I have this joke I like to throw out there from time to time. I say that my favorite version of the Bible is the Ronco Erasable Bible. It is printed with erasable ink. That way, if I find something that I don't like in the Bible, I can erase it. Then I can write in whatever I want and God has to do it because it's in the Bible.
Unfortunately, I suspect that very, very few people get the point of the joke. I'm trying to illustrate in humor what so many of us actually do. You see, it is part of our sinful nature to delete from God and His Word that which we don't like and add to God and His Word that which we do. Yes, even for us believers. Let's see if I can give some examples that might strike home to you.
We like a God who is nice, who does pleasant things, who doesn't do "mean things" (you know, by our own definition). To suggest to most Christians that God might do unpleasant things is, to most Christians, to engage in some serious heresy. "God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the leaders of Shechem" (Judges 9:23). God doesn't do that kind of unpleasant thing. "Now the Spirit of the LORD departed from Saul, and a harmful spirit from the LORD tormented him" (1 Sam 16:14). God only does nice things. The reason that there is evil in the world is that Satan does bad things and sinners do bad things, but none of that is God's idea. "Now therefore behold, the LORD has put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these your prophets" (1 Kings 22:23). What is that buzzing in the background? You see, we're very likely to glance right over these kinds of passages. We read, when Joseph's brothers came to him and asked for forgiveness, "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good" (Gen 50:20) and miss entirely "God meant" -- intentionality on the part of God that evil was going to be used by God for good. Look, consider this. In 2 Samuel we read, "The anger of the LORD was kindled against Israel, and He incited David against them, saying, 'Go, number Israel and Judah'" (2 Sam 24:1). Who? God incited David. But wait! In the parallel passage we read, "Then Satan stood against Israel and incited David to number Israel" (1 Chron 21:1). What? This time it's Satan. So ... which is it? An unbeliever would tell us that we're looking at a biblical error, a clear contradiction. Those of us who are quite sure that God has nothing to do with evil, that evil happens apart from God and His plans, would have to agree (although I'm quite sure they wouldn't). But if our popular "God doesn't do unpleasant things" position is released and we admit that God does do unpleasant things --even ordaining evil -- for His good purposes, the problem vanishes. To those who believe that God both creates light and calamity (Isa 45:7), there's no problem. The answer to "Was it God or Satan?" is "Yes!" As in the case of Job, God ordained it and Satan carried it out. No problem! It would seem to me, then, that in order to maintain the view that God only does pleasant things and the bad things are outside of God's venue would require that you erase a bunch of stuff from Scripture and write in stuff that isn't there and God has to do it because it's in the Bible. Or you could just take God at His word and change your thinking.
I saw this just the other day on a sign of a big church in my area: "God accepts those who accept His Son." We all know that, right? We're all clear on that. We're good. Did you know, however, that no such language exists in Scripture? Did you know that nowhere does the Bible speak of what we so commonly refer to as "accepting Christ as your Savior"? While you could google the term and find a host of places that explain how you, too, can accept Christ as your Savior, one of the things you will not find is a biblical reference. Here's what you might find. You might find Paul's phrase, in answer to the jailer's "What must I do to be saved?", "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31). You can even find a reference to receiving Christ (John 1:12). Nowhere, however, will you find "Accept Christ". So? Well, I think there are some serious flaws in the "Accept Christ" concept. For instance, the phrase sounds condescending. "I am the master of my life and, as such, I will accept Christ as part of my life. He'll have to keep His place, of course, but He can have a place. I accept Him on my terms." Not a correct approach. Beyond that, it's passive. "I've opened the door and He comes in; end of story." "Believe", for instance, requires effort, involvement, commitment, continuous presence. "Accept" doesn't. "Accept" is an impulse, a one-time thing, a "take it or leave it". Indeed, the Bible commands belief, but "accept" doesn't smell anything like obedience. "Accept" is convenient. The Cross is not. "Accept Christ" lets you stay where you are while "believe and receive" urges you to move to a new place. So will we erase the biblical concept of "believe and receive" and write in a new concept of "accept", or will we change our thinking to a more active, ongoing, biblical idea?
We are quite sure, along the same lines, that the simple path to salvation is "believe and receive" and anything else is, well, heresy. If you add to that, you're adding to the Gospel. It's Paul's "another gospel," "not that there is another one" (Gal 1:7). That is something we're all agreed on, right? Well, maybe that's something we should question. You see, James says, "So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead" (James 2:17). How many people do you know who have said the Sinner's Prayer, who have professed faith in Christ, who have claimed to be a Christian and yet have no apparent change of heart? "Oh, well, we're not supposed to judge people, so we should just take them at their word." Okay, perhaps ... except that's not what Scripture says. Jesus said, "You will recognize them by their fruits" (Matt 7:16). And John sounds an ominous warning: "No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God's seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God" (1 John 3:9). Really? Because we all know Christians who abide in sin. We all know Christians who keep on sinning and do so with vigor. They defend their sin. They indulge it and tell you that you're in no position to tell them otherwise. "Yes, yes, we know that the Bible forbids sex outside marriage, but we love each other and besides, if we didn't live together, we'd be losing money. Just don't be so judgmental." Just one example. Now, you can say, "Oh, it's no problem. I just assume they are sinners like me, maybe a carnal Christian, but they're still saved." But I have to ask, "What about John's warning?" Look, either John's right and those who are genuinely born of God need to repent of their sin when it happens -- are genuinely upset by it and work to change it -- or they do not. If they do not, either John was wrong or -- this is important -- they are not born of God. So, do we erase words like Christ's, James', and John's, or do we keep them and change our thinking to coincide?
Just a very, very brief list of things that most of us won't think about. Just a few. We can believe God is just a nice God, but to do so we need that Erasable Bible. We can argue that we are saved by accepting Christ, but if we're not careful we're going to, again, need Ronco's version of the Bible. We can hold that those who are born of God may have no internal changes at all and may bear no fruit at all, but if we do, we do it by changing the Word of God. And that is a dangerous thing to do. And that is the point of my joke. I highly recommend that we align our thinking to God's Word rather than aligning God's Word to our thinking.