Then Jesus said to those Judeans who had believed him, “If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples” (John 8:31).
22 You have purified your souls by obeying the truth in order to show sincere mutual love. So love one another earnestly from a pure heart. 23 You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of the grass; the grass withers and the flower falls off, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word that was proclaimed to you. 1 So get rid of all evil and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation, 3 if you have experienced the Lord’s kindness (1 Peter 2:22-3:3).
3 I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. 4 Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith excellence, to excellence, knowledge; 6 to knowledge, self-control; to self-control, perseverance; to perseverance, godliness; 7 to godliness, brotherly affection; to brotherly affection, unselfish love. 8 For if these things are really yours and are continually increasing, they will keep you from becoming ineffective and unproductive in your pursuit of knowing our Lord Jesus Christ more intimately. 9 But concerning the one who lacks such things – he is blind. That is to say, he is nearsighted, since he has forgotten about the cleansing of his past sins. 10 Therefore, brothers and sisters, make every effort to be sure of your calling and election. For by doing this you will never stumble into sin. 11 For thus an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, will be richly provided for you. 12 Therefore, I intend to remind you constantly of these things even though you know them and are well established in the truth that you now have. 13 Indeed, as long as I am in this tabernacle, I consider it right to stir you up by way of a reminder, 14 since I know that my tabernacle will soon be removed, because our Lord Jesus Christ revealed this to me. 15 Indeed, I will also make every effort that, after my departure, you have a testimony of these things. 16 For we did not follow cleverly concocted fables when we made known to you the power and return of our Lord Jesus Christ; no, we were eyewitnesses of his grandeur. 17 For he received honor and glory from God the Father, when that voice was conveyed to him by the Majestic Glory: “This is my dear Son, in whom I am delighted.” 18 When this voice was conveyed from heaven, we ourselves heard it, for we were with him on the holy mountain. 19 Moreover, we possess the prophetic word as an altogether reliable thing. You do well if you pay attention to this as you would to a light shining in a murky place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts. 20 Above all, you do well if you recognize this: No prophecy of scripture ever comes about by the prophet’s own imagination, 21 for no prophecy was ever borne of human impulse; rather, men carried along by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:3-21).1
There is a great deal of emphasis today on making disciples, based largely upon the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20:
18 Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:18-20).
This is indeed a “Great Commandment,” and we need to obey it. I should also point out that this command is found at the very conclusion of Matthew’s Gospel, while a different version is found at the very beginning of the Book of Acts:
6 So when they had gathered together, they began to ask him, “Lord, is this the time when you are restoring the kingdom to Israel?” 7 He told them, “You are not permitted to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. 8 But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the farthest parts of the earth” (Acts 1:6-8).
We should note that our Lord’s command to “make disciples” was given to those who were His disciples. The Great Commission was not given at the beginning of our Lord’s earthly ministry, when He was calling the twelve to be His disciples; the command was given at the end of His earthly ministry. Indeed, the repetition of the commission at the outset of the Book of Acts strongly implies that the making of disciples will not commence until after the Holy Spirit has descended at Pentecost.
All of this is to say that we must first be disciples before we can reasonably expect to make disciples. And that leads to the question, “What is a disciple?” What are the distinguishing characteristics of a true disciple? The purpose of this first section of our study, “Following Jesus in a Me-First World,” is to define the term “disciple.” In this lesson, we will explore the first characteristic of a disciple of Jesus: A disciple of Jesus has a passion for the Word of God. By this I mean that the disciple has a passionate desire for God’s Word and experiences great delight in the study of God’s Word.
Let me make it clear at the outset that the purpose of this study is not to advocate a “company of the committed” within our church by setting forth all sorts of rules, standards, and regimens for a believer to keep in order to be considered one of the committed. Our purpose is not to make people feel guilty, but rather to help them joyfully experience God’s grace. Regardless of where you are in your walk as a Christian, our desire is for you to grow in your knowledge and love of Jesus Christ, and to finish well.
