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Believing the Bible vs. Applying the Bible: Excuses or Obedience?


"All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…" (2 Timothy 3:16).

Evangelicals stand on the full inspiration of the Word of God. Sadly, we are not as firm when it comes to applying the Word. We believe the Bible from cover to cover in debate, but when we look inside the covers on our own, we have problems. The texts can be history, prophecy, promises, commands, or statements of fact. Our problems are not problems of understanding; they are problems of unbelief. Our solutions are:

• Stay ignorant.
• Run lightly over the text.
• Do much explaining of what the text “really” means.

A few examples of statement-of-fact passages are Colossians 3:9, Romans 1:6, Galatians 2:20, Romans 8:9. The chapters these verses are in make the truths much clearer.

Here are some clear commands Christians are hesitant to obey:

1. Church discipline: 1 Corinthians 5, especially verses 9-13.

"I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. 'Expel the wicked person from among you.'”

2. Relationships with evil people and enemies: Matthew 5:39-45.

"But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous."

3. Qualifications for elders and deacons: 1 Timothy 3:1-13, Titus 1:6-9, and 1 Peter 5:1-4.

"Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap. In the same way, deacons are to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons. In the same way, the women are to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything. A deacon must be faithful to his wife and must manage his children and his household well. Those who have served well gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus" (1 Timothy 3:1-13).

"An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believe and are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it" (Titus 1:6-9).

"To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away" (1 Peter 5:1-4).

4. Complaining and arguing: Philippians 2:14. "Do everything without grumbling or arguing."

5. Being thankful: 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18. "Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus."

6. Hospitality: Luke 14:12-14. "Then Jesus said to his host, 'When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.'”

We have many excuses for why we do not obey texts like these. One option we do not often take is confessing our disobedience and unbelief and obeying them.

You might wonder how I am doing in these areas. It is a good question. At one time I tried to obey by willpower and effort. I was not successful. In recent years, I have learned to obey by grace. When I do not obey, I acknowledge it as sin and get forgiven by grace. I put in more time being an example of obedience than I do teaching it. It is a more effective way of instructing.

"For this reason I am sending to you Timothy, my son whom I love, who is faithful in the Lord. He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church" (1 Corinthians 4:17).

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