what is god’s word, and why does it matter

What is God’s Word, and Why Does it Matter?

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Col. 3:16).

Notice that God’s communication with us, which is normally referred to as the Word of God, is described here as the Word of Christ. That phrase is only used here and in one other place in the New Testament, but it reminds us of a very important truth.

The whole Bible is one story and it is all about Jesus Christ. Jesus said to the Pharisees, “The Scriptures…  bear witness about me” (Jn. 5:39). On the road to Emmaus, Jesus took two confused disciples through the Old Testament scriptures, showing them “in all the Scriptures, the things concerning Himself” (Luke 24:27).

Jesus Christ is the central figure in the whole Bible, in both the Old and the New Testaments. In the Old Testament, He is hidden and anticipated. In the New Testament, He is revealed and enjoyed.

The whole point of the Bible is that we should come to know and enjoy and love and serve and believe in and live for Jesus Christ the Son of God, who is the Savior, the Lord of all.

This is the great theme of Colossians: In Him, all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell (1:19). In Him, God has triumphed over all the dark powers (2:15). In Him, believers are rooted and built up and established in the faith (2:7).

The word of Christ, the Bible, is God speaking to us about His Son, or God speaking to us through His Son.

New Thinking about the Bible

The Christian church has been in agreement for nearly 2,000 years that the Bible is the Word of God, one that speaks primarily about his Son, Jesus Christ. I say nearly 2,000 years, because about a hundred years ago some people introduced a new and very different view of the Bible.

Charles Darwin grasped the minds and hearts of many people with his theory of evolution, suggesting that the world could be explained entirely by natural causes and processes. It’s fascinating to follow the story of how in the years that followed, some leaders in the church began to recast their view of the Bible in the light of evolutionary theory.

The church had always held the conviction that the Bible was God’s Word to us. The church believed that God exists, that God has made Himself known, and that the Bible tells us what God has said and what He has done. The Bible is essentially a story about God: God’s world and God’s Word to mankind.

But the new thinking turned all of that on its head. You can imagine how some began to say, “We’ve been told that the story is all about God. What if the story is really about us?”

If this were true, then the Bible would be the evolving story of human thinking about what God might be like. And the Bible would not be God’s words to us, but the record of our words about God. If you believe this, then it is reasonable to conclude that it began very crude, and over time, our view of God has become more sophisticated.

These are two very different views of the Bible. In the one, the Bible is God’s Word to us. In the other, the Bible is our word about God.

What you believe about the Bible will shape how you use it and respond to it.

If you believe that the Bible is a human word about God, you may want to read it for inspiration, but when it does not fit well with your view of life or of the world, you will feel free to disagree and choose your own path.

If the Bible is merely a collection of human words about God, it will be natural for you to say, “That was then, but this is now.”

Why the Word Matters: Three Biblical Convictions

Why is this important? What difference does it make? Why should anyone care whether the Bible is our speaking about God or God speaking to us? It makes all the difference in the world:  Here’s why:

1. If God has not spoken, His promises are replaced by our wishes.

Think about some of the great promises of Scripture:

I will never leave you nor forsake you (Heb. 13:5).

Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).

My God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory (Phil. 4:19).

Who said these things? If these words came from the mouth of God, if God said them, if they are indeed the Word of God to us, then they are promises on which we can depend. You can take them to the bank. You can build on them in every circumstance of your life.

But if these are human words about God, then they are not promises on which we can depend but merely wishes arising from the heart of Paul or from Isaiah, that we might also cherish.

If you believe that the Bible is our word about God rather than God’s word to us, you undermine the foundation of hope and replace God’s promises to us with our wishes about God.

2. If God has not spoken, His truth is replaced by our opinion.

The Bible says that God is gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in love. These words are repeated no less than seven times in the Old Testament (Ex. 34:6, Neh. 9:7, Psa. 86:15, Psa. 103:8, Psa. 145:8, Joel 2:13, Jonah 4:2).

But whose words are these? If God spoke these words to Moses and the prophets, we can be sure that he is indeed gracious, merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in love, because He is the one who said it. He has disclosed this Himself.

But if these words arose from the thoughts of Moses, David, Nehemiah, or Jonah, then we do not have truth that we can count on for our lives today. All we have is opinion that arose from the experience of these particular men, and it may or may not prove true for us today.

When you buy into evolutionary theory, conversations in small groups around the Word of God go something like this… Moses believed that God is gracious and merciful, but others have a different experience.  What about you? What do you think God is like? How do you see him?

When the Word of God to us is viewed as our word about God, His truth gets replaced by our opinion—and that undermines the foundations of our faith.

3. If God has not spoken, His welcome is replaced by our journey.

The Bible is full of invitations:

Incline your ear and come to me. Hear that your soul may live; I will make with you an everlasting covenant (Isa. 55:3).

Draw near to God and he will draw near to you (Jas. 4:8).

Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow (Isa. 1:18).

Who said these things? If God said them (to and through the prophet Isaiah and the apostle James), then you can be certain that God is reaching out to us in love. That means we can come to Him with confidence. We can enjoy a true and authentic relationship with God because He has invited us to come to Him.

If these words were simply reflections of the thoughts or experience of James and Isaiah, they are only pointers on a journey. They tell us what others have found, but they offer no assurance that we will find the same.

If the Bible is viewed as our words about God rather than God’s word to us, you may have people reaching out and seeking after God, but very, very little finding. Why? Because what is lost is God reaching out in love through his Son, and what you have left is people seeking.

What’s at stake? If the Bible is our word about God rather than God’s word to us, then God’s welcome is replaced by our journey, and we lose the assurance of His love.

Do you see how much this matters? The basis of faith, hope, and love all rest on God having spoken—giving us promises, telling us who He is, inviting us into a relationship with Himself, and telling is how that is possible through His Son Jesus Christ.

When I think about all this, it makes me step back and breathe a big sigh of relief. Thank God for the Word of Christ!

Colin Smith is senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church, a multi-campus church located in the northwest suburbs of Chicago, and president of Unlocking the...

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