do you think?” Well, from a rational point of view.” Wait – why should we see things from a rational point of view? “Well, because its rational.” Circular! This person’s bible was rationalism. For others its science. For others its emotions/experience.

    So that is why it is good to let the Bible speak for itself. WE shouldn’t reject them just because the Bible makes them.  So my encouragement to you if you doubt God’s Word is to read the Bible or as Psalm 34 says, “Taste and see that the Lord is good…” Jesus says something similar in John 7:17: “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own.” Here is how to discover if God’s Word is what it says, if it is trustworthy, reliable, and authoritative – read it and act on it! Try as I might to convince you, only the Holy Spirit himself can put the matter beyond doubt. Without the H.S. you will never trust the Bible but you will never hear or receive the Holy Spirit if you never read the Bible. As you read, meditate, and study the Scriptures you are acted upon by the Holy Spirit who bears witness to the supreme authority of the Word through the self-testimony of the Scriptures.

    So summarizing we may say this – God has made himself known to us through the process known as revelation. He has perfectly and infallibly preserved this truth through inspiration, so that the Bible contains His message, just as he intended it. Therefore God’s word is authoritative. We come to be persuaded of this truth by the Spirit by the Word. He first regenerates us and then as Christians illuminates us so that we are able to understand the perfect message.

    Authority: How Then Should We Live? 

    By now it should be apparent that this is a vital doctrine. It does not play a minor role on the fringes of Christian belief. Rather, it brings us face to face with the authority of God himself. If the church takes her foot off of the authority of Scripture, she steps on the slippery slope to liberalism, agnosticism and even atheism. You take one step off of the authority of Scripture and you have put your foot on a theological banana peel. It’s inevitable. You are headed down until you crash at the bottom.

    This is why in the beginning Satan attacked and sought to undermine the authority of the Bible with doubts and lies. From that time forward, since the fall of Adam and Eve, skeptics, liberals, atheists, agnostics, pagans, higher critics and others have employed the same tactics. If you want to lead people astray, cause them to deny the authority of the Bible. If Satan can get someone to reject the authority of the Bible and rest upon another source, whatever it may be, that’s the decisive moment where the person rejects God. Therefore Satan will twist the Bible, add to the Bible, subtract from the Bible, malign the Bible, pervert the Bible, and do everything in his power to destroy the Bible.

    And I believe he is being very successful not just in causing us to doubt the authority of God’s word in our mind but also in hindering us from being totally obedient to God and his Word. His success is seen in the fact that the Bible, a bestselling book, is seldom read and even less seldom studied and obeyed.

    This is where the rubber meets the road because in the final analysis it is not what we say but what we do. You see, I think a lot of Christians assent to this truth in their mind and even give a hearty amen when they hear it preached but it is then undone by the manner in which they live their lives.

    My heart is very broken over this. The Bible is not given merely to inform us but to direct us. If we affirm this truth we will then be characterized by the kind of godly living God expects of us. To disbelieve or disobey any word of Scripture is to disbelieve or to disobey God.

    Christians, we must read God’s Word and give careful thought as to how it applies to our lives. You have not done enough if you read a chapter or two of the Bible a day. You must apply it to your life! You must pray and think about how you need to change in the way you think, feel or act! That is why the Bible constantly exhorts us to meditate upon the Bible! That means to mull and pray over its truth and its meaning for our lives.

    The Bible has authority over your beliefs and actions. Read it and obey it. This is the pathway to blessing. I think of when the disciples had been out all night casting out their nets to catch fish and came up with nothing and Jesus comes along and says to Peter, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” I love how Peter responds – “Master, we’ve worked hard all nigh and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”

    That is sola-scriptura. Because you say so, I will do it.

     

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