The Doctrine of the Sufficiency of Scripture
April 30, 2023 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: Neglected Doctrines
Topic: Christian Life Basics Passage: Deuteronomy 4:1–8, Deuteronomy 12:29–32, Proverbs 30:5–6, Matthew 28:18–20, 2 Timothy 3:16–17, Revelation 22:18–19
THE DOCTRINE OF THE SUFFICIENCY OF SCRIPTURE
What the Bible Teaches about Our Responsibility to the Totality of God’s Word
By Pastor Brian Wilbur
Date: April 30, 2023
Series: Neglected Doctrines
Note: Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Introduction to Sermon Series
This sermon is the third sermon in a sermon series that will be preached intermittently over the next few years. The sermon series is entitled “Neglected Doctrines” and emerges out of my observation that certain important biblical doctrines are often neglected or undervalued by evangelical churches in America. By God’s grace, let’s be a congregation that gives careful attention to all that the Bible teaches!
Introduction to Sermon
There is a doctrine that is underneath every other doctrine. There is a doctrine upon which every other doctrine is built. There is a doctrine that holds up every other doctrine. If this foundational doctrine is neglected, compromised, or rejected, it is only a matter of time before the entire doctrinal edifice crumbles to the ground. It is not surprising, therefore, that the enemy of our souls makes a special effort to belittle, corrupt, and destroy this theological bedrock. For if the bedrock falls apart, everything on it will fall to pieces.
I am referring to the doctrine of Scripture.
Perhaps you have heard of that great historical period known as the Protestant Reformation of the 16th century. One simple way by which many people remember the doctrinal priorities of the Protestant Reformation is to talk about the five solas of the Reformation: sola Scriptura (Scripture alone), sola gratia (grace alone), sola fide (faith alone), solus Christus (Christ alone), and soli Deo gloria (God’s glory alone). True salvation is a divine gift rooted in God’s grace alone, and sinners must receive this gracious gift by faith alone in Christ alone. This wonderful salvation along with all of its benefits and fruits, abounds to the glory of God alone. The critical question, of course, is how do you know that these things are so? Not by tradition, church councils, or papal decrees, all of which are subject to error. We know what must be known about God’s saving grace from Scripture alone. Therefore, you can see how Scripture serves a foundational role to all other doctrines, because Scripture alone is the one and only definitive source of all doctrinal knowledge.
A full-orbed sermon about the doctrine of Scripture would include a discussion of its divine authorship, and then as a result of its divine authorship we would discuss its divine authority, its trustworthiness (it is utterly reliable), and its inerrancy (it is accurate in everything it says about every matter it addresses). As important as those things are, many – perhaps even most – evangelical churches claim to believe these things about the Holy Bible. Whether they act consistently with this claim is another matter, but at least they profess faith in the uniqueness and greatness of Scripture.
However, there is another aspect to the doctrine of Scripture that is under constant assault and, from my vantage point, many evangelical congregations have succumbed to severe compromise in this area. The doctrine I am referring to is the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture. Grasping this doctrine is absolutely key to individuals, families, and congregations flourishing as God intends, and neglecting this doctrine inevitably leads to spiritual drift, theological drift, and mission drift. Ultimately, rejecting this doctrine inevitably leads away from Christ and leads you to adjust your beliefs and practices so that they correspond to the ways of the world. How do churches get to the point of flying the rainbow flag, promoting New Age practices, or holding special services to bless animals, while still claiming to hold the Bible in high regard? They get there because they are unwilling to be hemmed in by all of God’s commands.
A Description of the Sufficiency of Scripture
Before I describe the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture, let me give you an opportunity to hear how some other people have described this crucial doctrine.
The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith declares in its very first sentence, “The Holy Scriptures are the only sufficient, certain, and infallible standard of all saving knowledge, faith, and obedience.”
Pastor Dan Cole says: “In the Bible, God has given us everything important, about everything important. He has given us everything that matters about everything that matters.” 
Pastor and theologian Sam Storms writes: “The sufficiency of Scripture is the doctrine that the Bible contains every theological truth and every ethical norm that is required for living a Christ-exalting and God-glorifying life.”
