ABIDING IN THE WORD OF GOD

 

A Guide to True Discipleship by

Gary Ray Branscome

 

“Then Jesus said… If you continue in My Word, then you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32).

 

Since we only “continue in” God’s Word if we do not supplement what it says with human opinion, the passage quoted above is one of several that warn us not to add to or take from the words of Scripture. Not only does Christ want us to continue in His Word, he also makes it clear that the truth of salvation is only to be found in His Word. Therefore, a true disciple of Jesus Christ will not look outside of that Word for doctrine, attempt to supplement that Word, or reject anything that the Bible says. True discipleship requires faithful and unswerving adherence to the written Word of God. Without such adherence the salvation message could easily be lost. [Deuteronomy 4:2, Proverbs 30:6, Mark 7:13, Revelation 22:18.]

 

THE SIN OF SELF DEIFICATION

 

          Because God has included in Scripture everything that we need to know in order to be saved, those who add to or take from what is written only obscure the truth and hinder the work of the gospel. For that reason, we need to eliminate all unscriptural ideas from our theology, and limit our doctrine to what the Bible actually says. Nevertheless, because of the deceptiveness of the human heart that is more easily said than done. In fact, it is all too easy to read something into the text. However, what most people fail to understand is that all addition to the Word of God is rooted in the desire to make oneself God. Adding to God’s Word is, therefore, a form of rebellion against God (Isaiah 14:12-14).

 

          Because all sin is rooted in the desire to overthrow God’s authority, anyone who adds to God’s Word is trying to make himself God by making his own word into God’s Word; even if he does not realize it. Furthermore, because all who call their own opinions the “Word of God” are, in effect, calling themselves God, you need to be extremely wary of anyone who claims that a particular passage is teaching something entirely different from what it actually says. Of course, the people who make such claims usually have some sort of excuse. They may claim to have discovered the true meaning, to be following tradition, or to have received a revelation. Nevertheless, the fact that they are adding to the Word of God tells us that they are not true disciples of Christ (John 8:31).

 

THE SIN OF ADDING TO THE WORD OF GOD

 

          One of the most effective tricks that Satan uses to divert our attention away from the Word of God is to get our minds caught up in speculation or debate about how various passages should be interpreted. I call this a trick, because it gets our attention off of what the words say, and onto what people think. Once that happens, many wind up reading their own ideas into the text, thus adding to what is said. However, you can avoid that trap by learning to distinguish between what the words actually say and interpretations of what they say (2Corinthians 1:13). What the words say is God’s Word, what people think they mean is man’s word.

 

          For example: In some circles, there is heated debate as to the length of the days in Genesis, chapter one. In order to accommodate the myth of evolution some try to brush off the entire creation history as allegory, while others claim that each of the days represent eras, or one-thousand-year periods. The people who hold those views then enter into controversy with those who rightly want their church to teach the words of Scripture, not the opinions of men. As time passes, those who have become confused by the debate often conclude that the length of the days is just a matter of opinion. Nevertheless, what they fail to see is that the entire debate is over what the Bible does not say, not what it does say! The Bible does not say anything about how many hours long each day was. Nevertheless that does not mean that the length of those days is all a matter of opinion. On the contrary, Satan uses the debate to get our attention off of what the Bible says, and onto debate about the dictionary meaning of words (2Corinthians 4:4).

          What God wants us to teach is exactly what he says. Namely, that, “In six days the LORD made the heavens and earth, and on the seventh day he rested” (Exodus 31:17). And, that each of those days had and “evening” and a “morning” consisting of a period of light and darkness (Genesis 1:5, see also verses 8, 13, 19, 23, and 31).

If the length of the days was really just a matter of opinion, we could settle the controversy by agreeing to teach only what the Bible says. However, that will never happen because the words of Scripture are not neutral. On the contrary, the people who believe that the world is “millions” of years old claim that the “days” of creation were long periods in order to get around what the Bible says. They want to replace what the Bible says with their own opinions because they have rejected what the Bible says, and want to make believe that it actually teaches something else (Luke 7:31-32).