As I look at the early saints in the Old Testament, I marvel at how little revelation they were given. Adam knew that he was to keep the garden and that he had the freedom to enjoy all the fruit of all the trees in the garden, save one – the tree of the knowledge of good and evil:
15 The Lord God took the man and placed him in the orchard in Eden to care for it and to maintain it. 16 Then the Lord God commanded the man, “You may freely eat fruit from every tree of the orchard, 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:15-17).
We assume that there was communion between Adam and Eve and God (Genesis 3:8), but very little is recorded in the Scriptures.
Think, too, of Abraham. So far as we are told, God spoke to Abraham only a few times in his lifetime. And yet we read this in John 8:
Your father Abraham was overjoyed to see my day, and he saw it and was glad” (John 8:56).
God even called Abraham his friend (Isaiah 41:8; see also 2 Chronicles 20:7; James 2:23).
I marvel at the way Abraham could leave his homeland and relatives and head out for a land that was not even disclosed to him at that moment:
By faith Abraham obeyed when he was called to go out to a place he would later receive as an inheritance, and he went out without understanding where he was going (Hebrews 11:8; see also Genesis 12:1).
Based upon God’s previous dealings with Abraham, he was willing to sacrifice his son (now his only son), believing that if he did so, God would raise him from the dead:
17 By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac. He had received the promises, yet he was ready to offer up his only son. 18 God had told him, “Through Isaac descendants will carry on your name,” 19 and he reasoned that God could even raise him from the dead, and in a sense he received him back from there (Hebrews 11:17-19, emphasis mine).
God promised Abraham and Sarah (Abram and Sarai) that they would have a son. Since Sarah was barren and both she and her husband were old, it was as though they were both “dead” so far as bearing a child was concerned. And yet God gave them life from the dead, as it were (see Romans 4:17-21). And so when God instructed Abraham to sacrifice his son, Isaac, Abraham “reasoned” that God would raise Isaac from the dead. Abraham applied God’s work in the past to the future. Abraham reasoned his way to a belief in the resurrection of the dead. What a great man of faith he was! And yet we doubt when we have so much more of God’s Word today.
After the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai, men had much more revelation. No one exemplifies the believer’s attitude toward the Scriptures better than the psalmists. How they desire to understand God’s Word. How they delight in reflecting on the wealth of wisdom and guidance to be found there:
1 How blessed is the one
who does not follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand in the pathway with sinners,
or sit in the assembly of scoffers!
2 Instead he finds pleasure in obeying the Lord’s commands;
he meditates on his commands day and night (Psalm 1:1-2).
17 Be kind to your servant!
Then I will live and keep your instructions.
18 Open my eyes so I can truly see
the marvelous things in your law! (Psalm 119:17-18)
75 I know, Lord, that your regulations are just.
You disciplined me because of your faithful devotion to me.
76 May your loyal love console me,
as you promised your servant.
77 May I experience your compassion, so I might live!
For I find delight in your law (Psalm 119:75-77).
97 O how I love your law!
All day long I meditate on it.
98 Your commandments make me wiser than my enemies,
for I am always aware of them.
99 I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your rules.
100 I am more discerning than those older than I,
for I observe your precepts (Psalm 119:97-100).
The psalmist (David in this case) understood that the Word of God was not only inspired and inerrant, but intensely relevant:
The Lord’s words are absolutely reliable.
They are as untainted as silver purified in a furnace on the ground,
where it is thoroughly refined (Psalm 12:6).
7 The law of the Lord is perfect
and preserves one’s life.
The rules set down by the Lord are reliable
and impart wisdom to the inexperienced.
8 The Lord’s precepts are fair
and make one joyful.
The Lord’s commands are pure
and give insight for life.
9 The commands to fear the Lord are right
and endure forever.
The judgments given by the Lord are trustworthy
and absolutely just.
