Skip Heitzig - The Advantage of Having the Bible
Could you turn in your Bibles, please, this morning to the Great Book of Romans Chapter 3. I want to talk today about the advantage of having the Bible. I bet most of you have heard of or know about the story The Mutiny on the Bounty, yes? You may not know the back story. You might not know how the Bible played a key role in that story.
So there was a ship that sailed from England called the bounty, the HMS Bounty in 1789. The crew was commissioned by the British government to make the islands of the South Pacific more habitable, bringing fruit trees, food producing plants, organize that life on those islands. So it took 10 months to go from England to their destination.
Then they lived there for six months. So they were 16 months in and it was time for them to leave. So get the picture, you're from England, you are now in surf and palm trees, and perfect weather. And your captain says, time to go back. And so they didn't want to go back. They loved the climate. They loved the local girls. So there was mutiny on the Bounty. They sent their captain back, tied him up, put him on the ship, along with a few loyal sailors, and let the ship drift out to sea. They stayed on the island. An expedition was then sent from England to recover the captain and loyal crew members, and find the perpetrators and bring them to justice.
In the meantime, nine of those sailors who stayed behind went to another island, formed a colony. That became a debauched, immoral lifestyle. They learned how to distill whiskey. They fell to various diseases. They murdered each other. And in that colony, every single one of those men died, except for one. And that one man was named Alexander Smith. And he was one day going through the belongings of one of the sailors who had died. He is now all alone on this island with some of the women and children who are left behind. And he finds, in digging through the belongings of that soldier, a Bible.
He had never really read a Bible. This was all new to him. So on that island with those women and children, he began to read the Bible. As he began to read the Bible, he began to believe the Bible. And as he began to believe the Bible, he then began to apply the Bible. And after applying the Bible, he thought I want to teach this to others. So he did. He had daily classes where the children and women were brought in and he taught them the scriptures. Fast forward 20 years, it took 20 years for the British government to catch up with those who were living on that island. And when they came, they were astonished. What they found essentially on that island was a miniature utopia. It was an island of people living in harmony, and prosperity, and peace. There was no crime. There was no disease. There was no immorality. There was no illiteracy.
And all of it was accomplished by reading, believing, and applying scripture. It goes to show you that the Bible doesn't just change a life, it changes a lifestyle. However, not everybody exposed to the truth lives by the truth. In fact, some people hear the truth and they twist it. Mark Twain said having spent considerable time with good people, I can understand why Jesus liked to be with tax collectors and sinners. Paul has good people in mind when he writes this section of the book of Romans.
Let me remind you that there is a theme of the book. And the theme is the gospel. He introduces it in Chapter 1. Paul is in the book going to explain to his readers the gospel, the good news. And essentially, it is how an unrighteous human can become a righteous human. How somebody not right with God can be made right with God. That's the gospel. And Paul breaks it up into four sections in the book.
The first section is all about the wrath of God. That's Chapter 1 Verse 1 to Chapter 3 Verse 20. The second section is all about the grace of God, the unmerited favor of God. That's Chapter 3 Verse 21, all the way to the end of Chapter 8. The third section is the plan of God. That's Romans 8, or 9, 10, and 11. And then the last section, the fourth section is the will of God. Those are the four components that form the book of Romans.
What Paul does is take the components of the gospel, takes them all apart, examines each part, and then he reassembles it. We are still in Section 1. And the theme of Section 1 was introduced to us back in Chapter 1 verse 18, where Paul wrote this, for the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who hold the truth and unrighteousness.
Paul then goes on in Chapter 1 and 2 to pronounce judgment on the raunchy crowd and the religious crap in Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. Essentially, Paul says God pronounces judgment on every one so that he can save anyone. Because once you realize you're down at the bottom, there's only one way to look, and that's up. So whether you're a raunchy person, Chapter 1, or a religious person, Chapter 2, you're left at the bottom facing God's judgment, you go, I need Him. I need help. I need His hope.
