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Means of Grace: God’s Word

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
March 15, 2022 12:01 am

Means of Grace: God’s Word

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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March 15, 2022 12:01 am

While many books can inform us, only God's Book has the power to transform us. Today, Sinclair Ferguson explains how God brings His people to maturity through His written Word.

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Today on Renewing Your Mind. Dr. Sinclair Ferguson shows us that our growth isn't measured by just having the Scriptures. What is it that God gives to us in His grace that enables us to grow as Christians within the context of the life of the church and in our individual Christian life? Sometimes these things are called the means of grace, but if we use that expression, we need to be careful about what we mean. We don't mean means that we use like putting money into a slot machine, and if we use these means then lo and behold, if we press the right button, we will get grace out of the slot machine. We're not so much talking about the means that we use to accomplish our ends as the instruments God uses to accomplish His ends. And there are four of them in particular that we're going to think about, and the first of them and the most obvious one is the Bible itself, God's Word. We come to know God, we come to grow in our knowledge of God and our fellowship with God through the Word that He has spoken to us.

In a sense, that's rather an obvious thing. How do we know each other? How do we know what's on our minds?

My wife sometimes says to people who have worked with me, ask Him, just ask Him because He tends to think that if something's passed through His mind, it will have passed through His mind to your mind, and He may forget that He needs to use words to tell you what's actually in His mind. It's a failing, but it's not a failing God has. God has told us what is in His mind. And His Word, in a way, He has opened His heart up to us, and He has spoken to us. And so, the Word of God is absolutely central to living the Christian life.

Now, as a little boy in Scotland, every service I went to began in exactly the same way. The church sexton or beadle, as he's known in Scotland, would walk into the sanctuary with a large Bible. He would climb the pulpit steps, and before the minister got into the pulpit, the Bible would get into the pulpit, and he would open up the Bible. It was a sign that the church is under God's Word. It was a sign that the Word of God is far more important than the person who expounds it and that central to everything we do is the importance of the Scriptures. And this, of course, is something that the Apostle Paul makes especially clear in the very last letter that he wrote, and that itself is an interesting thing.

It's as though he's saying, my last will and testament is that you should focus on the things that are really central. And so, you remember he writes to Timothy at the end of 2 Timothy chapter 3 in the following terms. As for you, Timothy, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is breathed out by God, and it is profitable or useful for teaching, for proof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work. Now, quite apart from anything else, when anyone comes along and says, yes, but in addition to the Bible you need this, you need this other book, or you need these traditions, the most important thing to do is to point to verses like this and say, but God's Word itself says everything I need to live the Christian life competently and to be equipped for every good work is to be found in the Scriptures. Why are the Scriptures so very important?

Why is it so important for us to study them? Why is it so important for us to be in a church where they are expounded faithfully and in the power of the Holy Spirit? Well Paul gives us the first reason here as he speaks to Timothy. The Bible, he says, made Timothy wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. Now, he's only giving us a few hints about Timothy's spiritual experience. He's almost certainly dominantly referring here to the Old Testament Scriptures because he understood that although Jesus was not incarnate until the end of that Old Testament period, the whole of the Old Testament pointed forward to the Lord Jesus. He was spoken of by way of promise.

He was pictured in the sacrifices. There were individual figures who were spoken of in the Old Testament who pointed forwards to the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of Man whom Daniel saw in his vision, the prophet like Moses, to whom Moses himself referred, the suffering servant that Isaiah saw in these extraordinary visions he had of what God would do in the future. And although we don't know the details, we know that Timothy was taught the Old Testament Scriptures by his mother and by his grandmother. And it looks to me as though he was especially helped by the Apostle Paul. Now, you remember how Paul speaks about him as my son Timothy, and perhaps it was through Paul's ministry that in a very special way, Timothy who knew the Word of God had come to find the gracious wisdom of God filling out his understanding of what it means to trust in the Lord Jesus Christ. Now, I think that's interesting that Timothy discovered the truth of Scripture through people that God surrounded him with, and very often that's true. Yes, on occasion you meet an individual who came under constraint for no apparent reason to read the Bible for themselves.

One of the most famous British actors, some of you may be familiar with him from public television version of Agatha Christie's Poirot, tells the story of how he was in a play in New York. He was suddenly seized with an unexpected urge to read the Bible. He couldn't find the Bible. He expected to be in the hotel.

He went downstairs. He went to every shop around to ask if they sold Bibles. He eventually found the Bible and he started reading Paul's letter to the Romans. And he came to a living faith in Jesus Christ, apparently without any human mediation. But for most of us, like Timothy, it's often what we saw in somebody else or what somebody else said or perhaps our mum and dad or some preacher who points us to the Bible and then we begin to discover that the message of the Bible will lead us to salvation.

