A Most Difficult Book
Vol: 112 Issue: 14 Friday, January 14, 2011
The Bible is without doubt the most difficult Book ever written. It is filled with strange references to people and places that oftentimes we can’t even pronounce.
The words of the Bible seem somewhat awkwardly arranged when translated into English.
“For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves, if it the gift of God. (Ephesians 2:8)
Which is not of yourself, here? Is it grace that is not of yourself? Or is it faith? Can you tell, positively, from simply reading the verse? Or do you have to puzzle it out?
(Lessee, grace is a gift. Can you give yourself a gift? What is faith? Is that something you have, or is faith something God gave you so that you could accept the gift of grace?)
Even after puzzling it out, that sentence doesn’t get any easier to understand. Which raises a BIG question. Why in the world would the Lord make it so difficult? It is, after all, God’s Word.
Why wouldn’t He spell everything out in clear, unmistakable, easy-to-follow terms so that we wouldn’t have to puzzle out the difficult doctrines?
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, And have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, If they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to an open shame.” (Hebrews 6:4-6)
This passage is so seemingly difficult that I’ve heard it used as both a proof-text for Arminian temporal security (saved can lose salvation) and for Calvinistic eternal security, (once saved, always saved) – two diametrically opposite readings of the same doctrine.
From the same passage.
Clearly, the writer of Hebrews says that if one falls away from the faith, it is impossible to renew them to repentance. So such a person, having lost his salvation by falling away, cannot be saved again. That’s what it says. Doesn’t it?
Not exactly. Again, the words are strung together rather awkwardly for native English-speakers. What is says is that IF one fell away, it would be impossible to renew him to repentance.
Now, what does that mean?
First, we have to understand the word repentance as it is used by Scripture. The Greek word translated as ‘repentance’ is metanoia which means, “to change one’s mind.” So it really says, it is impossible for them to change their minds again.
Secondly, note that they were made partakers of the Holy Ghost – or, indwelt by the Holy Spirit. So it would be impossible for them to be indwelt again, since the Promise is that the Holy Spirit will never leave or forsake me until Jesus comes.
If somehow I drive Him out, it would be impossible to invite Him back in again, seeing as that would require “crucifying the Son of God afresh, putting Him to an open shame.”
Why would that put Him to an open shame?
Because it would mean His first sacrifice wasn’t sufficient, which would contradict the clear teaching of Scripture.
“And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool.”
As difficult a Book as the Bible is, the really important parts are actually not that difficult.
“For by one offering He hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified.” (Hebrews 10:11-14)
How many offerings are required to perfect forever those that are sanctified (set apart)? What does it mean to be sanctified?
“And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. Now where remission of these is, there is no more offering for sin.” (Hebrews 10:17-18)
Once a person has been saved by grace through faith, one’s sins are remitted and one is sanctified by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, there is no more offering for sin, because the perfection of the sanctified is accomplished forever by the one offering.
It isn’t hard to go somewhere else and find a Scripture that seems to say the opposite – one can find such a Scripture only a few verses down:
“For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.” (Hebrews 10:27)
Receiving the knowledge of the Truth. . . what is that? It’s pretty simple. The Truth is the Gospel. Not everyone that hears it embraces it, but everybody that hears it knows it is true in their heart.
“For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse:” (Romans 1:20)
Now that you know the Gospel, you know that there is no other sacrifice you can make on your own. As to the certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation? Who will it devour?
The adversaries of the Gospel.
Returning to my rhetorical question from earlier, why wouldn’t the Lord spell everything out in clear, unmistakable terms? Why make the Bible a difficult Book?
The Bible is God’s Word, but it is God’s Word designed to fit the purposes and circumstances of this physical world in which we sojourn. Human beings literally exist with one foot in heaven and the other in hell.
And the reason the choice is so difficult is because we love both. If you doubt it, tell an atheist he can’t go to heaven and see how mad he gets at being excluded from a place he says he doesn’t believe in.
Or tell him that he is going to hell and see how long it takes before he accuses you of a hate crime — for threatening him with a place he says he doesn’t believe in.
If the Bible was too easy, it wouldn’t be fair to those who genuinely seek God. The choice has to be completely free, made on faith, or it wouldn’t be a free-will choice at all.