 

          Going on to some other ways in which people add to God’s Word: It is fairly common for preachers to come up with “principles” which they then expound on as if they were the Word of God. Moreover, because they associate those principles with morality they see nothing wrong with what they are doing. Nevertheless, they are adding to God’s Word in a way that differs little from what Christ condemned as teaching for doctrine the commandments of men (Mark 7:7). In addition to adding to God’s Word by teaching man-made principles as God’s Word, people also add to God’s word by teaching conclusions that they claim to have deduced from Scripture, even when those conclusions contradict what it says elsewhere (Isaiah 8:20).

 

          For example: The words, “I give to them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of My hand,” are a great comfort to all who trust in Christ (John 10:28). Nevertheless, those who conclude from those words that we can live in sin and still be saved are adding to what is actually said. And, we know that their conclusions are from the devil because they contradict what the Bible plainly says (Hebrews 10:26-31, 1Corinthians 6:9-10).

          If the Bible says that we are, “Kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation,” then that is what God wants us to teach (1Peter 1:5). And, if the Bible says, “Those on the rock are those, who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; but having no root, believe for a while, and in time of temptation fall away,”  that that is also something God wants us to teach (Luke 8:13). Those who affirm one of those passages while explaining away the other are both adding to and taking from the Word of God. And, for that reason, they are not truly Christ’s disciples (John 8:31).

We know that they are adding to God’s Word, because, if they were sticking to what the Bible actually says their conclusions would not contradict Luke 8:13. In fact, they could easily avoid contradicting Luke 8:13, if they would simply limit their conclusion to the fact that just as God has saved us by His grace, He keeps us by his grace. That conclusion does not cause a problem, because it does not deny the fact that without God’s help we would all lose our salvation. As it is written, “None can keep alive his own soul” (Psalm 22:29).

 

In the same way, the words “He has chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world,” were intended to comfort those who trust in Christ (Ephesians 1:4). However, those who conclude from those words that Christ did not die for the sins of those God did not choose, are adding to God’s Word. Not only does that passage say nothing about who Christ died for, the Bible plainly tells us that “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1John 2:2). Therefore, whenever the conclusions of men contradict what the Bible explicitly says, those conclusions must be rejected as false. And, those who teach those conclusions are rebelling against God (Isaiah 8:20, Psalm 107:11, 2Corinthians 10:5). It is God’s Word not our puny sin-corrupted minds that must determine which conclusions are valid, and which are not (Romans 3:4).

 

          In his attempts to lead people away from God’s Word, Satan often takes advantage of the fact that the human mind arrives at conclusions by combining bits of information. He knows that if he can get men to combine premises taken from the Bible with those taken from outside sources, he can lead them to conclusions that are at variance with the Word of God.  For example: I once heard a man try to water down God’s law by claiming that only willful acts are sin. In order to defend that view he argued that since, “sin is the transgression of the law” (1John 3:4), and transgression of the law consists of willful acts, then sin must only consist of willful acts. However, even though his reasoning may seem logical it is not Scriptural, because one of the premises is false. The Bible says nothing about transgression of the law consisting of “willful acts.” That is the word of man, not the word of God. And, because it is the word of man it is an addition to God’s Word. Furthermore, we know it is wrong because it contradicts what the Bible plainly says. Why, even the words “Thou shall not covet” tell us that transgression of the law consists of more than just acts. On the contrary, “All unrighteousness is sin” (1John 5:17). And, that includes the sin of a heart that is, “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9). Because sin goes to the very root of our nature, David could say, “I was formed in iniquity; and sinful when my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). And, Paul could say, “Just as sin entered the world by one man, and death by sin; so death passed upon all men, because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). [See 1John 5:17, Matthew 5:28, 48, Hebrews 3:12, Matthew 15:19, Romans 5:12-19, Jeremiah 17:9, Ephesians 2:3, 1John 3:15.]

