Sunday, January 4, 2015

How Do You Know God Leads Your Understanding of the Bible?

If you are in the Church of God and you study and read your Bible, do you understand it? If you understand it, how do you know you understand it correctly?

Mr. Armstrong taught that the Bible is in a sense a coded book, that we need the help of God's Holy Spirit to understand it correctly, that the world as a whole does not and cannot understand the Bible, and that only those called by God in this age are able to understand the Bible correctly.

Satan is the deceiver of the whole world (Revelation 12:9). We need the help of God's Spirit to escape that deception, and God gives us that help when we are called (John 14:15-17). He gives us more of that when we are converted (1 Corinthians 2:9-16, Romans 8:9). The world as a whole is blinded (2 Corinthians 3:14-16, 4:3-4). A veil is over the eyes of the world until Christ returns and Satan is put away.

So we need God's help, which He gives through the Holy Spirit, to really understand the Bible and the doctrines of the Bible.

Now, say you are a baptized member of the Church of God. You read a scripture, meditate about it, maybe pray about it, and a certain understanding of that scripture comes into you mind that you did not have before. How do you know if that "understanding" is correct? Could your understanding be mistaken? Was it put into your mind by God's Holy Spirit? Do you assume any idea about scripture you have comes from the Holy Spirit just because you have understood and believed the major doctrines of the Church of God and have been baptized?

If you say, yes, then there is a problem, or a question that needs to be answered. Many baptized members of the Church of God may read a passage of scripture and have different ideas and opinions about what it means. This can be true even though we all agree with the major doctrines taught by the Church of God and Herbert W. Armstrong. Yet, the Holy Spirit does not deceive us. The Holy Spirit will not put a true understanding of a passage of scripture into the mind of one member and a false understanding of that same passage into the mind of another member.

If two baptized members of the Church of God have opposite views of a passage of scripture, both views cannot be inspired by the Holy Spirit because God does not contradict Himself. One view or the other must be false, and if it is false, it was not inspired by God. If it is false, it is either a simple human mistake in the mind of the person who believes it, or it is a deception from Satan that the Church member who believes it has not yet escaped from or has now succumbed to, temporarily if he later comes to a right understanding. We do not instantly learn everything when we are baptized. God's Spirit leads us into all truth (John 16:13), but it is a process of correcting error that can take time, and we all make mistakes along the way. Even Mr. Armstrong made mistakes as he was learning.

Growing in grace and knowledge is a life-long process. We should never stop learning, never stop accepting correction from God as He gives us deeper and more accurate knowledge of His word and His way of life.

So it is very possible that two baptized, converted members of the Church of God may read a scripture, pray and ask God for understanding, then come to an understanding after that, yet have opposite views of that scripture. God does answer prayers, but according to His timetable, not ours, and just as God may delay answering our prayers for physical healing, likewise God may make us wait before He answers our prayers for anything we pray about, including understanding of a particular passage in the Bible. God can allow us to make mistakes in understanding the Bible, and if we are not obeying God as fully as He expects, He may allow Satan to deceive us about a particular passage of scripture.

So just because you are in the Church of God does not mean that your understanding of a scripture, even a recent thought or idea that has come into your head that you might think is an answer to prayer, is correct. You can still make mistakes and God may allow that.

Yet, if we are believing and obeying God, our overall understanding of scripture will improve and be more accurate over time.

So if you are reading a passage of scripture, trusting God to help you understand it, and a thought or idea comes into your mind about what that scripture means, should you automatically accept it as truth because you think God has given you that understanding? How do you know that your thought or idea about what that scripture means is correct?

Mr. Armstrong set the right example. He knew that human reasoning is not trustworthy, even his own reasoning, and he knew that he could make mistakes, but He also knew God's inspired word is true and God cannot contradict Himself (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18, John 10:35). So he realized that the way to understand the scriptures is believe God's word and use other scriptures that are clear to interpret scriptures that are not clear - in other words, as he put it, "let the Bible interpret the Bible". We should search the Bible to find all the scriptures that relate to the one we are trying to understand and believe what those scriptures say, putting related scriptures together on one subject.

This involves a lot of work and effort, but God wants us to make that sacrifice of our time and effort. God doesn't make everything easy for us. He is testing us and building His character in us, and we have to make the effort, even hard effort at times, to do our part. This includes resisting hard temptation, it includes enduring trials and remaining faithful in trials, and it includes the time, hard work, and effort to really study the Bible with diligence to put scriptures together on a subject to really understand that subject.

