A Study By
Gary Ray Branscome
"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge." (Proverbs 1:7)
While many people talk about the fear of God, very few have a clear understanding of what it means, and most think of it in connection with Godís wrath. However, rightly understood, the fear of God is a righteous response to the Law of God, and thus a response that precludes works righteousness. For someone who has been convicted of his sin and is aware that Godís law condemns him to all of the torments of hell, such fear means abject terror. Nevertheless, that terror should cause him to receive the good news of forgiveness in Christ with rejoicing. Thus, the fear of God goes hand in hand with His mercy. As it is written, "The Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him, in those who hope in His mercy" // "As the heaven is high above the earth, so great is His mercy toward them that fear Him" (Psalm 147:11, Psalm 103:11&17). So we see that the fear of God leads to faith in Christ, and faith in Christ is the beginning point of Biblical theology (Psalm 111:10, Proverbs 9:10).
THE FOUNDATION OF BIBLICAL THEOLOGY
Since the Holy Spirit brings us to faith through the Word of God, not apart from it, faith in Christ and faith in the Bible go hand in hand (Romans 10:17). Without the testimony of Scripture we might not even know that Christ died, much less that He died for our sins, and without the work of the Holy Ghost we would never believe it (1 Corinthians 12:3). For that reason, our faith is not in Christ apart from God's written Word, but in Christ as He is revealed to us through God's written Word (2 Peter 1:4). And in bringing us to faith in Christ the Holy Spirit instills in us faith in His Word (John 17:17, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21, Matthew 1:22).
Although the Bible contains many references to its own inspiration (Matthew 1:22), those references were never intended to "prove" that it is inspired by God. Instead, those references are a witness to its authorship, just as the name of the author on any other book is a witness to its authorship. We believe that witness because in assuring us of forgiveness in Christ, the Holy Spirit bears witness with our spirit that it is true. Nevertheless, those who do not fear God cannot receive that witness, and often scoff at it for that very reason (1 Corinthians 12:3, Romans 8:16, John 8:47, Acts 1:16, Matthew 2:15, Luke 1:51, 2 Timothy 3:16, 2 Peter 1:21).
While worldly-minded "theologians" make philosophy the starting point of their theology, a true disciple of Christ will read the Bible with eyes of faith, and will not look outside of it for doctrine (John 8:31). In fact, because our faith in the written Word is so closely tied to our faith in Christ, a theology that is in full accord with the fear of God seeks only to learn, and faithfully convey to others, what God has revealed, "line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" without adding to or taking from what is written (Isaiah 28:10, John 8:31, Proverbs 30:6, Revelation 22:18-19, Mark 7:7, 1 Timothy 6:1, Proverbs 4:2).
CHRIST CENTERED THEOLOGY
Because the Bible was written to testify of Christ, faith in Christ is of key importance in understanding what it says (John 5:39, John 20:31, 1 John 5:13). Jesus Himself testified to that fact, not only by statements that He made prior to His crucifixion, but by pointing out to certain disciples (while on the road to Emmaus) what had been written about Him (Luke 24:27,44). Furthermore, because He came into the world for the specific purpose of saving sinners, the Bible was also written to testify of His sacrifice on our behalf (1 Timothy 1:5). Any historian could have told us that Christ died, but only God can tell us that His death atoned for our sin or that through His death we have forgiveness and eternal life. For that reason, faith in the inspiration of Scripture and faith in Christ's sacrificial death on our behalf go hand in hand. Those who attack one attack the other.
God not only knows how dependent our faith is on the witness of Scripture, but He intended it to be that way (1 John 5:13). He designed the Bible to provide a reliable and objective foundation for our faith (Romans 10:17). Furthermore, as far as He is concerned, those who seek to discover the truth about Him apart from His Word are seeking to come to Him on the basis of their own effort. And that is essentially no different from trying to come to Him on the basis of oneís own righteousness. Not only is it not going to happen, but all who try become fools while professing themselves to be wise (Romans 1:20, 1 Corinthians 12:3). For the grace of God is not given to the wise and prudent of this world, but to those who in simple child-like faith bow before Godís Word, humbly confessing their sins while gratefully receiving the good news of forgiveness in Christ. There is no other way (Matthew 11:25, Luke 10:21, Acts 4:12, Luke 1:51, Psalm 51:17, Romans 10:17, John 20:31, 2 Peter 1:21, 2 Timothy 3:16, John 17:17).
