THE INTERCONNECTEDNESS OF SCRIPTURE
The Word of God is one harmonious whole, and its truths are interconnected.
One of the most profound and beautiful things about the Bible is its harmony. I say harmony, not homogeneity. In fact, it is a great mistake to lump the scriptures together and assume it is all the same thing. For this reason we are exhorted to “rightly divide the Word of Truth” (2 Tim. 2:15); to delineate distinctions in the scriptures. Much could be said about the need to divide scripture, but in this article I would like to bring out the indivisibility of scripture in another sense, to show that we cannot selectively choose which parts to accept.
The interconnectedness of scripture is immediately evident to even the causal reader. The New Testament includes at least three hundred quotations from the Old Testament, and many references to types and shadows from Israel’s history, such as the Passover, the crossing of the Red Sea and the construction of the tabernacle. The persons, places, and principles of scripture are all woven together like threads into one beautiful tapestry, to reveal God’s character, God’s purpose, and God’s will for our lives. Bible publishers for centuries have tried to capture some of these connections in a center column or marginal list of cross-references, sometimes exceeding tens of thousands.
The motivations for this article are twofold. Positively, that the reader would be built up in their understanding and confidence in the Word of God. Negatively, that the reader would be apprised of the danger involved with rejecting any part of God’s Word. When you give up one truth, you are on the road to rejecting it all, or to ending up mired down in a system of error. In an era of rapid technological advancement, widely disparate ideas about God and the Bible are more prolific and accessible than ever before. At the same time, there is a nonchalant, relativistic attitude among Christians toward “truth” that, combined with technology, forms a deadly combination. More than ever, we need to emphasize the authority of the Word of God on every question, and realize the implications of accepting or rejecting it.
Example of Interconnectedness: Salvation Truths
To illustrate the way the principles and doctrines of scripture are interconnected, we will walk through several elements of soteriology that are frequently debated but little understood. We will start with one set of principles that are clearly outlined in scripture, and show how they interlock with another set, and another, and so on. Afterwards, we will examine the havoc wreaked by the intervention of human wisdom at any one point, to disrupt the whole panorama of truth.
Election & Faith
The first set of principles are found at the center of much debate and discussion in Christianity today. They have to do with the salvation of man, and the question of who is responsible for it. The two doctrines that form this set are: election and faith. These terms can be further defined:
- Election: God’s sovereign choice of individuals for blessing, which He made in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4).
- Faith: Man’s acknowledgement from the heart that God is true, and His Word can be trusted (John 3:33).
Both of these principles are vital to salvation. If God had not elected me, I never would have been saved. But likewise, if I had not believed the gospel, I would never have been saved. Both are true, and both have their place. The great difference is that election is God’s prerogative, and faith is man’s responsibility. Election (or choice) is not up to us, because that choice was made before we even existed. This can be shown from numerous scriptures, including those that speak about foreknowledge and predestination, which are different but related terms (Rom. 8:29). Foreknowledge and predestination indicate that the sovereign choice of God was made before we even existed. Since it happened before we existed, it is independent of our actions or merit. Man is “without strength”, “dead in sins and trespasses”, until God reaches down to him in mercy. Our eternal blessing is a result of God’s sovereign grace! But then, we find that God requires man to believe on His Son in order to be saved. This can also be shown from many scriptures, including John 3:16 and Rom. 10:9. These two principles are both vital to our salvation, and both are clearly supported by scripture.
The difficulty comes in when man begins to reason. Man begins to try to logically resolve God’s sovereignty in election, and man’s responsibility in the gospel. We forget that our place is to accept what God has said, whether we understand it or not. The truth is that God is sovereign and man is responsible.
New Birth & Salvation
Next, we have another set of principles that interlocks beautifully with election and faith. These next two principles are new birth and salvation. Previously, we saw that man was utterly lost apart from the sovereign grace of God. How then can man choose God? Does man have a free will, such that he can voluntarily choose to turn to God in faith? The scripture is clear on that. Natural man is “dead in trespasses and sins”, he is “without strength”. It isn’t that man is like a robot, where Satan is making all his decisions. No, man makes his choices – he is free to will – but his will is not free. Adam had a free will in the garden of Eden before the fall. But Adam used his free will to choose to disobey God. Adam then received the knowledge of good and evil, and his human nature fell into a sinful condition, where it was thereafter pre-disposed or hard-wired to sin. That fallen nature is called “the flesh”, “sin in the flesh”, or “indwelling sin”. Sometimes we call it “the old nature”. That old nature was passed on to all of Adam’s descendants, and humans are born with it today.
