Scripture: Hebrews 4:12-16
Colloquialisms, or popular idioms or sayings, are a quick way of communicating a truth or a belief, and can also just be a creative way of saying something. For example:
- We’ll cross that bridge when we get there Better late than never
- It’s time to go back to the drawing board
- I’m going to hit the sack
- Speak of the devil
- A picture is worth a thousand words
- We’re only as strong as our weakest link
Another saying, attributed to Rodd Thunderhart, is A man is only as good as his word. Of course, it’s truth is inclusive of all persons, not just men per se.
Seizing on this truth, Bill McCartney, speaking to a gathering of men during a Promise Keepers rally, told them, “If you want to take the meaning of the word ‘integrity’ and reduce it to its simplest terms, you’d conclude that a man of integrity is a promise keeper. When he gives you his word, you can take it to the bank. His word is good.”
Many years ago, I read an account told by an adult about a significant conversation he had with his father during his childhood, which cemented forever in his own life the high value of being a person of integrity. When he was a young boy, a traveling evangelist-faith healer had set up his tent just outside of town and was holding a revival over the course of many days. His father had attended the tent meeting a short while earlier when the preacher was in a different location. Having been very moved by his experience, he took his son—the now grown man recalling the incident. The preaching was fiery. The singing was boisterous. Many in attendance responded to the altar call. But most amazing was the miraculous healing he witnessed. When the worship ended, they were all invited to return the following evening. On the way home, the son talked excitedly with his father about the meeting and expressed a great desire to go back the following day. His father agreed that it had been a very exhilarating experience. However, to his surprise, his father solemnly responded that they would in fact not be going back the next day.
“Why?” the confused boy asked. And what his father told him next was the life-lesson he never forgot.
He said, “Son, do you remember that person who came forward and was miraculously healed in front of everyone? When I went to this same meeting a few weeks ago in a different location, that very same person came forward and received the very same “miraculous” healing. What we witnessed tonight was a sham. The preacher may have been really good. And his message about Jesus and salvation was true. But that healing was a lie. As a man of God, his lying in this regard means he’s not someone who can be trusted. No, tomorrow we will not be going back there.”
A person is only as good as their word.
How about when it comes to the God’s word—is there integrity in that? I’m talking about the Bible. Our Holy Scriptures. The Word of God. Can we trust what we read in this holy book of ours?
The answer is yes. I believe the Word of God is definitely something we can put trust in and believe to be true and right and real. Meaning, we believe it to be inspired by God himself. And somehow, in ways that we’ll never know or understand, he passed along to its human editors and authors. And despite the fact that it was broken, sinful human beings who wrote it, who compiled it’s various stories, who decided on its final content (as well as what not to include), and who transcribed and translated it, the Bible is nevertheless the most complete and clear means of God’s self-revelation to humanity.
Does God speak to us through other means? Certainly. The most obvious being prayer. But prayer can be tricky. Very tricky, in fact. And that’s because prayer can reflect ourselves and our own desires and thoughts more than God’s heart. If I were boldly proclaim, “God told me so,” can my claim be validated? It’s one thing to say, “I heard God tell me that he loves me, and that there’s no reason for us to be afraid because he’s in full control.” We can all agree that that sounds like something God would say, so we probably wouldn’t question it. But what if someone claims that God told them to divorce their spouse? Or to cheat on their taxes? Or to stop going to church? Or to sell every single possession of theirs, liquidate all their assets, and hitchhike across the country, relying on the good graces of strangers? They could say, “Hey, I was praying and that’s what God clearly told me to do.” Hmm…. The problem is those messages don’t really resonate with what we’ve come to believe about what God would tell us to do.
Then again, God can surprise us, right? He’s been known to ask people to do things we wouldn’t consider normal or rational. For example, the prophet Hosea claimed God told him to marry a prostitute, to conceive children in prostitution. On top of that, he said God gave him clear instruction on what to name those children. One was to be named “Not Loved” and the other, “Not My People.” To our modernn ears, this could sound a bit suspect.
The prophet Isaiah claimed that God instructed him to strip down to his birthday suit and walk around naked and barefoot which, it turns out, he did for three straight years.
The prophet Ezekiel claimed that God told him to lie on his side for 390 days—a year and a month. And then after that, to turn over and lie on his right side for another 40 days.
Of course, the one which leaves us all feeling uncomfortable no matter how much we try to rationalize or spiritualize it was Abraham’s claim that God told him to sacrifice his son, Isaac. If anyone today made these same claims—that God told them to do these crazy, hurtful, bizarre things—without hesitation, we’d question the validity of their prayer life!
Which brings us back to our question about how to validate the subjective nature of personal prayers. The most trustworthy means of doing this is viewing their claims through the lens of Scripture, God’s Word. In fact, doing this is even a command of Christians. 1 John 4:1 says, “Dear friends, do not believe everyone who claims to speak by the [Holy] Spirit. You must test them to see if the spirit they have comes from God.” Most Bible translations say, “You must test the spirits.”
