Inspiration and the Bible

Note: This article was originally posted on Northside Baptist Church’s blog.

Is systematic theology really that important? Well, everyone has a theology whether they think about it or not (even atheists!). And the alternative to systematic theology is disorganized theology, chaotic theology. So in an attempt to be consistent and cogent in our thinking I hope you will take in what I am about to say.

In thinking about the study of systematic theology, let’s look specifically at the doctrine of “inspiration.” This is what I want to drill down on right now: the work of the Holy Spirit to “inspire” the prophets and apostles to write the Scriptures.

Here is what we don’t mean when we talk about “inspiration”. Occasionally someone will say they were inspired to do this or that. They might say, “That sunset was so beautiful that I was inspired to write this poem.” Or, “What you said inspired me to try harder.” Something like that. They mean that something happened or they saw/heard something and they were so moved in their soul that a reaction just came out of them. The event they experienced drew the artistic expression or newfound effort out of them. It was always there, but the event tapped that reservoir.

It’s quite alright if you use the word “inspired” to talk like that. But when it comes to describing the origins of the Scriptures, that is not what we mean. In this theological discourse we use the word “inspired” to mean something far more precise. When we say that the Bible has been inspired we actually mean it has been expired. Or better, exhaled. In 2 Timothy 3:16 we read that “all scripture is breathed out by God…”, and in 2 Peter 1:21 we are told that “no prophecy ever came by human will, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” Do you see that? Scripture did not come “by human will”; it did not well up inside the authors’ own minds and come out in response to the great things they saw God do. Rather the origin of the Scriptures is with God himself. He in fact breathed them out. Specifically, the Holy Spirit led the authors along so that the final product that they wrote—what we today call the Bible—is what the Holy Spirit wanted written. He used men and women to do that. But he never left them to themselves. He sovereignly superintended their writing. And this is what we mean when we say that the “scriptures are inspired.”

The upshot is that we can have such great confidence that the Bible is the word of God. The Holy Spirit is God, and the Spirit inspired the Bible you have in your hand. There are a lot of holy books in the world. How do we know the Bible is the true word of God? Well, because the Spirit is God and the Spirit was sent by the resurrected Jesus, we can say, in a sense, that Jesus wrote the Bible!  The second person of the eternal Trinity (Jesus) sent the third person of the eternal Trinity (Holy Spirit), in fulfillment of the promises of the first person of the eternal Trinity (Father), to give you this book. Thus, without such a Trinitarian dynamic, confidence in the scriptures erodes. For how can you know it is the word of God, unless God wrote it? And he did; and this is how we understand that! So when you read the Bible, dearly beloved, you are reading the very voice of God still breathing into your life. Read it! Read it with confidence! Read it with fear and trembling. For when the living God speaks the dead come to life.

I have to conclude with this question: Do you see the value of systematic theology? In this article we tied together several things: the Trinity, the doctrine of revelation, and inspiration (and even nodded toward the importance of Jesus’ resurrection and ascension). And bringing them together like this has resulted in an apologetic for how we know the Bible is the true word of God, and therefore also have confidence in its content. Without such a system of interconnected doctrines, what is left? I fear some people believe the Bible simply because they choose to, not because they are convinced by any reflection like this. Well, in that case, how do you know your Bible is truer than the Quran, or the Book of Mormon, or the Vedas, or the Upanishads, or the Bhagavad-Gita, or The Origin of Species? We need systematic theology because we need to think clearly.  And we need to think clearly because so much is on the line. We dare not tell ourselves and the world, “We believe the Bible, well, because we just like it more than the rest.” We need to tell ourselves and the world that we believe the Bible because it is the word of God. And we know this because the only resurrected man, Jesus Christ, has guaranteed its divine origins and trustworthiness by sending his Holy Spirit (see John 16:13–15). And because Jesus is God and the Spirit is God we know the Bible is the word of God.

This post was written by Dr. Nicholas Piotrowski. He is the Associate Dean of Academics and Director of Biblical and Theological Studies at Crossroads Bible College in Indianapolis and serves as Associate Pastor of Theological Development with Northside Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana.

