When we speak of the divine authorship of Scripture, we are referring to the fact that the Biblical authors were inspired by God and authorised by him to deliver his message. We are looking at the Bible as God’s word to his people and emphasising the fact that it is “God’s word.” As we explore the attributes of Scripture that derive primarily from its divine inspiration, we will touch on two matters: the power of Scripture and the authority of Scripture. Of course, most evangelical Christians instinctively recognise that the Bible is God’s powerful, authoritative word to every generation. Yet, most of us have never thought through many of the issues related these attributes of Scripture. But we can use the Bible more effectively in ethics if we understand these characteristics in further detail. So, let us turn our attention to the power of Scripture.
Power of Scripture
As Christians, when we approach the subject of ethics, we are not merely interested in figuring out which things are good and which are evil. We are also interested in applying that knowledge by acting, thinking and feeling in ways that are morally praiseworthy. But where can we find the strength to carry out what we know to be right and good? In this pursuit, we are greatly aided by Scripture’s power. As God’s living and active word, the Bible does not just tell us what to do; it also empowers us to believe and to live in ways that please God and lead to his blessings. Let’s unpack this concept first by looking at some examples of the power of God’s Word in its various forms, and second by turning to the implications that this power has for ethical decision-making.
God’s Word may take many forms. And the Bible indicates that God’s Word is powerful even when it does not take the form of Scripture. As we seek to demonstrate the power of Scripture, we will begin by looking first at the power of God’s Word over creation. Next, we will touch on the power of his prophetic word, and then on the power of the preaching of the Gospel. Finally, we will explore the power of God’s written Word or Scriptures. Let’s begin by investigating the power of God’s Word over creation.
When we consider the power of God’s word, it is often helpful to think first about how his word is powerful over the creation. Perhaps the place where this is most easily seen is the creation account of Genesis 1, where God spoke the world into existence. Throughout the entire chapter, the only action that God performs is speaking. And by his spoken word, he creates, orders and fills the entire universe. As Psalm 33:6, 9 comment regarding this account:
By the word of the Lord were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth… He spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm (Psalm 33:6, 9).
God’s declaration had great power in the days of creation, so much power that his word brought the creation into existence. It is not that the words have innate power that God manipulates. Rather, God uses his declarations as vessels that transmit his own power. God’s words are the means he uses to accomplish his ends, much as any human being might use a hammer to drive a nail into place.
In the second place, the Scriptures also make it clear that God’s word has power when it comes through the mouths of inspired prophets. Isaiah 55:10-11 confirm this idea. There the prophet wrote:
As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish … so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it (Isaiah 55:10-11).
Although this passage speaks of God’s word going out from his mouth, in the context it is apparent that God was referring to the preaching of the prophet Isaiah. The people of Judah heard this word of the Lord not directly from God’s mouth, but from Isaiah. Even so, the message was still powerful when Isaiah spoke and wrote it; it had God’s power to accomplish his purposes.
A third way in which we may see the power of God’s word is through the uninspired preaching of his word or the gospel. The New Testament frequently confirms this idea when it says that God works through the preaching of the gospel, even when the preachers are not infallibly inspired. For instance, in Romans 1:15-16, Paul directly stated that the preached gospel carries God’s power:
I am so eager to preach the gospel … because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes (Romans 1:15-16).
The gospel Paul had in mind here was not just a set of truths about what Jesus had done, nor was it the power of God represented by the statements of the gospel. He did not mean that the gospel is about the God who has power, or about the things that God has done with his power. Rather, Paul meant that the act of preaching the gospel is powerful because God uses preaching to bring people to faith.
Paul made a similar statement in Colossians 1:18, where he wrote:
The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (Colossians 1:18).
Notice again, that Paul was speaking about the message itself, not just about the historical facts related by the message. After all, people do not accept the truth of the gospel’s claims while, at the same time, condemning God as foolish for saving humanity. Rather, people count the gospel message as foolish because they do not believe that its statements are true. To them, it sounds like a fanciful tale or even a lie, and they think that no right thinking person would believe it. It is for this reason that the gospel seems like foolishness to unbelievers. But to people who believe the message, the preaching of the gospel is the power of God because it is the means by which God brings them to a saving knowledge of the truth.
Realising that God’s word is powerful over creation, in the prophetic word, and even in the fallible preaching of the gospel, we are in a position to understand the power of the written Word of God, the Bible.
Jesus himself pointed to the power of the written word when he told the familiar story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16. You will recall that when the rich man died, he looked up from hell to see Lazarus being comforted by Abraham. The rich man, worrying that his family would also perish in hell, asked Abraham to raise Lazarus from the dead and to send Lazarus to preach repentance to the rich man’s family. In Luke 16:29-31 we read Abraham’s answer:
They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them… If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead (Luke 16:29-31).
At least two elements of this passage pertain to our discussion. First, Abraham was speaking about Scripture. He referred to Moses and the prophets not as living people who continued to speak in person, but as authors who continued to speak through the Bible, God’s written Word. And just as the words of Moses and the prophets were powerful when God inspired them to speak during their earthly lives, they continued to be powerful in written form.
Second, Abraham said that the written words of Scripture, written by God’s inspired prophets, have as much power to bring people to repentance as does the tremendous miracle of seeing someone raised from the dead. In many respects this passage is one of the most astounding statements about the power of Scripture found in the Bible. We all realize that witnessing someone raise the dead would be a tremendously influential experience. It would potentially have life-transforming power. But here Jesus actually indicated that reading the Bible has even more power than witnessing a resurrection from the dead
The apostle Paul affirmed this idea in 2 Timothy 3:15 when he wrote:
The holy Scriptures … are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15).
Studying Scripture is like preaching because it is a means through which God gives people the understanding and faith necessary for salvation. Just as surely as the preached word carries God’s power, so does the Bible.
With such an understanding of the power of the Word of God in creation, inspired prophetic speech, fallible preaching, and the Bible, we are in a position to reflect briefly on the implications of these matters for the process of making ethical decisions.
One passage that touches on the practical implications of the power of God’s word is Hebrews 4:12-13:
The word of God is living and active… it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight (Hebrews 4:12-13).
Notice here that the writer of Hebrews speaks of God’s word as living and active. It is not a mere collection of inert information that has no potency. On the contrary, when we approach God’s word, we are to view it as an active living thing, full of power to accomplish what God desires. And what does the Word of God do in the area of ethics? As this passage says, the word of God judges our hearts. It is able to penetrate and to evaluate our deepest thoughts and motives. And it has the power to save us from condemnation and to enable us to live holy, moral lives. Listen to how Paul continued the passage in 2 Timothy that we read a moment ago. In 2 Timothy 3:15-17 he wrote:
The holy Scriptures … are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:15-17).
The Bible’s power is not just in leading us to our initial faith in Christ. As God’s voice, Scripture also has the power to equip us “for every good work.” The Holy Spirit uses the Scriptures to give us faith and wisdom, and to mold our characters in such a way that when we are confronted with moral choices, we are able to choose the good and refuse the bad.
Many times Christians find themselves frustrated by their attempts to live ethical lives. They feel helpless and impotent to do what is right and good. In such situations it is a great encouragement to know that learning the Scriptures, reminding ourselves of them, even meditating on the Scriptures, is not an exercise in futility. It is much more than simply reading an ethical guide. Instead, the word of God in Scripture actually empowers us to live for God. Constant learning and meditation on the word of God brings us into contact with the power of God that will always accomplish his purposes. In this way, the power of Scripture is of essential importance to Christian ethics.