Is there something in that fallen nature that can turn to God, even to repent? Can education, training, or even God’s grace improve the flesh, or influence it to choose God? No. “The flesh profits nothing” (John 6:63). “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Rom. 7:18). No spark of good is in us by nature. But, praise be to God, He is still able to save! How? Beginning with something called new birth, or quickening. When they are still dead, or totally unresponsive, God reaches down to those whom He has chosen (or, elected), and gives them a new life. Suddenly, they are alive to God! This doesn’t mean they are saved, but now they have a desire to please God, and feel heavily the weight of their own sins. Also, the new nature has the capacity to believe God. Later on (the timing is different for each), the gospel is presented to a quickened person, and they believe it! That is called salvation. Once a person has believed the gospel, they are sealed or indwelt with the Spirit of God. It is when a person has “heard the word of truth”, believed “the gospel of your salvation”, and been “sealed with that holy Spirit of promise” (Eph 1:13) that we say they are “saved”.
How do new birth and salvation fit with election and faith? Salvation through faith on the believer’s part is made possible by the impartation of divine life, or new birth, which is a sovereign action of God towards the elect, or those He has chosen. The two parts are indissolubly connected.
Propitiation & Substitution
Next we have a third set of truths, this time having to do with the work of the cross. At first the cross may seem disconnected from the other principles, but it really is not. The cost to bring lost sinners back to God was paid by Jesus at the cross.
The gospel goes out to all men: “God… now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30), “God our Saviour; who will have all men to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:3-4), and “whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rom. 10:13). But not all men have obeyed the gospel (Rom. 10:16). Only the elect actually come to Christ. Those who reject Christ will go to a lost eternity, to bear their own sins for ever and ever.
On what basis can God forgive the person who believes in Jesus? It is because Jesus, “his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24). God can forgive the sinner because their sins have been expiated through the work of Christ on the cross! This one aspect of the work of Christ, which we call substitution. Christ took my place and was judged by God for my sins. “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust [the just in place of the unjust], that he might bring us to God” (1 Pet. 3:18).
But did Christ suffer and die as a substitute for all men? Did He bear the sins of those who reject Him? No! Otherwise, how could God be just in punishing the unbeliever for their own sins? The reason the unbeliever must suffer is because their sins remain uncovered. In fact, scripture even uses the term “many” when dealing with the substitutionary aspect of atonement (Heb. 9:28; Matt. 26:28). To summarize, the substitutionary aspect of atonement is limited to the elect.
So, having established that Christ suffered as a substitute for only the elect, we may ask: “Is there any sense in which Christ suffered for all?” The answer is “yes”. In scripture we read that “Christ Jesus… gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim. 2:3-6), and that “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16). In what aspect did Christ die for all? Certainly, not as a substitute. Rather, scripture shows us that there is another aspect of the work of the cross that goes far higher than substitution; it is called propitiation.
is required because of our sins, but it is the aspect of the sacrifice in which Christ has perfectly glorified and satisfied God. The word ‘propitiation’ simply means ‘satisfaction’. All that God required and more was supplied when Christ offered Himself without spot to God. We read of both propitiation and substitution for sins (plural), but when the issue of sin (singular) is dealt with - the whole principle - it is always in the aspect of propitiation. God is satisfied as to our 'sins', and also as to the outrage of ‘sin’ in general, and because of the latter, propitiation is the grounds of God’s mercy to all mankind. As a result of this, the Gospel can go to the whole world, and anyone who comes to God in faith will be saved. “He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the whole world” (1 John 2:2). See also 1 Tim. 2:3-6; Heb. 2:9; Rom. 3:24-25.
So, we have shown that there are two broad aspects of the work of atonement; propitiation which is for God but is also the grounds for the gospel to go out to all men, and substitution which is how God dealt with the sins of the elect. There is a passage that brings the effect of propitiation and substitution together very nicely. “Even the righteousness of God which is by faith of Jesus Christ unto all and upon all them that believe…” (Romans 3:22). I have no doubt that because of the propitiatory aspect of the work of Christ, the offer of salvation is “unto all”, but because of the substitutionary aspect, it is only “upon all them that believe”.