10 They are of greater value than gold,
than even a great amount of pure gold;
they bring greater delight than honey,
than even the sweetest honey from a honeycomb.
11 Yes, your servant finds moral guidance there;
those who obey them receive a rich reward (Psalm 19:7-11).
Let’s be honest; how many of us think of the Old Testament law as the psalmists did? The psalmists understood that God’s law was more than just a system of rules. His laws revealed principles to guide God’s people. Paul understood this as well, and thus he saw the application of the law to his (New Testament) situation:
4 Do we not have the right to financial support? 5 Do we not have the right to the company of a believing wife, like the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas? 6 Or do only Barnabas and I lack the right not to work? 7 Who ever serves in the army at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat its fruit? Who tends a flock and does not consume its milk? 8 Am I saying these things only on the basis of common sense, or does the law not say this as well? 9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” God is not concerned here about oxen, is he? 10 Or is he not surely speaking for our benefit? It was written for us, because the one plowing and threshing ought to work in hope of enjoying the harvest. 11 If we sowed spiritual blessings among you, is it too much to reap material things from you? 12 If others receive this right from you, are we not more deserving? But we have not made use of this right. Instead we endure everything so that we may not be a hindrance to the gospel of Christ. 13 Don’t you know that those who serve in the temple eat food from the temple, and those who serve at the altar receive a part of the offerings? 14 In the same way the Lord commanded those who proclaim the gospel to receive their living by the gospel (1 Corinthians 9:4-14).
Paul was making the point that he (and Barnabas) had the right as apostles to be supported in their ministry. To support his point from Scripture, Paul turns to the command in Deuteronomy 25:4: “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Paul makes it clear that in giving this command, God was concerned with more than just the oxen. There is a principle to be learned here that applies to all laborers: The one who labors should enjoy some of the fruit of that labor. If this applies to an ox, then surely it applies to an apostle! This Old Testament command, which has no direct relevance to us (since most of us do not own oxen, or thresh with them), has much to teach us in principle. The psalmist understood this. He studied the law to understand the principles God was teaching there. And as we learn from Paul, these principles apply to New Testament believers as well as Old Testament saints.
Perhaps the best Old Testament example of the relationship the believer should have with the Word of God is found in the Book of Ezra:
Now Ezra had dedicated himself to the study of the law of the Lord, to its observance, and to teaching its statutes and judgments in Israel (Ezra 7:10).
Ezra was a descendant of Aaron,3 as well as a scribe who was skilled in the law of Moses.4 He was not content to deal with the law as an academic matter – something to be learned in order to be taught to others. Ezra devoted himself to the study of the law so that he could observe it, and only then teach it to others. This should serve as a challenge to every Christian, and it is completely consistent with the Great Commission:
19 “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20, emphasis mine).
It is perhaps noteworthy that the only two Old Testament passages where the term “disciple” is found are both in the Book of Isaiah:
Bind up the testimony, seal the law among my disciples (Isaiah 8:16, NASB 95, emphasis mine).
4 The Lord God has given Me the tongue of disciples, That I may know how to sustain the weary one with a word. He awakens Me morning by morning, He awakens My ear to listen as a disciple. 5 The Lord God has opened My ear; And I was not disobedient Nor did I turn back. 6 I gave My back to those who strike Me, And My cheeks to those who pluck out the beard; I did not cover My face from humiliation and spitting (Isaiah 50:4-6, NASB 95, emphasis mine).
At a time when the Law of God was disregarded, it was removed from the people and given to those faithful “disciples” who revered it and who would preserve it. Such is what we read in Isaiah 8:16.
Isaiah 50:4-6 is another story. In this text, the Messiah is the “disciple” who has “the tongue of disciples,” the tongue of those who are taught. He is able to speak so as to sustain the weary. He remains a student of God’s Word. He endured persecution for identifying with the Messiah. The point in Isaiah appears to be that there are very few disciples, and these disciples are those who have a passion for the Word of God.
