Christianity that Works
2 Timothy 3:16-17
We are living in a time when the value of anything is determined by its ability to “work.” Functionality, more than just about every other quality, is deemed most important of all.
• Who wants an expensive cell phone that won’t make or receive phone calls?
• What good is that expensive digital camera where the storage capacity for the pictures is too small to hold more than a few shot?
• If your air conditioner isn’t functioning properly, one 100* afternoon will bring you to your knees.
Functionality is important. Because of this, most people judge their religion based upon the perception of its ability to work. If one’s religion does not work, then it’s likely that he will leave that faith very soon. Likewise, functionality is important in Christianity.
As a Christian, I want a faith that will:
• Answer the crucial questions about life
• Provide a framework through which I interact with others (ethics)
• Cause me to improve as an individual (morality)
• Encourage overall well-being (financial, physical, social)
• Promote an environment which provides social interaction with others
• Accept me as an individual
• Be acceptable to others in society
While all of these points may trace their origin to the gospel, there is a lot more than gospel here. In fact, these are just areas of general concern. I think most of these would be true regardless of the religion. These just represent where people are. People want their faith to work.
Unfortunately, many Christians have come to believe that Christianity does not work. I think the reason for this is quite complex. It might be one of the following reasons (or some combination).
• There is a seeming contradiction between Science and Christianity.
• There are many believers who have become notorious for their sinful behavior which stains the reputation of our faith.
• Many believers fail to see tangible spiritual growth for long stretches of time (or they fail to perceive that growth).
• A whole lot of believers are struggling in areas of well-being.
• Though they generally gather together a few times a week, some Christians feel more disconnected at church than at any other place.
• A lot of Christians feel judged at church.
• Many Christians never reproduce themselves in the life of another person other than family (mainly children).
In other words, even with the modern emphasis on relevance (particularly in the areas of marriage and family, finances, and interpersonal relationships), there are Christians who have come to the conclusion (though they would never state it verbally) that Christianity does not work.
The point of this study is that the Christianity God outlines in the Bible does work. In fact, when it functions in the way God intends, it works beautifully.
One of the Bible passages which demonstrates this is 2 Timothy 3:16-17. In 2 Timothy 3 the apostle Paul injects an important statement about the value of God’s Word to the life of every Christian. After acknowledging the role of Scripture in Timothy’s personal faith in Jesus for salvation, Paul adds this argument. Not only is the Bible an important part of bringing us to Christ, it is vitally important after our salvation in terms of our living the Christian life. The “holy Scriptures,” when they are fully known, offer the necessary wisdom for one placing his faith in Christ Jesus.
They were also to be the primary part of Timothy’s preaching ministry. Paul states that these “Scriptures” (the same word in v. 16 and in v. 15) are valuable to Christian living. The reason for Paul’s confidence that the words themselves have this value is that they were the words that God spoke. The term “inspiration” has the idea of being “God-breathed.” This is similar language to the creation of man by God breathing into his nostrils the breath of life (Genesis 2:7). Remember in John 20:22 that Jesus breathed onto His disciples and commanded them to receive the Holy Spirit. God breathed life into human words so that they are more than just words. They are God’s words.
What this means is that when Timothy taught God’s words to the people in Ephesus, he was bringing to them the very words of spiritual life. This is why the Scriptures are valuable. When we read or meditate on God’s words we are renewing the spirit of our minds (Ephesians 4:23). We literally begin to think God’s own thoughts after Him. Romans 12:2 indicates that this has transformative power. They influence my thoughts, my emotions, and my will. When God’s words are brought to bear on these different aspects of my being change begins to take place. Spiritual life is breathed into me.
Specifically, God’s words are beneficial in four different (yet overlapping in some cases) areas. These are:
1. Doctrine: The Bible teaches me about God. From the Scriptures I learn His will, His ways and methods, about what He wants from me.
2. Reproof: God’s words are truth. More than ever, we need them because we live in a culture where truth is considered to be relative. God’s truth is not relative.
