TruthTexts Article: Did God Really Say – Part One

TruthTexts.com articles

Written and Posted by Timothy Smith

Hosted through Tanignak.com

God Really Say - Part One

(Part Two is on its way)


Introduction: This article (in both parts) is an introduction to  articles on Believers’ Behavior (how we should act, speak, and think). It’s very important to test every bit of what I write using the TruthTexts of the Bible. But be ready, as I must constantly be, to look at something you are doing and realize, “This is not what God wants out of me. I need to ask Jesus to live through me right now, so that I can be more like Him today!” That is a thought that God will always honor. Ask Him to bring the TruthTexts of His Word to mind so that the light of Jesus can shine strongly in the world.


TruthTexts:

The snake was more clever than all the wild animals the Lord God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must never eat the fruit of any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1 GW)


Everything God says is true—and it’s a shield for all who come to him for safety.
Don’t change what God has said! He will correct you and show that you are a liar. (Proverbs 30:5-6 CEV)


We live in a world of constantly shifting trends, a world of evolving standards and easily abandoned values. It’s also a world in which solid, unchangeable beliefs, especially those based on the Bible, are treated with suspicion and outright hostility. Practices based on God’s Word are made to be the punchline in comedy programs, and are even thought of as illegal or immoral. For the follower of Jesus, this conflict is becoming painful and even dangerous. It’s as though the world is trying to turn everything that we believe in upside down.


And the temptation to compromise, to “go along to get along,” is immense.


In this chapter, I defer as much as possible to what the Bible teaches, especially what Jesus said and what the early followers of Jesus taught in their letters and writings. If anything seems to be merely a human opinion, be careful to read those verses for yourself, to verify that what I’m saying about them is true. Beyond that, you as a believer must have it clearly set in your mind and heart that you choose to believe and follow God’s Word, whenever you clearly understand it.


You’ll notice I started back at the Garden with the original account of Adam, Eve, and the Serpent. First, I wouldn’t go blaming any snakes for bad behavior, for this creature described in Genesis is not a plain old reptile. He is none other than the original enemy of God, Satan himself. Jesus describes him this way: “He has always been a murderer and a liar. There is nothing truthful about him. He speaks on his own, and everything he says is a lie. Not only is he a liar himself, but he is also the father of all lies.” (John 8:44 CEV) And lest anyone judge Eve harshly (as serious as her error was) we need to remember how easily you and I picked up her ability to get sidetracked, confused, or convinced to disobey. “Try to learn what pleases the Lord,” said Paul in his letter to the believers at Ephesus. (Eph. 5:10 NCV) That’s what you and I must do. We must love the truth so much that a lie will stand out like a skunk at a barbeque!


The Bible that Jesus studied and loved was precious to the early Church, too. All the early leaders in the Church had studied God’s Word for most of their lives, and their writings that later became part of the Bible are filled with quotes from it. So their view of Scripture is also valid for us. In referring to the Jewish Law that had been in effect since the time of Moses, Jesus declared, “ For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (Matt. 5:18 NIV) Whatever else that verse might mean, it shows us our Lord’s attitude toward the Jewish Scriptures, the Bible that He grew up studying.   


But the early followers of Jesus also knew that what was happening in their lives since the resurrection of Jesus Christ was new and different, the fulfillment of all that had gone on before. As Jesus reminded us, quoted in several of the Gospels, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Luke 21:33 NIV) The writer of the letter to the Hebrews remarks, “So we must be more careful to follow what we were taught. Then we will not be pulled away from the truth.” (Hebrews 2:1 ICB)


As I’ve been saying, the pressure from the culture around us to pull away from the standards in God’s Word—the pressure is enormous, and increasing. All around us, our culture sneers, “Did God really say...” But this is really nothing new. A Bible Text Message in Psalms 1, from 3000 years ago, begins this way:  “Blessed is the person who does not follow the advice of wicked people, take the path of sinners, or join the company of mockers. Rather, he delights in the teachings of the Lord and reflects on his teachings day and night.” (Ps. 1:1-2 GW) Another Psalm, number 119, reminds us that “Great peace belongs to those who love your instruction, and nothing makes them stumble.” (Ps. 119:165 ISV)


