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Sermon 2019-11-17 Ross Woodhouse

 

Knowing Christ through the Word

Reading, studying, feasting on the teachings of the Bible is one of the most important things a Christ-follower can do. It is God’s inspired word first at a specific time, and to a place and people in history but also to us today. It is the gospel, the power of God unto salvation, that teaches, convicts and transforms. 

What we hold in our hands be it in print or by an electronic device are words, of different translations, recorded in history, where the Lord commanded, spoke and taught and brought through human authors. Now what I’m not doing today is getting into the debate about translations, or the accuracy of those translations. That’s important, but it can also be an unfruitful distraction from its main purpose. Almighty God, sovereign God who understands everything, but whose thoughts and ways are not ours has had some things written down in order we might know a relationship with him. 

There are many aspects, verses, passages, etc of the word that can be interpreted differently, some accurately, others not so – greater mystery…- one thing that cannot be misunderstood however is the importance of the scriptures…life, powerful… 

Through this word we can know Christ, we can know the heart and mind and revelation of God to us. The bible is a testimony of the definitive witness and the glory of and of the glorified (Heb. 1:3), Jesus. He is the word of God made flesh (John 1:14). We can only know of Jesus, the incarnate Word, the son of God, born to a virgin, ministered, was crucified, died, rose again and has poured out his Spirit…we can only know and believe all that because of the written word.  Believing and trusting that the word can speak to us starts with believing in the God who has spoken and revealed it. 

The Bible given to us is not designed as a heart-warming pleasant read – thought it may do this – it is designed to seed into your Spirit love and worship and exaltation of Jesus. It has infinite and unimaginable worth…because of who it is that has spoken. Because of what it is and who it’s about it is a word we can trust.

So that I am not mistaken at any point in this message today, in talking about the absolute necessity and place of the Bible in the Christians life, I am not implying that we are to deify the book in any way or to elevate the book beyond what it’s intended purpose is.

The purpose of this message today is that we will understand, and be reminded that to know Christ, we must know his word/s to us and have his word in us. Our knowing of him grows as we understand what he has said and taught in the word and now might say to us as the Holy Spirit quickens the word to us.

I want to give you six reasons today why the Word of God is of paramount importance to Knowing Christ…

 

  • The Word of God Works in Us

 

We will look at many passages of scripture today; it will be Scripture that explains the importance of the word and exhorts us to exalt Christ. One key text – no more or less vital than others – sets the scene. 

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.”

Paul was speaking, it is human-written, but God-inspired and the Thessalonians accepted the word “as it actually is, the word of God”. If you were to look at Ch. 1 of 1 Thessalonians you’ll see this was a church Paul was able to say the word was at work in them because of their imitation of Christ, in fact, they were a model church to all the others in that region of the world, through their faith, hope and love. At the conclusion of that same letter, Paul writes “do not put out the Spirit’s fire” (1 Thessalonians 5:19), in other words, keep the fire of the Holy Spirit burning, keep growing, keep loving Jesus, keep believing in the word and let it work in you.

Hebrews 4:12-13. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

We are mistaken if we think we can hide any habit, sin, or attitude, or thought from God. Nothing is hidden from him: God sees our true spiritual condition. This living and active and razor-sharp, word, reaches into the deepest innermost parts of us – our marrow. Reading the God-breathed Bible does not mean looking at biblical words and then thinking your own thoughts, or feeling your own feelings or doing your own thing. We read to effect change in us!

And it’s to him we must give account. Therefore, the word of God is not given to us only then for God to be aloof and untouchable and unreachable. He has given us this word to enable us to know him and so that we can love him. 

There are many great salvation stories as you’re aware in history, let me quickly mention one to add to the point: George Whitfield, one of the greatest (evangelists) of the 18th century, a contemporary of John and Charles Wesley…preached 18,000 times to perhaps 10 million listeners. In his journals, Whitfield records his own relationship to the Scriptures.