Professor Matthew Barrett puts it this way: “The sufficiency of Scripture means that all things necessary for salvation and for living the Christian life in obedience to God and for his glory are given to us in the Scriptures. Not only is the Bible our supreme authority, it is the authority that provides believers with all the truth they need for reconciliation with God and for following after Christ.”
Theologian Wayne Grudem gives this definition: “The sufficiency of Scripture means that Scripture contained all the words of God he intended his people to have at each state of redemptive history, and that it now contains everything we need God to tell us for salvation, for trusting him perfectly, and for obeying him perfectly.”
I say ‘yes and amen’ to all of those formulations. Now here’s my description:
The sufficiency of Scripture means that the totality of God’s written Word is the only definitive and effective doctrinal means that God uses to rule and transform His people. Our grace-generated obedience to the totality of God’s Word is the appointed pathway for our accomplishment all that God intends to accomplish in and through our lives. Failure to render obedience to – and only to – the totality of God’s Word takes us off course and has disastrous consequences.
There are two key words in this description that are carrying a lot of weight. The first key word is ‘totality’. We do not believe that portions of God’s Word are definitive and effective means that God uses to rule and transform His people. Instead, we believe that the totality of God’s Word is the definitive and effective means that God uses to rule and transform His people, and therefore we ought to be willingly ruled by the totality of His Word. The second key word is ‘only’. We do not believe that the totality of God’s Word is but one means among several others that God uses to rule and transform His people. Instead, we believe that the totality of God’s Word is the only definitive and effective doctrinal means that God uses to rule and transform His people. So even as we render obedience to the totality of God’s Word, we must be sure to render obedience only to the totality of God’s Word.
Here is another important observation about the above description: I very intentionally said that the totality of God’s written Word is the only definitive and effective doctrinal means that God uses to rule and transform His people. In that statement, the word ‘doctrinal’ is very important. God is sovereign over everything in the universe, and He uses a variety of means to rule and transform His people. To give a simple example: most of us can probably relate to the fact that God uses suffering to transform our character. The suffering itself is a means that God uses to accomplish good things in our life. So, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is that the totality of God’s written Word is the only definitive and effective doctrinalmeans that God uses to rule and transform His people. And, as a case in point, simply ponder this question: how do we know that God uses suffering to transform our character? Because God tells us so in His Word: “we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope” (Romans 5:3).
The sufficiency of Scripture means that God’s written Word is so gloriously enough for us in terms of acquiring the knowledge of God, and acquiring the knowledge of God’s will, and acquiring the knowledge of God’s plan of salvation, and acquiring the knowledge of God’s moral design for human life, and acquiring the knowledge of God’s grand purposes for the church and for the world and for the entire universe, and not only acquiring such knowledge but also for thoughtfully participating in it – Scripture is so gloriously enough, that we must not dismiss any of it and we must not seek to improve upon it. The humble believer is glad to be hemmed in by all of God’s words and only by God’s words – and being hemmed in isn’t just an intellectual activity, but requires practical obedience. The humble believe is glad to give his heart and mind and body in obedience to all of God’s words and only to God’s words.
Laying the Foundation of Scripture’s Sufficiency
Now let’s take some time to establish that this doctrine is indeed a biblical doctrine. As always, I don’t ask you to take my word for anything. I am not an originator of doctrinal ideas. I am a servant of the Word. God’s Word stands over all of us, and my job as a teacher is to point to it and show you what it says.
One of the best books to ponder in terms of the sufficiency of Scripture is the Book of Deuteronomy. I want to get three passages from Deuteronomy in front of your eyes. Deuteronomy 4:1-8 says,
1 “And now, O Israel, listen to the statutes and the rules that I am teaching you, and do them, that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land that the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I command you. 3 Your eyes have seen what the LORD did at Baal-peor, for the LORD your God destroyed from among you all the men who followed the Baal of Peor. 4 But you who held fast to the LORD your God are all alive today. 5 See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. 6 Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the LORD our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? 8 And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law that I set before you today?” (Deuteronomy 4:1-8)
Israel was called upon to keep the Lord’s commandments (v. 2). The clear implication of verse 2 is that Israel was called to keep all of the Lord’s commandments, since they were prohibited from both adding to God’s Word and taking from God’s Word. In fact, not tampering with God’s Word is key to obedience. Notice the purposeful “that” in verse 2: “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the LORD your God” (italics added). As soon as God’s Word is corrupted through humans mixing in their own additions or causing dilution with their own subtractions and modifications, the possibility of faithful obedience is immediately hindered. If we are going to obey all of God’s commands and only God’s commands, then the body of God’s commands has to be preserved intact.
