The Bible is Our Authority: What Does That Mean?
Christians have long held that God's Word is our sole authority for faith and conduct. Consider an excerpt from the Baptist Faith and Message that will serve to illustrate the point.
"The Holy Bible was written by men divinely inspired and is God's revelation of Himself to man. It is a perfect treasure of divine instruction. It has God for its author, salvation for its end, and truth, without any mixture of error, for its matter. Therefore, all Scripture is totally true and trustworthy. It reveals the principles by which God judges us, and therefore is, and will remain to the end of the world, the true center of Christian union, and the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. All Scripture is a testimony to Christ, who is Himself the focus of divine revelation."
From the opening line of this confession, the Bible is affirmed as inspired and revelatory. It is breathed-out (inspired) by God and is more than a mere book containing revelation but in fact is revelation. In this statement of faith, the Bible is referred to as perfect, as a treasure, and as divine instruction. God wrote it and it consists of truth without any mixture of error. Lest there be any confusion as to what is meat, it is again described as totally true and trustworthy. It is not referred to as a mere standard nor is it referred to as a good standard, but it is referred to as the supreme standard by which all human conduct, creeds, and religious opinions should be tried. Note that the standard applies to human conduct, human belief systems (including worldview, philosophy, psychology, sociology, etc.), and human religious opinions.
According to the Second London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689), the Scriptures are our rule for faith and practice. The Westminster Confession of Faith (1646) affirms the same thing. The words "sole authority for faith and practice" are used in a variety of confessions with reference to the Word of God. Very simply, plainly, and collectively, the Scriptures are our authority. Now, what does this simple fact mean?
First, if the Scriptures are our sole authority for faith and practice, then what we believe must be submitted to them. For example, we may not subscribe to an evolutionary worldview as the Bible gives us a definitive word concerning creation and origins (Gen. 1:1f). We may not engage in abortion as an attack on another human being is an attack on God (Gen. 9:6). We must affirm that homosexuality is sin and not merely an alternative or legitimate lifestyle (Rom. 1:18f). We may not adhere to a psychological model in counseling as its presuppositions are contrary to Scripture (Col. 2:8f; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:3). We must reject all forms of universalism (Jn. 14:6), nationalism (Eph. 2:11f), relativism (Jn. 17:17), or selfism/self-esteem (Phil. 2:3). We could go on. The point is that our commitment to the Scriptures in terms of what we believe must encompass every area of life.
Second, it follows then that what we do must be submitted to the Scriptures. We must love God, serve others, spread the gospel, engage the culture, work hard, etc. We must put off sin and put on righteousness through the renewing of the mind. These things, among others, are not optional. We must check our hearts, our thoughts, our tongues, and our feet. We must be kind, compassionate, and forgiving. Whoever claims to live in Christ must walk as Jesus walked (1 Jn. 2:6). We cannot make excuses for remaining in sin or ignoring God's commands. "If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin (1 Jn. 1:6-7)."
Third, if the Bible is our standard, our measuring rod, then our thoughts, feelings, and experiences must be judged by that standard. Some people think that God will accept them on the basis of their good works but they are wrong. The standard says otherwise. Some people feel that "their god" would or would not do certain things or be unhappy with certain things in their lives. Whether or not God would do certain things or be happy with certain things is not a matter of what people feel but a matter of what the Bible says. An individual might experience something strange and/or wonderful. Someone may believe God is giving him/her a revelation. That experience must be judged by Scripture. The question is not whether a person has an experience. The question is whether or not the experience is from God. The only way to evaluate the source of one's experience is to go to the standard, the Word of God. We cannot even know the true bent of our own hearts at a given moment without the Word of God (Heb. 4:12).
Fourth, because the Scriptures are perfect, trustworthy, and authoritative, in them we can find hope. In 1 Thess. 1:3, Paul refers to our patience produced by hope. Patience refers to endurance, particularly the endurance of trials. An important word and concept in the New Testament for strangers/believers in this world, it refers to bearing up under a load. The only way believers can endure persecution, hardship, and trial with joy is hope. That is, their hope must be and is in Christ. Christian hope is not an "I hope so" proposition expressing a measure of doubt. Rather, it is an "I know so" proposition expressing a complete confidence in the promises of God. Christ Himself is our hope. We are certain of His reality and return. We are certain all will be made right when we see Him. This certainty wrought by faith is Christian hope.
Fifth, the Bible then gives us direction in terms of our thoughts, our speech, and our actions. We can be "filled with the knowledge of [God's] will (Col. 1:9)." Paul refers to God's prescriptive (revealed) will. In other words, God has given His word to believers that they might know His will for them. As we saturate our minds with God's word we gain a more intimate knowledge of God, His character, and His ways.
Knowledge of God's will is no mere obedience to a set of rules or commands. God certainly gives commands, but He also gives principles. He desires that we seek a closer relationship with Him and that we apply His commands and principles to our lives and decision making so that His character might shine through us for His glory. In simple terms, we must gain wisdom to know how to apply God's revealed will (Scripture) to our lives. As we do so, we can be confident we are fulfilling God's will for our lives. As we do so, we will "walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God (Col. 1:10)."
Sixth, it follows from the foregoing that the Word of God is sufficient to equip us for every good work. "All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16-17)." Note the purpose in this text for God's giving us His word: that we might be equipped for every good work. Peter says the same thing: in Christ and through His word we have everything we need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3).
Seventh, as we apply the Word of God to our own lives, we are then equipped to serve others. We are equipped with the Word by the power of the Holy Spirit who applies that word to our hearts (1 Thess. 2:13; Jn. 17:17; Acts 1:8) and we are equipped with the Word by those over us in the Lord (Eph. 2:11f). We are equipped to be sufficient ministers of the New Covenant by the Word and Spirit (2 Cor. 3:5-6). And, we are equipped with the mind of Christ that we might humbly serve others for the glory of God (Phil. 2:5f).
If the Bible is our sole authority for faith and practice, then we ought to live our lives in light of that reality. It is sufficient to help us in our time of need, to teach us what we need to know and do in terms of godliness, to rebuke us when we sin, to correct us when we are in error, and to instruct is in holy living. It is sufficient to equip us for every good work. In it we have everything we need for life and godliness. This is the testimony of Scripture, God's authoritative Word. Let us truly embrace this testimony by living it out for our joy and God's glory.