Dose of Truth
by Brent Barnett
The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 presents a powerful truth about the sufficiency of God’s Word. We already know from Romans 1:16 that the "gospel is the power of God unto salvation." We know from 2 Timothy 3:16-17 that "All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work." Romans 10:16 adds that "faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." John 17:17 says, "Sanctify them in the word; your word is truth." Man cannot live apart from taking in the Word of God. He cannot be saved apart from hearing the gospel, and he cannot be a mature Christian without instruction from the Scripture. All of our progress in being sanctified into the image of Christ is due to our being immersed in the truth of the Word of God. We need God’s Word for salvation and sanctification.
But, really, isn’t there another way? Can’t we just use clever stories, skits, and powerpoint presentations to move somebody to salvation? Can’t we just try to wipe out poverty and do good works for society, all the while just waiting for God to reach down and save somebody? All these things are fine when put in their proper place. But the only thing that God puts His full backing in is the Scripture. The Scripture itself is the power of God in written form. Good works demonstrate a changed life, and love and holiness show that one has been born again. But the vehicle for salvation and sanctification is the Word of God. Only through the hearing and appropriating of the Scripture can such changes take place. Sure, we should do what we can to feed the poor and serve our communities, but we must remember that their ultimate needs can only be met through Christ which requires that they hear the word of truth, which is the gospel (Colossians 1:5). Good works, community service, and theatrics can have their place. The issue is whether they are sufficient to be able to stand on their own apart from the Word of God. Furthermore, even if a person was only able to preach the gospel to someone and was never able to show him the love of Christ through good works or some other means, could that person still be saved? Can the Scripture stand on its own? For example, does it make sense to just leave a tract on a table for a waitress? Is such foolishness, old-time Christianity, or faith in the sufficiency of Scripture? Simply put, is the Bible sufficient to accomplish ministry or not?
I hope we can agree that other things are good and helpful yet insufficient for leading a person to Christ apart from the Word of God being heard and taught. But maybe some doubt. Thus, enter Luke 16, Abraham, the beggar Lazarus, and the gluttonous, selfish rich man.
The story goes like this. There was a certain rich man who had more than he ever wanted or needed. He lived his life for himself, in wasteful, selfish indulgence, not caring about the poor. Lazarus was a poor beggar who only hoped to get a scrap from the rich man’s table, though it is not clear if he ever did. After the rich man and Lazarus die, we get a glimpse of their situations in eternity. Lazarus is with Abraham, symbolizing that he is grafted into the family of God by faith in Christ. He is in heaven. The rich man is in agony in the burning flames of hell. Between the two a great chasm which cannot be crossed is fixed. Though not normally possible, for the sake of the story a conversation is said to take place between Lazarus, the rich man, and Abraham. The rich man (though we should note that he is not rich anymore) knows that his five brothers are as wicked as he was and will no doubt end up in torment as he is, so he begs Abraham to send somebody, even Lazarus, to his brothers. He reasons that if his brothers see a person raised from the dead that they will repent and put their faith in God. Yet Abraham explains that unless they hear the law and the prophets, which they already have available to them, they will not repent. Abraham’s statement, told by Christ as He gives this story, is emphasizing that the Scripture is sufficient. Unless a person hears what they already have in the Word of God, they cannot and will not be saved. Even if some miraculous sign happened for the rich man’s brothers or for any man for that matter, they would still not believe. We can deceive ourselves into thinking that if only Jesus came and appeared to all men that they would trust Him. We can think that we can come up with some other means to woo somebody to church or to Christ. The reality is that the greatest sign of all time has already taken place. Jesus Himself rose from the dead and people reject that, despite the overwhelming evidence of its historicity. Thus, Christ, who was telling the story of Lazarus and the rich man, was even foretelling that His own death and resurrection would not be sufficient to bring somebody to repentance. Christ Himself knew that only the Word of God could change a person’s heart. If Christ even by performing the greatest miracle of all time couldn’t convince a person to believe, what really do we have to come up with?
Now by all means let us do good works, be involved in the community, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit those who are sick and in distress, and do all kinds of important ministry in society and culture, but let us not forget that our ultimate calling is not helping society but to make disciples of all men and to teach them the full counsel of God. God has chosen to vest His power in His Word, whether we like reading a Book and hearing sermons or not. This is why evil governments in history which have wanted to stomp out morality and Christianity always burn, destroy, and forbid Bibles. They are well aware of the power of the written Word of God. This is why the Protestant Reformers were so intent on translating the Scripture into the native languages and using the recently invented printing press to get the Word into the hands of every man.
Manmade techniques and strategies will fail, but the Word of the Lord will endure forever (1 Peter 1:25). Sometimes secular studies may get something right, but the Word of God contains all that we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). Archaeology and scientific inquiry are helpful to demonstrate the reliability of the Scripture, but the Scripture itself is ultimately the only saving mechanism. It can stand on its own. The Word of God does not go forth void. It accomplishes what God has set it out to do (Isaiah 55:11). It cuts to joints and marrow, judging the thoughts and intentions of the heart (Hebrews 4:12). When we treasure it in our hearts, it keeps us from sinning (Psalm 119:11). It is a lamp unto our feet and a light to our path (Psalm 119:105).
Where would we be without the Word of God? We would be completely insufficient, but our sufficiency is in Christ and in His Word. 2 Corinthians 3:5 says, "Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God." And God makes us adequate through receiving the teaching and instruction of His Word (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Then, and only then, according to this passage, are we "adequate, equipped for every good work." Good works and community involvement are most definitely important, for good works allow men to glorify God (Matthew 5:16). But we must understand that it is the work of the Scripture applied to our hearts that enables us, empowers us, and directs us to be able to effectively and properly love and serve those around us. True life change starts with hearing the Word of God and receiving it in faith.
Let us not take for granted the preaching, the reading, and the proclamation of the Bible. We need to know it, study it, memorize it, and meditate upon it. If we don’t know it, we will be naïve, vulnerable to deception, and unable to stand firm. May God give us the desire and discipline to believe in the sufficiency of His Word to such an extent that it permeates all that we do and say.
You might also be interested in Brent's book on revival called Catch Fire: A Call to Spiritual Awakening. You can preview some sample chapters at http://www.needrevival.com. More Bible teaching from Brent is available, as is his book, at http://www.relevantbibleteaching.com.
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