Next, notice what God’s commands are sufficient for in this passage. God’s commands, if obeyed diligently and not corrupted through man-made modifications, are sufficient for human flourishing (“that you may live”), for accomplishing God’s missional purpose for His people (“that you may live, and go in and take possession of the land”), and for impacting the nations (“Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and understanding in the sight of the peoples”). Would you like to truly live and not die? Would you like to see God’s purpose accomplished in our midst? Would you like to be savory salt in this decaying world? The answer is the same: obey all of the Lord’s commands, and only the Lord’s commands, and all will be well. As the next chapter goes on to say: “You shall be careful therefore to do as the LORD your God has commanded you. You shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the way that the LORD your God has commanded you” (Deuteronomy 5:32-33)
Now turn ahead to Deuteronomy 6. Deuteronomy 6:20-25 says,
20 “When your son asks you in time to come, ‘What is the meaning of the testimonies and the statutes and the rules that the LORD our God has commanded you?’ 21 then you shall say to your son, ‘We were Pharaoh's slaves in Egypt. And the LORD brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand. 22 And the LORD showed signs and wonders, great and grievous, against Egypt and against Pharaoh and all his household, before our eyes. 23 And he brought us out from there, that he might bring us in and give us the land that he swore to give to our fathers. 24 And the LORD commanded us to do all these statutes, to fear the LORD our God, for our good always, that he might preserve us alive, as we are this day. 25 And it will be righteousness for us, if we are careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God, as he has commanded us.’(Deuteronomy 6:17-25)
It is important to understand that the obedience to which we are called is an obedience that flows from God’s gracious salvation. The instruction is not to obey the Lord in order to get ourselves out of Egypt. The instruction is to obey the Lord because the Lord brought us out of Egypt. We are not saved by our obedience but the Lord saves us for obedience. The logic of God’s gracious salvation leading to our obedience carries over into the New Testament: “Jesus Christ… gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:13-14) True obedience is the fruit of God’s grace toward us, and this true obedience is “careful to do all this commandment before the LORD our God” (v. 25).
The third passage I want you to see in Deuteronomy is found in Deuteronomy 12. Deuteronomy 12:29-32 says,
29 “When the LORD your God cuts off before you the nations whom you go in to dispossess, and you dispossess them and dwell in their land, 30 take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ 31 You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.
32 “Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do. You shall not add to it or take from it. (Deuteronomy 12:28-32)
The first half of verse 32 means: be careful to observe everything that God commands (“Everything that I command you, you shall be careful to do”). The second half of verse 32 means: be careful to observe only what God commands (“You shall not add to it or take from it”). In verses 29-31, we are warned to resist any temptation to incorporate pagan religious practices into our lives. This warning is directly related to the sufficiency of God’s Word. If God’s Word is gloriously enough for us in order that we might know Him and walk in His ways and accomplish His purposes and please Him in all respects, then we have absolutely nothing constructive to learn from pagan religious practices. We have absolutely nothing constructive to learn from Canaanite religion, Egyptian religion, Babylonian religion, Greco-Roman mystery religions, animistic religions, Islamic religion, or anything else. It may be beneficial to understand an unbeliever’s religious system so that you can effectively speak forth God’s truth into his or her life, but that’s neither here nor there as far as the Deuteronomy 12 instruction is concerned. The issue in Deuteronomy 12 is the temptation to seek after and learn from pagan religious practices with a view toward observing those practices (“that I also may do the same”). We must trust the Lord that His Word is sufficient for our well-being and for worship that is pleasing to Him, and we must trust the Lord that flirting with pagan religious practices is only a trap that catches us in abominable practices. Therefore, when you learn about an upcoming event in our region in which a psychic “will connect audience members with the spirits around them”, you should regard that as something that is off-limits because there is no biblical warrant for participating in such an activity. Scripture is sufficient.