9 You will be shocked and amazed! You are totally blind! They are drunk, but not because of wine; they stagger, but not because of beer. 10 For the Lord has poured out on you a strong urge to sleep deeply. He has shut your eyes (the prophets), and covered your heads (the seers). 11 To you this entire prophetic revelation is like words in a sealed scroll. When they hand it to one who can read and say, “Read this,” he responds, “I can’t, because it is sealed.” 12 Or when they hand the scroll to one who can’t read and say, “Read this,” he says, “I can’t read.” 13 The sovereign master says, “These people say they are loyal to me; they say wonderful things about me, but they are not really loyal to me. Their worship consists of nothing but man-made ritual. 14 Therefore I will again do an amazing thing for these people – an absolutely extraordinary deed. Wise men will have nothing to say, the sages will have no explanations” (Isaiah 29:9-14, emphasis mine).
9 In that day,” says the sovereign Lord, “I will make the sun set at noon, and make the earth dark in the middle of the day. 10 I will turn your festivals into funerals, and all your songs into funeral dirges. I will make everyone wear funeral clothes and cause every head to be shaved bald. I will make you mourn as if you had lost your only son; when it ends it will indeed have been a bitter day. 11 Be certain of this, the time is coming,” says the sovereign Lord, “when I will send a famine through the land – not a shortage of food or water but an end to divine revelation [literally, “words of the Lord”]! 12 People will stagger from sea to sea, and from the north around to the east. They will wander about looking for a revelation from the Lord, but they will not find any. 13 In that day your beautiful young women and your young men will faint from thirst (Amos 8:9-13, emphasis mine).
Time after time, God had spoken to His people through the prophets. Time after time, the people of God rejected God’s Word and persecuted the prophets who warned of impending judgment and called for repentance. God now warns of the day when revelation will cease, when He will be silent. The prophets, the spiritual eyes of the nation, will be silent. There will be a famine for the Word of God. And that is just what happened. There were 400 years of prophetic silence. Thank God that silence was dramatically broken by the arrival of the Messiah.
In words deliberately chosen to mirror the first verses of the Book of Genesis, John’s Gospel introduces the coming of the Messiah in this way:
1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was fully God. 2 The Word was with God in the beginning. 3 All things were created by him, and apart from him not one thing was created that has been created. 4 In him was life, and the life was the light of mankind (John 1:1-4, emphasis mine).
A few verses later, John writes,
Now the Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We saw his glory – the glory of the one and only, full of grace and truth, who came from the Father (John 1:14, emphasis mine).
The writer to the Hebrews fully concurs when he writes:
1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3, emphasis mine).
God’s Word has now taken a new form. It is not just words inscribed on stone or even written on paper. God’s Word has taken on human flesh. In Jesus, undiminished deity and sinless humanity have merged forever. Thus John can later write:
1 This is what we proclaim to you: what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and our hands have touched (concerning the word of life – 2 and the life was revealed, and we have seen and testify and announce to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us). 3 What we have seen and heard we announce to you too, so that you may have fellowship with us (and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ). 4 Thus we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete (1 John 1:1-4).
This Jesus is God’s only provision for man’s salvation:
10 (The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has testified concerning his Son.) 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life (1 John 5:10-12).
Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).
“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among people by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
There were many who wanted to follow Jesus after He fed the 5,000. But Jesus made it clear that He did not come to merely feed the hungry; He came to give His life as a sacrifice, to die in the sinner’s place by the sacrifice of His body and the shedding of His blood:
48 “I am the bread of life. 49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. 50 This is the bread that has come down from heaven, so that a person may eat from it and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats from this bread he will live forever. The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.” 52 Then the Jews who were hostile to Jesus began to argue with one another, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?” 53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the solemn truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in yourselves. 54 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day. 55 For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink. 56 The one who eats my flesh and drinks my blood resides in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so the one who consumes me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven; it is not like the bread your ancestors ate, but then later died. The one who eats this bread will live forever” (John 6:48-58).
