“My faith is in a person, not a book.”
In WWII soldiers were issued the New Testament for Servicemen. It was a copy of the NT with a metal cover. Given the nature of combat, there were indeed times when the literal book saved a soldier by stopping a bullet. This hard copy edition of God’s Word soon took on a mythical status. It was God’s book that could actually stop bullets! Certainly, the effectiveness of this protection was not simply a matter of a metal cover with compacted pages. The times in which this book literally spared a person’s life was a matter of God’s providence.
We hear the quote above often today. We who hold to the clear words of the Bible as they are presented in their given context are often scoffed at as if we believe it’s the literal pages which save us. It reminded me of a bumper sticker I saw this past week that displayed a similar thought, “It’s not WHAT that matters, it’s WHO”. True, indeed. We would never want to emphasize the literal book itself at the expense of Who the book is about. Religion in name only is not true religion. But, what do we do when the WHO (Jesus) tells us that true faith is all about the WHAT (His Word)?
“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
Giving the impression or making people feel that the WHAT of our Christian faith isn’t that important can quickly become idolatry. If we don’t heed what Jesus teaches or what He stands for, then we will simply turn Him into what we want Him to be. So is the path that all who ignore the clear words of Scripture eventually walk. Just as the New Testament for Servicemen displayed God’s protection and providence, at times; so also the words of Scripture today display God’s grace and forgiveness. Both the WHO and the WHAT matter, and both are essential to faith and salvation.
John 8:31-32 is certainly straightforward enough, but earlier in the same Gospel, the Holy Spirit was even more direct. At the very beginning He revealed that the WHO is really the WHAT.
“In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.” (John 1:1,14)
Simply put, you cannot have the WHO without the WHAT. Jesus is called the Word precisely because the written and spoken Word is necessary to understanding and believing who He is. To follow the Scriptures is to follow Jesus and to follow Jesus is to follow the Scriptures. This applies to the continuance of faith just as much as it applies to its beginning. We have an example of this from a group of Christians who struggled with the same thing,
“This only I want to learn from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now being made perfect by the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3)
Paul admonished the Galatians because they were drifting from that which had first brought them to faith. They began in the Spirit by “the hearing of faith.” Clearly, at the very beginning, faith was indeed about a Book, and the WHAT mattered greatly. But, Paul called them “foolish” because they had drifted from this foundation. In a very modern fashion the Galatians began to ignore the teachings of God’s Word. They probably figured they knew enough about the Bible and didn’t really need to use it anymore. Paul’s entire point was that the Bible matters vitally to faith, at any point in the Christian’s life.
We do well to remember this truth as we approach another anniversary of the Reformation. God used this event to bring His Word (the Book, the WHAT) back into peoples’ lives. Today, as a result, we have greater access to the Bible than ever before. But, the same lie of Satan remains; namely, that we shouldn’t get so caught up in the words. Breadth of access does not guarantee faithfulness. Instead, it can very quickly lead to shallow understanding, belief, and faith. Let our boast be in both the WHO (Jesus) of our faith and in the WHAT (His Word), because the two cannot be separated.