He said: “I began to read the Scriptures upon my knees, laying aside all other books, and praying over – if possible – every line and word. This proved meat indeed and drink indeed to my soul, and I daily received fresh light and power from above. I got more true knowledge from reading the book of God in one month than I could ever have acquired from all the writings of men”. George Whitfield was an intelligent, learned man who realised the importance of the bible for his effectiveness in his life as a Christ-follower and for his ministry. 

 

  • The Word of God Sets Free (brings freedom)

 

John 8:32. “To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.  Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

John 17:17. “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.”

With the dismantling of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the subsequent lifting of the iron curtain, Eastern Europeans jubilantly celebrated the freedom they had long been denied. However, some of the first “freedoms” to be exercised in these formerly communist countries were indulgence in pornography, prostitution, drug abuse and organized crime. Some people, needless to say, have erroneous concepts of freedom.

Note Jesus’ words in the scripture: “if you hold to my teaching…”. Holding to and living out the truths of Jesus means we are his disciples, then, we know the truth, a personal, spirit-and-soul transforming truth, then by that truth we are set free. When Jesus says we are set free, he does not mean free in terms of doing what we want without reservation, not free in liberalising, diminishing, twisting his word/s. Romans 6:18. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. Free from any bondage of sin, free from the old, free to love Christ and to follow him unhindered and unobstructed. Free! 

Galatians 5:1. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free.” It is Christ who sets free and it is for the purpose of freedom he set us free. This is the word of God and it is such truths we must consume into our spirits. Nothing else much matters in life if we are not living out of the very freedom Christ gave himself for, for us.  If we are not immersing ourselves in that freedom – prefer to live with this than deal with it – we have not believed the written word, and we dismiss Christs saving act on the cross, we effectively push back on his grace. He says I’ve set you free, be free! 

Writer Samuel Clark said this about the word of God: a fixed constant attention to the promises and a firm belief of them would prevent anxiety about the concerns of this life. It would keep the mind quiet and composed in every change and support and keep up our sinking spirits under the several troubles of life…Christians deprive themselves of their most solid comforts by their unbelief and forgetfulness of Gods promises. For there is no extremity so great but there are promises suitable to it and abundantly sufficient for our relief in it……for it speaks of the grace of God that is sufficient!

 

  • The Word of God Directs us

 

2 Timothy 3:14-17. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

Verses 16 – 17 are the strongest statement in the Bible, about itself. Scripture is God-breathed but what is written here is more about scriptures usefulness than its inspiration. We need to bear in mind these words were part of a larger context of Paul encouraging Timothy and other persecuted Christians to persevere in faith, preach the gospel and suffer for it if necessary. 

To that end, there is a reason for the “but” at the beginning of the text. Paul’s encouragement (here’s the usefulness) is to “continue in what you have learned” as compared to those in the previous verse (13) who do not “continue in” but “go from, bad to worse.” These are the people described in 2 Timothy 4:4 who will “turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” because they have not allowed, or do not allow God’s word to direct. Paul would say stay in the truth Timothy, directed by the word, through which God, has thoroughly equipped you, there is no truth like this that has the power to change and direct people by giving them wisdom that leads to salvation.

For any issue or challenge or circumstance large or small we might face, we are thoroughly equipped through the inspired word. There is everything in the word we need, to face everything we face, nothing missing. Psalm 119:105. Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path. The Holy Spirit takes the word of God to show us the will of God.

 

  • The Word of God keeps us from Sin

 

It was Charles Spurgeon who said: “A Bible that is falling apart usually belongs to someone who isn’t”. Imagine, having to ask Christians: do you read your Bible?!

Sin separates from God, sin grieves the Spirit, sin certainly doesn’t lead us to Christ. Unconfessed, undealt-with sin creates an obstacle to and obstructs our growth in, God. We can never have the thinking that we can remain in sin yet pursue Christ, these are opposing ‘forces’. So how do we know what sin is and how we must deal with it?

Psalm 119: 9-12. “How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.10 I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands 11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.12 Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees.”

