“The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law" (Deut 29:29).
Pastor Tony Evans explains, “God’s revealed word has everything we need to know to be all that God expects us to be.” God has not left us to search out how to please him; he has told us exactly what he wants. Nor has he left us to seek out the secrets of knowing him; he has revealed all that he wants us to know about himself at this time through his Son and his word.
That doesn’t mean he has told us everything we want to know. “The secret things belong to the LORD.” There are things he will tell us in glory. There are things we may never be privy to. But what he wants us to have, we have, and what he does not want us to have, we are not going to get. The ancient Gnostics and the modern New Agers search for hidden secrets in vain. There is nothing that has not been disclosed to those who will submit themselves to the scriptures.
Wayne Grudem offers some practical applications of this doctrine:
- It should encourage us as we try to discover what God would have us think or to do.
- We are to add nothing to scripture, nor should we consider anything else equal to it.
- God does not require us to know or believe anything about him or his work that is not found in scripture.
- No modern “revelations from God” should be treated as equal with scripture.
- Something is not a sin unless it is forbidden by scripture either explicitly or implicitly.
- God requires nothing of us that is not stated in scripture either explicitly or implicitly.
- We should emphasize what the Bible emphasizes and be content with what God has revealed.
“The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7b). We mustn't think of the scriptures as if they're written in code, and only special people have the key. God gave us his word to be understood. He wants to make the simple wise. He wants us to know him and to know how to please him.
However, the clarity of scripture does not mean that you can understand the scriptures easily or that all parts are equally clear. Grudem says, “The clarity of Scripture means that the Bible is written in such a way that its teachings are able to be understood by all who will read it seeking God’s help and being willing to follow it.”
One reason for the doctrine of the clarity of the scriptures is the Holy Spirit. The same God who inspired the text lives in the hearts of believers and will help those who seek him to understand his word. As Spurgeon said, “If you do not understand a book by a departed writer you are unable to ask him his meaning, but the Spirit, who inspired Holy Scripture, lives forever, and He delights to open the Word to those who seek His instruction.”
The scriptures reward diligent study. The essentials (eg, how to be saved) are easier to find and understand than ancillary issues (eg, what will happen when Jesus returns), but nothing is guaranteed to those who refuse to come to the word with humility.
So why do we need Bible teachers? First, not everyone is equally diligent about Bible study. Some study the scriptures as their career, and the rest of us fit it into our lives where we can.
Second, that’s the way Christ set up his Church. His design was that the Church should be made up of people with different gifts, including teaching, who all work together to one end (cf, 1 Cor 12). Spurgeon remarked, “It seems odd that certain who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.” The wisdom and understanding the Spirit has given one has been given them for the edification of all.
However, even though there are specialists, every believer is called and equipped to search and understand the scriptures so that they can know God and live according to his ways. He has promised that his word will refresh the soul, make wise the simple, and give joy to the heart and light to the eyes (Psalm 19). Those are gifts that should not be left unclaimed.
I think anyone would benefit from a close reading of “The Four Characteristics of Scripture: (4) Sufficiency” in Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. “The Bible is Sufficient” in Tony Evans’ Theology You Can Count On is also well worth your time.
Part of Christianity 101