I think I'd like to add my own testimony to that. I began to read the Bible when I was nine years old. My family didn't go to church at all, but I was sent to Sunday school.

I had some Sunday school teachers I admired and liked, although I had no idea why. Later on I realized, of course, they were genuine Christians seeking to point me to Jesus Christ, and one of them encouraged me to start reading the Bible. I read the Bible for the next five years. I probably missed five days reading the Bible, saying my prayers, trying to be good, and I hadn't yet become wise for salvation. So, do you think I should have looked somewhere else?

No, no. It was just as I was reading the Bible as I think I said in the first study that I came to these words of Jesus. You're searching the Scriptures, but you're not seeing in the Scriptures what I want you to see, and that is it's not by reading the Bible that you will be saved, but by discovering the One about whom the Bible speaks. So the Bible does not save you. The Bible did not die on the cross for you. Only Jesus can save you, but our only access to Jesus unless we have a Jesus of our own imagination is to be found in the pages of the Bible and the way in which Jesus through the Bible begins to draw the outlines of His own character and grace in the lives of others who remind us and show us what the message of the Bible really is. And this is why the Bible is so important because it's the only book in the world to which we can look with absolute sense that it is reliable, that it will make us wise for the salvation that is to be found in Jesus Christ.

Now there's a second thing Paul adds. The Bible makes us wise for salvation through faith in Christ. Second, the Bible speaks to us from the mouth of God. I think if somebody were to say to me, what's the best way for me to think about the Bible? Then I would want to give Jesus' answer. How did Jesus answer the question, how should I think about the Bible? How did Jesus, the Son of God, think about the Bible? You remember when He was tempted in the wilderness.

You remember what He said, man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God. I mean, what a thing it is for us to have a Bible and to be able to open the Bible and to say to ourselves, this is nothing less than the words that have proceeded through human authors from the very mouth of God. This is where God speaks to me. Paul uses a unique word that's the only place in the New Testament where it's used about anything when he says that the Bible is God-breathed. That is to say, we are to think of the Bible as coming right from the heart of God to communicate God's own presence to us. And when it communicates God's own presence to us, we sense that we are hearing His voice. So when we read the Bible, we have this sense that we are actually listening to the voice of God. He's speaking to us. And so we say, as you remember, Samuel was taught to say, speak Lord because your servant is listening. In some ways, that's the most difficult thing in the world for us, and it's becoming more difficult because we're living in a world where young people are educated to have opinions.

I've noticed over the years that I've taught in seminary, there has been a tremendous shift in people's ability to write because they're not encouraged to write, they're encouraged to have opinions, and the more they're able to articulate themselves and have opinions, the more impressive they become. And hardly anybody notices that what that transformation in society is doing is producing a nation of people who talk but hardly ever listen. And you see that in ordinary life, don't you? People want to talk to you.

But if they say, as they often say, how are you doing, I sometimes say this to friends, hold onto their hand as they shake your hand tightly and say, actually I'm not doing very well, and then experience the power struggle because they don't really want to listen. And if that's true at the human level, it's also true at this other level in relationship to God. And so we need to come to Scripture and to pray that God will help us to listen. You know, one of the things that Paul says happens to you when you become a Christian, and it's a sign that somebody really has become a Christian, is that you shut your mouth. Remember how he says that in Romans 3? He says one of the things the truth of the gospel does to people is it means every mouth is shut because everyone realizes that they stand guilty before God, and that's when you begin to listen.

And Paul is speaking about that here. The truth of the gospel comes out of the mouth of God, and in a world in which we are so encouraged to have our own opinions, and now that people speak about false news, we realize that so much that is fed to us is inherently false and just people's authoritative opinions. And we need so much to hear the voice of God, and the place where we hear the voice of God is here in the Word of God. You remember those beautiful words that Isaiah speaks about the coming servant of the Lord. And he puts into Jesus' mouth, as it were, these words, I waken up morning by morning, and my ear is open to hear what the Lord will say. My friends, that's Jesus, Jesus who had every entitlement, as it were, to express His own view of things. That Jesus who says, everything I'm saying to you is just what my Father has said. And so as we think about the Scriptures being able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, we also understand that if this is our Father speaking, we need to learn to listen and to bow down. Some of you who know the story of George Whitefield will remember that George Whitefield read his Bible on his knees as an expression of the proper disposition of the Christian believer to the Word of God. And you see the mark of that in people's lives, don't you?