So, how do we test the spirits? By holding their claims up to the Word of God. If it’s validated by God Word, then it’s good to go. If not, then that probably means doing further discernment. But if it’s clearly antithetical to God’s Word, then it’s probably safe to not believe it.
In my experience of providing pastoral care, I’ve sat with individuals who believe with every fiber of their being that God hates them and has already doomed them to hell for all eternity. That God can’t possibly love them because of the terrible things they’ve done in life. This belief about God’s nature is clearly antithetical to what God reveals about himself in our Scriptures.
The truth of God’s Word is powerful. It can carry us through the darkest of days,
the most challenging situations, and the most painful experiences that life can throw at us.
What I’d like to know is how people come to these dreadful conclusions? Where do these ideas come from? I can only guess that it comes to them via multiple avenues, not the least of which is their own human reasoning. And maybe their own human experience. If someone’s told enough times by their parent that they’re worthless, that they’ll never amount to anything, eventually that becomes a kind of “truth” to them. It’s not a stretch, then, to take it to its natural conclusion that God would view them the same way.
The problem is, human feelings and, quite often, human reasoning, are subjective in nature. And as such, the ‘truthfulness’ of what we feel and believe can easily be fickle and inconsistent. Human feelings can change with the weather. Do we want our perceptions of truth to be bound to whatever I’m feeling or thinking at any given moment? I don’t think so! I want what I believe to be true to be supported by the rock-solid truth of God’s Word. And in particular, supported by the words of the Jesus who is the way, the truth, and the life.
The truth of God’s Word is powerful. It can carry us through the darkest of days,
the most challenging situations, and the most painful experiences that life can throw at us. One truth of God’s Word in particular which has been a significant source of encouragement to me through the years is Romans 8:1-2. You might even say that verse 1 has been my life verse. Anyone who receives an email from my gmail account will see it at the end of my message. Romans 8:1-2 says, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.”
There is NOW—at this moment, regardless of whatever sin I’ve committed; and tomorrow, and the next day, and the day after that—no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. No condemnation. No condemnation from God against any person wherein Christ Jesus lives. Through the years, I’ve repeated these verses—and in particular, verse 1—to myself so many times after I’ve done things I know are displeasing to God that I honestly can’t recall the last time I felt debilitating shame or guilt. Certainly, I’ve felt the convicting “guilt” of the Holy Spirit many times, but it’s more like a thump on the head as a way of saying, “Hey, Drew, that thing you just did, that doesn’t align with me.” And yes, there have been plenty of times I’ve ignored that head-thumping and went on doing what I wanted to do. But eventually the Holy Spirit gets the better of me. But the fact is, even when I’ve been most rebellious, both in my spirit and my outward behaviors, I’ve remained consciously aware of the truth which Romans 8:1 makes very clear. Which is that even in my rebellion God loves me and doesn’t condemn me. Why? Because Jesus Christ took upon himself my condemnation. Speaking for myself, I’m certain that taking this truth to heart has saved me from a load of guilt and shame that could have easily resulted in me being shackled with believing kind of lies which are based on my subjective feelings and experience.
Hebrews 4:12-13 tells us that “God’s word is living, active, and sharper that any two-edged sword. It penetrates to the point that it separates the soul from the spirit and the joints from the marrow. It’s able to judge the heart’s thoughts and intentions.”
Now, just to be clear, this book—words printed with ink onto paper and bound together with glue and whatever—there’s nothing magical or mysterious or even divine about this book. The book itself is not alive and breathing! But, the Word behind the words is alive. Jesus Christ the Word of God is alive. When we speak of this as a “holy book,” it’s not the physical book itself as much as who the book points to that makes it holy. When we come to the word of God in faith, believing in Jesus Christ and believing what the Bible tells us about Jesus, it comes alive to us. The Bible is “God-breathed” in that its writings were inspired of God, and as we read the words in a spirit of faith and believing, God reveals himself to us. The truth proclaimed in our Scriptures becomes for us a living truth. And as we take in and receive this truth, it takes root in our lives and mysteriously becomes a part of who we are.
The more time we spend in God’s Word, reading it in faith, the easier it becomes to recognize God’s “voice” when he speaks to us. And the easier it becomes to behold Jesus’ “face” when he knocks on the door of our hearts and invites us to follow him. The Word of God is powerful and can cut to the core of our spiritual lives. Through it we come to know God’s heart, God’s mind, God’s truths, and God’s will. And so, yes, with all my heart, I believe God’s as good as his Word because his Word is truth and life.
I’ll leave you with this final thought. There’s a saying that goes, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder.” Whatever you consider to be beautiful, I can guarantee that God is that times a thousand! God is the essence of beauty. And God’s Word reveals his beauty more than anything else in this world. The more you’re in the Word of God, the more you’ll behold his beauty. Let’s pray.