 

          Finally, those who change the words, “Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s” into a command to keep church and state absolutely separate, are adding to the Word of God (Matthew 22:21). We know that they are adding to the Word of God because that passage does not say a word about keeping anything separate. While Christ’s words may reflect the fact that the Jewish religion was separate from the Roman State, they are the answer to a question, not a command, and an answer to a question is never imperative. While we do not want the government to control the church, (Acts 5:29) or the church to use the sword of the state, (2Corinthians 10:4) we do want the Ten Commandments to be the basis of all civil law, and we want rulers bound by those commandments (Leviticus 17:18-20).

         

REASON, TRADITION, AND NEW REVELATION

 

          All additions to God’s Word arise from the deceitfulness of the human heart, and those who seek to justify them will appeal to reason, tradition, or new revelations.

 

Reason

          When it comes to reason, those who add to God’s Word often lack the ability to distinguish between what the words say, and assumptions or opinions that they are reading into the text. In fact, because our nature has been corrupted by sin, it is all too easy for us to allow our imagination to run wild, or to confuse our fantasies with insight. Therefore, if we are to be true disciples of Christ, we must to use our reason to recognize the ways in which we are adding to God’s Word, and reject those additions (John 8:31). In short, we must reign in our minds, subdue our fantasies, and stick to the facts (2Corinthians 1:13). [2Corinthians 10:5, 1Corinthians 11:31, Galatians 6:4, Romans 12:2, 1John 4:6]

 

“In whatever matter Holy Scripture has definitely spoken the Christian theologian must suppress his own views, opinions, and speculations and adhere unwaveringly to the divine truths revealed in Holy Scripture. In no case is he permitted to inject into the body of divine truth his own figments and fabrications, and at no time must he allow his reason the prerogative of doubt, criticism, or denial, but every thought must everywhere be brought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, 2Corinthians 10:5.” (Christian Dogmatics, by J. T. Mueller, Page 39.)

 

          At present the situation is so bad that in some churches man-made stories are being passed off as the Word of God. One example of that is the so-called “Gap Theory,” which claims that there were millions of years between Genesis 1:1 (“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth”), and Genesis 1:2 (“And the earth was without form, and void”). That made-up story goes on to claim that Satan and his angels once lived on the earth, and by rebelling against God ruined the earth so that it became “without form and void.” Of course, none of that is in the Bible! In fact, the words, “In six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and everything that is in them,” clearly contradict it (Exodus 20:11). Yet, those who believe it distort a number of other passages by interpreting them in the light of that myth. Therefore, I want to stress one important rule. We can only avoid adding to the Word of God, if we interpret each passage of Scripture in the light of what the Bible explicitly says elsewhere. Those who interpret passages in the light of interpretations are reading some interpreter’s ideas into the text, and, thus, are adding to the Word of God (2Peter 1:20).

 

          Another myth attempts to explain how Christ could be with the thief in “paradise” during the time when His body was in the grave, by making up a story about “paradise” being in Hades. Of course, none of that is in the Bible. It is simply a story that somebody made up. Furthermore, if the people who believe that story would look at what the Bible says, they would find that the Bible not only defines “paradise” as heaven (2Corinthians 12:2-4), but also explicitly says that Christ was in heaven even while His body was on earth, including the time it was in the grave (John 3:13).

         

Far from being benign, myths such as the two that I have just mentioned undermine the truth of God’s Word by teaching people that they should interpret Scripture by making up stories instead of looking at the plain meaning of the words. That is why I stress the fact that those who add made-up stories to God’s Word are not true disciples of Christ (John 8:31).

 

Tradition

          When we speak of tradition in the context of Bible interpretation, we are not talking about customs, but about doctrines and interpretations that are not taught in God’s Word yet are passed on from generation to generation as if they were the Word of God (Matthew 15:2-6, Mark 7:2-13). In fact, any addition to God’s Word that is passed on from generation to generation is a tradition. Furthermore, those who defend traditions that contradict the Bible are quick to quote 2Thessalonians 2:15, “Therefore, brethren, stand fast, and hold the traditions which you have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle”. However, in quoting that passage they fail to grasp the significance of the word “epistle”. Since truth will never contradict truth, any tradition that truly comes from the Apostles will not contradict Scripture (Isaiah 8:20). Nor will it add to what is written (John 8:31, Proverbs 30:6).

