How Does God Guide Us? Through Scripture (Part 3)


Part 8 of series:
How Does God Guide Us?

In my last two posts I’ve been arguing that God guides us through Scripture. For the most part, I’m referring to the way the Bible provides basic truths by which to order one’s life. For example, in many passages Scripture tells us to forgive people, and therefore when we have been wronged by someone, we can know that it’s good to forgive that person.

Unfortunately, people can indulge in silly and self-serving interpretations of biblical texts, such as one I heard from a man teaching on Matthew 6:33: “Seek first [God's] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt 6:33, NIV). “Do you want an expensive car? A large home? A financially prosperous life?” he asked, “Jesus promises to give you ‘all these things’!” Of course he took “all these things” completely out of context, turning Jesus’ promise of basic necessities into a guarantee of opulent living.

It seems so obvious that this man’s values were far too worldly, yet we all read the Bible from our own worldly perspectives to one extent or another. No Christian is immune from this disease, including me and you. This means that we will tend to mold both the meaning of Scripture and the guidance of the Spirit to fit our preconceived expectations. You can see this in all sorts of situations. Republicans tend to find their political views upheld in Scripture, while Democrats find their convictions in the Bible. The same is true for Libertarians, Greens, and those who don’t vote for religious reasons. People who oppose the ordination of women see Scripture as lined up on their side, while those who support it believe that their view is biblical. And so it goes.

If you need a good rule of thumb, here's a big one. Photo courtesy of http://www.flickr.com/photos/chriswaits/

One basic rule of thumb to remember is this: If your reading of the Bible completely confirms your pre-existing beliefs, you may well have projected those beliefs into Scripture. On the contrary, if you find that Scripture is challenging your assumptions and commitments, then you may well be in touch with its genuine meaning.

If we seek to discern God’s guidance correctly, our very way of seeing and thinking needs to be changed, and Scripture plays a leading role in this process. This is exactly what Paul urges upon us in Romans 12:

Don’t be conformed to this world, but keep on being transformed through the renewing of your minds, so that you might discern what the will of God is, that which is good and pleasing and complete (Rom 12:2; my translation).

As our minds are made new through the work of the Spirit, we will be better equipped to determine God’s will for our lives. Notice that this transformation is an ongoing process, something Paul accentuates with his choice of Greek verb form: “keep on being transformed.” Such transformation begins in conversion and continues throughout our lives. The Bible is one of the chief tools employed by the Spirit in this work of mental remodeling. The more we internalize God’s Word, the more we will be able to determine God’s will because our powers of discernment will be formed and energized by the Holy Spirit.

By the combination of Word and Spirit God guides us. But too often Protestant evangelicals like me envision this guidance individualistically. By so doing, we misunderstand God’s intentions for us and often misconstrue his guidance for our lives. I’ll explain more of what I mean in my next post.

  • Evan

    Mark,

    Your “rule of thumb” is one of those that provokes both instant affirmation and instant disagreement, so let me toss both out there and have you comment.

    On the one hand, I go back to the cartoon of Moses, holding the tablets of stone, speaking to Israel: “I have good news and bad news. The good news is that I got Him down to just ten. The bad news is that adultery is still in there.” There is a conflict between our flesh and its sinful nature and what God reveals is best for us. Wretched man that he was, Paul acutely sensed this. Perhaps the most striking example is Jesus’ insistence that the Son of Man would die on a cross, which shocked His disciples. Jesus’ teachings stood a lot of human nature, and indeed, a lot of the then-current religious teaching, on their collective ear.

    On the other hand, what got CS Lewis on the road to salvation was his realization that we all have an onboard, pre-programmed sense of Right and Wrong that urges us to the “good” and makes us feel remorse at doing “wrong.” Lewis reasoned that without an eternal, fixed standard of Right and Wrong, morality is ultimately arbitrary (as Nietzsche insists) but that EVERYONE seemed to have the same moral standard from their earliest days as part of their make-up, and he asserts this is a powerful evidence of the existence of God. So it is not at all necessarily going to turn out that Scripture will challenge pre-existing beliefs in a great many cases.

    Perhaps you could elaborate a bit more on this.

    Evan

  • Anonymous

    Evan: Good thoughts. To the extent that a culture and family of origin are shaped by biblical truth, to that extent one might find a natural inclination to interpret Scripture rightly. Plus, those who have grown to maturity in Christ, in part through study of Scripture, will have more trustworthy intuitions.


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