How do you define “sufficient?”
I hope you have your definition, your usage of the word sufficient, in mind. Let me tell you why this is important. Several Sundays ago I was sitting in my church listening to the pastor speak. He was talking about how at our church we believe that scripture is sufficient. It is what we need. It is everything that we need from God to know about him and to live a life of holiness.
I reflected on that because I often try to think how what is being said is going to be understood by other people. Now I think the pastor at my church does a wonderful job communicating or I wouldn’t go there, especially communicating the Gospel, or I wouldn’t go there.
Nonetheless, I think it’s interesting, as someone who speaks and communicates, to think about how certain phrases are going to be understood by other people.
There is a doctrine in Christianity called the sufficiency of scripture. This is what my pastor was talking about. He was saying scripture is sufficient. It is all we need from God for certain things.
I sat there and I thought, “I don’t know that that’s actually going to communicate to people in a younger generation, or maybe just people living in America today, in the way we would expect.” Now I would have said it exactly like he said it. This is not a criticism at all. My point is this doctrine called the sufficiency of scripture may not communicate.
If you were to ask someone, outside of talking about the Bible, or scripture, or Christianity, how they think of the word sufficient, it probably doesn’t have fireworks going off in their mind when they think about it. It’s kind of like if you were to ask someone after a meal, “How was that meal?” Let’s say that you cooked for them, and they said, “Oh, it was sufficient.” That’s not really a ringing endorsement, is it? You’re not going to be thrilled, and they probably weren’t thrilled either if they said it that way.
“How was the preparation you had for that test?” “Well it was sufficient.” Even the way we say the word sufficient kind of has a tone that conveys that it’s lacking something we would have wanted. It may have been what we needed but it’s not what we wanted. I think there’s the possibility for people today to bring that kind of concept and tone and color to mind when we talk about the sufficiency of scripture.
The sufficiency of scripture is the doctrine that the scriptures are complete. They are lacking nothing in terms of what we need from God to live lives of holiness, to know the Gospel, and to know he expects about us, and to know him.
Now it’s not the teaching that the scriptures are all we need to know. Period. That wouldn’t tell me how to fix a car. It wouldn’t tell me how to do my job and it wouldn’t tell me how to turn the AC on in my house. There are other sources of knowledge we need. The question comes, which one is the ultimate authority? Which one is the ultimate source? More than that, what are the sources that are able to tell me about God authoritatively?
Let’s go to scripture and see what scripture says about itself. In 2 Timothy 3, we see that
The sacred writings are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
They’re at least sufficient for that. They’re sufficient for telling you the Gospel, what you need to know to be saved, and bringing you to have faith in Christ. That’s a huge thing. There’s nothing else that can do that besides the scriptures.
”All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent and equipped for every good work.”
There’s a lot of in there. In fact, it’s saying that the scriptures are all we need to be capable and equipped, not for some good works, but for every good work, not just somewhat equipped, but competent and equipped. We’re not lacking anything here. It is, here’s that word, sufficient.
Like I said, we often don’t think about that word in ringing terms. But really, when you think about it, the God of the universe has told us everything we need to know to be wise unto salvation, and to live the lives that bring him glory, which is what we were created to do. We have been told everything we need to fulfill our purpose as people. That is not something to be just ho hum about. “Oh, it’s sufficient.” It’s something to be excited about!
It’s something to be thankful for. God has no obligation to reveal himself to us. In fact, we are kind of in a privileged position in history. I don’t want us to make too much of that, but look back. God has more fully and progressively revealed himself through time and through the prophets and through the writings. Now we have the full and final revelation of God in its totality. We know more about God than people before Jesus. We know more about God than the people who only had the scriptures a decade after Jesus, because there were more writings to come.
God, in his sovereignty, has progressively revealed himself and he’s done it in such a way that we ended up with the Bible that we have that is sufficient for living lives that are pleasing to him.
Now why am I camping out on this? Why does this matter? Because what it means is that we don’t need any more special revelation. We don’t need any more inspired and errant words from God. Because we have the perfect standard for judging all other claims and for living the lives God expects from us.
You may be thinking, “Okay, well who says we need other things?” I think there are a couple areas where we actually don’t consistently live out our conviction in the sufficiency of scripture. One might be devotionals.
There are some devotionals out there like the Jesus Calling and others that claim to speak for God, or they’re written such that Jesus is speaking to you. At least that’s the tone. I think those are really dangerous. I think we should ask ourselves, are we connecting best with God through his word or through the words of man?
Because Jesus is not speaking to you through a devotional. Those aren’t his words. His words are in scripture. What is speaking to you most? Do I find it most easy to relate with the Jesus I find in my devotional or the one I find in my Bible? If it’s the one you find in your devotional, that’s not the true Jesus. If we’re being more emotionally connected, more intellectually connected with the words of someone who is not Jesus than Jesus, this should cause us concern. It would be kind of like if I were more in tune with, let’s say, my secretary, emotionally and intellectually, than I were my wife. That’s a problem.