3. Correction: These words effect the necessary changes in my heart where the wrong thoughts ruled.
4. Instruction about righteousness: God’s words teach me how to live a right kind of life.
While these words have no consequential effect on unbelievers, the truths of the Scriptures are “spiritually discerned” according to Paul in 1 Corinthians 2, they are transformative in the life of a Christian. Hebrews 4:12 teaches that the Scriptures penetrate into the deepest parts of our hearts. They discern our thoughts and our intentions. 2 Corinthians 3:18 indicates that these words cause us to see God like we are looking into a mirror. When we gaze into God’s words we see His glory. This changes us into the “same image” as what we see there—glory to glory.
Thus, every time the word of God takes the central part of my thoughts I either learn about God; I am challenged by what I learn about God; I am corrected where wrong thinking has caused me to sin; or I gain valuable training as to how to live a life that is pleasing to the Lord. The result of this is that I become increasingly more mature in Christ. The term in our translation is “perfect.” Some translations use the word “complete.” The idea is one of spiritual maturity. This maturity, Paul adds, equips me to do things that are beneficial (every good work).
Think of this text this way. If I do not have a right view of God, then there is no way I can do acts of service to Him like I should. If I am not challenged in those areas where my behavior is sinful, then I cannot do acts of service for God. If I continue in the same sinful habits as before then I cannot really do acts of service for God. If I do not have the necessary training in righteousness then my acts of service will not be what God wants from me. This is what God’s words do—they are transformative.
In God’s words are the answers for the crucial questions of life. I find there the necessary framework for living ethically in relation to others. God’s words provide me His moral law teaching me the righteous way to live. Scripture teaches the balanced life that produces personal well-being. I learn in its pages how to handle money, how to be a good steward of my God-given resources, and how to socialize with other people. The church, the place God ordained for the gathering of His people, offers opportunities to interact with others who desire to worship God. In that environment I can accept others and be accepted. Through the gospel message I can take my faith to those who do not yet believe with the great hope that they will turn to embrace my same faith in the Lord Jesus. In other words, biblical Christianity works.
The important question is: in what areas do I need to change?
1. What thoughts do I have that are not biblical?
i. These thoughts might be in relation to God—worry, fear, frustration
ii. They might be in relation to other people—anger, lack of forgiveness, lack of love
2. Where do I need rebuke?
i. There are probably hundreds of areas where mild rebuke is needed (some areas I don’t know about because I haven’t reached a stage of life where it becomes apparent—parenting is an example).
ii. There might be a few areas where I need strong rebuke.
3. Where do I need correction?
i. These areas are probably more akin to doing something wrong or improperly than—a lesser degree than rebuke.
ii. It is the idea of truth coming to bear on my life.
4. Where could I use further training in righteousness?
i. Maybe I need basic Christian life skills such as:
1. Life in the Spirit
2. Worship—public and private
3. Sharing the gospel
4. Handling trials biblically
ii. I might need to develop God-honoring habits such as:
2. Bible reading
3. Giving offerings and stewardship
iii. I might need interpersonal relationship help such learning to:
1. Forbear when others sin against me
2. Forgive when I cannot forbear
1. Is there ever a time when a Christian reaches a place where he has no more room for spiritual growth? (Can he become “complete” –v. 17?) If not, why not?
2. What obstacles are there which inhibit spiritual growth in the lives of believers? Arrange the list below in order of priority and explain why you came to that conclusion.
a. Lack of motivation/apathy
b. Lack of valuing change
c. Lack of information
d. Bad, sinful habits
e. Worldly culture
f. Wrong information (previous Bible teaching that was wrong and misleading)
3. Were you ever discipled after you accepted Jesus as Savior?
4. Are you currently in a discipleship relationship with another Christian?
a. You are discipling someone
b. You are being discipled by someone
5. Can you point to obvious spiritual change that has taken place in your life over the past five years?