This was not what most of these followers wanted to hear:
Then many of his disciples, when they heard these things, said, “This is a difficult saying! Who can understand it?” (John 6:60)
Jesus did not seek to retract His previous words. Instead, He had some even more difficult words to hear, so difficult that they caused most of those following Him5 to abandon Jesus:
61 When Jesus was aware that his disciples were complaining about this, he said to them, “Does this cause you to be offended? 62 Then what if you see the Son of Man ascending where he was before? 63 The Spirit is the one who gives life; human nature is of no help! The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and are life. 64 But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus had already known from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) 65 So Jesus added, “Because of this I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has allowed him to come.” 66 After this many of his disciples quit following him and did not accompany him any longer (John 6:61-66).
Jesus knew that a good many of these “disciples” were not true believers; they were just followers looking for a free meal. Jesus called attention to their unbelief and then informed them that no one could come to Him unless the Father granted it. He is certainly speaking of the sovereign calling of God here, and that does not flatter men who want to earn their way to heaven in some way.
Indeed, is this not the great “bone of contention” for many religious unbelievers? They do not want “charity” (otherwise known as grace); they want a salvation that they have earned on their own, by their own efforts. They do not want a salvation that is achieved only through the sacrificial death (and victorious resurrection) of Jesus. And this is precisely what keeps them from heaven:
30 What shall we say then? – that the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness obtained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith, 31 but Israel even though pursuing a law of righteousness did not attain it. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but (as if it were possible) by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, “Look, I am laying in Zion a stone that will cause people to stumble and a rock that will make them fall, yet the one who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 1 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation. 2 For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth. 3 For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes (Romans 9:30—10:4).
The crowd vaporizes, and now Jesus has a much smaller group of followers. Jesus turns to His disciples to ask if they do not wish to leave Him as well. Peter answers for the others:
68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69 We have come to believe and to know that you are the Holy One of God!” (John 6:68-69)
The living Word is the only one who has “the words of eternal life.” How right Peter was. They had nowhere else to go to obtain eternal life. And neither does anyone else! The Word of God is the seed from which faith is begotten:
12 But to all who have received him – those who believe in his name – he has given the right to become God’s children 13 – children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God (John 1:12-13).
23 You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of the grass; the grass withers and the flower falls off, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word that was proclaimed to you” (1 Peter 1:23-25).
Jesus alone is the source of eternal life. Jesus has the authority to declare that He is God’s only provision for salvation. Jesus’ words are the words of eternal life. Let us seek eternal life from no other source than Him.
The Word of God declares the way of salvation, but it does even more. As the television commercials put it, “But wait, there’s more. . . .” And so there is, so much more.
(1) The Word of God is not only the means of our salvation; it is also the means of our growth and sanctification.
22 You have purified your souls by obeying the truth in order to show sincere mutual love. So love one another earnestly from a pure heart. 23 You have been born anew, not from perishable but from imperishable seed, through the living and enduring word of God. 24 For all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of the grass; the grass withers and the flower falls off, 25 but the word of the Lord endures forever. And this is the word that was proclaimed to you. 1 So get rid of all evil and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. 2 And yearn like newborn infants for pure, spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up to salvation, 3 if you have experienced the Lord’s kindness (1 Peter 1:22—2:3).
This is a fascinating text. Notice that it begins with Peter saying that salvation is the basis for mutual love. That is not so different from what Paul says in 1 Timothy:
But the aim of our instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).
Since our salvation came about through the eternal “imperishable seed” of the Word of God (verse 23), then our salvation must also be eternal and imperishable. So, too, should be our love. I understand verse 1 of 1 Peter 2 to be instructing the believer to put away those things which were a part of our former way of living, those things which were contrary (indeed hostile) to love. I further understand Peter to be saying that living in an unloving way hinders our receptivity to the teaching of the Word of God, and thus it hinders our growth in Christ as believers.