Additionally, there are almost as many Christian denominations as there are countries in the world, and each has a different doctrine and worldview – even though all use the same Bible.
There are Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, Assyrian, Anglican, Lutherans, Reformed, Presbyterian, Congregationalist, Anabaptists, Brethren, Methodist, Apostolic, Pentecostal, Charismatic, African, United, Quakers, Mennonites, Unitarian, Messianic Judaism, and dozens more Christian-themed cults, like British Israelism, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and so on.
In Genesis we read of the Tower of Babel, an effort by Nimrod to unite the world under his authority, and how God dealt with it.
“And the LORD said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech. (Genesis 11:6-7)
According to the Bible, when the Holy Spirit is withdrawn, Nimrod’s effort will be duplicated by the antichrist who sets up a universal government under his authority and unites it via a single religion under his control.
During the Church Age, God divided the Church into denominations to prevent that from happening prematurely.
Human beings are not all born the same type of people. We are split in profound and fundamental ways and then set radically free to find our own way. We are born with a sense of God-consciousness, but we are free to seek His face or reject Him altogether.
The Bible is deliberately obscure enough to empower all the various denominations without any one of them growing too powerful – God demands faith in His Son, not faith in a church.
The Bible is written to influence and affect — but not to overwhelm. It is written to lead us, but not to force us to follow. The Bible is written to provide the Presence of God, but without pressure. The choice is yours.
God calls us by His presence and through His Word. He does not compel us.
As we saw in Hebrews 6, we must change and grow and ultimately, recognize the need for a Savior before we can seek Him. It is a case of not forcing our minds to get ahead of our hearts.
Salvation is from the heart first, and only then can we wrap our heads around it.
And as we seek Him, the Bible difficulties begin to smooth themselves out. Not all at once. Or even all the difficulties. But gradually, if one is diligent about seeking the Lord, that peace that surpasses all understanding takes over.
I know that there are dozens, if not hundreds, of other Christian denominations that have an entirely different spiritual worldview than I, and that there are many people more brilliant than I who read the Scriptures and come away with a diametrically opposite understanding.
Yet I am at peace with my own understanding of Scripture, without finding it necessary to agree with the Catholics, Lutherans, Anglicans, Pentecostals or Methodists on every point of doctrine.
And I am at peace with the understanding that they don’t agree with each other, although we all read the same Book. It isn’t the Book’s fault — but it is written that way on purpose.
Jesus taught in parables, and one day, His disciples came to Him to ask Him why He taught the crowds using parables but taught them directly.
“He answered and said unto them, Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given. For whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath. Therefore speak I to them in parables: because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand.” (Matthew 13:10-13)
Some are given more understanding than others according to His will and His purposes. Others are seemingly given almost no understanding at all. They only understand that they were sinners in need of salvation and now they are saved.
There are Christians who get saved and never join a church or crack a Bible. They learn nothing apart from changing their minds about their need for a Savior to cleanse them from their sin.
The Bible is not for everyone. It sounds almost blasphemous to say, but the facts are what the facts are.
I know people that cannot make head nor tails of anything in the Bible but “Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of heaven.”
They don’t preach. They don’t share. They don’t get a lot of what others get — but they get enough to be saved. They are saved, but they miss much of their blessing along the way.
“But blessed are your eyes, for they see: and your ears, for they hear.” (Matthew 13:16)
The Bible IS a difficult Book. Jesus likened the Gospel to a pearl of great price. Nothing of value comes too easily. Study is hard work, but that is what makes it profitable. If it was too easy, it would be meaningless.
Nowhere in Scripture is one required to be a Bible scholar in order to be saved – salvation is a function of hearing and accepting the Gospel as presented. It is possible to be saved without ever opening a Bible.
The man who prays the sinner’s prayer as his life is coming to a close is as saved as the Bible scholar who devoted his life to the study of Scripture.
But the Bible scholar has a much better appreciation of what he has been saved from.
You can trust the Bible despite the fact it is so difficult that it has spawned hundreds of denominations — because the Bible is alive. It is God’s living Word and therefore it is capable of speaking to each of us individually.
The Bible tells us to; “trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not on thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
The more one follows that advice, the less difficult the Bible becomes. But it never, ever gets easy, either.
Salvation is simple. God is not.