According to a recent survey of the state of theology, among US adults there is a growing distrust of the Bible, with a majority of US adults now rejecting the divine authorship of the Bible, relegating it to the same category as other religious writings. One bad consequence of this, as the survey authors point out, is that abandoning the authoritative Word of God makes it easy and acceptable for people to ignore any biblical teaching that is out of step with their personal views or broader cultural values.
When Jesus was on earth, He confronted the opposite problem – the majority of adults placed a very high value on the Scriptures and prided themselves on how much respect they had for it.
Yet open disrespect and fulsome lip-service can sometimes converge on the same practical outcome – dismissing Jesus Christ and the salvation He provides. Both can be symptoms of spiritual death, when spiritual life is available only in Jesus Christ, and only as He is revealed in the Bible.
As Jesus interacted with people who had a very high regard for the Scriptures, He urged them to search the Scriptures better to obtain life, “for they testify of me.” His advice to those whose have much less respect for the Bible would likewise be to search the Scriptures. The Scriptures are special because they testify of Him. In the following updated extract, George Hutcheson looks at how we should engage with the Bible and with Jesus Christ in order to find “eternal life.
Jesus saw that the people who were arguing with Him (John 5) had a high view of the Scriptures. The Scriptures do deserve our high estimation, because they witness to Jesus.
The Bible comes from God’s wisdom and love
In fact, the Lord, in deep wisdom and love has taken away the need for anyone to be deluded, and has made His people’s way clear and sure, by setting down what He wants us to know in Holy Writ. The Bible is his infallible Word, and the yardstick for finding out truth, and deciding all controversies in religion. That is why Christ sends these people to the Scriptures, or the written Word, so that they would have God’s rule in this controversy.
The Bible reveals salvation fully
The way of salvation, and all things we need to attain it, are fully revealed in Scripture. These things were revealed even in the Old Testament, and much more now both in Old and New. Jesus says, “In them ye think ye have eternal life” (John 5:39) and this was a true thought. Truly the Scriptures do point out the way of salvation, even if people might be deluded in how they made use of it, or in thinking they could be saved simply by having it or reading it (see 2 Tim. 3:16–17).
The Bible reveals salvation clearly
The Scriptures are also plain and clear in all things necessary to salvation. “The entrance of thy words giveth light” (Psalm 119:130). Yet they are a depth not soon comprehended, or by superficial search. Instead they are a treasure in a mine, to be found out by digging and painstaking pondering of every word and sentence (none of which are expressed in vain, or at random, but all divine) by considering their context and purpose and how they relate to each other, and comparing Scripture with Scripture – all with humble and single-minded dependence on God. This is why Jesus recommends the Scriptures to be “searched”.
This treasure will be discovered by the careful searcher. It is the duty of all the visible church to read and search into the Scriptures, so that they may find this treasure. This is why Jesus encourages this search, as a thing possible, including to the Jews who were his hearers at this time (see Acts 17:11).
The Bible can correct our misuse of it
It is entirely possible for people, and indeed a visible church, to be very defective, and yet claim to hold the Scriptures in high esteem, and allow people to make use of them. They may even be opposing Christ, and yet imagining they will have salvation by the Scriptures. Both these things are true of the Jews here. Well, if you profess to have the hope of salvation by the Scriptures, you ought to demonstrate the reality of it, by being much in the study of the Scripture, so that you will be not deluded in your hope, and so that you may feed on the Scripture, and find the comfort of what they solidly gather from it.
We should use the Bible to get to know Jesus
The purpose of the Scriptures, and particularly of the Old Testament, is to point out and bear witness of Jesus Christ – His person, natures, and offices, His birth, life, death, sufferings, and the glory that should follow, and the benefits that come through Him. So it should be our aim in searching the Scriptures, to find Christ in them, and what they witness of Him. Without this, our study is to little purpose. “They are they which testify of me,” He said (John 3:39; see also Acts 3:22–24).
The Bible shows us Christ who is the way to life
In verse 40 of John 5, Christ challenges the people to abandon their wilful unbelief. John, and Christ’s own works, and the Father, and the Scriptures which they claimed to highly esteem, all proved what He was, and pointed Him out as the source of the “eternal life” which they professed to seek. Yet such was their obstinacy that they would not come to Him, nor believe in Him.
We are to search the Scriptures for “life,” and come to Christ for “life”. What God offers in Christ to lost sinners – in grace here, and glory hereafter – is the only thing that truly deserves the name of “life.” This is the true remedy for our spiritual death, and without it our life on earth is scarce worthy the name.
We cannot have life without Christ
People may be so far deluded as to imagine they will get life, when yet they neglect the means of life. These Jews “thought to have eternal life,” yet they did not take the right way to life.
The life of lost sinners is only to be found in Christ, who is the purchaser, storehouse, keeper and dispenser of life, the Mediator of the covenant, and the one who stands between God and sinners. This is how He is held out to us here – they must “come to me,” He says, if they are to live.
The way how sinners come to partake of this life is by coming to Christ by faith. Anyone who has a pressing need of Christ, and cannot stay away from Him whatever discouragements they encounter – and anyone who, whatever distance they are at, are yet moving toward Him, even with slow progress – and anyone who is still seeking closer communion with Him, whatever they already have – these are true believers, and they will not miss out on life. Their soul shall be kept in life, till they come to live with Him for ever. To “come to Christ,” is in effect to believe (see John 6:33), and upon this they shall “have life.”
We must abandon our neglect of Jesus
Although life is to be found only in Jesus Christ, yet not everyone makes use of Him for obtaining life. Instead, so many are ignorant of themselves, and ignorant of Him, overestimating their own wellbeing without Him, or imagining they can get life some other way, being taken up with earthly things, given up to their own stubbornness as a judgment, or displeased with the terms of getting life by renouncing their own righteousness and pleasures. Many therefore neglect this offered salvation: “Ye will not come to me.”
We must abandon our obstinacy against Jesus
The great obstruction to faith, and the great aggravation of unbelief, is our wilfulness in not coming to Christ.
Some will not come and believe in him, out of their malice and obstinacy, however clearly He proves who and what He is. Others are plagued with brutish sensuality [simply preferring their sins to eternal life].
Then there are some who think they would be willing to come, but think they have reasons why they dare not. These will find that ultimately, “will not” is their great impediment. They do not believe, because they are not willing to be stripped of themselves, as faith in Christ requires they should be (Rom. 10:3).
Otherwise there is no impediment lying in the way of anyone coming to Christ, but love removes it. Jesus will welcome those who have refused many invitations, those who have wandered far, those who have fallen into gross sins, those who have played the harlot with many lovers, etc. – provided they will come to Him, to seek grace to repent for things like this, and amend. Even the dead may come to Him to get life, if they do not resolve that they will not. Those who have some weak desire, may come to Him to get willingness. (See Psalm 81:11; Rev. 22:17.)
We must abandon our unbelief about Jesus
Christ will challenge us for not embracing His offer and invitation to come and get life, especially when there is much of our willfulness in it. Treating His offer with contempt is a great indignity, and will condemn us. He is really offended at the pride (masked as it is with a show of humility) which makes the self-condemned sinner not to embrace Him on gospel terms. So it is greatly to our advantage to mourn for the unbelief we find in us, and when our unbelief is our burden.
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