How does propitiation and substitution fit with election and faith? Substitution secures the destiny of the elect, while propitiation opens up the floodgates of God’s mercy to all men, commanding from them the obedience of faith. These two fit together quite closely.
God’s Glory & Man’s Blessing
The final piece of our puzzle is a bit more abstract, but equally important. All truths eventually impinge on the glory of God. The verse that I will use to support this statement is John 16:13-14; “When he, the Spirit of truth, is come… he shall glorify me”. Every true doctrine – which we are guided into by the Spirit – will have the effect of glorifying Christ. This is a simple litmus test that we can perform on every teaching we are presented with. I have never seen this test fail.
If we were to examine the eternal purpose of God as revealed in Eph. 1, we see that God’s ultimate goal is the glory of His Son, followed secondarily by the blessing of the Church. “That in the dispensation of the fulness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; [even] in him: In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will” (Eph. 1:10-11). This is the unremitting theme of God’s Word. God will get glory for His Son. He will get pleasure from the works of His hands. Christ will see of the travail of His soul, and shall be satisfied. The united song of heaven will be, “Thou art worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power: for thou hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created” (Rev. 4:11). Then secondarily, man will be brought into blessing; not only the Church in her heavenly glory, but Israel and the nations on the earth, and then men in the New Heavens and Earth.
How does the glory of Christ relate to the doctrines of salvation? In the final analysis, God will get all the glory, and man will be infinitely blessed. Not a person in heaven or earth will think, “I did it myself”. No, all the glory, praise, and honor belongs to God, and to His Christ. These very thoughts were before the Apostle Paul when he closed that profound section of the epistle to the Romans which deals with God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility. Read Rom. 11:32-36:
For God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory for ever. Amen.
That is where we are left – on our knees in adoration – every time we get a glimpse of God’s wisdom and power. Next I would like to show that denying any one of these truths results in man attempting to detract from the glory of God, and unwittingly from his own blessing.
Human Wisdom Enters: Calvinism & Arminianism
We have previously shown that the truth of God is a harmonious yet detailed continuum that exalts Christ and not man. How, let’s see what happens when natural man, the butcher of all things good, enters into the things of God with his clumsy hands.
The first epistle to the Corinthians deals extensively with the subject of human wisdom intruding into the things of God.
“Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teacheth, but which the Holy Ghost teacheth; comparing spiritual things with spiritual.” (1 Cor. 2:13)
“…that ye may learn in us the lesson of not letting your thoughts go above what is written…” (1 Cor. 4:6).
The truth of God is only learned when we subject ourselves to the revelation of God. As dependent creatures, we know nothing for sure unless God has revealed it to us. A great danger in Christianity is the intrusion of human wisdom into the things of God… the danger of twisting, distorting, adding to, or subtracting from the Word of God to make it agreeable to the mind of man.
Many questions arise regarding the truths of election. Who ultimately is responsible for a person’s eternal destiny? Does God choose man, or does man choose God? This opens up the “free will” debate.
The free will debate centers around the following question: is man’s will free to choose God? Some say “yes”, others say “no”. The two parties in this debate are generally referred to as Calvinists and Arminians. Calvinists, who are called after John Calvin, believe that from before the beginning of time, a person is predestinated to heaven or hell, and has absolutely no choice in the matter. They hold that man is depraved, a slave to sin and Satan, and can do nothing for himself, but that the work belongs to God. Arminians, who are called after Jacobus Arminius, believe that, while man in his natural condition is lost, God gives everyone a certain amount of grace or inducement, such that man can overcome his “lostness”, and take the first step toward God of his own choice. To be clear, both sides would say that natural man is a lost sinner, and salvation is only through the grace of God. But they would disagree about how much man’s will is involved in the process of salvation.
There are grievous faults with both of those viewpoints.
On one hand, the Calvinists unremittingly cling to God’s sovereignty, which we commend them for, but they add to scripture and take away from it. First, they assert that God predestinates people for hell, which is not true. In fact, when speaking in Romans 9 of “vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction”, God carefully avoids saying that He fitted them for destruction. The truth is, sinners sometimes harden their own hearts against God, and so fit themselves for wrath. Second, Calvinists subtract from scripture in saying the work of the cross is limited to the elect only, and therefore there is no need to really preach the gospel because the elect will inevitably get saved and the non-elect will inevitably reject Christ. They really miss the propitiatory aspect of atonement, and do not see that God’s heart it for the whole world.