Sometimes we have to open a Bible concordance or other reference source to get the original Greek or Hebrew and study what a word means in the original language. Not every member has the academic and research skills to do this, and God can compensate for our lack of ability and give those members extra help, but if are able to do the research, we should do it. Mr. Armstrong had to do that when he was being converted.

There is also a principle that we need to believe and obey God to receive God's help (Psalm 111:10, Romans 4:3, Romans 11:19-23, Hebrews 3:12, 19). Someone who refuses to believe what God says or does not make an effort to obey God should not expect God to give him or her help in understanding the Bible. God is not interested in giving us accurate academic knowledge of His way of life and doctrines if we do not obey them. God's truth is meant to be followed. We have to make what we learn in the Bible our way of life. If we do not, God is able to take away from us the understanding we have. We can lose our knowledge of God's truth. We can fall away if we do not believe and obey God.

Should we depend on the Holy Spirit for interpretation of the Bible as we read it, and then accept whatever we think the Holy Spirit has revealed to us, trusting that the Holy Spirit has revealed accurate truth to us when we think we understand a scripture?

We should certainly trust and rely on God through His Holy Spirit to help us grow in grace and knowledge and help us understand the Bible more accurately over time, as we choose to believe and obey what God says in the Bible. We should be aware that our understanding is a gift from God, and we should thank Him for it, giving Him the credit for our understanding and not ourselves. We should be humble and understand that by our own human effort alone, we could not understand the Bible, and we should realize we need God's help and pray for that help.

But when it comes to any particular passage of scripture, we should be cautious about believing any "understanding" or idea that comes into our mind about that scripture. We should realize that it is not necessarily from the Holy Spirit. It could be a mistaken idea that we thought of and a human mistake if we believe it. Before we accept it as true, we must verify it by what related scriptures in the Bible say. We should put all scriptures on the subject together, letting clear scriptures interpret difficult ones, and letting the Bible interpret the Bible. And if that takes work and effort, so be it. God's Holy Spirit makes it possible for us to understand the Bible, but God does not necessarily make it easy. He wants us to make the effort because that shows Him where our hearts are.

And we must believe and obey what God says in the Bible if we want Him to continue to open our minds to understand more truth over time. If we reject God's word, He will reject us and let us be deceived.

Not everyone in the Church of God follows what I have just described. Some who call themselves members of the Church of God do not put scriptures together to understand the Bible. They do not prove what they believe by letting the Bible interpret the Bible. They believe, uncritically, what ideas about scriptures pop into their heads, attributing those ideas to the Holy Spirit, but not doing the work of finding out what other scriptures say about their ideas.

Likewise, some members never really proved what Mr. Armstrong taught. They just accepted it because it sounded good to them. They believed, but they didn't prove. They actually went against what Mr. Armstrong taught when he said, "Don't believe me, believe your Bible". They believed Mr. Armstrong about everything else, but they did not believe and do what he said on that one point. They thought, "I don't have to prove anything, I KNOW this is the truth."

But that is not how Mr. Armstrong came to believe the truth. He proved the truth.

Many growing up in the Church believe a set of doctrines, but have not proved them.

All this has a lot to do with preaching the gospel to the world as a witness and the Ezekiel warning to Israel (Matthew 24:14, Ezekiel 3:16-21, 33:1-9).

First of all, you cannot effectively preach the gospel to the world unless you are willing to prove the truth by letting the Bible interpret the Bible. To preach the gospel and deliver a warning effectively, we have to ask the public to do something. We have to ask them to prove what is true by the Bible, putting scriptures together on a subject, letting easy scriptures interpret hard ones, and letting the Bible interpret the Bible. That is how Mr. Armstrong preached the gospel. That is how many of them must come out of their traditions they have believed from childhood if they are to believe our message at all.

But to preach that way we have to practice what we preach. We will not be effective if we are not practicing what we preach. We can't just assume what we believe is true without proving it, then teach the public to prove that their beliefs and traditions have been wrong. God will not bless us in that if we do not obey His words. "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21, KJV). If we want God's blessing and power, we must do what we tell others to do.

But also, we must preach the gospel to the world if we want God to help us understand the Bible more accurately and in more depth. In fact, if we do not preach the gospel to the world, we are in danger of losing the truth, perhaps permanently. That is a danger to be afraid of.

Why? "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap" (Galatians 6:7). "I, the Lord, search the heart, I test the mind, even to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his doings" (Jeremiah 17:10). "You are great in counsel and mighty in work, for your eyes are open to all the ways of the sons of men, to give everyone according to his ways and according to the fruit of his doings" (Jeremiah 32:19).

