The Words of God and the Word of God (Part IV)



January 30, 2020

John 5:39-40 (NIV)

39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.


We have spent every day for a month now extolling the extraordinary value and virtue of the Scriptures as the Word of God. What I am about to say may seem contradictory, yet it is not. I say it at the risk of undermining everything I have written. You know my regard for Scripture, the Word of God, which over these past few days I have referred to as the words of God. You know also my love for Jesus, the Word of God, about whom, in whom, and through whom we have the words of God. So rather than me saying the apparently contradictory thing, let’s ask Jesus to say it.

39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

Here’s the overstated emphatic translation for which I am sometimes congratulated and other times chided: Apart from Jesus, the words of Scripture are worthless. Our life does not come from a book. Our life comes from God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

Jesus is speaking here to Pharisees, people who fanatically revered the Scriptures and who knew them upside down. They loved the Law and the Prophets like nobody’s business. In fact, keeping the Law to the absolute letter was their business. With this declaration, Jesus, in essence, declared their business bankrupt. 

There is a way of revering the Bible which completely misses the point of the Bible. There is a way of exalting and even obeying the words of God that defy the God of the Word. Hear Jesus out: “And the Father who sent me has himself testified concerning me. You have never heard his voice nor seen his form, 38 nor does his word dwell in you, for you do not believe the one he sent.” (John 5:37-38)

While we do not know Jesus apart from the Bible, we cannot understand the Bible apart from Jesus. Broadly speaking, there are three kinds of people: There are those who want the Bible without Jesus and those who want Jesus without the Bible. 

Those who want the Bible without Jesus still “believe” in Jesus. They salute him. They consider themselves the leading Christians and they come off with a kind of rigorous certainty in all matters of doctrine, faith, and practice. They are classic legalists, and in most cases, they have no idea of it. Those who want Jesus without the Bible still “believe” in the Bible. They consider themselves the enlightened Christians who understand Jesus so well, they can disregard much of the Old Testament and most of Paul as being “bound by its culture and time.” They take license with the Bible. The former group wants to control by exalting the Scripture. The latter group wants to accommodate by setting the Scripture aside.

Both groups miss the whole picture and point. They get neither the words of God nor the Word of God. They don’t understand the Bible or Jesus because they have learned a way of revering one at the cost of the other. In other words, one group makes an idol of the Bible and the other makes an idol out of Jesus. And yes, they have no idea of it, which makes sense because it is the very nature of an idol to make its adherent like itself, which is to say blind, deaf and hard-hearted. Taking on either of these groups will get you crucified. Just ask Jesus. 

This is where Jesus comes in and turns over the tables on the whole party. Remember this word from yesterday:

The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14)

Truth is not truth without grace, and grace is not grace without truth. They are two sides of the same coin; a unified and indissoluble dimension of reality only found in the person and presence of Jesus Christ—God incarnate. Truth and grace are not two things that need to be held in balance or worse tension. They are one thing. In fact, they are not a thing. Grace and Truth are a person or they are nothing. They are a community, i.e. the Body of Christ, or they are meaningless words and ideals. 

It brings us to the third kind of person—the ones who love the Word of God and the words of God with an undivided heart. These people are those in whom the Word is becoming flesh; those in who are filled with the fullness of grace and truth. This third kind of person is a mature and maturing Christian, for whom the Word of God and the words of God live in seamless union. Their lives defy classification into the thin categories of the world because they have learned to live in the world possessed by a transcendent holiness both arresting and awe-inspiring.

39 You study the Scriptures diligently because you think that in them you have eternal life. These are the very Scriptures that testify about me, 40 yet you refuse to come to me to have life.

First Word. Last Word. God’s Word.


Father, thank you for your Word, which endures forever. Thank you for your Word, the eternal Son of God, whom to know is eternal life. Forgive us for our idolatrous ways and show us the way to true repentance, which is to wholeheartedly embrace Jesus Christ. Thank you for this One who is full of grace and truth. Let our lives be filled with his life for then we will be filled with grace and truth. I pray in the name of your Son, Jesus. Amen.  


Have you seen examples of the three kinds of people mentioned in today’s daily text? Which of the three kinds of people are you? In which way do you tend to err? 

P.S. So many of you have inquired as to whether we will publish the First Word-Last Word-God’s Word Daily Text series into a book. YES WE WILL! We are a sowing operation and therefore want to get this material into seed form. Because you are our primary sowers, here’s the offer: Purchase 5 copies and get them and as many more as you like at 50% off. Sharing a copy with a colleague, friend or family member is a perfect way to invite them into our Daily Text Community. I will include such an invitation in the book—as well as an explicit invitation to follow Jesus. 

For the Awakening,
J.D. Walt


Farmer. Poet. Theologian. Jurist. Publisher. Seedbed's Sower-in-Chief.