Moving from Deuteronomy to other parts of the Bible, Proverbs 30:5-6 is also helpful: “Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him. Do not add to his words, lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.” (Proverbs 30:5-6) Embrace all of God’s words, and only God’s words. We enjoy God’s favor and protection when we bank on His words.
Matthew 28:18-20 is also a very important passage, because it shows that our responsibility to observe all that the Lord commands us carries over into the New Testament:
“And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18-20, italics added)
In another passage, Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.” (John 14:15) When you combine Matthew 28:20 and John 14:15, the disposition of a heart that loves Jesus will be to keep all of Jesus’ commandments, which of course includes the instruction given to us through the apostles that He uniquely authorized to speak on His behalf.
It is fitting that the Bible concludes with a warning not to tamper with God’s words, specifically with His words in the Book of Revelation:
“I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues described in this book, and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city, which are described in this book.” (Revelation 22:18-19)
God’s words, from Deuteronomy and from Revelation and from every other part of Scripture, are perfect, sure, right, pure, clean, true, more desirable than much fine gold, sweeter than honey, and the pathway to great reward (see Psalm 19:7-11). Tampering with God’s words is the way to apostasy and ruin. Twisting God’s words is the way to shipwreck, as Peter tells us that ignorant and unstable people twist Paul’s letters and the other Scriptures “to their own destruction” (2 Peter 3:16). By contrast, we can escape moral corruption by cherishing God’s promises:
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3-4)
God’s words are sufficient to make you an eager and fruitful participant in God’s moral excellence.
We must also remember Paul’s words: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17) Since “[all] Scripture is breathed out by God”, we need all of it. The totality of God’s Word is sufficient to make the man of God “complete” – to furnish the man of God with everything he needs “for every good work”. The totality of Scripture is profitable and sufficient for instructing us in sound doctrine, convicting us of what is right and what is wrong, restoring us after we have gone astray, and bring us to maturity in practical righteous living.
All of God’s words, and only God’s words, are the definitive and effective doctrinal means that God uses to rule and transform His people. Therefore, we must uniquely treasure and diligently follow all of God’s words, and only God’s words, as the standard for what we believe and how we live.
This doctrine is simple and freeing
The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture is a simple and straightforward doctrine – and not only that, it is also a very freeing doctrine. It is our privilege to know God’s revealed will for our lives; it is our privilege to know God, His unchanging character, benevolent care, and saving mercies; it is our privilege to know God’s moral design for the world; it is our privilege to know the message of the gospel and the good fruit that it produces. In all this, it is our privilege to know what the boundaries are, to the end that we flourish within the framework of His good boundaries and not perish in violation of those boundaries. And yet, for all that, we are foolish creatures who often seem to go out of our way to undermine God’s authoritative and complete script for our lives.
Sinful people tamper with God’s Word
Unlike Noah, who “did all that God commanded him” (Genesis 6:22), human beings often pursue numerous schemes to refuse obedience. Even as the Bible concludes with a warning not to tamper with God’s Word, it is no surprise that humanity’s problems began with a tampering of God’s Word. The serpents very first words, “Did God actually say” (Genesis 3:1) anticipate his entire strategy: undermine God’s Word, cast doubt on God’s Word, reconfigure God’s Word, twist God’s Word, distort God’s Word, and finally assault God’s Word. Since God’s design is to rule and transform His people through His Word, Satan’s chief tactic is to attack the Word and deceive people into believing his words. Those who insist on disobeying the words of the Lord end up obeying the words of the devil. You will be mastered by words – the only question is which master’s words will master you.