If you were to read the whole of Psalm 119, you would see it is written by someone passionate about God’s word, and a determination to obey with all their heart.  There is a repeated recognition of Gods grace and mercy, and grief even at the thought of unfaithfulness to God. In simple terms, we sin in two ways, in thoughts, and actions.  God’s word speaks to both. The word keeps us from sin in our thoughts, “because it discerns the true motives of our hearts.  It exposes our inner man so that we recognize our sin”

The word keeps us from sin in our actions, because it defines evil against what is good.  We cannot know what grieves God or pleases him apart from his word. Scripture is our instruction and the anchor for our souls so that we are not left floundering and uncertain of who or what is the truth.  The word keeps us from sin as our thoughts become Gods thoughts by the renewing our minds, and having the mind of Christ.

An example might be if I have a constant bad habit of saying hurtful things to my wife that continually and unnecessarily cause tension and escalate a situation. Chew on Proverbs 15:1. A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. Ephesians 5:25. Husbands love your wives, just as Christ loved the church…

I need to get this word in me to change my ways…

Someone once said “if the book we hold in our hands does not wake us like a fist hammering on our skull then why do we read it? It must be like an ice-axe to break the frozen sea with each of us”…it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit.  God knows we become like who we are devoted to, who we let assimilate into our lives, who we love. And that won’t be God unless we give knowing Christ, more primary, daily importance. You know the word of God is not for bringing God into our reality, it is to bring us into his reality, into him, it is to show us how we live the Christian life on HIS terms, therefore…

We “hide his word” in us. We stay on the path of purity by the word.

 

  • The Word of God compels us to do what it says

 

James 1:21f. “Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.  Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.”

1 Peter 2:1-2. “Therefore, rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind. Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”

Let me take the second of those passages for a moment: Peter says here, long for, crave (NIV) = strain after, desire…spiritual food, in the same way, a newborn baby is absolutely dependent on milk for its growth and nourishment…

What Peter is teaching here is that as you crave the word, the word nourishes you, it will change you by changing the way you see yourself and the way you see others. It has inherent power to effect change in our lives, but like before, there is an emphasis here for us to act: Peter says, “Rid yourselves”, James says, “get rid of all moral filth”, this has to be the prerequisite to the word of God effecting any change in us. “accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” (James 1:21)

In fact, J I Packer says this about God’s word: “We are only living truly human lives just so far as we are labouring to keep God’s commandments; no further”

When David Livingstone was pioneering in Africa in the last century, he offered to teach one tribal chief to shoot and also to read. But the chief declined because he was afraid that if he learned to read the Bible, it might change his heart and make him content with only one wife, as it had done with another chief!

Lastly…

  • The Word of God Motivates Worship

 

Colossians 3:16. “Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.”

You might recall from our study in Nehemiah last year, the response of the people to the reading of the law by Ezra. Read the account in Nehemiah 8. Summary: Bring out the book Ezra! We want to be revived, we want to be refreshed and reminded of who God is…When Ezra opened the book, “the people all stood up. Ezra praised the Lord, the great God; and all the people lifted their hands and responded, “Amen! Amen!” Then they bowed down and worshipped the Lord with their faces to the ground”. (Nehemiah 8:5-6)

Why would they respond this way?  Because what was being read aloud was what the Lord God Almighty had commanded Israel, that made it worth (worth as in worship, worship the God who had spoken and given the word), it was worth listening to! They just had the first 5 books. They didn’t have what we have, they didn’t know what we’re able to know, they didn’t have the gospels, and the epistles, etc…. but clearly they had a reverence and a respect for God’s holy word.

The word (the law in their case) instructed them and instigated worship. The word pointed (orientated) them toward God.

 

Conclusion

If the word of God does not rank among our most important possessions, we need to do a reality check on our lives. Nothing apart from God himself is more important and powerful than his word. We don’t come to God and God’s word if we have the time or when we can. Jesus said, “It is written: ‘Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ (Matthew 4)

Scripture is God’s will, wisdom, and direction. Begin to develop an appetite for it. Spend time allowing it to wash over your mind and heart. Before you know it you will be walking a life that is in communion with Christ and His purpose for your life.

If “I want to know him and the power of his resurrection” if this is what we want for our lives to, be in the word. My hope is that we approach our scripture reading, study, and reflection in a new and fresh way. As we do we are praying Lord, show me Jesus, help me to know Jesus.