I believe we see here an example of the principle that improper relationships hinder our relationship with God. This is taught elsewhere in Scripture as well:
23 “So then, if you bring your gift to the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother and then come and present your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
“But if you do not forgive others, your Father will not forgive you your sins” (Matthew 6:15).
Husbands, in the same way, treat your wives with consideration as the weaker partners and show them honor as fellow heirs of the grace of life. In this way nothing will hinder your prayers (1 Peter 3:7).
As the Word of God brings men to salvation, and then to love for others, so a refusal to love hinders our receptivity to God’s Word. Our horizontal relationships with men affect our vertical relationship with God.
Notice how vital the Word of God is to the spiritual growth of the believer in 2 Peter:
3 I can pray this because his divine power has bestowed on us everything necessary for life and godliness through the rich knowledge of the one who called us by his own glory and excellence. 4 Through these things he has bestowed on us his precious and most magnificent promises, so that by means of what was promised you may become partakers of the divine nature, after escaping the worldly corruption that is produced by evil desire (2 Peter 1:3-4).
God has given us the Word of God (“His precious and most magnificent promises,” verse 4) so that we will have “everything necessary for life and godliness.” The Bible does not tell us how to fix a flat tire or how to mend a broken bone, but it does provide all that is necessary for us to know in order to live a godly life. Period. Paul would certainly agree:
16 Every scripture is inspired by God and useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the person dedicated to God may be capable and equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17).
We have the Word of God, and thus we are fully equipped for every good work.
(2) The Word of God exposes even hidden sin and error:
12 For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to the point of dividing soul from spirit, and joints from marrow; it is able to judge the desires and thoughts of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from God, but everything is naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must render an account (Hebrews 4:12-13).
(3) Heresy is either denying or going beyond what is found in the written Word of God:
28 Watch out for yourselves and for all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God that he obtained with the blood of his own Son. 29 I know that after I am gone fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. 30 Even from among your own group men will arise, teaching perversions of the truth to draw the disciples away after them. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that night and day for three years I did not stop warning each one of you with tears. 32 And now I entrust you to God and to the message of his grace. This message is able to build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:28-32, emphasis mine).
I have applied these things to myself and Apollos because of you, brothers and sisters, so that through us you may learn “ not to go beyond what is written,” so that none of you will be puffed up in favor of the one against the other (1 Corinthians 4:6, emphasis mine).
As a preacher friend of mine used to say, “All heresy is either the Bible plus (something added) or the Bible minus (something taken away).” The Word of God is not only the truth; it is the standard of truth. Anything that contradicts God’s revealed Word is therefore false. Those who hold to the truth of the Scriptures are going to be saying essentially the same thing, because they are proclaiming the same message. Those who seek to gain a following must therefore depart from the Scriptures to teach something novel, something unique. Paul warns us never to go beyond what is written. This is great counsel.
(4) The ability to comprehend God’s Word is an indication of spiritual maturity.
12 For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food. 13 For everyone who lives on milk is inexperienced in the message of righteousness, because he is an infant. 14 But solid food is for the mature, whose perceptions are trained by practice to discern both good and evil (Hebrews 5:12-14, emphasis mine).
According to this text, maturity is evident in two ways. First, the lack of maturity is evident in a failure to be able to grasp anything but the elementary truths of God’s Word (truths pertaining to salvation), important as they are. It is important to be nourished by the “milk of the word” (1 Peter 2:2), but it is also important to grow up, and thus to move on to spiritual meat. The Corinthian saints were chastised by Paul because they were not yet able to handle spiritual “meat”:
1 So, brothers and sisters, I could not speak to you as spiritual people, but instead as people of the flesh, as infants in Christ. 2 I fed you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready. In fact, you are still not ready, 3 for you are still influenced by the flesh. For since there is still jealousy and dissension among you, are you not influenced by the flesh and behaving like unregenerate people? (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)
The Word of God is the “meat” we need as mature believers, just as it was the “milk” we needed as babes in Christ.