In 1 Samuel 15, the Lord instructed King Saul to destroy all the Amalekites and all of their animals. Instead, King Saul destroyed most of the Amalekites and some of their animals. To be clear, most is not all, and some is not all. God’s Word was sufficient for King Saul to be a faithful king who accomplished God’s will, but since he disobeyed God’s Word, he forfeited the possibility of a long kingship under the blessing of God: “Because you have rejected the word of the LORD, he has also rejected you from being king.” (1 Samuel 15:23)
In Jeremiah 23, the Lord rails against false prophets. False prophets downplayed the seriousness of sin and assured sinful people that it would be well with them (Jeremiah 23:17). These false prophets spoke “visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the LORD” (Jeremiah 23:16). These false prophets claimed to have dreams (Jeremiah 23:25), and yet they only prophesied “the deceit of their own heart” (Jeremiah 23:26). These false prophets prophesied “lying dreams” (Jeremiah 23:32), filled the people “with vain hopes” (Jeremiah 23:16), and led Israel astray “by their lies and their recklessness” (Jeremiah 23:32). People then and people now, who want their ears tickled and sins coddled, are all to willing to accept the sweet gumdrops of vision-claiming and dream-claiming prophets who are only proclaiming the lies that fill their own hearts.
The Pharisees illustrate the problem of adding to God’s Word. They had an extensive body of oral traditions – of rules and regulations – that they treated as if they were divine commandments. They added to Scripture, and they paid more attention to their additions than to God’s actual commandments, which means that they also took away from God’s commandments. They cared more about adhering to their man-made rules than honoring their parents and showing mercy to other people. Jesus rebuked them for their disobedience:
“Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men…. You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!” (Mark 7:6-9)
Beware the temptation to place man’s ideas over God’s ideas. Beware the temptation to turn either to the right or to the left. Be resolved to walk in the Lord’s way!
Let me make two applications. The first application is simple and straightforward. The second application is an attempt to equip and strengthen your early detection spiritual radar system.
Give yourself wholehearted to Scripture
First, honor Scripture’s exceeding enough-ness by giving yourself wholeheartedly to it. Last evening Keziah inquired about how many Bibles I have – I was able to quickly account for about nine physical copies of the Bible. Our access to physical and digital copies of the Bible is unparalleled in human history. Don’t squander it. Don’t prefer self-help books and silly Youtube channels. Don’t settle for laziness. Take hold of the Book, to know it and put it into practice. If you want to be “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither” (Psalm 1:3), then delight in the Lord’s instruction and set your mind upon it both day and night (Psalm 1:2).
Be equipped to detect error
The second application is designed to equip your early detection spiritual radar system, so that you might be able to discern and avoid error. You must be able to recognize the deceits that are being hurled at you by a compromised church. The doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture has been under significant attack since Genesis 3, and the attack continues in our own time. It’s bad enough when the world attacks from the outside, but the more urgent danger is when people from inside the church say things to undermine sound doctrine.
Be aware of people’s attempts to take away from Scripture
For example, back in 2018, Andy Stanley – a pastor down in the Atlanta area and son of the late Charles Stanley – made the following statement in one of his sermons: “Church leaders unhitched the church from the worldview, value system, and regulations of the Jewish Scriptures.” Andy Stanley is excited about what he perceives to be the detachment of Christianity from the Old Testament. Now there are numerous problems with Stanley’s statement, and evaluating the statement is complicated by the fact that Stanley seems to have a negative and distorted view of what the Old Testament actually teaches. But for my purposes in this sermon, I simply want to point out that the logic of Stanley’s statement would lead to gutting 70% of the Bible. To be sure, certain regulations have indeed been set aside by the New Testament, but the worldview and value system of the Old Testament, rightly understood, are in fact the worldview and value system of the entire Bible. This is evident in the fact that the New Testament authors regularly build upon Old Testament texts and principles as they formulate instruction for the church.
Here are other deceitful tactics that are used to undermine the sufficiency of God’s Word. If someone identifies a particular instruction from God’s Word as a secondary issue, and then on that basis concludes that we can take it or leave it, he is taking away the proper force of that instruction.
If someone says, ‘No creed but Christ’, they are refusing to commit themselves to confessional agreement with what the Bible teaches about Jesus. It might sound pious to say, ‘Christ is my theology, and I have no need for doctrinal statements or creedal affirmations.’ But which Christ do you believe in? What did He accomplish? What claim does He make on my life?
