Clearly Understood – by Pastor Curt Sharbaugh
Suppose my son, Micah, came to me and asked, “Can I go outside and play?” And I said, “Your room isn’t clean.” And suppose Micah responded by cleaning his room and then going out to play. Were my words clear? Well, they achieved their goal. I wanted Micah to clean his room before going out to play. I spoke those words, and Micah responded in the way I was wanting him to respond. I was clear.
When we talk about the clarity of Scripture, we often simply think about the words of Scripture being clear enough to understand. But that’s not really the goal of Scripture. 2 Timothy 3:15 points out that Scripture is what leads to salvation and verses 16 and 17point out that Scripture guides our thoughts and actions so that they line up with what God wants. In other words, God speaks to the Church through his Word to create spiritual life and to guide us in living out that life. So if we ask about the clarity of Scripture, what we’re really asking is if Scripture is able to achieve its goal, which is obedient disciples. Are we able to hear it and respond to it as God wants us to?
In order to begin to answer that question, we should keep in mind that we are fallible and sinful. We are not naturally inclined to listen to God. We’ve “turned to our own way” (Isa. 53:6); we’re not seeking God (Psa. 14:2-3). We don’t naturally listen to what God says (1 Cor. 2:14). Even after salvation, we still have sinful desires that battle against us (1 Pet. 2:11). On top of all that, we also simply make mistakes in understanding what God has said because “to err is human” and because it was written in a different time and culture than our own.
God knows our condition, and he is an effective communicator even to fallible sinners. Isaiah 55:10-11 teaches that God’s Word will accomplish the purpose God has for it. That doesn’t mean that people will always understand or obey. Isaiah 6:9-10 shows that some people will not listen and obey. They have “heavy ears”; they remain in their sinful condition. But God’s Word can create life in a sinful person, shining light into our dark hearts (2 Cor. 4:6). When Christ’s Word is spoken, dead sinners are raised to life (John 5:24-25; 1 John 3:14). And God’s Word continues to direct how we live that new life (2 Tim. 3:16).
God is watching over his communication to his people from beginning to end. The Father uses the good news about his Son to cause us to be born again (1 Pet. 1:23-25), and he gives the Spirit to us so that we will receive his message and become more like Jesus (1 Cor. 2:12-14; 2 Cor. 3:18). The end goal of God’s message is to create people in his image who reflect his holy character (Eph. 4:24; 2 Tim. 3:16-17). God doesn’t just speak and leave the rest up to us. He is an effective communicator because he sees his communication through to its final goal, which is obedience and not simply knowledge. It wouldn’t have been enough for Micah to agree with me that his room was not clean and then go outside and play. I was using my statement about his room to say, “no, you may not go out and play,” which implied a reason, “because your room isn’t clean,” and also a command, “go clean your room.” God’s Word has not reached its goal until we respond as he wants us to respond.
It’s also true that not everything in the Bible is equally easy to understand. Peter admitted that some of what Paul wrote was hard to understand (2 Pet. 3:15-16). That’s why God hasn’t left us all alone. He’s brought us together into a community of believers who can encourage each other through Scripture to follow Jesus in love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25). He’s also given teachers to that community to help us understand and respond rightly to his Word (Eph. 4:11-16). Some of these teachers have translated the Bible into English; others have written Bible study aids; and many explain the Scriptures every Sunday morning. His Word is clear, but it’s not alone. We have his Spirit and fellow believers to help us listen and obey.