The second way maturity is evident is by the practical wisdom the Word gives to those who put it into practice. Maturity is evident when we have become sensitive to that which is good and to that which is evil. Maturity is not just a matter of having all the right facts; it is also a matter of putting the truth of Scripture into practice in the real world of difficult choices.
(5) Abiding in God’s Word is a mark of a disciple.
Then Jesus said to those Judeans who had believed him, “ If you continue to follow my teaching, you are really my disciples” (John 8:31, emphasis mine).
Perseverance in the practice of God’s Word is one aspect of discipleship, but it is not just the teeth-gritting endurance of duty; it is the passion of one to whom God’s Word is a delight, a great and as yet unplummeted treasure.
Let me be sure that I have been clear about the main message of this sermon: A disciple is one who has a passion for the Word of God. This passion is a desire that begins at the time of one’s spiritual birth (1 Peter 2:2) and continues throughout life (Psalm 119). This passion includes both a desire for God’s Word and a great delight in it. While there is a sense in which abiding in God’s Word is our duty, it is a duty that should be a delight. It is something like being required to visit Starbucks daily for coffee or the Marble Slab for an ice cream cone. That kind of duty is not hard to fulfill.
I think you would agree with me that none of us lives up to the standard of the Scriptures when it comes to our passion for God’s Word. Are there any of us who would not wish that we loved the Word more, and who would desire to spend more time in the Word? How then do we grow in this matter? How do we enhance our appetite for the pure milk of God’s Word? Allow me to make some suggestions.
(1) Read the Bible in a systematic and disciplined way. Have a habit of reading through the Bible on a consistent, year-by-year basis. Read the Bible in larger “chunks,” rather than the little dabs that are often found in devotional books (you can read these too, but they are not going to give you the “big picture” that reading large doses of Scripture does). When you finish reading through the Bible in one translation, begin all over again using a different translation. Write down questions and observations, but keep reading.
(2) Memorize Scripture. I confess, this is not one of my strong points. Some of it is age-related, but let’s not go there. Some of it is the fact that I keep confusing the wording of different translations. Some of it is just bad memory. Frankly, I have opted to “memorize” by saturation,6 rather than trying to memorize it in the classic manner. I can identify with the writer to the Hebrews who says, “It says somewhere. . .” (see Hebrews 2:6; 4:4).
(3) Meditate on key texts of Scripture. Certain texts of Scripture are fundamental and foundational. There are other texts of Scripture which are problematic. Keep these texts on the “back burner” of your mind and continually surface them, pondering and probing them, until they come to life for you. Are there principles taught in the text (even the Old Testament commandments) that are applicable to your life (remember Paul’s use of the law in 1 Corinthians 9:3-14).
(4) Have a group of friends, or a mentor or two, who love the Scriptures and who provide a wealth of insight and stimulation to study. The texts on which you are meditating are an excellent starting point for a discussion. Conversations like this transform traditional “fellowship” (eating and chatting together with friends) to true fellowship (sharing in the wealth of God’s Word).
(5) Give thought to anything which might be hindering your study of God’s Word. Are there distractions you could avoid? Are there broken relationships which hinder your fellowship and insight into the Word?
(6) Pray. Pray for the Holy Spirit to enlighten your mind so that you can understand the Scripture you are studying. For example, pray the words of Psalm 119:18:
Open my eyes so I can truly see
the marvelous things in your law!
(Psalm 119:18; see also 1 Corinthians 2:9-16; John 14:25-26; 16:12-13)
Pray that God would enable you to fulfill the command to desire His Word, like a newborn baby desires its mother’s milk (1 Peter 2:2). Pray that the Scriptures you are reading might give you hope (Romans 15:4), that they might teach, reprove, correct, and train you in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). Pray that the Scriptures you are reading might be used of God in your life to put off corruption and to be conformed to the nature of God (2 Peter 1:3-4).
