Is the Law of God Understandable?
Dennis L. Reed
When Jesus had His conversation with the Jews in John 8:31-47, He told them, "If ye abide in my word, then are you truly my disciples; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." To possess the Word of God and to therefore be able to know the Truth, is indeed a privilege beyond comparison in our lives. And yet man has been dealing with the question of "What is truth?" since Jesus was asked that question by Pontius Pilate (John 18:37-38). To those individuals who are willing to "...Fear God, and keep his commandments;..." (Ecclesiastes 12:13), this should not be any problem at all. We are totally able to "know the truth" and are absolutely confident in the assurance that "the truth will make you free"!
And yet, Jesus also deals with a very serious problem in this text when He says, "Why do you not understand my speech? Even because ye cannot hear my word" (John 8: 43). He had also just previously said, "...yet ye seek to kill me, because my word hath not free course in you" (John 8:37). It has been the practice of many, in every generation since that time, to question whether or not it is possible to really understand God's Law. Throughout our entire lives, we have had to deal with denominational error in which some seek to justify the assertion that it is impossible to understand the Bible alike. And some have even gone to the point of saying that only the "clergy" has the ability and understanding to interpret the scriptures. We have met these false doctrines face to face and have been completely able, from God's word, to show that it is absolutely possible to understand and know the Truth, if we are only willing to let the Word of God have free course in our hearts!
There is really nothing new about this "impossible to understand" doctrine, because Jesus clearly said that the origin of such teaching was: "Even because ye cannot hear my word." (John 8:43). It is obviously not a question of understanding, but has to do with the attitude of heart which one has toward seeing, hearing, and accepting the Word of God. Jesus said: "For this people's heart is waxed gross, And their ears are dull of hearing, And their eyes they have closed; Lest haply they should perceive with their eyes, And hear with their ears, And understand with their heart, And should turn again, And I should heal them" (Matthew 13:15). The Lord's emphasis is that we can see, we can hear, and that we can understand if we are willing to do so.
When one recognizes that he is not going to be able to justify his beliefs and practices on the basis of God's Word, he will almost immediately rely upon this invented doctrine that we really cannot understand the Word of God anyway. It has been difficult enough to have to deal with the effect of this doctrine in our teaching and encouraging people to come out of religious error, but at times it also becomes necessary to deal with such issues even in the midst of the Lord's people. We take note of the words of the apostle Paul in (Acts 20:29-30): "I know that after my departing grievous wolves shall enter in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them". We must therefore take up the "sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God" (Ephesians 6:17), and stand with great courage against every unlawful doctrine or practice which men might seek to array against the Truth! God has absolutely and completely revealed His will to us through the Gospel. Such is a fact beyond any question or doubt! Only when someone is unwilling to have his life directed by this revealed Truth, do we have to come back and confront such error and deceptive teaching. This is precisely what we have to do in showing the fallacy and destructive nature of the "cannot understand" doctrine.
As we now look at the overwhelming evidence of God's revelation, we recall the words of Jesus to his disciples: "But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you" (John 14:26). Please note that He did not say that He would teach you "some" of the things, or "most" of the things, but He said that the Holy Spirit would teach you "ALL THINGS" ! Again, Jesus said: "Howbeit when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he shall guide you into all the truth: for he shall not speak from himself, but what things soever he shall hear, these shall he speak: and he shall declare unto you the things that are to come." (John 16:13). Was the Holy Spirit to guide the apostles into "part" of the Truth, or into "ninety-nine percent" of the Truth, or was it to be into "ALL" the Truth? There can be no doubt that we possess every fact of Truth which God intended to reveal to mankind, and that it is fully sufficient to provide for every spiritual need which we have! The apostle Paul said: "For I make known to you, brethren, as touching the gospel which was preached by me, that it is not after man. For neither did I receive it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came to me through revelation of Jesus Christ" (Galatians 1:11-12). If the Holy Spirit was sent by the Father to guide the apostles into all Truth, and that such Truth was to be given to them by revelation, then it necessarily follows that the Word of Truth (John 17:17), which we have, is the mind and work of God. It is the inspired Word of God. Isn't it astounding for us to hear someone implying that the God who created the heavens and earth is not powerful enough, or intelligent enough, to reveal His Will to us in a manner which is totally understandable? Do these people realize the reflection that they are casting upon almighty God? We are totally amazed at the audacity of those who try to justify their false teaching and evil practices by saying that we can't really understand the scriptures, or that God gave us an inferior guide.