The Command of the Mission (Matthew 28:18-20)

ww28Last week we looked at Jesus’ claim of His supreme authority over all. We saw that it is His claim for the mission which should actually move us to our calling in the mission. Therefore, this week we will be looking at the command of the mission. Once Jesus had made His claim, He commanded the disciples,

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe (or obey) all that I have commanded you. (Matthew 28:19-20a)

So much could be said about what is taking place here but a few points will have to suffice. It is clear from the text God expects His followers to be disciple-makers. Following Jesus not merely mean going to church on Sundays and giving some of your finances. Following Jesus means pursuing and living a holy life in the context of community. Discipleship is doing life-on-life with the body of Christ. God has not saved us so that we could sit back and not do anything but He has saved us for His glory and that includes making disciples. To be indifferent or unconcerned with being and making disciples is to not take seriously the Word of God. To take God seriously is to obey His command to make disciples. But, what does making disciples involve? It involves going, baptizing, and teaching. Going means we do not passively sit by and wait to reach others with the gospel, hoping they come to our church one Sunday. We need to be going to them. Baptizing means to be publicly identified with the body of Christ through the practice of baptism. Teaching means training these disciples to be Christ-like. Notice, in this teaching aspect, it is not simply information to be transferred. It is to be observed and obeyed, leading to life and heart change. That is what the Word of God does. It is about knowing and showing the Word. That is our calling in the command of the mission.

Reflection Time:

  • Are you indifferent or unconcerned with making disciples and investing your life into others and not just focusing on yourself? Pray that God would change your heart and actively seek someone to disciple and someone who can disciple you.
  • How can you, as a disciple-maker, teach others the Word of God in your specific context?

Following Christ (Mark 1:14-20)

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[This devotion is the first  in a 5-part series entitled “Gospel in Action”.]

For the last three years, I have went on short-term mission trips to Haiti. It is while on these trips, I began to consider “Why?” What is the fundamental purpose of going on such trips? Is it just have “that experience”? Is it to simply help with physical needs? No, although helping physical needs is important, it cannot be the fundamental purpose for going. The primary purpose for going to Haiti, other countries, or even serving where we currently are is to help with a greater need, a spiritual one. We need to understand that our focus is the gospel. We need to share the gospel. We need to proclaim the gospel of God as revealed in Jesus Christ (1:14). Thus, we must get this good news, the gospel, right. It begins with a holy and perfect God. We have to show that we are people who have sinned against this God. Because of that, we deserve hell and eternal separation from Him. We cannot save ourselves because we will always fall short. However, God has provided a way. Jesus Christ, being fully God and fully man, came to this earth, lived a sinless life and succeeded where we failed, died on the cross as a substitute for our sins, and rose again so that we could enjoy eternal life with Him in relationship. And what this gospel does is that it demands a response. You can either accept or reject. Our response needs to be “repent and believe in the gospel” (1:15). We need to trust in Christ as our Lord and Savior. In turn, we will live the gospel out in our life. We will follow Christ. This following includes being “fishers of men” just as the first disciples were. The point here is in following Christ, there is a response. Once we have responded, we are called to share and teach the gospel, being disciples who make disciples who make disciples. That is what it means. Let us follow Christ!

Reflection Questions

  • In your own words, how would you go about sharing the gospel with someone? What would you say?
  • As disciples of Christ, we are to be “fishers of men”. This includes going out and spreading the good news. How will you go about doing where you currently are (work, neighborhood, etc.)?

Power to Serve (Acts 1:1-11)

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In the last month we have seen as Christians that we must prepare and we are called to a life of service. However, if we are not careful in preparing and serving, we can miss the one essential element we need: the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the One who gives us the power to serve. To be sure, this power to serve includes the motivations for which we serve. Even as Christians, we can serve out of our own will because we are wanting self-glory. These wrong motives are not of God. We should not be serving ultimately for ourselves, to look good or whatever. We should ultimately be serving because of God and for His glory. That requires, then, having a power to serve. This requires humility. As has already been stated, this does not come by mere human effort. It comes from the Holy Spirit. We see this in Acts 1. After Jesus’ resurrection and the witnessing of that, the disciples were empowered. As Christ ascended up to heaven to reign and to rule, He did not leave them empty-handed. To the praise of God, Christ gave the disciples the Holy Spirit, the third member of the Trinity, to give them the power to be the witnesses of they had seen (v. 8). They were to speak and spread this message throughout their town and cities, even to the ends of the earth. The amazing thing is that we too have the same power to go and be witnesses of the gospel and serving for the sake of Jesus Christ. If you have believed that Jesus came, died, and rose again for the forgiveness of sins and you have repented of those sins, turning and trusting in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you have been transformed and have received a new heart. You have received the gift and promise of the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit gives you the power to serve, to be a witness for the gospel, to share the good news with those you know and with those you will encounter in your everyday life. This is all because of God. That is why and how you and I can serve with the right motives. And we must do so until Christ returns.

