We live at a time when truth has been devalued and tolerance has been enthroned. Everyone has their own opinions about how to reach “divine reality”—whether that be nirvana, paradise, or the denial of the divine altogether, which just leads us to the deification of the material or the self. Too often, when faced with such cultural pressures, all that our churches have to offer in response is a kind of how-to or self-help therapeutic program that lacks robust, distinctly Christian theology.
The great challenge in the face of these pressures, then, is to renew our commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture. Like King Josiah when Hilkiah presented him with the newly rediscovered Book of the Law (2 Kings 22:8–13), we must renew our commitment to “to walk after the LORD and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all [our] heart and all [our] soul” (23:3).
When you take away the Book, we have no place to stand; we’re left with moralism, platitudes, religious ideas, agendas, and notions for the well-being of a culture—each of which will leave us empty in the end. So what is the antidote? It is to return once again to Scripture and find there the renewal of our confidence in God’s Holy Word.
Paul addresses the sufficiency of Scripture head-on in 2 Timothy 3:15–4:1. There we can identify three things for which the Scriptures are sufficient.
First and foremost, the Scriptures are able to make one “wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Tim. 3:15). In other words, the Bible is a book about Jesus. In the Old Testament, Jesus is predicted. In the Gospels, Jesus is incarnated. In the Acts of the Apostles, Jesus is preached. In the Epistles, Jesus is expounded. And in Revelation, Jesus is expected.
Today, competing truth claims vie for our attention and, ultimately, our faith. Yet the great drag on Christianity is not where most people think it is. They think it’s coming from the outside. They think it’s coming from secularism or from rival religions such as Buddhism, Hinduism, or Islam. In reality, the great drag on Christianity is coming from within—from the offering of religious generalities, psychological theories, and political agendas rather than the saving grace of the Gospel. We’re dragging ourselves down when we lack confidence in the Scriptures’ sufficiency.
The great drag on Christianity is coming from within—from the offering of religious generalities, psychological theories, and political agendas rather than the saving grace of the Gospel. We’re dragging ourselves down when we lack confidence in the sufficiency of the Scriptures.
Through the Bible, God comes to us in our foolishness and lostness and uses His miracle-working power to save our souls (1 Peter 1:23; James 1:21). It is by the Scriptures that He enables blind people to see and causes deaf people to hear. They are totally sufficient for our faith.
In John 6:68, Peter asks Jesus, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” That’s exactly the spirit we need in our churches today: Where else can we go but to the incarnate Word, made known to us in the written Word, to learn the glorious facts of our faith?
In 2 Timothy 3:16–17, we see that Scripture is sufficient not only for salvation but also for subsequent transformation:
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
This great summary statement shows that the Bible is absolutely essential to both spiritual maturity and usefulness. Paul is reminding Timothy that the basis of Scripture’s profitableness lies in its inspiration. The reason it is so beneficial to us is that it is unlike any other book in all the world: it is theopneustos, “God-breathed.”
If we believe in the sufficiency of Scripture, then our churches must devote themselves to the transformative habits of teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness—all by and in accord with Scripture.
Younger ministers often seek out more experienced pastors for advice, asking, “What’s the key to effective ministry? Where should a pastor focus his time and attention?” Any worthy answer is always the same: Teach the Bible! It may sound simple or unexciting on its face, but it is still urgently true: the Bible is profitable for teaching the faith, and it is the key to all effective ministry.
The Scriptures are also profitable for rebuking—for correcting error, for humbly pointing out where things have gone wrong. Now, this isn’t to say that pointing out error should be our whole agenda. That’s not Paul’s point. He’s saying that in the exposition of Scripture, people will not only come to love Christ more and be stirred to a renewed commitment to the faith; they will also have their lives brought in line with the truth of God’s Word. Errors in belief, like errors in behavior, must be pointed out—though always in a spirit of love and genuine kindness.
In addition to warning one another about the wrong path, we sometimes need to course correct. If we’re constantly harping on problems without offering alternatives, we’re not much use at all. For pastors, the best way to direct people to a better way is to preach expositionally through the Bible. The danger in preaching topically is that we will preach what comes easiest to us—the sugary desserts that taste so good—and we will neglect the broccoli, the nutrition we need but perhaps seldom desire.
Training in Righteousness
Training in righteousness goes right along with correction. We need positive direction for Christian living. Thankfully, we have the Scriptures as our guide. Let them be your food! Let them be your map! You have all that is necessary in this book. “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly,” as would a hearty, delicious meal (Col. 3:16).
The sufficiency of Scripture for God’s people then leads Paul to muster a grand charge to Timothy. This is Paul’s last letter, after all—and he knows it (2 Tim. 4:6). If you were writing a last letter to somebody, surely you would write what’s most pressing in your mind. So what does Paul say as he moves into the last section of his final letter?
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word. (2 Tim. 4:1–2)
Scripture is sufficient not only to equip people and to lead them to salvation but also for building the church. You can raise a large crowd in many ways, but the church grows by God’s Word. Those who have been called to the privilege of preaching, therefore, have been called to a weighty task.
J. I. Packer wrote that Christian preaching is “the event of God bringing to an audience a Bible-based, Christ-related, life-impacting message of instruction and direction from himself through the words of a spokesperson.”1 When we use this as a standard, it becomes obvious that not every performance from behind a pulpit is true preaching.
Many churches are being brought up under knowledgeable orators who speak with emphasis but lack godly conviction. Too often, though, the preacher’s approach actually erodes the congregation’s expectation that God is about to speak through His Word. Their eyes and ears are focused on the instrument rather than the Master. There is no sense of the Holy Spirit’s arresting power. There is no experience of being cut to the heart and saying, “Brothers, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). For life-changing preaching to occur, both the people and the preacher must come prayerfully expectant to hear from God through the proclamation of His all-sufficient Word.
Only God’s Word can instruct us in the path of righteousness. Only God’s Word, brought home by the Spirit’s enabling power, can build God’s people.
If we have any hope of seeing unbelievers saved, the saints built up in faith, and Jesus’ name openly glorified as the head of His church, then we desperately need a renewed commitment to the sufficiency of Scripture. Only God’s Word can fill us with a genuine knowledge and love for Christ. Only God’s Word can instruct us in the path of righteousness. Only God’s Word, brought home by the Spirit’s enabling power, can build God’s people.
The truth is, we will never thrive—and perhaps will barely even survive—amidst the forces of a secular culture unless we hold tightly to God’s divinely inspired Word. May we all ask God to fill our hearts and churches with a love for Christ through the Scriptures. And may we commit to staying on our knees till God strikes us with a passion for the absolute sufficiency of His Book.
This article was adapted from the sermon “Sufficiency of the Word” by Alistair Begg.
1 J. I. Packer, “Some Perspectives on Preaching,” in Preaching the Living Word, ed. David Jackman (Fearn, Ross-Shire: Christian Focus, 1999), 28.