We had better give some very serious thought to the words of the apostle Paul when he said: "Every scripture inspired of God is also profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for instruction which is in righteousness: that the man of God may be complete, furnished completely unto every good work" (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Yes indeed, the Word of God makes us complete and furnishes us completely unto every good work. And added to that powerful conclusion: "Seeing that his divine power hath granted unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that called us by his own glory and virtue; whereby he hath granted unto us his precious and exceeding great promises; that through these ye may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world by lust" (2 Peter 1:3-4). Does this sound like a "cannot understand" effort on God's part? When the knowledge of the Lord provides me with all things which pertain to life and godliness, it would be total arrogance to contend that we cannot understand what God has given us. If any are still going to contend that the Law of God cannot be understood, is it possible that such individuals are simply not interested in knowing the Truth? The facts of the matter are that simple! If you are honestly seeking the Truth, but having difficulty in those efforts, then do as the man of Ethiopia did, and ask someone to guide you (Acts 8:26-40). But when you do, you also be absolutely certain that what you hear is the same that Philip provided: "And Philip opened his mouth, and beginning from this scripture, preached unto him Jesus" (vs. 35). When one is willing to accept the preaching of Jesus, it is possible to understand God's Law and to develop the determination to obey it.
We have been given a revelation which is unquestionably understandable. Note these words of the apostle Paul: "...How that by revelation was made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words, whereby, when ye read, ye can perceive my understanding in the mystery of Christ; which in other generations was not made known unto the sons of men, as it hath now been revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.." (Ephesians 3:3-5).
When we read the Word of God, we are able to perceive the understanding which was given to us by God's revelation. And also: "Wherefore be ye not foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Ephesians 5:17). It is obvious that we must follow the simple plan of letting God's Word into our heart, determining to understand what God is telling us to do, and then bring our lives to conform to His Will. Would God be telling us to "understand," while at the same time knowing that it is "impossible to understand"? To reject God's Word by the claim that we cannot understand it, is to be really saying that the Father, the Holy Spirit, the Son of God, and the inspired apostles were miserable failures in the revelation which they provided for us. Would a person be so desperate to justify his own unbelief and rebellion, that he would be guilty of making such an accusation? It is unthinkable to imply, in any way, that God's Word is flawed and that it is impossible for us to understand it.
Let's now take note of these words: "Beloved, while I was giving all diligence to write unto you of our common salvation, I was constrained to write unto you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints." (Jude 3). God has provided "the faith" for us, through His inspired revelation, and this faith has "once for all" been delivered. In Romans 16:25-26, we are told that it is "my gospel," "the preaching of Jesus Christ," "the revelation of the mystery," "the commandment of the eternal God," and that unto us "is made known unto all the nations unto obedience of faith." So then we confront this vital question: Is it possible for us to completely understand and obey "the faith"? The answer is a resounding "Yes," and it is therefore only those who refuse to respect God's Word who would seek to justify their doctrines and practices with the "cannot understand" deception.
Jesus put it very simply: "Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter in the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven." The Master gave emphasis to this point by saying: "Every one therefore that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them, shall be likened unto a wise man, who built his house upon the rock:" and also the opposite of that: "And every one that heareth these words of mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, who built his house upon the sand:" (Matthew 7:21-27). Jesus provided us with total assurance when He said: "...If a man love me, he will keep my word: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my words: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father's who sent me" (John 14:23-24). If it were true that it is impossible to understand matters of "the faith." then unity of mind or heart for Christians could never be attained. Please reflect on these words: "Now I beseech you, brethren, through the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that ye all speak the same thing, and that there be no divisions among you; but that ye be perfected together in the same mind and in the same judgment" (I Corinthians 1:10). Isn't it amazing that God would expect us to speak the same thing, avoid division, and be perfected together in the same mind and judgment, when, according to some, God has done such an incomplete and inadequate job of revealing His Will to us that we are not really able to understand it? These "impossible to understand" folks are either pitifully deceived, or else they know exactly what they are doing in their concerted effort to willfully deceive others! The terrible end result will be the same - souls will be led to depart from "the faith" and be in great danger of God's wrath.
We have recently heard of someone contending that it is not possible for us to have "perfect understanding". We have heard such assertions from various false teachers through the years, but now, in very recent times, we are hearing it from our own brethren. Why would anyone feel the need to make such a statement unless it is being done to confuse, deceive, or influence others to accept the unscriptural practices which they are proposing? If you were to ask them to define the term "perfect," as they are using it, then you would undoubtedly be taken on a ride for a great many circles around the barn, and even if you waited until "the cows come home," the probability is that you will still not be able to get a straight answer. Would the individuals making such a statement be trying to say to us that God didn't tell us enough for us to understand and know the Truth on any matter of "the faith"? If you are deceived into believing that, then through the "ignorance is bliss" philosophy, you will no longer have any restraints to concern yourself with. All that you have to say is that we "cannot understand" and you will be free to do as you please! Wouldn't it be easier to simply say that one doesn't respect God's Word, refuses to conform to it's teaching, and will make no effort to give scriptural authority for anything which they might say or do? In place of being that straightforward with us, some of these folks are really trying to get us to believe that any lack of understanding on our part is God's fault, and that we possess nothing more than an inadequate and inferior revelation from God. These same individuals could never say "shame on us" for their own failure to let the Word of God have free course in their hearts, but it seems so easy for them to say "shame on God"! Such an attitude certainly stirs righteous indignation in an old soldier like myself! We have spent our entire lives fighting such lack of respect for the Truth, and now it rears it's ugly and hypocritical head again in an effort to influence our children and grandchildren to depart from "the faith".