On the other hand, Arminians also add to and take away from scripture. First, they assert that man has a free will, that there is something in the fallen human nature that can be coaxed or influenced by God to take the first step toward Him. In other words, they deny the full depravity of the flesh. Second, they assert that Jesus bore the sins of every human being on the cross. This is problematic because we know God will punish the wicked for their actual sins, but how can He do so if those sins are covered? To allow for that is to shake the very foundation of the believer’s security. If someone whose sins have purged by the work of the cross can still go to hell, then no one is really safe.
Ultimately, both Calvinism and Arminianism are attempts to rationalize the sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man, rather than submit the Word of God. But this illustrated that we cannot deny one point without getting off on the others. Here’s how it happens:
- Deny Election or Faith. The mistake of both sides in trying to rationalize God’s sovereignty and man’s responsibility leads them to deny either God’s sovereign choice, or man’s responsibility to obey the gospel. This is usually where the error begins.
- Confuse New Birth and Salvation. Take the case of those who deny election. Who takes the first step? If the choice is only man’s, then the first movement must be on man’s part toward God. There must be some small part of the flesh that is good. This leads Arminians to confuse the new birth with salvation, and see them as simultaneous events.
- Confuse Propitiation and Substitution. Carrying the case of the Arminian forward, the next step is to deny the substitutionary aspect of atonement. If the choice is truly up to the individual, then a person’s sins must have been covered whether or not they believe! What Arminians actually do is transport the sin-bearing part of substitution and attach it propitiation.
- Detract from the Glory of God and the Blessing of Man. Even though Arminians don’t intend to take glory from God, they back themselves into a corner through their own human wisdom. By denying election, they credit man with the wisdom and power to choose God. They give man partial credit for salvation!
Generally, these “false” puzzle pieces fit together. What do you get when you have a system of false doctrines all working together? You get systematized error. “…in order that we may be no longer babes, tossed and carried about by every wind of that teaching which is in the sleight of men, in unprincipled cunning with a view to systematized error” (Eph. 4:14). Systematized error is ultra-dangerous because it all fits together. There is an explanation for everything point, but the whole system is wrong according to God.
2nd Example: Dispensational Truth
Another example of interconnectedness is in the line of truth we often call dispensational truth, which encompasses the ways God takes to accomplish His purpose. Once again, there are a number of constituent pieces that fit together in this area, which stand and fall together. For a full discussion on the elements of dispensational truth, read Elements of Dispensational Truth.
When man’s wisdom enters, a false system is produced called Covenant Theology. This is usually how it goes. First, they deny the failure of man. Second, the truth of mystery is set aside and replacement theology is embraced. Third, they deny the literal fulfillment of prophecy. The end result is that they detract from the glory of Christ. I do not enter into the details of these things in this article, but it is important to see that one error leads to another, and finally to a system of false doctrine.
In conclusion I would like to make three points:
- We arrive at a correct understanding of God’s Word by believing it.
- The truths of the Word of God are not isolated, but rather interconnected.
- Denial of one part of God’s Word leads to other denials, and eventually to a system of error.
We have shown with two examples that the “domino effect” takes place when one part of God’s Word is given up. Whether it be salvation truths, or dispensational truths, denial of one points leads to Calvinism/Arminianism, or Covenant Theology. We cannot think that giving up one point is harmless. It will affect our whole understanding of scripture. How can we avoid these errors?
Read the Word of God with an attitude of faith. If God says it, just believe it. A great example of this is Eph. 3. Many do not see the importance of that chapter. They do not see why Paul should go to great lengths to validate the truth of the Church. Why? Because they never believed the promises of God to Israel in the first place! It is only when you believe the prophecies that you understand the significance of the Mystery. Let’s accept the plain statements of God in faith, without bringing in human wisdom.
Don’t impose a framework on scripture. We should not come to the Word of God with a preconceived opinion, or with a slanted hermeneutic. If you read scripture through dispensational lenses, of course you will see dispensations. Likewise, if you impose a covenantal framework on scripture, you are likely to see covenants everywhere. Let’s read the Word of God for what it says, not what we want it to say.