A simple truth that profoundly affected my life and work

The Israeli parliament voted today to dissolve itself, setting up the fifth election in less than four years. New elections will be held on November 1.

In other news, Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer will retire effective today at noon EDT. He will be replaced by Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, who will be sworn in at that time.

I thought of these stories today when I read this biblical text: “The Lᴏʀᴅ is king forever and ever; the nations perish from his land” (Psalm 10:16). 

Scripture proclaims:

  • “Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases” (Psalm 115:3).
  • “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lᴏʀᴅ that will stand” (Proverbs 19:21).
  • “Whatever the Lᴏʀᴅ pleases, he does, in heaven and on earth, in the seas and all deeps” (Psalm 135:6).

In a chaotic and ever-changing world, it is deeply reassuring to remember God’s nature: “I the Lᴏʀᴅ do not change” (Malachi 3:6). As a result, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

It is also true that human nature does not change. While we face unprecedented opportunities and challenges with regard to technology and other progress, our essential fears and hopes are the same as our ancestors.

A philosopher for whom I will always be grateful

I say all of that to make this point: our job as culture-changing Christians is not to make the Bible relevant but to demonstrate its relevance. Because neither God nor humans truly change, his word is just as relevant to us as when it was first inspired.

This seemingly simple fact was profoundly impactful for me when I first encountered it.

I was a second-year seminary student in a philosophy of religion course. Yandall Woodfin’s masterful work, With All Your Mind: A Christian Philosophy, was one of our texts. On page 142 he writes, “The linguistic interpreter strives to remove any conceptual hindrance which would prevent the revelatory events already present in Scripture from breaking through to man in self-confirming witness.” However, as he notes on the next page, “The believer does not have the ultimate burden of making the gospel relevant, for this has already been accomplished.”

I did not know then that Dr. Woodfin would become my major professor in seminary and that I would be privileged to conduct his funeral one day. His brilliant mind and godly heart made an impression on me that lasts to this day. And this insight was deeply formative for me and remains so.

The simple fact is, you and I cannot convict a single sinner of a single sin or save a single soul. Our job is to demonstrate the relevance of God’s word first in our lives and then in our verbal witness and cultural engagement.

Witnesses called to the stand

As I often say, we are witnesses called to the stand. Jesus is the Defendant; the Holy Spirit is the Defense Attorney; Satan is the prosecutor; the person with whom we are engaged is the jury.

Our responsibility is to testify to what we know as the Defense Attorney directs us. He has a theory of the case and a plan for the jury. He knows what witnesses he will call in what order for what purpose. When we are faithful to testify when called, he will use us in his larger work of persuading the jury to find for the Defendant.

We may be the first witness called to the stand and never hear how the trial turns out. We may be the last and are privileged to be present when the jury decides for the Defendant. We will most likely be somewhere in the middle.

Success in this calling is defined by obedience.

“Give us Thy truths to understand”

The eternal relevance of God’s word and the fact that I am responsible only to witness to its relevance as the Spirit directs me are two facts that have been greatly encouraging to me over the years. They motivate my work every day with every article I write, every media encounter in which I engage, and every message I deliver.

A W. Tozer quoted this poem by the German theologian and composer Johann Michael Altenburg (1584–1640), words I invite you to pray with me today:

Draw nigh to us, Thou Lord of Hosts,
And send on us Thy Holy Ghost;
With love and grace our lives command,
Give us Thy truths to understand.