 

Because the Bible says, “There is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus,” we know that the tradition that views Mary as a “mediator,” is from Satan not God (1Timothy 2:5, Romans 3:4, Galatians 1:6-9). They try to get around what the Bible says by calling her a “Mediatrix,” but that is just smoke and mirrors.  

Because the Bible says, “He [Christ] is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world,” we know that the tradition that claims that Christ only died for the sins of the elect, not the sins of the “whole world,” is from Satan not God (1John 2:2).

Because the Bible says, “Every one who looks to the Son, and believes on Him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day,” we know that the tradition that claims that Christ will raise up believers before the last day, is from Satan not God (John 6:40).

 

New Revelation

When it comes to new revelation, it should be obvious that the cults are adding to God’s Word, for they all claim knowledge or insight that no one else has. However, Satan often uses a very subtle source of false doctrine, which takes the form of an inner leading, or an idea impressed upon the mind. That form of deception can be especially insidious because many Christians regard the impressions they receive as communication from God. However, in order to avoid being deceived you need to be wary of interpretations or impressions disguised as revelation. God will never contradict what the Bible says or lead you to look outside of His Word for guidance (Isaiah 8:20, John 8:31, Luke 16:31).

 

It is also important to view impressions in a way that agrees with the Bible’s warning against adding to the Word of God. For example: There have been times when I have prayed fervently about a burden that was on my heart only to have a feeling of peace come over me. However, instead of viewing that peace as some sort of communication I see it as God strengthening my faith. For, it is faith that gives me the assurance that God has heard my prayer, that He cares for me for Christ’s sake, and that He will do what is best (Romans 8:28).

There have also been times when, after seeking God’s help in making a decision, I began to favor one alternative over the others. However, even though I realize that my favor for one alternative could be an answer to prayer I regard it as the inclination of my heart, not some sort of divine communication. After all, if God can turn the heart of the king “whithersoever He will” He can turn my heart in answer to prayer, but that does not make the leading of my heart a divine command or communication (Proverbs 21:1).

Likewise, the urge to do something nice could be the “fruit of the Spirit” or the voice of conscience, but it should not be viewed as a command that will bring God’s wrath if ignored.

 

I once heard a preacher say that when God first called him to the ministry he resisted the call, and God caused his baby to die because he was refusing to do God’s will. Have you ever heard anything worse? What kind of ogre does he think God is? The very fact that he has been slandering God every time he shared that testimony should tell you that he is under a satanic delusion. Yet, he goes blithely on oblivious to the fact that he is teaching the very heresy that Paul condemned in his Epistle to the Galatians, namely that God’s favor depends on our obedience. He may not have been telling people that they had to keep the Old-Testament law, but he was leading them to believe that they had to obey an unwritten law, and that God might even kill their babies if they did not comply with that unwritten law. Therefore, let me make it perfectly clear that there is “no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). On the contrary, because our sins have been washed away by the blood of the lamb we do not have to live under the fear of God’s wrath (Romans 10:4). The doctrine that preacher was teaching was straight out of hell, and the very fact that it was an addition to God’s Word tells me that he was not a true disciple of Christ (John 8:31, Galatians 1:6-9).

 

          I once explained how a particular interpretation added to God’s Word, only to have a man tell me that after praying he received a strong impression (which he believed was from the Holy Ghost) that the passage in question could not be explained any other way. What he failed to realize was that his “strong impression” came from outside of God’s Word. And, because Christ wants us to “continue in” His Word we can be certain that it was not from God (John 8:31). Was it from the devil? It could have been for those who look outside of Scripture for direction open themselves up to Satanic influence.

