Individual Responsibility to Know God's Word
by Dave Brown
What is the very first and most important thing that we should teach those who are learning the gospel? Surely the plan or salvation is high on the list (Mt. 28:18) – but let us propose something that might be even more important to cover first.
It is essential that we impress upon others that the bible is the only standard. Since we are all fallible humans, our students have a major responsibility to verify that what we are teaching is from God’s word before accepting it as truth. We must encourage them to challenge us to prove what we are teaching, and it is up to us to encourage them to ask questions if anything sounds at all strange. The burden of proof is on the teacher to confirm the truth, not on the student to prove the teacher wrong.
This principle was taught even before Jesus’ personal ministry. In Matthew 3:8-9 we read of John the Baptist preaching: “Bring forth therefore fruit worthy of repentance: and think not to say within yourselves, We have Abraham to our father: for I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham.”
We might see this as an emphasis upon the need for their repentance, and it certainly was. But it is also an appeal for each of those who were hearing John the Baptist to recognize their individual responsibilities. They were not going to be saved as a nation, a religious organization, or any other collective. Each of us must come to God individually. John the Baptist would get the same point across today by preaching: "... and think not to say within yourselves, I am a member of the XYZ church, ..."
The principle of not being saved because we are “children of Abraham” goes way beyond being a warning to the Jews. We realize and take for granted that we are not saved just because we are Jews, Gentiles, bond, free, or any other economic, racial classification (Acts 10:34-35). However, many people do not see their personal responsibilities because they think church membership is enough. Think about the similarities of being saved by being a member of “the right church” and being saved by being “children of Abraham.”
Recognize that this destroys the whole idea of being saved by “finding the right church.” We have known people who were trying to visit every church in town to find the right one. What they should be looking for is God’s plan of salvation, and the only place to find that is in the bible. If we accept God’s plan of salvation and accept the conditions that Jesus has placed on our salvation we will be baptized for the remission of our sins (Acts 2:37-38) into the body of Christ (Romans 6:3; Acts 2:41). Ephesians 1:22-23 “… and he put all things in subjection under his feet, and gave him to be head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him that fills all in all.” This is the church that Jesus said he would build (Mt. 16:18), so there is no reason to look for it -- if you obey the gospel you are already in it. On the other hand, once we have obeyed the gospel (2 Thes. 1:8; 1 Pet. 4:17), we need to locate others of “like precious faith” (2 Pet. 1:1) so that we can worship and work with them as a local church (Heb. 10:25).
While this is God’s will, recognize that merely joining even a scriptural bible-based church does not give us a pass to heaven. This is not to say that we cannot learn from those who are mature Christians and experienced teachers. The bible teaches our responsibilities to look to such mature Christians to guide us to greater understanding and wisdom. But it is still up to each of us to verify that what we are being taught is the truth.
Next time you go outside, look around and observe the stones. What is it that is so different about stones? For one thing, they have no life in them at all. The trees, the grass, the plants all grown and thrive from the earth. Even the mulch in the dirt rots and produces benefits. But the stones are totally passive. If they had faith you would have to say that it is faith only.
Recognize that God can raise up members of a church (any church) from these stones. It is wrong to take comfort in a given church, even if it happens to be a sound one. John the Baptist essentially tells them that relying on such a membership makes them no better than the passive stones that you see around you. What a resounding condemnation!
How does this relate to our personal responsibilities? Well, if we are depending on our preacher, elders, or the members of our local church to be our final authority, then we are not discharging our personal responsibilities as God would have us. If we are depending on some conference, convention, or the hierarchy of some church government in a far off place, this is certainly not what God had in mind when He said that we ourselves are a royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:5), and a holy nation (Revelation 1:6), clearly referring to individuals and not organizations.
God wants our hearts, souls and minds. Any shortcut reliance upon someone else for establishing our religious beliefs for us just not acceptable.
John the Baptist’s implication for us is – “first things first.” You cannot possibly bring forth fruits worthy of repentance (i.e., the change of heart essential to your salvation) as long as you have it in your mind that you are already passively sitting on the right bus – the one labeled Children of Abraham, Roman Catholic, Mormon, Watchtower Society, faith only, [insert any church name here], or anything else. Salvation is not obtained by finding the right religious organization or repeating some catch-phrase gimmick. It is found by understanding what God has revealed to mankind and subjecting our entire lives to it (Romans 12:1-2).
What are the conditions of salvation given by Jesus?
See also Study the Bible for Yourself
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