Now, Paul also knows that what he just said is not going to sit well with everybody. That he can anticipate some objection to this. Do you remember when you went to your religious family and told him that you accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? Some of you remember that? They weren't too excited about that. I went to my religious mother and father and told them that I now was following Jesus personally. I wasn't just a religious kid anymore. It meant more to me than that. I'm following Jesus as Lord and Savior. And I expected them to go, ya. They did not. They did this, oh, really? They were not elated. They were insulted.
So Paul anticipates a reaction, because he has just said things like this, you are inexcusable. Oh, man. He said things like, there is no partiality with God. He said things like unless your circumcision is inward and not just outward, if you're a Jew outwardly, but not inwardly, it's of no effect. That would raise some eyebrows. So he continues in Chapter 3 Verse 1. And before we read, I want to warn you, this is not an easy section to work through. By the time we're done reading, in fact, you might even say something like, what did he just say? I'll show you why.
Romans Chapter 3 Verse 1, what advantage then has the Jew? Or what is the prophet of circumcision? Much in every way. Chiefly because to them we're committed the oracles of God. For what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not. Indeed, let God be true and every man a liar, as it is written that you may be justified in your words and may overcome when you are judged. But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust who inflicts wrath? I speak as a man.
Certainly not. For then how will God judge of the world? For if the truth of God is increased through my lie to His glory, why am I also still being judged as a sinner? And why not say, let us do evil that good may come? As we are slanderous reported and as some affirm that we say. Their condemnation is just. Now when I read sections like this, and at first, I go, what was that? Or what am I reading? I am comforted by something Peter said about Paul. Peter, another apostle, second Peter Chapter 3 said our beloved brother Paul wrote to you with the wisdom God gave him speaking of the things in all of his letters some of his comments are hard to understand. I love that verse.
And here's why, you have one apostle saying it's hard to understand that other apostle. And if an apostle found it hard to understand another apostle, the little old skip coupled, you know, 20 centuries later, I feel better. So what I want to do is narrow my remarks down to one particular advantage that Paul highlights here, that this religious group, the Jewish people he is referring to had, the most important one, and that is the scripture. So we want to look at four levels of what we just read, the arguments, the answers, the advantages, and the admonition. Let's begin with the Arguments of the Skeptics. And I'll explain how this is put together as we go through. Let's look at some of these questions we just read.
Number 1, Verse 1, what advantage has the Jew? Well, what is the prophet of circumcision? Verse 3, what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Verse 5, if our own righteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say? Is God unjust, who inflicts wrath? Paul is supposing that some are going to ask these questions. In effect, Paul if what you say is true, then God's covenant is no good. Then God is not faithful. And God is unfair to judge anybody.
Paul, if you're going to attack God's chosen people, you are in effect attacking the integrity of the God who chose those people. So the bottom line is if our Jewish heritage doesn't make us right with God, what's the advantage of being Jewish? Now stop right there, hold that thought, hang on to that thought. What advantage then has the Jew?
Anybody who has studied the history of Judaism might ask that question, because of all the peoples who have ever lived, talk about a hard history. They have seen slavery, deportation, persecution, dispersion, intimidation, mass genocide. They were slaves 400 years in Egypt. They wandered 40 years to get into their land. Once they got into their land, they fought war after war after war.
Ever since they've been in that land, everybody else in that neighborhood wants them out of the land. They had a civil war that split the nation. The northern kingdom taken captive by Syria. The southern kingdom exiled by Babylon. That's not even to mention the Holocaust of World War II. 6 million Jews killed. That's not even to mention the Spanish Inquisition in Europe and in our own state years ago. That's not even mentioning the anti-Semitism that has been around for generations.
What possible advantage does a Jew have? It reminds me of that movie Fiddler on the Roof, and the patriarch Tavye walking one day despondent because of all the hardship. And he looked up to heaven he goes, I know, I know we're your chosen people. But once in a while, couldn't you choose somebody else?
If being God's chosen people means this, that's a tough life. What advantage, then, has the Jew? Now, what's the reality? The reality is they were God's chosen people. They knew it. Paul knew it. Scripture affirmed it.
Deuteronomy 14, you are a holy people to the Lord your God. The Lord has chosen you. To be a people for himself, a special treasure above all peoples who are on the face of the earth. Isaiah 43, my people, my chosen, this people I have formed for myself to declare my praise. It's great to be called God's chosen.