The only distinction made in the New Testament about degrees of understanding is when one is a "babe" or without experience and another is "fullgrown" or spiritually mature. In fact, the word "perfect" is used by the translators to signify the one who is fullgrown and spiritually mature. Take careful note of these words: "Of whom we have many things to say, and hard of interpretation, seeing ye are become dull of hearing. For when by reason of the time ye ought to be teachers, ye have need again that some one teach you the rudiments of the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of solid food. For every one that partaketh of milk is without experience of the word of righteousness; for he is a babe. But solid food is for fullgrown men, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern good and evil" (Hebrews 5:11-14). Are the "impossible to have perfect understanding" folks telling us that we can never become fullgrown (perfect) or spiritually mature? Another use of the term "perfect" is when it is used to describe the gospel of Jesus Christ. The apostle Paul says: "And be not fashioned according to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (Romans 12:2). The law of God is a law of liberty, it is the perfect law (James 1:19-25). Does this sound like a law which is not complete, is not understandable, or is inadequate to meet our spiritual needs, and which is clearly inferior in being able to instruct us in matters of "the faith"? Are some saying that it is impossible to have "perfect understanding" of a perfect law? It clearly follows that when men want to teach and practice that which is not authorized by the "perfect will of God," they will often seek to justify themselves by casting some kind of reflection upon God's revelation. We must be vigilant to see that we possess the knowledge, wisdom, and understanding to see through such a smokescreen. Let us be certain that we not fall victim to those, who through arrogance and egotism, fashion themselves as the intellectually elite. This attitude seems to be "who would dare to even think of questioning the edicts of such persons"? Please consider these words: "And I, brethren, when I came unto you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling. And my speech and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power: that your faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God" (I Corinthians 2:1-5).
It is with great sadness that I must admit that many, even of our brethren, are being taken in by this smooth and fair speech, and more rarely seen are those who plead with us to preach the Word "in season and out of season; to reprove, rebuke, and exhort with all longsuffering and teaching." Most of us can easily recognize that, among our brethren, we are inundated with a general ignorance of the Truth in our generation. A great many preachers refuse to deal with matters where they must condemn sin or confront Satan, and many who fill the pews want to hear preaching(?) about things which will make them laugh and be entertained! They have also developed the desire to fellowship those who teach error and who practice evil, and the "sugar stick" of their self justification is in the "not possible to have perfect understanding" sophistry.
Have you ever considered that rat poison is 0.025 percent poison and 99.975 percent good grain? We are seeing efforts on the part of some to deceptively spread spiritual poison among us, and at the same time acting "totally shocked" that we would even dare to think that they would do such a thing. Yet, we are having to deal with this "black, white, and gray" nonsense regarding God's inspired revelation, and we are having to deal with people who are running around the country trying to convince brethren that Romans 14 & 15 provides a "loophole" which permits us to fellowship sinful doctrines and practices - especially unscriptural marriage, divorce, and remarriage situations. They openly leave the impression that these are areas where we cannot have "perfect understanding". What erroneous doctrine or sinful practice will they be pushing next for us to receive under this same "umbrella"? When anyone takes the position that we cannot have "perfect understanding" of matters concerning "the faith," they are opening the gate to every kind of digression and evil practice which man can invent. We had better open our eyes and be ready to openly oppose those who show such lack of respect for God's Word! We presently have far too many preaching brethren who prefer to be "secret disciples," and who take great care not to openly express their convictions on these matters. Most of them have not had the problem of "lockjaw" when it came to speaking their convictions in opposition to sectarian error, but now they seem TERRIFIED about having to let their brethren know where they stand on these matters. With the positions that some hold, we are certainly able to see the reason for their reluctance, and with the others, their finger is still up in the wind to see which way is the "best way for them to fall". Let us thank God that we still have a great many faithful brethren who are willing to "stand up and be counted" in the defense of righteousness.
My friends, we are going to be judged by the Law of God. We cannot blame God because we are dull of hearing or because we say that His Word is beyond our ability to grasp. It is ME, not God, who is responsible to know the Truth and be made free. Every one of us are responsible to have our "...senses exercised to discern good and evil" (Hebrews 5:14). Jesus said: "He that rejecteth me, and receiveth not my sayings, hath one that judgeth him: the word that I spake, the same shall judge him in the last day" (John 12:48). There are so many things which need to be said, so many scriptures which need to be cited, so many sermons which need to be preached, and it therefore becomes distinctly obvious that you and 1 must have the courage and determination to "...Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields, that they are white already unto harvest" ( John 4:5).
It is my humble desire and prayer that these simple thoughts will help some soul to grow in knowledge and usefulness in the Lord's Kingdom. We must overcome our selfish fears in order "to stand up and be counted" in defense of the Truth. "Fight the good fight of the faith, lay hold on the life eternal, ..." (I Timothy 6:12). The cause of the Lord must be our life and heaven must be our home! Let us never waver from this noble purpose in our efforts to serve and please almighty God.
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