Because God intended for the Bible to be the basis of our faith, what it says is not dark, hidden, or hard to understand. In fact, God tells us that the message He has for us is nothing other than what we "read," and that He has used "great plainness of speech" (2 Corinthians 1:13 and 3:12). The Bible was written to reveal the gospel, not hide it (1 John 5:13, 2 Corinthians 4:3). And it is only because the Bible is clear that it can be a "lamp" unto our feet, and a "light" unto our path (Psalm 119:105).
Once we understand that we are justified by faith, it becomes obvious that the law was never intended to make us righteous, but was instead intended to show us our sin and need of a Savior (Romans 3:10-20 and 5:20). In short, the law convicts us of our sin, while the gospel assures us of forgiveness in Christ. That knowledge is known in theology as THE PROPER RELATIONSHIP OF LAW TO GOSPEL, and Martin Luther described the way in which law and gospel work together this way:
"Now the way to true Christianity [the way of salvation] is this, that a man do first acknowledge himself by the law, to be a sinner and that it is impossible for him to do any good workÖ The second part is: if thou wilt be saved, thou mayest not seek salvation by works, for God hath sent His only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him." (Commentary on Galatians, page 68)
Understanding the way of salvation is important because the law is God's message to the unrepentant, while the gospel is His message to those who repent (1 Timothy 1:9). Of course, after we come to faith we still use the law. However, because we trust in Christ, God is not speaking words of condemnation to us through the law. Instead, we use the law to judge ourselves, and to condemn any unclean desires, thoughts, or words that arise in our hearts (1 Corinthians 11:31).
A BETTER GUIDE THAN REASON
At present, those who hold Godís Word in contempt dominate our academic culture. In keeping with their contempt, any disagreement between their views and the Bible is portrayed in terms of faith verses reason. However, if they would actually use their reason, they would soon discover that all of their reasoning rests on assumptions. Therefore, what they portray as "faith verses reason," could be more accurately described as "assumptions verses revelation."
For example: Their claim that the Bible contradicts itself assumes that since the truth cannot contradict itself, it will never appear to contradict itself. However, reason itself tells us that assumption is false, for the truth often appears contradictory to those who do not know how it all fits together. The fact that iodine is poison appears to contradict the fact that we need some iodine in our diet. The fact that positively charged particles repel each other appears to contradict the fact that positively charged protons bind together in the nucleus of an atom. The fact that colder water sinks to the bottom of a pond appears to contradict the fact that ice forms first on the top. Yet the fact that these truths appear to contradict does not make them any less true. Likewise, just because some things in the Bible seem contradictory to our puny finite minds does not make them any less true. In fact, they only appear to contradict in the eyes of those who do not understand what is being said.
GOD GIVEN DOCTRINE
Those who close their mind to what the Bible has to say, often claim that what it says is all a matter of opinion. Yet that claim can easily be shown to be false. Is it only my opinion that the Bible says, "Not by works of righteousness that we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us," or is that an objective fact that anyone can verify simply by looking up Titus 3:5? Is it only my opinion that the Bible says, "A man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law," or is that an objective fact that anyone can verify simply by looking up Romans 3:28? Is it only my opinion that the Bible says, "This is the true God and eternal life," or is that an objective fact that anyone can verify simply by looking up 1 John 5:20? The answer is obvious! We know as a fact that the Bible says those things, and can prove it by simply looking up the verses. Moreover, the true doctrine consists of facts just like those, facts that God has revealed to us through His Word, "line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little" (Isaiah 28:10).
While those who lack the fear of God may deny and explain away the words of Scripture, those who truly fear God will readily hear what the Apostles and Prophets have written, will speak according to it, and will not depart from it (1 John 4:6, Isaiah 8:20, John 8:31).
The fear of God goes hand in hand with faith in Christ, and faith in Christ goes hand in hand with faith in Godís written Word. For that reason, a truly Biblical theology will begin and end with faith in Christ, while seeking only to faithfully present those truths God has given us in His Word, to the exaltation of Christ and the salvation of souls.