The problem is they concluded that being Jewish alone made them acceptable to God. Paul is already overturned the argument. Paul has already written in Chapter 2 that physical descendants of Abraham doesn't make them spiritual descendants of Abraham. In effect, he has already said, if God hasn't put a mark on your hearts, the mark you have on your flesh is worthless. So now he anticipates the argument. And the argument is this, Paul you are undermining the very foundations of our faith. To which he gives an answer.
After the arguments of the skeptics, there's the answers of this scholar. After asking the question in Verse 1, what advantage has the Jew or what profit is there in circumcision, Verse 2 much in every way. Down Verse 4. After they said, will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect, he says certainly not. Or we would say no way, Jose. Or not in 1,000 years.
Indeed, let God be true and every man a liar. Verse 5, what if our unrighteous demonstrates the righteousness of God. You got a really bad person next to a perfect God. It just shows him off. What shall we say, is God unjust who inflicts wrath? Certainly not. Verse 6, for then how will God judge the world?
Now, let me explain. Paul writes this chapter like a scholar would write. He is using a particular method called the diatribe. Now, I know the word diatribe today connotes something bad, like an attack on somebody. But diatribe was an ancient method of teaching, a Socratic method. Socrates used it. Other philosophers used it.
It was a literary tool where the writer or speaker asked rhetorical questions and then answered the questions to lead people who were listening from error into truth, as if a critic were there. It's an imaginary conversation that is set up. That's what Paul is doing. Now, the questions asked and answered are probably questions Paul heard before. Whenever he traveled to different cities, he always went into the synagogue first, right?
He was preaching to the Jew first. Then also to the Greeks. So he'd go into the synagogues and he'd share Christ. And he probably heard accusation and questions and attacks for years. And perhaps these are they. Or these are questions Paul himself once had.
He was a Jewish rabbi before he was Paul the Apostle. He struggled and wrestled with truth from the Old Testament. And he probably wrestled through this and now he brings light to these questions. Either way, Paul is anticipating objections from his Jewish audience because he has just demolished the false security that the Jews had in their external religion.
I love his answer, what's the advantage? Much in every way. You see, Paul never said that Jewish heritage is not important. He just said Jewish heritage is not enough. Oh, it's good. It has advantages. It gives you an edge. But that by itself is not enough. Paul was a Jew. Paul attended the temple. Whenever he went to Jerusalem, he worshipped in the temple. He was found in the temple.
In Acts Chapter 16, Paul had Timothy circumcised as a concession to the Jewish people in Galicia. In Acts 21, Paul even paid hard cold cash for the purification rite of four men in the temple doing their nazarite vow. All of that is Jewish. Paul subscribed to that.
So anticipating the question, what's the advantage, Paul says much in every way. You have many advantages. But I want to zero in on the one he zeroed in on. Before we do that, I want to say this if you were raised in a Christian home, you have advantages that nobody else has. And if you were raised in a Christian home and that's all you know, you think, I was raised in a Christian home. I was even homeschooled. You know, and you even depreciate some of that. I've always believed in God.
But then you hear other people's testimonies and you're kind of like wowed by them. The guy who says I was a raging drug addict, alcoholic, murderer. Then God saved me. Wow, that's a dramatic testimony. I need one of those things. How do I get one? I better go out and do something bad.
Listen, if your testimony is that I was raised in a Christian home, given a framework of truth, given a spiritual stability, and I never strayed from that, I believed at five years old, and I still follow Jesus today, you have the best testimony in church. Because your testimony is the keeping power of God. God can keep a person through a lifetime. You have advantages.
So after the arguments and the answers, let's consider the advantage of the scriptures. After Paul says much in every way, notice the next sentence, chiefly, because to them we're committed the oracles of God. I want to camp on that for a moment. Chiefly, because to them we're committed the oracles of God.
My version says chiefly. Some of you, if you have a New International version, or maybe a New Living Translation that says first of all. First of all. Now whenever somebody says first of all, you expect a list of some kind to follow. If a guy says now first of all, he'll say something. And then you expect him to say second, third, fourth. You expect a list. So he says first of all, and that's all he talks about.