If someone says, ‘Doctrine divides, love unites’, they may not want to deal with the careful contours and rough edges of what Scripture teaches. They may want to say that it all just boils down to love – love God, and love people. Those are the two greatest commandments, of course. But it is a tortuous reasoning process to detach the two greatest commandments from all of the instruction in which they are embedded, as if we are sufficient to take the two greatest commandments in isolation and put them into practice without the direction of the rest of Scripture. In fact, “all the Law and the Prophets” depend on the two greatest commandments (Matthew 22:40), so keep the whole thing together. In fact, we demonstrate our love for the Lord by keeping His commandments (John 14:15). In fact, loving God and obeying His commandments is essential to loving people (1 John 5:2). We must not turn away from the necessity of sound doctrine. As R. C. Sproul put it: “Of course doctrine divides, but it also unites. It unites the ones who love God's truth and are willing to worship Him according to that truth.”
If someone says, ‘People are more important than doctrine; relationships with other people are more important than doctrine; and unity with other professing Christians is more important than doctrine,’ then you should get out of Dodge fast. Keep in mind that when I say ‘doctrine’, I’m not talking about man-made doctrine, I’m not talking about doctrinal minutiae, and I’m not talking about a 1200-page systematic theology textbook. When I say ‘doctrine’, I simply mean ‘what Scripture teaches’. There are way too many people in churches without a backbone, and when the pressure ramps up and they have to choose between remaining faithful to what Scripture teaches or supporting a loved one in his or her sin, they abandon Scripture in preference for their loved one. We can legitimately wrestle with how to demonstrate genuine love to someone who is pursuing a sinful lifestyle, but the principle of esteeming the worth and words of God more highly than the worth and words of human beings should be a simple and straightforward one for true Christians. We must live in the fear of God, not in the fear of men. If I’m in a situation where I have to choose between fidelity to God’s Word and loyalty to you, or between fidelity to God’s Word and loyalty to my son or daughter, or between fidelity to God’s Word and loyalty to a long-time friend, I am bound as a disciple of Jesus Christ to choose fidelity to God’s Word every time (e.g., Matthew 10:34-39, Mark 8:34-38). After that passage in Deuteronomy 12 that tells us to not adopt pagan religious practices and tells us not to tamper with God’s Word but to carefully obey all of it, the next chapter immediately tells us that if a false prophet arises and encourages us to “go after other gods” (Deuteronomy 13:2), or if a family member or dear friend encourages us to “go and serve other gods” (Deuteronomy 13:6), or if a neighboring city has been drawn away to “serve other gods” (Deuteronomy 13:13), then in each case we must honor the Lord by opposing that false prophet and opposing that family member or dear friend and opposing that neighboring city, and bringing all of them under the Lord’s discipline (Deuteronomy 13:1-18). God’s Word is more important than people, more important than relationships, and more important than superficial unity. Only when we put God’s Word first can we love people well. Only when we put God’s Word first can we build healthy relationships. Only when we put God’s Word can we cultivate the right kind of unity that is shaped by the Scriptures, which ultimately is the only kind of unity that matters.
All these are common deceits thrown at us in order to get us to take away from the fullness and force of the Scriptures. But there are also common deceits thrown at us in order to get us to add to the Scriptures.
Beware of people’s attempts to add to the Scripture
For starters, beware the overly personalized Bible interpretation trap: what does this passage mean to you? That’s the wrong question. The right question is: what does this passage mean? The passage means what it meant before you were born, and it will still mean what it meant after you are dead. You need to know what the passage means. Once you have discerned the meaning, then you can ask how the meaning applies to you and your circumstances.
Also beware the ‘God told me’ trap. Apparently there are a lot of Christian people who somehow get around to thinking that ‘God told me this’ or ‘God told me that’. Don’t put words in God’s mouth. “Thus says the Lord”, and “God said”, and “Jesus said”, and “the Holy Spirit said” are biblical ways of describing Scriptural revelation. Don’t add to the number of divinely breathed out words by casually applying these lofty terms to your own impressions. To be honest, I believe that the Holy Spirit does indeed impress things upon us, or illuminate our understanding in the light of Scripture, and impel us to certain actions. But out of reverence for the Word, let’s not claim too much for our experiences, which are subject to error. The Holy Spirit’s presence in our lives will be demonstrated by wise living and good fruit, not by claiming that He has given us specific words from the mouth of God.