In the next article, I will make a list of popular ideas and values from today’s world, and then list what God’s Word says. But before I do, I need to take you on a crash course in “Biblical Interpretation 101.” A wise Bible teacher told me that one key to interpretation is to “read your own mail.” By that, he meant the rules given to the Jewish people long before Jesus came. Those rules were written specifically for their nation, which had no other laws or constitution other than the Law that Moses gave them. But even the rules we think of as the weirdest, such as strange dietary restrictions, were designed to demonstrate some important aspect of God’s character to His people, or to keep His people safe and healthy. They may seem strange to us today. Nevertheless, studying those laws (such as those in the Book of Leviticus) can teach us a great deal about a Holy God and our need of a Savior. But that’s deep stuff, for some other site  than mine!


Jesus reminded us that “The Law” (the first five books of the Hebrew Bible) and the writings of the Hebrew Prophets, had all found their completion in Him. “Before John the Baptizer came, people were taught the Law of Moses and the writings of the prophets. But since the time of John, the Good News about God’s kingdom is being told. And everyone is trying hard to get into it.” (Luke 16:16 ERV) And Paul reminded us that the Good News of Jesus had been God’s plan from the beginning: “Now we see how God does make us acceptable to him. The Law and the Prophets tell how we become acceptable, and it isn’t by obeying the Law of Moses. God treats everyone alike. He accepts people only because they have faith in Jesus Christ.” (Romans 3:21-22 CEV)


The second great lesson of “Bible Interpretation 101” is from a former pastor of mine, who often said while reading a Bible text that someone was trying to twist or change, “When the plain sense makes sense, seek no other sense!” A supporting statement that I’ve heard all my life is, “Let the Bible interpret the Bible.” That means a statement made in one place may be illustrated, or repeated more clearly, in another place. It’s time to remember what you learned about literature in school. The Bible contains history, poetry, personal letters, predictions, lists of wise sayings, and symbolic stories, among others. Every type of writing deserves to be treated in the manner it was written. You and I would never read a personal email from a loved one in the same way we would read a Wikipedia article or a speech by a famous historical figure. The language, intent, and message to be understood would be different for each of these.


For example, the accounts of Jesus on the cross as found in the Gospels are based on eyewitness testimony. Yet the emotional and spiritual details can be found in the poetry of Psalms 22 and Isaiah 54, written centuries earlier. You wouldn’t expect to find exact historical facts in the poetry. But the followers of Jesus realize that the writers of the poetry, centuries earlier, somehow captured emotions and spiritual dimension that the historical accounts could not include in their plain narrative. Believers see all of these Text Messages, as well as the later preaching of the Church as found in the writings of Paul and Peter, for example, as working together. As a whole, they begin to explain the great mystery of the God who came to die for His people.    


It bothers me not in the least to use the Bible to explain itself. And it’s not really cheating or leading the witness either, since the Bible is actually a whole library of texts, penned over a time span of 1500 years, on three continents, and written in Hebrew, Aramaic and Greek by over 40 authors. By now, we should have noticed if they were fundamentally at odds with each other! One former boss of mine, a fellow forklift driver, told me out one day out on a loading dock that he didn’t believe the Gospels, because they were so full of contradictions. I said, “Well, can you name a few?” and he fell silent. He was so sure that there were contradictions that he’d never even bothered to look!

 

God at all times tells us to use our minds. “Every word of God proves true,” says our opening TruthText in one of the translations. By learning the backgrounds of the accounts (and basic rules of evidence) I am satisfied that “contradictions” can make sense by doing a little research. Again, this is a topic for someone else’s book! Suffice it to say that anyone who is not “joining the company of mockers” but is truly seeking will find. In fact, God’s Word, including the lessons we can learn from the Bible that Jesus read, has enormous power. Paul (referring to the Bible that Jesus read) declared plainly, “For all those words which were written long ago are meant to teach us today. When we read in the scriptures of the endurance of men and of all the help that God gave them in those days, we may be encouraged to go on hoping in our own time.” (Romans 15:4 Phillips) The writer of Hebrews explained, “God’s word is alive and working. It is sharper than the sharpest sword and cuts all the way into us. It cuts deep to the place where the soul and the spirit are joined. God’s word cuts to the center of our joints and our bones. It judges the thoughts and feelings in our hearts.” Heb. 4:12 ERV)


