by W. M. Henry of the Open Bible Trust
The study of the Scriptures as enlightened by the Holy Spirit, Who bears testimony through them to the Lord Jesus Christ, is the sure foundation for the continual growth in faith which is a necessity for every believer; for faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17; 1 Corinthians 2:6-16)
One of the most fundamental issues for Christians is the question of authority. Where can believers find authoritative teaching which tells them what they should believe and how they should behave from day to day? To what extent does that authority lie with the traditions of a particular church, or does understanding come by direct revelation from God to the individual? Although the traditions and practices of particular denominations can be helpful to the growth of a Christian's faith, and the emergence of the fruit of the Spirit in his life comes through the work of that Spirit, both of these means of Christian development must be rooted firmly in and tested by Scripture. The Word of God is the touchstone by which the teachings and traditions of men are assessed and measured, and the genuineness, or otherwise, of spiritual experiences is judged. The Trustees of the Open Bible Trust, therefore, affirm that Scripture is the sole arbiter in matters of Christian doctrine and practice, and that, for this reason, the study of Scripture, as enlightened by the Holy Spirit, is the sure foundation for continual growth in faith for each individual Christian. The Psalmist states that the way for a young man to keep his way pure is to live according to God's word (Psalm 119:9). He goes on to say that he has hidden God's word in his heart, so "that I might not sin against you" (Psalm 119:11). It is only by knowing the Scriptures and putting into practice what we find there, that we can hope to please God. His Word is a lamp to our feet and a guide for our path (Psalm 119:105), and will keep us from straying from the truth. The Lord Jesus also stressed the importance of understanding Scripture. When debating with the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection, He said, "Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God" (Mark 12:24). Failure to know and understand Scripture will also lead us into error.
The Scriptures are unique in that they are God-breathed (2 Timothy 3:16). They are not merely the words of men, but the expression of the mind and will of God. In consequence, they are useful for giving authoritative guidance to build up Christians in matters of both doctrine and practice. The Word of God gives believers true doctrine and enables us to steer clear of error. The Scriptures testify to Christ and the eternal life that can be found only in Him (John 5:39-40). The Bible also serves to correct wrong conduct and to help in the training process towards greater Christlikeness in our behaviour. By obtaining a systematic understanding of its teaching we, like Timothy, the man of God, can be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:17). But there are no easy routes to this equipping. It requires diligent study. James warns of the dangers of a casual approach to the Word by comparing it to a man who looks at his reflection in a mirror and goes away, immediately forgetting what he looks like (James 1:23-24). In contrast, the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do so, not forgetting what he has heard, will be blessed (James 1:25). This blessing comes from a steady dedication to learning, understanding, and applying the teaching of Scripture to our lives on a daily basis.
The Holy Spirit
It is also important to remember the work of the Holy Spirit in helping us interpret and apply the Scriptures to us. There is nothing mysterious about the Bible. However intellect alone cannot understand its meaning or see its relevance. Sadly some scholars have dedicated their lives to the study of Scripture, but appear to have little or no understanding of the way of salvation. It is only through the work of the Spirit that we can hope to understand the Lord's purposes and how they should be worked out in our lives. Simon Peter's recognition of the true identity of the Lord Jesus in Matthew 16:16-17 was attributed by the Lord, not to Peter's perception but to a revelation from God. Paul confirmed this as a universal truth in 1 Corinthians 12:3 by declaring that no one can say "Jesus is Lord" except by the Holy Spirit. We need to come humbly before the Lord and ask for His illumination as we open His Word. He expects diligence and openness, on our part, but we require the Spirit to breathe on the Word and bring the truth to light.