God gives us the fruits of our ways. If we help and serve others, God helps and blesses us. If we ignore the needs of others, God ignores our needs (Proverbs 21:13).

How does this relate to preaching the gospel?

What are the fruits or results of preaching the gospel to the world?

The fruit of preaching the gospel is that some come into the knowledge of the truth. In our case, we came into the truth, the body of doctrine we have today, because Mr. Armstrong and others sacrificed to preach the gospel to the world. Our knowledge of the truth is a direct result, the fruit, of their sacrifice in years past.

But God has given us that truth so we can share it with those who do not have it, as Mr. Armstrong and the Radio Church of God, later renamed Worldwide Church of God, sacrificed to share it with us and with our parents. That is a way of life. We sacrifice to share the truth with those who do not have it. It is a gift to them. But then, they are to sacrifice to share it with others. It is a continuous cycle. God gives to us so we can give to others. "Freely you have received, freely give" (Matthew 10:7). "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God" (2 Corinthians 1:3-4).

But what if some of us break that cycle? What if God has given us truth through the sacrifice of others in the past, but we refuse or neglect to give that same gift to others so they can also have it?

Might not God take the gift away from us if we are not willing to share it as He commands? He has given us the truth for the very purpose that we will share it with others! If we refuse to do that, is there not a danger God will take it from us?

For as we do to others, God may do to us. If we withhold the truth from others by neglecting the preaching of the gospel, God may take the truth from us. We can lose the gift of truth we have if we do not use it as God commands. God is merciful, but He is also just. It would be God's justice if He takes the truth from those who refuse to preach the gospel to the world. It would be God's justice if He let Satan deceive those in the Church of God who are not willing to help others in the world escape from Satan's deceptions.

Mercy triumphs over judgment. But judgment is without mercy to those who show no mercy. "For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13). If we do not show mercy to the world by giving them the gospel and the warning, God may not show mercy to us by letting us keep the truth. He can let us fall away.

God's gifts are conditional. They are on loan, in a sense. He expects us to use those gifts in His service. He expects us to choose to believe and obey Him. If we do not, He can take the gifts away from us.

This passage is about forgiveness, but there is a principle that has a wider application than just forgiveness: "Therefore the kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. And when he had begun to settle accounts, one was brought to him who owed him ten thousand talents. But as he was not able to pay, his master commanded that he be sold, with his wife and children and all that he had, and that payment be made. The servant therefore fell down before him, saying, 'Master, have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' Then the master of that servant was moved with compassion, released him, and forgave him the debt. But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred denarii; and he laid hands on him and took him by the throat, saying, 'Pay me what you owe!' So his fellow servant fell down at his feet and begged him, saying, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay you all.' And he would not, but went and threw him into prison till he should pay the debt. So when his fellow servants saw what had been done, they were very grieved, and came and told their master all that had been done. Then his master, after he had called him, said to him, 'You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?' And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses" (Matthew 18:23-35).

Notice the principle. The king forgave his servant. That forgiveness was a gift. But that servant was not willing to give that same gift of forgiveness to his fellow servant. He accepted the benefit of the gift for himself, but did not do likewise to others. So what happened? The gift he had received, the forgiveness, was taken from him. He lost what he had received because he was not willing to practice the way of life that he had benefited from. He benefited from his master's way of life of forgiveness, but he did not practice that way of life himself even after he saw the benefit of it by being blessed himself. So when his master saw it, he took back the gift of forgiveness of debt. He delivered him to the torturers until he paid his debt in full.

As the king in the parable said to his servant, "You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you begged me. Should you not also have had compassion on your fellow servant, just as I had pity on you?", might not God say to some of us who do not preach the gospel to the world, "You wicked servant! I gave you the gift of truth by leading others to sacrifice to preach the gospel to you because I had compassion on you. Should you not also have had compassion on others in the world to sacrifice to preach the gospel to them just as I had mercy on you?"

We reap what we sow. As the master of the servant took back the gift of forgiveness when he saw that servant was not willing to forgive others, so God can take back the gift of truth He has given us if we do not share the truth with others.

We of all people should see the benefit of preaching the gospel to the world because we are all recipients of the benefits of that way of life. We only know what we know (and how precious is the truth we know) because others sacrificed to preach the gospel to the world, and we or our parents heard it from them. They did that as a way of life. We should see that that way of life is good because we have benefited from it. And if we agree that it is good, we should practice it ourselves.

