The Purpose of the Bible for Unbelievers and Believers
Our post today concerns that magnificent answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, at Question number 80, which asks and answers, “How is the Word made effectual to salvation? A. The Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching, of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.”
Here we arrive at the first outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates to us the benefits of redemption, namely and especially ”the Word,” or the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments.
Focus in with me on the first five words of this answer, “The Spirit of God makes.” We must never limit the work of the Holy Spirit, for He is God. Yet the means which the Triune God has appointed is the Holy Spirit working through and by the Word of God to make it effective for salvation. Thus, it behooves us to always pray that the Holy Spirit apply the reading and preaching of the Word to ourselves and others.
Our Confessional fathers then remind us of the two methods associated with the Bible, namely, that of reading and preaching. Every time we read and hear the Bible, we need to ask and answer three questions, namely, what does it say, what does it mean, and what does it mean to me?.
There are two ways in which we can speak of the Bible being effectual. First, the Word of God “convinces and converts sinners.” It convinces us that we are sinners. It humbles our proud thoughts with respect to ourselves. It convinces us that we cannot save ourselves. It convinces us that Christ alone is the way, the truth, and the life. In short, it drives sinners out of themselves and draw us and others irresistibly to the Redeemer.
The Word, through the Holy Spirit, then converts us. We are changed from a child of the devil to a child of God. We go from death to life, from a hater of the holy God to a lover of God. We have a change of mind which leads to a change of action.
What this convincing and converting should produce in us at the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word of God, is a prayer for the effectiveness of the Bible in the lives and souls of the elect. Let us not simply sit at “zombies” in the chairs of our homes, or the pews of the church, when the Word of God is read in family devotions, or Sunday worship. Let us constantly be in prayer when the Bible is read, that it might bring forth spiritual fruit unto salvation, and holiness of life, and preparation for service.
Second, the Word also is an “effective means” of ”building us up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.” There is a construction process going on around the Word of God. The Spirit of God is building spiritual stones in the temple of our hearts. The holiness of God is aimed at by the reading and hearing of the Word of God. Comfort from the troubles of life is another profit achieved by the reading and hearing of God’s Word. The Scriptures will expose the sins we should be putting to death. And it is in the Scriptures where we will find encouragement, not only for ourselves, but to others who need the comfort of God.
In summary, the reading of and listening to God’s Word, should never be a rote experience in our lives. It is to be a living, changing progression in conversion and conduct.
Words to live by: As a retired Presbyterian and Reformed pastor, I once challenged the people of an evangelical and Reformed congregation by giving them a paper bag, so that they could smuggle their personal Bibles out of their homes on the Lord’s Day, use them in the church service, and then smuggle them back into their homes at the end of the Lord’s Day! It was an extreme suggestion (which no one did actually), and a humorous suggestion to get them to bring their Bibles to church. I then followed it up with a Through the Bible reading plan in a year (the one I am using in this devotional guide) to make their Bibles a constant in their hearts and lives. It had its effect on the congregation, as some of them were saved, and others began to grow in grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus. Keep the Word of God before God’s people, by believing and living it yourselves, and encouraging others to be much in God’s Word, the Bible.