In short, we can trust the Bible that Jesus had, and the Bible that was written by His followers. In the waning hours of Jesus’ earthly ministry, shortly before He went to the cross, John records what He said to his disciples. The words seem aimed directly at us, in our doubtful and scoffing generation. He said, “The Spirit will show you what is true. The people of this world cannot accept the Spirit, because they don’t see or know him. But you know the Spirit, who is with you and will keep on living in you.” (John 16:17) A few moments later, Jesus added, “I have told you these things while I am still with you. But the Holy Spirit will come and help you, because the Father will send the Spirit to take my place. The Spirit will teach you everything and will remind you of what I said while I was with you.” (John 16:25-26) Since we, as believers, all have the help of the Holy Spirit, we can confidently affirm that “Everything God says is true!”


Of course, you could memorize the facts concerning the accuracy of the Bible, know all the fulfilled prophecies, and be able to counter any argument anyone sends your way. And that would be wonderful. But the strongest argument for the validity of God’s Word is a changed life, the sense that God has moved in your life. For a while in high school, I was subjected to some very plausible-sounding arguments from a cult that didn’t believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven, or that Jesus is the Son of God. Eventually, I found myself wondering whether all that I believed was true after all. Then a TruthText popped into my memory. It was the words of Jesus to his disciples: “Believe me when I say that I am in the Father and the Father is in me. Or believe because of the miracles I have done.” (John 14:11 ERV - emphasis mine)


When you can look back and see that God has moved in your life, it’s hard to keep doubting Him. The Bible’s lesson in so many places is “look back and think on what God has done!” And even at that young age, I had already experienced the hand of God in my life. I know that the claims of Jesus are true, because I have felt His power and seen Him in action in the lives of my friends. As Isaiah once said, God’s Word goes out like an outstretched hand, and never returns empty handed. The answer to the deceiver’s question, “Did God really say...” is a resounding YES! I have heard His voice, and I have felt Him at work in my life. That is the strongest argument you can make!  


Take Action!

Be sure to look up the verses in this chapter in whatever translation of the Bible is the easiest for you to understand.* Read the whole section that each verse came from, and make sure that the words I have said about them are true. Once you are sure that I have given you accurate information, ask yourself the questions. Finally, ask God to show you what you should do next.


Why can you be confident that what is written in the Bible is reliable? (Think of additional evidence beyond what this chapter mentioned)


Who is Satan, according to Jesus’ words? What is Satan always trying to do?


What was the attitude of the early followers of Jesus toward the Bible they already had, the one that Jesus read?


Which of the “Bible Interpretation 101” statements helps you the most? Can you think of any other easy to remember tips for understanding the Bible?


Think of someone who has told you that they don’t believe the Bible is true. What can you tell them? (Read up; there are many excellent books on the reliability of the Bible.)


Make a list of any of the TruthTexts I included in this chapter that might help you in a time of uncertainty. Put them where you can find them easily.


* I use many translations of the Bible in this article. Any of them would serve to support the points made in the chapter. All verses with no listed translations are my own paraphrase; please check with your own favorite Bible to be sure I got the right idea.


A Note to You Before Going On to “Did God Really Say...” Part Two

(To be posted soon)

The next chapter is a challenge, to test and try the attitudes and values of the world around us, and to bring our thoughts and actions back to the solid footing of God’s Word. I guarantee that many confused people will be upset, even angry. They may accuse believers of being judgmental, “hateful,” or whatever other phrases may be thrown around to try to stifle what we say. But judging is not our purpose, and I take no pleasure in the discomfort of anyone. An old “Jesus People” song from 1971 had a line that said, “Don’t try to drive the darkness out—you just turn on the Light!” Our only authority is God’s Word, and the decision to listen or reject always lies with the hearer. “So faith comes from hearing the Good News. And people hear the Good News when someone tells them about Christ,” as Paul said. (Romans 10:17 ERV) As always, test everything that is written here with God’s Word, and read every TruthText carefully to verify every statement I make.


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