The worst danger is for someone in the Church of God who is NOT supporting the preaching the gospel to the world to assume that some idea about scripture that comes into his head must be right because he thinks God's Holy Spirit is leading him to understand the Bible, but does not carefully check that idea with other scriptures in the Bible to prove if it is true or not.

I think any man or woman in the Church who does that is just begging to be deceived.

Here are posts in this blog related to this subject:

"Preaching the Gospel - We Reap what we Sow", dated March 6, 2010, link:

" 'Beam in the Eye', and Preaching the Gospel to the World", dated January 14, 2014, link:

"What Good Does It Do to Preach the Gospel If We Do Not Live It?", dated February 22, 2014, link:

"What Is the Church of God's Greatest Sin?", dated February 27, 2014, link:

"Human Reasoning", dated March 24, 2014, link:

"Pentecost: Stirring Up the Holy Spirit / How the Holy Spirit Leads the Church and Us Individually in Doctrine, Policy, and Decisions", dated June 5, 2014, link:


Anonymous said...

Hello to you.
After reading your article, I thought I would ask you a question. I have had conversation with someone else in the COG for many years and this individual has come to believe the God of the OT was the one we now know as the Father. one Scripture that is used to support this is Acts 3:13.
what would your explanation of this passage be and how would you explain the God mentioned there is not the Father? thank you for your time. I will look for your response
Anon. said...

My understanding is that both God the Father and Jesus Christ were the God of the Old Testament. Some passages in the Old Testament referring to God or LORD refer to God the Father and some refer to the Word who became Jesus Christ. Also, Christ is sometimes called "the Angel of the LORD".

The Church of God has often emphasized in its writings that Jesus Christ was the God of the Old Testament, and this is true. I think Mr. Armstrong first began to emphasize this in his writings to teach the public that the concept they have that the God of the Old Testament is the Father and is harsh, but that Jesus came later to overturn the Father's law, is wrong. He pointed out that Christ was the one who spoke the ten commandments to Israel and that Christ did not come to overturn His Father's law. So Mr. Armstrong placed emphasis on Christ being the God of the Old Testament.

Yet, the Father is also the God of the Old Testament. They both are.

As Acts 3:13 points out, God the Father was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but they also knew Christ as God. Sometimes they dealt with the Father and sometimes with Christ. You can sometimes tell by the context if one referred to as "God" or "LORD" is the Father or Christ. They knew both just as we in the Church of God know both.

For example, consider Psalm 110:1 which Christ quoted in Matthew 22:41-46 and other places. David said: "The LORD said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand, till I make Your enemies Your footstool.' " In this case, the LORD that David quotes as speaking is the Father, and the Lord He is speaking to is Christ.

Some scriptures indicate no man has seen God's face or heard His voice, yet other scriptures indicate men saw and heard God. The only answer I know to reconcile this is that men could see and hear Christ directly when He manifested Himself in the Old Testament, but they were not allowed to see the Father. It was Christ who thundered the ten commandments so all Israel heard His voice. It was Christ who appeared to Abraham with two angels before the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Here is another scripture to consider: "And God spoke to Moses and said to him: 'I am the LORD. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by My name LORD I was not known to them.' " (Exodus 6:2-3). Compare that with this: "But Abram said to the king of Sodom, 'I have raised my hand to the LORD, God Most High, the Possessor of heaven and earth...' " (Genesis 14:22).

That word LORD in both passages is the same Hebrew word, the name God gave to Moses from the burning bush. In Exodus 6:2-3, God told Moses that Abraham did not know Him by that name, only as "God Almighty" but in Genesis 14:22 Abraham said he raised his hand to the LORD. This is not a contradiction. The one Abraham spoke of as LORD was the Father. Abraham knew the Father and he also knew Christ. He knew the Father by the Father's name "LORD" and Christ as "God Almighty".

But Christ revealed to Moses that His name was also LORD. Abraham did not know that Christ had the same name as the Father, LORD. But that was revealed to Moses.

My point is, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, and David all knew both God the Father and Christ, so in that sense both the Father and Christ were God of the Old Testament.

So your friend is right when he says the Father was God of the Old Testament, but the Church is also right when it says Christ was God of the Old Testament. They both are.

Anonymous said...

Thank you very much for your answer. However, there is one more thing in this area that seems to require a distinguishing.
How do we distinguish which one the "Lord of Hosts" represents? thanks again,
Anon said...

My answer is simple but will disappoint you.

I don't know.

I cannot always tell when reading the Old Testament if the one being spoken of is the Father or Christ, just some of the time.

This is a case where I just don't know.