He doesn't give a list here. But he does give a list. He finishes the list, but not until Chapter 9. So hold this thought, it's going to be a while before we get to Chapter 9. Chapter 9, he gives a whole list of advantages. Here, he gives one.
In the whole list of advantages, he gives this one. So let me just read it to you. This is Romans 9, beginning in Verse 1. I tell the truth in Christ. I'm not lying. My conscience bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit. That I have a great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I wish that I myself were a curse from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh, who are Israelites, the Jewish people.
Now, here's the list. To whom pertain the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the service of God, and the promises of whom are the fathers, and from whom according to the flesh, Christ came, who is over all. Eternally blessed God. Amen.
He gives eight advantages. Here he says, chiefly. Here he says, first of all. The Greek word is proton. Don't think of something in a nucleus. Proton is a word that means primarily, most importantly, first in rank. What Paul is saying is this, the most important advantage you have as Jewish people is this. And what is that advantage? He says to them we're committed to what? Oracles of God.
You go, what are oracles? The Greek were logia. Lagos means word or words. Words of God, all the words, all the promises, all the Old Testament scripture, that's the oracles of God. This is what he says gives you the edge, gives you the advantage over anybody else. God chose you. You are God's chosen people, in that God revealed himself to the world through you. God spoke to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and Joseph, and Moses, and Isaiah, and Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and Daniel, and Josiah, and Joel, and Amos, Zephaniah, Zachariah, Malachi, and all the rest. All of them were Jewish people that God spoke to.
So Paul is stressing this one advantage over all the others, because this is the basis for all the others. Its first. Its primary. Something else just in passing, you'll notice the Paul answers his first question, but not his second. His first question, what advantage has the Jew? He answers that. Second question, what profit has earned circumcision? Doesn't answer it. Didn't touch on that ritual, because he has already done so.
Now he is zeroing in on the advantage that they have, and that is they have the scripture. Did you know that's also our advantage, our chief advantage? One of our primary, most important advantages is that we have the scriptures.
You see when we gave our lives to Christ, that's not the end of it. It's not like you come to Jesus and then he leaves you to drift in a sea of humans speculation about the meaning of life. No, he gives you oracles, man. He gives you words. He tells you what to do in your marriage. How to get along with people. How to forgive others. How to humble yourself. What that will do.
He gives you a guide, the Holy Spirit, as well as the book, the word, the oracles. Now I have no problem with God writing a book. Some people do. How can God write a book?
Well, I kind of look at it this way, if God has the power, let's call it technology to create the world by speaking a word and the world exists, then God has the technology to get a book written. Heck, I got a book written. I think God can do it. I think God can manage to preserve his word through different people, through time and space, so that what we have of the result is the very oracles of God. And by the way, notice they're called not just oracles, but oracles of God. Of God.
Which leads me to a question I pose to you. It's a question I think we all have to answer. And in fact, I think we need to answer it periodically. And the question is, what is the Bible? What is it exactly?
Is it a human book? Or is it a divine book? Is it of natural origin or is it of supernatural origin? Is it just a collection of wise sayings by smart men? Or is it much more? Well, in answering that question, there's basically only three positions you can take.
Number one, it is the word of God. Position number two, no, it's just the words of men. Position number three, it's a combination. Now, I don't think it's any mystery that I fall into position number one. I think most of you know that I believe the Bible to be the word of God, the oracles of God. It's not only my position, it is, if there is one, an official position of this church. It has been the official position of the church throughout history. So that when church councils got together in the past and wanted to wrangle things like the nature of Christ, the Trinity, justification, resurrection, they got together, and they argued, and they spoke, and they argued again, and they spoke again, and they came to a resolution, and they appealed to one thing, the Bible.
That's what they were dealing with. They were looking at the text of scripture, and trying to find its meaning, and make the statement of faith accordingly. Why? Because they believe the Bible to be inspired. Second Timothy 316, all scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable. Inspiration, breathe out by God.
Every time you bring this up somebody goes, well, how did that happen? How does that work? How does God inspire writing? Did he say, Isaiah take a note. Get your pen ready. Here goes a dictation.
