We Can Find All That God Has Said on Particular Topics and We Can Find Answers to Our Questions

Of course, we realize that we will never perfectly obey all of Scripture in this life (see James 3:2; 1 John 1:8-10; and chapter 24, below). Thus, it may not at first seem very significant to say that all we have to do is what God commands us in the Bible, since we will never be able to obey it all in this life anyway. But the truth of the sufficiency of Scripture is of great significance for our Christian lives, for it enables us to focus our search for God's words to us on the Bible alone and saves us from the endless task of searching through all the writings of Christians throughout history, or through all the teachings of the church, or through all the subjective feelings and impressions that come to our minds from day to day,1 in order to find what God requires of us. In a very practical sense, it means that we are able to come to clear conclusions on many teachings of Scripture. For example, though it requires some work, it is possible to find all the biblical passages that are directly relevant to the matters of marriage and divorce, or the responsibilities of parents to children, or the relationship between a Christian and civil government.

This doctrine means, moreover, that it is possible to collect all the passages that directly relate to doctrinal issues such as the atonement, or the person of Christ, or the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer's life today. In these and hundreds of other moral and doctrinal questions, the biblical teaching about the sufficiency of Scripture gives us confidence that we will be able to find what God requires us to think or to do in these areas. In many of these areas we can attain confidence that we, together with the vast majority of the church throughout history, have found and correctly formulated what God wants us to think or to do. Simply stated, the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture tells us that it is possible to study systematic theology and ethics and find answers to our questions.

At this point we differ from Roman Catholic theologians, who would say that we have not found all that God says to us about any particular subject until we have also listened to the official teaching of the church throughout its history. We would respond that although the history of the church may help us to understand what God says to us in the Bible, never in church history has God added to the teachings or commands of Scripture: Nowhere in church history outside of Scripture has God added anything that he requires us to believe or to do. Scripture is sufficient to equip us for "every good work," and to walk in its ways is to be "blameless" in God's sight.

1. This is not meant to imply that subjective impressions of God's will are useless or that they should be ignored. That would suggest almost a deistic view of God's (non-involvement in the lives of his children and a rather mechanical, impersonal view of guidance. God can and indeed does use subjective impressions of his will to remind and encourage us and often to prompt our thoughts in the right direction in many rapid decisions that we make throughout the day—and it is Scripture itself that tells us about these subjective factors in guidance (see Acts 16:6-7; Rom. 8:9, 14, 16; Gal. 5:16-18, 25). Yet these verses on the sufficiency of Scripture teach us that such subjective impressions can only remind us of moral commands that are already in Scripture, or bring to mind facts that we (in theory at least) could have known or did know otherwise; they can never add to the commands of Scripture, or replace Scripture in defining what God's will is, or equal Scripture in authority in our lives.

Because people from all kinds of Christian traditions have made serious mistakes when they felt confident that God was "leading them" to make a particular decision, it is important to remember that, except where an explicit text of Scripture applies directly to a situation, we can never have 100 percent certainty in this life that we know what God's will is in a situation. We can only have varying degrees of confidence in different situations. Though our ability to discern God's will should increase as we grow in Christian maturity, we will inevitably make some mistakes. In this regard, I have found helpful a sentence from Edmund Clowney: "The degree of certainty we have with regard to God's will in a situation is directly proportional to the degree of clarity we have as to how the Word of God applies to the situation" (from a personal conversation, November 1992).

At this point we also differ from nonevangelical theologians who are not convinced that the Bible is God's Word in any unique or absolutely authoritative sense, and who would therefore search not only the Bible but also many other early Christian writings in an attempt to find not so much what God said to mankind but rather what many early Christians experienced in their relationship with God. They would not expect to arrive at a single, unified conclusion about what God wants us to think or do with regard to any particular question, but to discover a variety of opinions and viewpoints collected around some major unifying ideas. All of the viewpoints held by early Christians in any of the early churches would then be potentially valid viewpoints for Christians to hold today as well. To this we would reply that our search for answers to theological and ethical questions is not a search to find what various believers have thought in the history of the church, but is a quest to find and understand what God himself says to us in his own words, which are found in Scripture and only in Scripture. C. The Amount of Scripture Given Was Sufficient at Each Stage of

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