I think most Bible-believing Christians espouse the supreme authority of Scripture in their lives and the world. But, “the devil is in the details” as the cliche goes. Our doctrinal statements on this topic are usually just fine. Where we err is in daily practice. There are subtle ways we functionally abandon Scripture’s authority. I’ll explore a number of these over the course of the next several weeks.
Way #1: Appealing to selective texts while ignoring others
Perhaps the most well-known movement that seems to function this way is the “Health, Wealth, and Prosperity Gospel” (HWPG). Join together some verses about God blessing the land with some verses talking about being a child of the King and there you have it: health, wealth, and prosperity. This only works, of course, if you avoid talking about passages that discuss taking up our cross to follow Jesus, or passages that talk about suffering with Christ so we can reign with him, or passages that talk about the privilege of suffering with Christ.
When we see the Scriptures saying something we really like, it’s difficult to avoid running with that without paying much attention to what Scripture may be saying to moderate it. Of course, one of the best preventive measures to take to curb this temptation is to systematically read large chunks of Scripture.
The perception religious people often have of salvation is that it’s a “get out of jail free card." It’s an “insurance policy” we can cash in when we need it. One of the reasons I love to read and study the Bible is that it so frequently challenges my assumptions and makes me rethink my presuppositions. It doesn’t disappoint in this case!
The view of someone who sees salvation as a “get out of jail free card” is confronted in the pages of Scripture. And it does so through a question it indirectly asks: why did God save you? How would you answer that question? Think for a moment… why did God save you?
The “insurance policy” view would answer that question something like: "God saved me so that I can spend eternity with him in heaven.” That is a good answer, but an incomplete answer. Yes, one of the reasons God saves sinners is so they can spend eternity with him in heaven. But that’s not the only answer the Bible gives to that question. It turns out, God saves sinners for more than that!
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works” (Eph. 2:10).
“Created in Christ Jesus” is not talking about God’s creation of human beings at the beginning of time. “Created in Christ Jesus” is referring to the moment a sinner is saved. According to this verse, why did God save you? “To do good works!"
“You were taught…to put off your old self…and to put on the new self created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24).
The reference to “the new self created to be like God” is another reference to the moment God saves sinners. Why did God save you? “To be like God in true righteousness and holiness!"
“[Jesus Christ] gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do good works” (Titus 2:14).
Jesus died for us to redeem us (a.k.a. save us) in order that we would be eager to do good works.
Why did God save you? Yes, so that you can spend eternity with him in heaven. God also saved you so you would desire and pursue being like him in holiness and righteousness.
I care deeply about human behavior. For one, behavior shapes a society. If a significant portion of the population doesn’t see anything wrong with stealing, then that community will be quickly devastated by thievery. So I am all for putting in place measures with teeth that discourage behavior that is detrimental to a society. However, there are severe limitations inherent to this method. Let’s think together about this…
Political systems, for the most part, work within the realm of laws and money. Given the example above, there’s a place for caring what those laws are and how that money is spent. And Christians have a role to play in this. However, political systems are at a disadvantage when it comes to shaping the behavior of people within a society. How so?
We need to think no further than the Old Testament people of God to see ‘Exhibit A’ of a judicial system possessing limitations in shaping human behavior. Israel had 519 laws on the books and the conclusion of the matter was still those laws were powerless to transform human behavior (Rom. 8:3). So what’s the solution? Look at the whole passage:
"For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit” (Rom. 8:3-4).
Political systems work “outside-in”. That is, they work to control external environments through legislation. But the Bible’s worldview is radically different. God’s Word tells us the key to transformed human behavior is the gospel working “inside-out.” In fact, the “Law-Gospel” juxtaposition is showing us the key to transforming a society lies in “inside-out” transformation not “outside-in” legislation.
So if you care about the collective behavior of your community or the world, then you should care, not exclusively, but supremely about evangelism. Because it’s only through people hearing and responding to the gospel that they and their societies are transformed from the inside-out.