 

“The true visible church acknowledges the written word of the apostles and prophets as the only and perfect source, rule, norm, and judge of all teaching. Not reason, not tradition, not new revelations.” (C. F. W. Walther)

 

THE SIN OF REBELLION

 

          Whenever people add to God’s word, they will, sooner or later, encounter passages that contract those additions. When that happens, if they explain away the words of Scripture instead of rejecting the things they have added, they are taking away from the Word of God. And, that is rebellion against God (Psalm 107:11). Moreover, because many take such rebellion lightly, and think nothing of it, I want to make it perfectly clear that such rebellion is as “witchcraft” and “idolatry” in the sight of God (1Samuel 15:23).

 

          Because Christ, after rising from the dead, specifically said, “handle me, and see; for a spirit has not flesh and bones, as you see me have,” those who deny that Christ physically rose from the dead are rebelling against God (Luke 24:39). And, the Bible calls them liars (Romans 3:4).

          Because the Bible explicitly tells us that Christ was a descendant of Abraham, those who contradict the Bible by claiming that Christ’s body was an entirely new creation, not an actual descendant of Abraham, are rebelling against God (Hebrews 2:16). [Genesis, 3:15 and 22:18, Galatians 3:16 and 4:4, Romans 1:3.]

          Because Christ specifically said that He would raise up believers “on the last Day,” those who contradict and explain away what He said, teaching their own ideas as the Word of God, are rebelling against God (John 6:40). [John 6:39,44,54, John 11:24 and 12:48, 2Timothy 4:1.]

 

          While the world at large sees nothing wrong with contradicting or explaining away what the Bible says, those who do it are doing the work of Satan, for that is exactly what Satan was doing when he told Eve that she would not die if she ate of the tree “of knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 3:4).

 

TRUE DISCIPLESHIP

 

Since false prophets seek to exalt themselves, they usually claim to have ideas, explanations, or interpretations that no one else has, and that always involves addition to God’s Word (Jeremiah 23:31-32). At the same time, those who determine the validity of a doctrine by whether it sounds good or makes sense to them, are making themselves the authority instead of allowing God’s Word to be the authority, and that is a form of self-deification. In contrast, as true disciples of Christ we need bring our thinking into agreement with God’s Word, and we can only do that if we do not add to, contradict, or explain away anything that the Bible says (Romans 12:2).

 

Whenever unscriptural ideas or assumptions are read into the text of Scripture, they produce unscriptural interpretations, and those interpretations lead to conclusions that contradict what the Bible says. Therefore, if we are to be true disciples of Christ, we must eliminate the human element from our theology (John 8:31). To that end, we need to critically examine our own opinions, eliminate unscriptural ideas from our thinking, and reject any conclusions that contradict what the Bible says (Isaiah 8:20). In short, you must be your own worst critic, and must be determined to find and eliminate any errors from your theology before anyone else finds them (1Corinthians 11:31). If you wait for others to find your errors, you will never be convinced when they point them out (Proverbs 9:8).

 

          In order to avoid error, we need to begin by learning those truths that are that are so plainly stated in Scripture they need no interpretation. Once they have been learned, you can use them as a standard by rejecting and eliminating any ideas or interpretations that contradict them. For example: Those who read the Book of Revelation often jump to conclusions, let their imaginations run wild, and read into the text things that are not there. However, if they would begin by learning those truths about Christ’s return that are so plainly stated that they need no interpretation, they would find that:

 

1.     Christ explicitly said, “Every one who looks to the Son, and believes on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:40).

2.     In another place He said, “The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him on the last day” (John 12:48).

3.     John wrote: “Martha responded, I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day (John 11:24).

4.     Paul wrote, “I charge you therefore before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, who shall judge the quick and the dead at his appearing and his kingdom” (2Timothy 4:1).

