How Preparing For the Reading and the Preaching of the Bible is the Christian’s Duty
We’ll only be taking up one question today because the Catechism at this point is transitioning from the work of the word in the heart to the outward acts which give us the inward illumination promised in Romans 10. It is for that purpose we need make a statement which can sound a little controversial: a major problem in the wider church today is that everyone thinks they are saved. That’s not a shot to make you question your assurance, but simply a truism based on observed behavior. What I mean by that is there is little example of the kind of continued seeking of sanctification one would expect if the heart had been truly changed from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh.
Let me define a term real quick so we don’t get going down the wrong road. Salvation is not just the initial spirit-born redemption of John 3. To be saved has come to have a popular definition of the moment in time when a decision is made. When a person chooses to follow Jesus, asks Him into their heart, confesses sin, and receives Jesus as their personal savior. That is all well and good, but that is not salvation.
Salvation encompasses all of the life-long benefits born out of the initial work of the Spirit in gifting and granting us new life in the Son of the living God. It begins with the calling unto Christ, and ends with the glorification of the saint at death. Read Romans 8:28-30. In other words salvation is a long process that cannot be completed in the moment of conviction and the walking of an aisle or signing of a card at a rally.
As our Q/A below notes, there is a lot more involved:
Q. 155. How is the word made effectual to salvation?
A. The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of enlightening, convincing, and humbling sinners; of driving them out of themselves, and drawing them unto Christ; of conforming them to his image, and subduing them to his will; of strengthening them against temptations and corruptions; of building them up in grace, and establishing their hearts in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.
As we see salvation in not finished the moment we first believe. That people think so lends itself to the thesis I posited above about there being a big issue in the body of Christ today which we could entitle false faith. Again, that is not to belittle anyone, or claim that men and women who call upon Christ need to attain a certain level of belief in order to actually go to Heaven. Look at the catechism and meditate on what it is communicating to us. The called out ones are to continue to apply themselves to the Bible because there is more work to do.
The question begins by pointing out how the Holy Spirit works in and through the reading of the word of God to enlighten them, convict the heart, and subdue the will to bring glory to the person moved by the application of truth to the heart. As we will see in a second the reading of God’s word is a two-way street. We do not believe that the reading of the word just magically affects the mind and soul of the individual reading it. There are a lot of atheists out there who know the Bible better than I do, at least in the sense of having taken in the words, etc… It is only when there is faith mixed with love that then the benefits listed above take shape in the believer. Each of the items noted, putting to death sin, driving us to Christ, strengthening our fight against the breaking of the commandments, etc… must be accomplished in and through the application of the power of the Spirit to our soul. Getting the Bible out and skimming a few lines might feel like private worship, but it’s not. Honest, focused studying, even if but for a moment, brought with prayer is what we need to get something out of our Scripture time.
The second aspect of the profitable nature of time spent with God’s word is when we sit under good preaching on the Lord’s Day, or just in general. There is as much an encouragement to the minister here as there is to the listener. A man standing in a pulpit talking about Jesus is not the preaching the writers of the Catechism have in mind. While we do believe that there are times when wicked men acting as hirelings can be effectual unto the redemption of a person that most certainly is not the ordinary and normal way men and women are brought into the kingdom. The man called by God to proclaim His word is violating his purpose if he ever forgets that his duty is not to speak for himself, but for the one who sent him. As Paul notes the pastor is to be seen in himself as much as outside himself as an ambassador of the King. That means what he says from the pulpit must be in accord with what the Lord has already revealed in the sixty-six books he was given by God, no more, no less.
What that means then is that when a congregation has a godly preacher whom they know spends his time wisely preparing for the preaching he does, whether that be on the Sabbath morning and evening or in other Bible teaching times, that they come to diligently to the preaching spiritually ready and willing to hear what he has to say. In a catechism question that we will be looking at in a few weeks the WLC will actually provide some helps on how to do that. Simply put the Christian should be open to the Spirit’s work in the word, and willing to be convinced of areas in their life which need to be conformed to Christ and His order of being.
In closing, that is one of the ways we show forth the fruit of the spirit, and the fruits of repentance of which we begin to express after our initial coming to Jesus as our Savior. Are we interested in being conformed to His word? Do we have a teachable spirit or do we groan and complain as ancient Israel in the days of the Wilderness as God was preparing them to go into the land of promise? A large part in how we respond to the faithful proclamation of the Bible and the way the Spirit works to convict us as we read and think says a lot about where we are in our walk. The Bereans of Acts 17 were able to check Paul’s teaching because they knew their Word, and Paul receives that correction because it comes from a place of love and trust. He ignores the pleas of the Jews for the exact reason that they neither knew the Bible, nor cared really what it said. Let it be said of us that we are good Bereans, and not Laodiceans indifferent to the Spirit.
One last thing to consider:
Blessings in Christ,
Rev. Benjamin Glaser
Pastor, Bethany ARP Church