I’ve recently begun to work my way through Martin Luther’s The Bondage of the Will. There are several things going on in Luther’s writing that I think still needs to be addressed today. Sadly, the heresies fought by Luther and other reformers are still prevalent today in the Protestant church and most definitely in the Catholic church and society at large.
There is a particular section in the introduction of the book, edited and translated by J.I. Packer and O.R. Johnston, that I wanted to interact a bit with to begin. I mostly want to do this because of my own past experience with some of the very things discussed in this section. I’ll start with a lengthy quote from pages 46-47.
“Natural theology leads men away from the Divine Christ, and from Scripture, the cradle in which He lies, and from the theologia crucis, the gospel doctrine which sets Christ forth. But it is only through Christ that God wills to be known, and gives saving knowledge of Himself. He who would know God, therefore, must seek Him through the Biblical gospel. We must not expect to understand all that the gospel tells us, for the fact of Christ (that is, the achievement of our salvation by the death of the incarnate Son of God) is beyond man’s rational comprehension. That is why the gospel has always seemed foolishness to the wise men of this world. But we are not entitled to make rational comprehension the condition of credence, nor to edit and reduce God’s Word (as Luther accuses Erasmus of doing) so as to make it square with our own preconceived ideas. That, again, is to try and make man into God, for to understand all things perfectly is the prerogative of the Creator alone. And it is also to exclude faith; for the very distinguishing mark of faith is that it takes God’s word just because it is God’s word, whether or not it can at present understand it. Man’s part, therefore, is to humble his proud mind, to renounce the sinful self-sufficiency which prompts him to treat himself as the measure of all things, to confess the blindness of his corrupt heart, and thankfully to receive the enlightening Word of God. Man is by nature as completely unable to know God as to please God; let him face the fact and admit it! Let God be God! let man be man! let ruined sinners cease pretending to be something other than ruined sinners! let them realise that they lie helpless in the hand of an angry Creator; let them seek Christ and cry for mercy.”
I could drop the mic right there and walk off. But I won’t. This is important for many reasons but it is personally important to me because I have personal experience with how subtle the lie is that we can find God in some other way other than the Bible.
When I first came to believe that Jesus is who He said He was and placed my faith in Him for salvation, I was still very impressionable. I began to read the Bible and gradually came to understand some things. But, as that was happening, I was a part of a para-church ministry.
I want to be very clear here; I’m not bashing this particular ministry. Rather, I am speaking from personal experience of the dangers, subtle as they may be, of wandering away from the doctrine of sola scriptura. There is a reason why this was a rallying cry of the Reformers.
This particular ministry had weekend events that involved some times of teaching and then small group discussion. All teaching that was done was taken pretty much straight from the book Wild at Heart by John Eldredge. Now I want to tread carefully here for those of you who may have just become defensive. I don’t know what Eldredge’s relationship with Christ is or even if he is a believer or not. I am not saying one way or the other. What I am saying is that all teaching, especially teaching that claims to be Christian, must be held up to the clear light of God’s Word. If we wander away from that in our teaching, we fall into idolatry and heresy.
1. Let’s be careful to find God where He really is and that is in “the Biblical gospel.”
There are far too many so-called Christians out there who will say things like, “I go to the mountains to experience God and hear from Him.” Or something like that. I think we can certainly see God’s majesty in His creation but we cannot find Him in creation. We can always and only find God where He has chosen to reveal Himself and that is in the Bible alone.
God has indeed spoken. He has spoken by His written Word and by His living Word, Jesus, of whom we may read in His written Word. If we wander away from His word (sola scriptura), we wander away from God Himself.
2. We don’t have to completely understand it.
I think one of our biggest problems is that we find ourselves far too clever. We really think we’re smarter than God. I mean, let’s be honest with ourselves here. We really think we have it all figured out and that we could do a better job than God at running the world. ‘Cause if we can’t figure it out, then it must not exist. Technology is wonderful and all and we’re pretty smart but we’re not God.
I know I’ve fallen into this in myself. I’ve often thought I could do a better job than God. For example, if I was God there would be no __ fill in the blank.
You’ve never had that thought? Sure you have. That’s because we’ve missed the point. Which leads me to point three.
3. We must humble ourselves. We’re not the point. God and His glory are the point.
I really believe we’ve made ourselves the center of the universe. I’ll give you an example. For those of us who have children, we know that this is true. Our kids think they are the center of all that is and every decision in life should be based around their desires in the moment.
Then again, all us adults believe the same thing.
I am not the point. You are not the point. God and His glory is the point of all that is. In the words of Packer and Johnston, “Let God be God! let man be man!” In other words, let us recognize that He is the point not our selfish interests.
What great mercy and grace God has shown us! He has chosen to reveal Himself; He didn’t have to but He did. And He has revealed Himself in and by His Word. Let us praise Him and meet Him there!
What great mercy and grace God has shown us! He has chosen to reveal what we are to know about Him. We don’t need to understand the rest but rather have faith in He who has spoken. We must trust that all things work together for the good of those who are His and for His glory!
What great mercy and grace God has shown us! He has shown us that we don’t have to consume ourselves in thinking the world is about us. What vanity and emptiness that is! Rather, He has shown us that humility before Him leads us to deeper trust and relieves us of our idolatry of self. He is the point!
Soli Deo Gloria!