5.     And, Christ also said, “My kingdom is not of this world” (John 18:36).

 

Because a correct interpretation of the Book of Revelation will never contradict these plainly-stated facts, we know that the nineteenth chapter of Revelation is not saying that Christ will return prior to the “last day” (John 11:24, 2Timothy 4:1). Therefore, it is either describing the last day (compare 2Timothy 4:1 with John 12:48), or it is not describing His physical return at all. Here is where it is important not to confuse the literal [i.e. grammatical] meaning of what is written, with the dream or vision that is being described. Just because the book of Revelation gives us a literal description of what John saw does not mean that John was seeing physical history any more than a literal description of Pharaoh’s dream is a description of physical history (Genesis 41:1-32).  Instead, the nineteenth chapter of Revelation could be describing what Mark was describing when he said, “And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them” (Mark 16:20).

 

Likewise, because Christ explicitly said that His kingdom was not of this world, we know that Revelation 20:4 is not saying that He will physically reign on this sinful planet (John 18:36). Furthermore, chapters nineteen and twenty agree with what I have just said, for neither of them says anything about Christ physically appearing, or physically reigning on this sinful planet before the last day. Those ideas are simply being read into the text.  

 

Many people wind up reading their own ideas into the text because they believe that what it says is all a matter of opinion. In fact, I recently heard someone say that the words, “Judge not, that you be not judged” could be interpreted a thousand different ways (Matthew 7:1). However, because most “interpretations” add to what is written, I would like to show you how you can eliminate false interpretations while allowing the Bible to interpret that verse.

 

First of all, because the Bible says, “we write none other things to you, than what you read,” we need to make a clear distinction between what the words actually say and all of the interpretations that people dream up (2Corinthians 1:13). Once we put those interpretations out of our mind there are passages of Scripture that explain the words, “Judge not, that you be not judged”. For example: The fact that Christ condemned the way that the Pharisee (in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican) judged, tells us that Matthew 7:1 condemns that kind of judging (Luke 18:11,14). In addition, the fact that Christ directed that parable at those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others,” tells us what was wrong with the way the Pharisee judged (Luke 18:9). In short, by comparing himself with others the Pharisee gained a false sense of righteousness which blinded him to his own need for God’s mercy and forgiveness (2Corinthians 10:12, Psalm 13:5). Therefore, Matthew 7:1-5 is warning us not to judge others in the way the Pharisee did.

However, because Paul rebuked the Corinthians for not judging wicked behavior on the part of their fellow members, we know that Matthew 7:1 is not telling us that it is wrong to condemn wicked behavior, or to exclude those who are unrepentant (1Corinthians 5:1-13 and 6:1-9). Likewise, because John the Baptist condemned Herod’s adultery, we know that Matthew 7:1 is not telling us that it is wrong to condemn the sins of rulers (Matthew 14:3-5, Mark 6:17-18).

 

I have just shown you how you can let Scripture interpret Matthew 7:1. Furthermore, that is the best way to interpret any verse, because when we interpret a verse that way, we can be certain that we are not adding to God’s Word. In fact, whenever I say that an unclear passage of Scripture is teaching the same truth that is plainly stated in another passage I cannot be adding to the Word of God. Furthermore, even if I was totally wrong, the interpretation would still be the Word of God because it is plainly stated in Scripture.

 

[Note: Any interpretation that adds to, contradicts, or attempts to get around what the Bible says, is a “private” interpretation, and, therefore is of the devil (2Peter 1:20).]

 

CONCLUSION

 

It is important for us to deal with other people in love, and Christ wants us to be known for our love (John 13:35). However, He also wants us to be known for our faithful adherence to His Word; for if we allow men to add to or contradict His Word the truth of the gospel will be obscured (John 8:31-32). Therefore, the approach to Bible interpretation that I have just outlined is vital not only to sound theology, but to the salvation of souls. The doctrine that God wants you to get from His Word is nothing other “than what you read,” and is plainly stated in Scripture, “Line upon line, line upon line, here a little and there a little” (Isaiah 28:10, 2Corinthians 1:13). That doctrine is the standard to which all teaching must conform (Isaiah 8:20).

 

SCRIPTURE ALONE