Finally, if someone comes along and says, ‘God is free to act in ways that are contrary to our understanding of His Word’ or ‘We don’t worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Bible – we worship the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit’, you’d really better fasten your seatbelt and make sure you turn neither to the right nor to the left. I didn’t think up these statements on my own, but have come across such statements. To be clear, both of the statements are technically true and could be made by someone who cherishes the sufficiency of Scripture. But someone who doesn’t want to operate within biblical boundaries could use such statements as an excuse for their unruliness.
Regarding the first statement, if our understanding of the perfect Word is faulty, then of course God is free (and indeed would be expected) to act in ways that are contrary to our faulty understanding. However, remember that God has given us His Word so that we would understand it, so that we might walk closely with Him and be able to discern and refute error (e.g., 1 John 4:1-6, Revelation 2:2). So as we seek and grow in a right understanding of God’s Word, we should indeed expect that God will not act in ways that are contrary to our right understanding of His Word. We humbly acknowledge that our understanding of God’s Word isn’t perfect, but we also embrace the clarity of God’s Word and utilize it to evaluate other people’s beliefs and practices.
Regarding the second statement, we certainly affirm that the Holy Spirit – not the Holy Bible – is the third member of the Trinity. And yet, we must remember that in the Scriptures (including many of the Scriptures we have read today) it is evident that the Lord wants us to be tethered to His words. Further, the Holy Spirit had a special role in authoring the Scriptures (2 Peter 1:21). Surely the Holy Spirit is pleased when we give careful attention to the totality of God’s Word!
So yes, I recognize that these two statements, rightly understood, are true. My concern, however, is that statements like these can easily be made by people who want to detach the Christian life from Scriptural boundaries, and who don’t want to be held accountable for their dreams, visions, and prophecies that lack biblical support. Once you go down this path, you can end up in bad places. For example, I recently read a “Christian” book in which the author claims that God has directed her to lead other people into personal visits to heaven – a practice for which there is no biblical warrant. And yet, people will defend this practice by saying such things as ‘Don’t put God in a box’ or ‘God is doing a new thing!’ Beware of pious sounding statements that might even ring true and yet they are being used in order to justify a departure from biblical boundaries.
The need of the hour
When the Lord appointed Joshua to serve as the general who would bring Israel into the promised land, the Lord made it clear that His Word was sufficient to ensure success:
“Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good success wherever you go. This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.” (Joshua 1:6-8)
Joshua had a specific task, of course, but the general principle holds constant throughout the Scriptures: God’s Word is exceedingly enough to ensure whatever measure of fruitfulness that God intends to accomplish through His people. The need of the hour is for men and women, husbands and wives, fathers and mothers, preachers and elders, deacons and ministry leaders, missionaries and church planters, teachers and counselors, to take their stand upon the Lord’s Word and to be convinced in their heart that the divine Word is abundantly able to accomplish God’s purpose, and therefore their confidence is in the Scriptures rather than in man-made ideas. That’s the vision of a people resting in the sufficiency of Scripture.
 The 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith in Modern English. Cape Coral: Founders Press, 2017: p. 11.
 Quoted in Rob Rienow, Reclaiming the Sufficiency of Scripture. Nashville: Randall House: p. 27.
 Sam Storms, Understanding Spiritual Gifts: A Comprehensive Guide. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Reflective, 2020: p. 102.
 Quoted in Sam Storms, Understanding Spiritual Gifts: A Comprehensive Guide. Grand Rapids: Zondervan Reflective, 2020: p. 102.
 Wayne Grudem, Bible Doctrine: Essential Teachings of the Christian Faith (Second Edition). Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academic, 2022: p. 63.
 From Andy Stanley’s sermon entitled “Aftermath, Part 3: Not Difficult”.
 I found this quote on the goodreads dot com website, where the quotation was attributed to R. C. Sproul and his book, Five Things Every Christian Needs to Grow.
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