ABIDING IN THE WORD OF GOD

A Guide to True Discipleship by
GARY RAY BRANSCOME



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

    The passage quoted above is one of several that warn us not to add to or take from the words of Scripture. In short, Christ wants us to continue in His Word, and we do that by not going outside of it for doctrine. Therefore, 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 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 without even realizing it. 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, and is, for that reason, a form of rebellion against God (Isaiah 14:12-14).

    In other words, 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 those 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 doing it 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 as to how various passages should be interpreted. I call this a trick, because most people wind up reading their own ideas into the text, thus adding to what is said. Nevertheless, you can avoid that trap, by learning to distinguish between what the words actually say and interpretations of what they say (2Corinthians 1:13).

    For example: In some circles, there is heated debate as to the length of the days in Genesis, chapter one. Some insist that the entire story is allegory, others claim that each of the days represent eras, or one-thousand-year periods, and still others claim that each of the days was only twenty-four-hours long. At the same time, those who have become fed up with the debate tend to conclude that the length of the days is all a matter of opinion. However, what the people involved in that controversy 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 specify exactly how long each of the creation days was. Nevertheless, that does not mean that what the Bible says is all a matter of opinion. On the contrary, even though the Bible is perfectly clear, nobody is looking at what it actually says. Instead, because Satan has gotten their attention off of what the Bible says, and onto speculation as to what it means, the entire debate is about the meaning of words (2Corinthians 4:4).

    If the debate only involved opinions and nothing more, we could settle the controversy by rejecting all of the opinions, and agreeing to teach just what the Bible says. However, that will never happen because the words of Scripture are not neutral. On the contrary, if we taught what the Bible actually says on the matter, we would wind up teaching that “in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is, and rested the seventh day” (Exodus 20:11). And, that each of those days had and “evening” and a “morning” (Genesis 1:5,8,13,19,23,31). Since those words give us no reason to believe that the days in question were anything other than ordinary days, it should be obvious that those who claim otherwise are adding to the Word of God. In fact, when it comes right down to it, 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). However, while it should be obvious that those who teach man made principles are adding to God’s Word, in some cases people add to God’s word by jumping to conclusions that contradict what it says elsewhere.

    For example: The words, “I give unto 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 jump to the conclusion that once someone is saved they can never lose their salvation, are adding to what is actually said. We know that they are adding to God’s Word, because, if they were sticking strictly to what John 10:28 says, their teaching would not contradict Luke 8:13, “these have no root, which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.” In fact, they could easily avoid contradicting Luke 8:13, if they would simply limit their conclusion to the fact that is God’s grace, rather than our works, that keeps us from loosing salvation. 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 (Psalm 22:29).

    In the same way, the words “He hath 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 jump to the conclusion that Christ only died to atone for the sins of those God chose, 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). Furthermore, whenever the conclusions of men contradict what the Bible explicitly says, those who refuse to surrender their conclusions, and bring their thinking into accord with God’s Word, 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 take 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, for the Bible says nothing about transgression of the law consisting of “willful acts.” That is just something that he dreamed up, and because he dreamed it up it is an addition to God’s Word. Furthermore, 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. Because sin goes to the very root of our nature, David could say, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” And, Paul could say, “by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” [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, Psalm 51:5.]

    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). And, we know that they are adding to the Word of God, because that passage does not say a word about keeping anything separate. While it may reflect the fact that the Jewish religion was separate from the Roman State, it is the answer to a question, not a command, and the word “separate” is not in the text. [See 2Corinthians 1:13.]
    

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]

    At present the situation so bad that in some churches blatant myths are being passed off as the Word of God. For example: One myth tries to explain the fossils that are in the rocks by claiming 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 myth 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, “For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that in them is,” 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 it 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 an explanation that somebody made up. Furthermore, if the people who believe that myth 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 I that have just mentioned, undermine the truth of God’s Word by advancing a false (and totally ridiculous) method of interpreting Scripture. That is why I stress the fact that those who add 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 ye have been taught, whether by word, or our epistle.” However, in quoting that passage they fail to grasp the significance of the word “epistle.” For, any tradition that truly comes from the Apostles will not contradict the traditions recorded in Scripture, or anything else that the Bible says (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 calls Mary a mediator is from Satan, not God (1Timothy 2:5, Romans 3:4, Galatians 1:6-9).
    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 which seeth the Son, and believeth 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 acquire a view of impressions that better 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 would 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 them which 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 pointed out that an interpretation added to God’s Word, only to have a man tell me that after praying about it, he received a strong impression (which he believed was from the Holy Ghost) that the passages could not be explained any other way. What he failed to realize was that his “strong impression” came from outside of God’s Word, therefore, it was not of God. In fact, because Christ wants us to “continue in” His Word, we can be certain that it was of the devil (John 8:31). And, that should not surprise us, for those who look outside of Scripture for direction, especially about a matter that is clearly contrary to God’s written Word, 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 rebelling against God (Psalm 107:11). Moreover, because they generally 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 hath not flesh and bones, as ye 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 “at 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 which seeth the Son, and believeth on him, may have everlasting life: and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40).
  2. In another place He said, “the word that I have spoken, the same shall judge him in the last day” (John 12:48).
  3. Paul wrote, “I charge thee 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).
  4. 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 time appointed for Him to judge the living and the dead (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. Here is where it is important not to confuse the literal [i.e. grammatical] meaning of what is written, with the 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 planet (John 18:36). Furthermore, chapters nineteen and twenty agree with what I have just said, for neither of them say anything about Christ physically appearing, or reigning. 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 ye 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 unto you, than what ye 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, the actual meaning of the words (Judge not, that ye be not judged) becomes perfectly clear. That verse warns us not to judge others in a way that will bring God’s judgement down on us (Matthew 7:1-5). Therefore, getting rid of all of the interpretations is a key factor in understanding the verse. In fact, one of the ways that Satan blinds people to what the Bible says, is to fill their heads with so many interpretations that they find the words confusing. So you need to begin by putting all interpretations out of your mind. Once that is done, other passages that deal with judging will cast light on what is written (Isaiah 28:9-10).

    For example: Because Paul rebuked the Corinthians for not judging wicked behavior on the part of their 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).

    At the same time, the fact that the Pharisee (in the parable of the Pharisee and the publican) judged in a way that Christ condemned, tells us that Matthew 7:1 is condemning that kind of judging (Luke 18:11,14). Furthermore, 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 and, therefore, a false assurance of salvation, which blinded him to his need for God’s mercy and forgiveness (2Corinthians 10:12, Psalm 13:5).

    Therefore, I have just shown you how you can let Scripture interpret Matthew 7:1 by saying that it is talking about the kind of judging that is condemned in Luke 13:1-5 and Luke 18:9-14, but not the kind of that is approved in 1Corinthians 5:1-13 and 6:1-9. 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, even if I was totally wrong, that interpretation would still be the Word of God because it is plainly stated in Luke 18:9-14, and 1Corinthians 5:1-13 and 6:1-9.

[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, and 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 it 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 needs to be the standard to which all teaching must conform (Isaiah 8:20).

SCRIPTURE ALONE