And then Isaiah is writing wait, wait, wait, wait. Will you say that again? I missed that. No, that's not what happened. Isaiah had his own style, his own education, his own set of experiences going on around him. Jeremiah had different ones. Other prophets had different ones. But God moved them all.
Now, Peter explains inspiration in one verse. In the second, Peter Chapter 1, Peter wrote, prophecy never came by the will of man. He didn't have Jeremiah saying, I got something to say. If I say, the say is the Lord, people will really listen to me. So prophecy never came by the will of man, but holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit. That word moved is a sailing metaphor. It comes from the Maritime world.
It speaks of a ship being carried along to its destination by the wind. Sometimes sailing ships, especially in antiquity, we're at the mercy of the winds. The winds would take them where the winds were blowing. What that means here is that the writers had their own styles, their own set of circumstances. But they raised their sails, so to speak, so that what they ended up saying is exactly what God wanted to express. That in a nutshell is the doctrine of inspiration of the scriptures. That's my position. It's the word of God.
Second position, however, somebody would say, well, the Bible is just words of men. They are good words. There are lofty words. They're inspiring words. But they're just men's words.
That is the view of the liberal. Liberalism does not believe the Bible to be the word of God. But they'll say it's inspired in this way. It's inspired like on the level of a Picasso. It's really good work.
In this view, the Bible embodies the highest human thought, ideals, ethics, and aspirations. But at the end of the day, it's just a human book. Third position, somewhere in between the first and second. It's a combination of the word of God, as well as the word of men. Some things are from God, and therefore truthful. Other things are written by men and are not truthful. So it's a mixture. It's a mixture of truth and error.
Some guys said some things, but we can't really believe that. So it's a mixture. And here's the deal, and their scholarship is going to tell you which is which. Now, you can see we have a problem. Because in this framework, the scholar becomes God, telling you what is true and what is not true. It's a dangerous position for this reason. Everybody is a sinner, including scholars.
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, including scholars. And in this case, maybe they're greater sinners than the rest of us. Because they're saying, God didn't say that. But he said this. And then the scholars disagree. So you're going to play God, deciding who's scholarship you're going to listen to.
So it does come down to what is your view of the Bible. Are these the oracles of God? Or just the opinions of men? I'm going to read to you before we move to our last and closing section. I want to read to you what one man believed the Bible to be. I think you've heard of him, he was an 18th century evangelist by the name of John Wesley.
And he said this, I am a creature of a day passing through life as an arrow through the air. I am a spirit come from God and returning to God, just hovering over the great Gulf till a few moments, hence, I am no more seen. I drop into an unchangeable eternity. I want to know one thing, the way to heaven. How to land safe on that happy shore. God himself has condescended to teach the way. For this very end he came from heaven, he hath written it down in a book. Oh give me that book. At any price, give me the book of God. I have it. Here is knowledge enough for me. Let me be Homo unius libri, or a man of one book.
Essentially, at the end of the day, that's what I am, I'm a one trick pony. I'm a man of one book. My life has always been all about what the Bible says. So you're going to have to answer that question for yourself, what is the Bible? That is the advantage of the scriptures.
Now, let's finish this out, because he asks more questions and gives an admonition. This is the admonition of the scribe. Verse 3, what if some did not believe? Will their unbelief make the faithfulness of God without effect? Certainly not. Indeed, let God be true, but every man a liar, as it is written that you may be justified in your words and may overcome when you are judged. Quoting Psalm 51. But if our unrighteousness demonstrates the righteousness of God, what shall we say, is God unjust, who inflicts wrath? I speak as a man, certainly not. For how will then God judge the world?
Here's their question, OK, what about all those Jews who didn't believe all of God's words? If these are oracles of God, you've got plenty of people in history, Jewish people, who didn't believe those oracles. Does that mean that God's promises to Israel are empty? One thing about Jewish history, if you just read your Bible, there's is a history of failure.
God called them stiff necked. God called them rebellious. They failed to believe His promise. They failed to obey His word, especially when it came to sending the Lord Jesus Christ into the world, by in large, He was rejected by them. He came to His own. His own did not receive Him.
However, do you know that God has made a promise in both the Old and New Testament to one day restore and redeem the nation of Israel? Now, we're still waiting for that. Hadn't happened yet. It's happened in part. But not totally.