Reflection Time:

  • What is usually your primary motive in serving, whatever the service may be?
  • Have you neglected the Holy Spirit in your Christian walk in the last month? Last year?
  • Pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit and dependence on Him in your everyday life.

Taking Time to Pray (Mark 1:35-45)

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Preparing in the Christian life should not come without praying. Prayer is critical in readying our hearts for the day ahead, for the relationships we are in, and for the gospel we share. This means spending intimate time and fellowship with God. It means taking time to pray. Jesus Christ, who was God in the flesh Himself, knew this very well. As Jesus was about to go into Galilee to preach and to perform miracles, He took time out to pray and be with God the Father. Notice in verse 35 that it says “rising early in the morning, while it was still dark, he departed and went out to a desolate place, and there he prayed.” From this we see Jesus placed a great priority on prayer. In fact, you could say it may very well have been the very first thing he did to begin His day. He got up early in the morning for that fellowship. Not only did He do that, though. He also departed and went to a place away from everyone else. This time with God would be personal time. To be clear, community with other brothers and sisters in Christ has its place and should be regularly practiced. Still, there comes a time where each one of us as God’s children need to spend some one-on-one time with the Lord. We need to have that personal fellowship with the God of the universe and of our lives. Setting up a specific time and place to go to God in prayer can go a long way towards that. Case in point, coming to God regularly in prayer is essential for our spiritual growth. It is essential, likewise, before going out to share the great news of the gospel of Jesus Christ and before going out to head to work or school. We must take time to pray. We cannot budge. We can only do.

Reflection Questions:

  • Have you been making prayer a priority in your life? If not, what are some of the reasons or excuses you have given for the lack of a prayer life? What does that reveal about your priorities?
  • What is the best time and place for you to spend some one-on-one time with God in prayer? How can you go about implementing this in your own life?

Spiritual Renewal For Service (Psalm 51)

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[Beginning this week, we are starting a new series on this blog entitled The Weekly Word. We will be sharing with you a devotional from God’s Word each week to encourage, equip, and edify you as you go about glorifying God in all you do throughout that week!]

The Christian life is a life of service. Before our service, however, we must first prepare our hearts for that service. This means looking and examining our own lives, asking where we are at with God. As we do, we will see, as David did in Psalm 51, that we have gravely sinned against God (Psalm 51:4). We have dirtied ourselves before a perfect and holy God. We have rebelled against His instruction. Yet, what we see is not a God who leaves us this way, by the wayside. No, what we see is a God of abundant mercy (Psalm 51:1). David had committed the sin of adultery with another man’s wife and had that man killed. Once he was convicted of his sin and overcome with the devastation from it, he came to God in repentance (Psalm 51:1b, 9). He asked God for forgiveness as he had sinned against Him. He, then, asked for God’s mercy by God’s love. He was a man in need of God’s grace, just as we all are. Realizing this and repenting, David asked God to created in him a clean heart and a right spirit (Psalm 51:10). He wanted heart transformation. Only after that could David truthfully teach others God’s ways and lead them to salvation in God where they could find ultimate joy (vv. 12-13). The same can be said of us. If we check our hearts what we see is that we have sinned against a holy God. As a result, what we deserve is eternal judgment in hell. However, God is merciful. He knows we can never save ourselves so He made a way. He sent Jesus Christ, who was God in flesh, to live the perfect life we couldn’t, to die on the cross for the forgiveness of sins (the death we deserved), and be raised on the third day to ensure that we could have eternal life. Christ came to us and for us. Because of His death, burial, and resurrection, we can have eternal life and be with God forever if we will recognize our sinning against Him, repenting of that and turning away from that sin, placing our faith and trust in Christ and what He has done in His love and grace to save us. This is the message we need to take to heart, being transformed from the inside out, as we go to out to serve others!

Reflection Questions:

  1. Examine your heart. Do you know where you are at with God? Have you repented of your sins and believed in what Christ has done, trusting in Him as your Lord and Savior?
  2. What are some current struggles of sins you need to overcome and repent of? Pray for God’s strength by His spirit to overcome them.
  3. What does it look like in everyday life to have a new heart and a renewed spirit? How does it affect how we treat others?