You can usually tell somebody who's yielded to the Word of God. I love to think of this in terms of the picture that we're given in the Old Testament of Jacob wrestling with the angel. And I see that almost as a kind of picture of what it means to study the Bible, that you take hold of this messenger from God in the Scriptures and you say, I'm not going to let you go until you bless me. And you remember in that wrestling match that the angel caused Jacob to limp. And the story ends with this picture of Jacob walking away as the sun rose over the wadi Jabbok and he's limping away from having met with God. And that seems to me to be an almost perfect picture of the impact that the Scriptures make upon our lives, that they humble us, but they cause the sun to rise upon us. But they put something into us that creates humility, causes us to limp. Very occasionally you will see that very clearly in a Christian. I remember a man I got to know a little because he invited me to his church on more than one occasion and we hit it off as it were, he was an older man, I had a great affection for him.

He's still alive, thank God. And I thought I'd got to know him well enough to say to him, I can envisage as we were walking away from the car park. And I said to him, do you mind if I ask you a question? No, he said, I said, something happened to you, didn't it? Something happened to you. And he gave this little smile as though to say, how did you know? Because he of course was oblivious to it, but he'd been humbled under the Word of God and you couldn't help noticing there was just something different about him. I think that's the crying need in our generation. You know when they do all these polls about how evangelical Christians behave, they don't notice too much difference between evangelical Christians and other people.

The statistics are frightening. But my friends, it's not just what we do, it's who we've become. It's character and the Word of God produces character, just like a son has character produced in him as he listens to and watches his father, and that's why the Bible is such a powerful book for us. So it makes us wise for salvation, it speaks to us from the mouth of God.

And then the third thing is this, that it's given to us to transform the lives of the people of God, salvation from God, from the mouth of God, to transform the lives of the people of God. And you'll notice that this is Paul's real point in 2 Timothy 3 verse 16. Of course he wants to emphasize the inspiration of Scripture, but it's the reason why Scripture is inspired, that is his real focus.

And you'll notice he says it's inspired for four things. In verse 16, it's profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness. You know when you believers say, how should I study the Bible, I say, study the Bible the way it's given to you. And since it's given to you first of all to teach you the truth of God and then to reprove your sin and then to transform your life and then to equip you to serve the Lord, then whatever you're reading in Scripture, ask these four questions. What is it that this passage is teaching? Not notice, what is this passage saying to me about my life today? First of all, what is this passage actually saying?

Because that's what God is saying. What is its teaching? And then I'm in a position to ask the question, as I think about this teaching, are there ways in which my life is not in conformity with this teaching? Then I am conscious that I need to be convicted of my sin and to engage in repentance.

I need the help of the Holy Spirit in order that my life may be cleansed and that my character may be corrected. And that's what this third word really means. I was brought up in an educational system where the teacher would correct your work, which usually meant telling you what's wrong. That's not what the word correct means here. This language is used actually outside of the New Testament in a medical capacity.

Someone has broken a bone and the physician does whatever is necessary to enable the healing of the bone to perhaps deformed or malformed to help straighten the bone. And this is what the Word of God does. As we absorb it and as it's preached to us and as it's poured into our lives, it does the medical transformation of our souls to produce spiritual health. That's why I say it's so important for us when we come to the Scriptures not to be saying first of all, tell me what I've got to do to improve, but first of all to say, transform me. For this is what the Lord Jesus prayed, Father, sanctify them through the Word.

Not sanctify them through what they do, but sanctify them through what you say to them. And it's by that renewing of our minds that comes from the truth of Scripture, that our emotions and our affections and our lives are gloriously transformed. And the result of that? The result of that, He says, is that we are equipped for every good work. Because serving the Lord is not a matter of learning techniques. Serving the Lord is fundamentally a matter of being a transformed individual. As Christians, we are made new. We are born again, regenerated, and then we are transformed when our minds are renewed through Scripture. Dr. Sinclair Ferguson has provided us with a deeper understanding of the Bible's work in the Christian's life. You're listening to Renewing Your Mind on this Tuesday. Thank you for being with us today.

I'm Lee Webb. Dr. Ferguson is helping us think about several helpful matters of Christian living this week, including how God uses prayer, baptism, and the Lord's Supper as means of grace. There are 12 lessons in this series contained on two DVDs, and we'd like to send them to you when you contact us today with a donation of any amount.

You can make your request online at, or you can call us with your gift at 800-435-4343. Let me also encourage you to take advantage of Ligonier Ministries' interactive question and answer service. It's called Ask Ligonier. As you read and study God's Word and a question comes up, or you find a passage difficult to understand, you can receive answers in real time. When you go to Ligonier's homepage, you'll see a chat icon in the lower right-hand corner. Just click on that, and you'll be connected immediately to one of my colleagues, who will be glad to answer your question and provide you with resources for further study. Well tomorrow we'll return to Dr. Ferguson's series to learn about the importance of prayer. Sometimes we avoid prayer because we simply don't know what to say to God, but he has graciously provided us with guidance from His Word to help us pray rightly. We hope to see you back here tomorrow for Renewing Your Mind.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-05-22 11:42:38 / 2023-05-22 11:51:11 / 9

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