Yet, Paul will say, this is the same book, Romans Chapter 11, Paul will write this, blindness in part has happened to Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles will come in. And then all Israel will be saved. As it is written, the deliverer will come out of Zion and he will turn away on godliness from Jacob. All of those are unconditional promises. And the fulfillment of those promises may be postponed, but it is never prevented. It's still going to happen. God still has a plan for the nation of Israel in the future.
So let's apply it. Not believing God's promises will never nullify God's promises. If somebody goes, I don't believe that. So? You didn't hurt the promise. God says something of his work, I don't believe that. That's not the word of God. So? Not believing God's promise doesn't nullify God's promise. It just ruins it for you, personally.
And this is where the advantage becomes the disadvantage. You can have the oracles of God. You can be exposed to it, but if you don't read, believe, apply, no value. Jesus to the leaders of his day, the crowd in John 5 said, you searched the Scriptures. For in them, you think you have eternal life. But these are they which testify of me.
The writer of Hebrews Chapter 4, writing of the promises God made wrote, for we also have had the gospel preached to us, just as they did. But the message they heard was of no value to them, because those who heard it did not combine it with faith. Outward identity with God's people is one thing. Inward conformity to God's principles is another thing.
Now for some people, it's all about human tradition, the outward, the ceremony, the denomination. And for some people, the ceremony, the tradition, the denomination in their minds supersedes the revelation of God in the scriptures. When I was a young believer, I shared my faith with a girl that I worked with. She was a Roman Catholic. I explained the gospel to her.
When she found out that I came from a Roman Catholic background, she got so mad at me. Her face started getting red. She started tightening up. And she was so mad, she goes, how dare you leave the church to become a Jesus freak. That's what she said. Those were her words.
I said, did you hear what you just said? I told you about my personal relationship with Jesus and you're more angry about the institution that you claim and they claim follows the same Jesus I now have a personal relationship with. I even ran into a gal up in Santa Fe, she recognized me. She goes, oh, I listen to you all the time. And I am praying you'll come back to the church. That would be quite a thing, wouldn't it?
So being in a Christian environment with the Bible taught has many advantages. But like Alexander Smith, who found that Bible and started reading it, and believing it, and applying it, and sharing it, that's where you take advantage of the advantage. The Bible has the power to change the life, but it has the power to do more, to change a lifestyle. But only when you apply it. If you don't apply it, if you just get exposed to it, so?
Now, you know this to be true, if you've spent any time at all in any book of scripture, there's certain things you read that you like. They're happy. They're encouraging. Then there's other things you read, am I right on this, you don't like. That's a hard truth, you say. Or boy, that sounds narrow. Right?
Many truth, many a truth sounds very narrow. Let me respond by saying so is every runway at every airport in every city around the world. It's a very narrow little strip that pilot has to land on. But you as a passenger would want it no other way. If the pilot said, hey, there's a bunch of grass out to the side of the runway, it's a big field. Do you mind if I land there?
You wouldn't feel too excited about that, because you know that that narrow little way leads to your safety and well-being. So it is with the oracles of God, they might seem narrow to you, but they lead to the gateway of a fulfilled and happy way of living. That is our advantage. We have the advantage of having the Bible, not just the old, but the New Testament. The very oracles of God. Not just the words of men, these are the words of God. Men wrote them. God inspired them. And they were carried along so that what was expressed is exactly what God wanted to say.
Thank you, Father, for your word. Thank you, Lord, for a man like Paul the Apostle. Knowing his audience, knowing the arguments, had a planned response, an apologetic way to defend what the scriptures call the glory of God, the righteousness of God. That God is right and God is true. And even if everyone else on Earth lied, God would still be true and accomplish what he wants to accomplish. That's a big view of God. And that's a big view of scripture. I pray it's one we all share. And that we on our little islands, so to speak, in discovering the Bible, the book, the oracles of God would find ourselves reading it, and then believing it, and then applying it, and then even sharing it. Make us strong as your people, for we are chosen in Christ before the foundations of the Earth. What a privilege. What an advantage. In Jesus name. Amen.