It’s an even bigger problem when it comes to God, who has created us in his image to commune with us, to have a relationship with us, and that we might come to know him through his word, which is what? Sufficient.
Now, I think there is a place for devotionals, but devotionals that are written such that they claim to speak for God or make us feel that way, that’s dangerous.
The other aspect is prayer. Now I know there’s disagreement here, but there are compelling reasons to apply our concept of the sufficiency of scripture to our prayer lives. Oftentimes prayer is said to be a way where we hear from God. Now I would challenge someone to support that as something that’s prescriptively laid out in scripture. Nonetheless, what would communication from God be? It would be inspired. It would be God’s words.
What does the doctrine of sufficiency of scripture say? That the scriptures are the sufficient word of God. That we don’t need something else. That doesn’t mean God can’t communicate that way, but I do think biblically, for this and many other reasons, it means that he does not, at least as a rule. Because he’s given us his word there. When we say, “Well I need a fresh word from God,” maybe we should read a different part of our Bible. I don’t say that glibly, but that’s true. When we want to hear from God, we go to his word. That’s why he gave it to us.
People, myself included at points in my life, have wondered why aren’t we hearing from God. Well, are we reading his word? Most often, the answer to that is no, or we have some false and incorrect impression of what it means to hear from God, partly maybe due to growing up in contemporary evangelical culture, which I think has very incorrect ideas on hearing the voice of God and things like that.
But, if scripture is sufficient and it’s everything we need, why should we expect regular communication from God in some other way? How many times have we seen that people claim to have gotten inspiration from God, words from God, and they contradict? They don’t line up. Scripture doesn’t do that, because it’s the inspired word of God. Whatever these two people are claiming, it’s not the inspired word of God because God does not err and he does not contradict himself. He’s a God of order.
I think this doctrine has far-reaching implications. It has implications for how we look at our prayer life. Let’s not expect something from God that he’s already revealed and let’s realize that he’s already given us everything we need. We don’t need to seek more.
More than that, though, I think it has implications for what devotionals we read and how we study, and the types of inputs we have. Because we should be comparing everything to scripture. The source of our encouragement daily should not come from the words of man but from the words of God in scripture. I think devotionals can be helpful. I think a lot of them are rather poor and they take scripture out of context. However, if you were going to find one I would find one that has a passage in its context, not just a single verse, and it offers some commentary on that.
One of the other things that happens in some devotionals, especially like the Jesus Calling, they tell us things we want to hear. They never seem to bring out passages that say that you might end up suffering for God. That Jesus said, actually, “You may be made to suffer for me.” “Don’t expect better than your master got.” They don’t talk on those themes often. They’re only happy thoughts. They’re comforting and they make it seem like God wants our life to be comfortable, oftentimes. That’s not true. We need to be careful and we need to go to scripture for our spiritual nourishment before we go anywhere else.
The other thought I’ll leave you with is that as we are in scripture, we are being prepared to fulfill what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 10:6, where he says, “For though we live in the flesh, we do not wage war according to the flesh. The weapons of our warfare are not the weapons of the world. Instead, they have divine power to demolish strongholds.” And this is key: “We tear down arguments and every presumption set up against the knowledge of God. And we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Now I’ve heard this last verse applied to temptation. I’m going to take this, let’s say, lustful thought captive to Christ. I think that … maybe you could apply this that way, but what it’s talking about is that we have ideas that come to our mind, that influence our thinking, that come out of our hearts, or they come to us from culture, that are diametrically opposed to Christ. Often these are things that say, “I am my own God,” in some way. “I can live autonomously. I can decide in this area. I came to know these things on my own. I came to decide these things.”
Yet what we realize when we look at scripture and we take it in its sufficiency and in its totality is that there is no correct view of the world that does not depend on the knowledge of God. That everything that exists only exists because of God. That when I read my devotional and I hear it speaking to me as if it were Jesus, if I know the Jesus of the Bible I will be able to tell that that is not him. I will be able to tell that I should get my words from scripture because scripture claims to be sufficient.
Knowing that about scripture, being saturated with scripture, allows us to identify thoughts and ideas within ourselves and others that are contrary to scripture, and to take those captive to the lordship of Christ. That’s key. This also coincides with what Romans 12 talks about: renewing our mind. That’s by scripture and the work of the spirit applying that scripture. But scripture is key.
I want us to think about reclaiming the word “sufficient” such that it doesn’t just have an average or ho hum type of connotation, but that it’s something we rejoice in. God has given us the totality of his revelation. We don’t have to wonder how to be saved. We don’t have to wonder what he’s like. We don’t have to wonder how to live for him or what we were made to do because he’s told us all of that in his word. Let’s go to that word daily to imbibe from the source of life, from that source of inspired words of God.