Pray Scripture. I learned this most by watching (and listening to) Colin McDougall, a prayer partner at the Church of the Open Door in California. When you hear of a spiritual need, think of a relevant text and pray accordingly. I remember when a woman asked for prayer for a husband who was not saved. Colin did not know the woman or her husband, but he prayed something like this:
“Dear Lord, we pray for _______. We know that you delight to save lost sinners, and that it is not your desire or delight that anyone perish. We also know how you have purposed to save such men from Peter’s words in 1 Peter 3. And so I ask for _________ that she would be the kind of wife that your Word says she should be. Help her not to nag, but by her silent submission and godly manner of life to make the gospel beautiful in her husband’s sight.”7
I am convinced that this is the way we should be praying. Thus, our prayer life enhances our Bible study, and our Bible study enhances our prayer life. Here is a kind of “double-dipping” that pleases God and benefits believers.
(7) Listen to good preaching, not as a substitute for your own study, but as a stimulus to your study. Listen to those sermons which convey insight into God’s Word, and which cause you to think, “If I’d have given that text a little more thought I would have come up with that interpretation, too.” It is a great insult to me when I hear someone say, “I’d never have come up with that interpretation,” as though only the theologically trained “experts” can study the Scriptures and come up with good material. As a rule, the Bible was not written by scholars, and neither was it written to scholars. It was written to average people, who have been given gifted teachers to stimulate their thinking and the Holy Spirit to interpret and apply the Word to their lives. Good preaching should stimulate study, not discourage it.
And while I’m on this subject, let me say that you can also profit from a bad sermon. (This gives me great hope.) There have been times when I have listened to a sermon, and I’ve come away saying something like this to myself:
“That sermon couldn’t be right. He overlooked this part of the text and failed to take into account this doctrine. . . .”
Some of the sermons I have preached have been the result of being less than satisfied with the explanation of someone else, perhaps even a commentator. Let bad sermons as well as good ones stimulate your study.
(8) Read well. If you have looked at our church website or have been privileged to speak to our librarian, Ron Maness, you would know what a wealth of information Ron is. He is constantly putting good books into my hands, and into the hands of others who love to study God’s Word. Good books provoke and promote good thinking. Seeing others do a good job in handling the Scriptures not only provides you with a good message; it gives you an example of a good method of handling Scripture as well.
And so I close with this, my friend. With the Scriptures being so vital to your relationship with Jesus Christ, what is it that is keeping you from spending more time in them? Here is a question well worth pondering. Do you think it is too late to begin? Let me quote these words from an earlier sermon:
In the Gospels, Peter does not appear to have been a man of the Scriptures. But from the Book of Acts on, Peter is truly saturated with the Word of God. It would seem that he became a student of Scripture later in life. I believe Peter’s example is one which should be emulated by every believer. We may not be scholars, but we should all be students of Scripture, so that the terminology and theology of the Bible shapes our thinking, speaking, and behavior—our lives. I urge you to read through Peter’s epistles to gain his perspective on the Scriptures and their critical role in the life of every Christian.
In our text, Peter emphasizes the relationship between the truth of the Word and love for one another. There seems to be a growing trend for some Christians to belittle an accurate knowledge of the truth while heralding the benefits of love. These two necessities are (if you will allow me to redeem an abused term) co-dependent. Like the song says about “love and marriage,” “you can’t have one without the other.”
Paul puts it this way:
But the goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1 Timothy 1:5).8
1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.
2 Copyright © 2006 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 1 in the Following Jesus in a Me-First World series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on September 17, 2006. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.
3 Ezra 7:1-5.
4 Ezra 7:6.
5 Notice that they are called “disciples” in John 6:61.
6 That is, reading it so often I can remember it fairly well, and I can know where to find it if I need to do so.
7 The wording is not exact, but that is the essence of the prayer I heard, and I shall never forget it. It was right on.