Two Personal Illustrations of the Power of God's Word1
What does it feel like when God’s word “pierces” and “divides” and “discerns” and “exposes” our hearts? Let me give you two examples from my own life. Continue reading . . .
Hebrews 4:12-13 declares that “the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” But how does this work out in personal experience? What does it feel like when God’s word “pierces” and “divides” and “discerns” and “exposes” our hearts? Let me give you two examples from my own life.
The first came at a time when I was struggling to make sense of God’s sovereignty in salvation. I wasn’t fully aware at the time of how my theology was being shaped and driven by my pride. I wasn’t fully aware or conscious of the fact that I didn’t want to submit to God’s authority and power over my life and my eternal destiny. And then Romans 9:20-21 virtually leapt off the page and punctured my pride. All the air in my arrogance and self-determination was let out and I was left humbled in the presence of God. Here is what Paul said:
“But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use?” (Rom. 9:20-21).
I can remember where I was when this passage sliced me open like a sharp two-edged sword. It was the summer of 1971 and I was sitting on a bench outside one of the classroom buildings at Oklahoma University in Norman, Oklahoma. I had set aside the day to pray and fast about this issue of God’s sovereignty in salvation and no sooner had I read this text than my heart was laid bare and I was left utterly defenseless. I can still recall my thought process at the time:
“Oh, my, Lord. You are the potter. Not me. I’m only the clay. You created me. You called me into existence out of nothing. I only live because your mercy sustains me. I deserve eternal damnation and you in grace have chosen to give me eternal life. Forgive me for questioning your ways. Forgive me for judging you and arrogantly thinking that I exist to hold you to account for what you do. Forgive me for presumptuously thinking that I know how to do things better than you do, more justly than you. I am the clay. Mold me and shape me however you see fit.”
The second example I want to give you happened while we were still living in Ardmore, OK. I don’t remember the year, but it was probably sometime in the late 1980’s. Many years earlier I had preached through 1 Peter for the first time and had been powerfully convicted by the exhortation concerning how husbands are to treat their wives. In 1 Peter 3:7 we read this:
“Likewise, husbands, live with your wives in an understanding way, showing honor to the woman as the weaker vessel, since they are heirs with you of the grace of life, so that your prayers may not be hindered” (1 Pt. 3:7).
Years had passed since I preached that text. Something had taken place between Ann and me. I don’t recall what, but I do remember justifying my actions or words, making light of it as if it really didn’t matter that much. I was actually in the shower feeling pretty smug and satisfied with myself when suddenly, as if out of the blue, I heard this voice in my head: “But does it honor her?” Boom! I seriously doubt if that would have had the impact on me that it did if I hadn’t already been quite familiar with the use of the word “honor” in 1 Peter 3:7.
Folks, there’s simply no other way to put it. On both of those occasions, the sharp, two-edged sword of God’s Word pierced me, convicted me, and exposed the thoughts and intentions of my heart. I was no longer able to hide from God’s sight, as we read in Hebrews 4:13. I was on each of those occasions suddenly “naked and exposed to the eyes” of the God “to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13b).
I experienced precisely what that word translated “exposed” expresses. It is rendered “laid bare” in another translation and is a graphic portrayal of what God’s Word does. The word was often used in the ancient world to describe a wrestler who would grab hold of his opponent’s head and pull back, exposing the neck for the final, fatal blow.
But here’s the wonderful news about all this. God’s intent in “exposing” my heart in these ways wasn’t so that he might make a mockery of me or shame me or ultimately harm me in any way. What God’s Word did in me was far more than expose my pride and self-protection and arrogance. Yes, it was convicting. Yes, it was painful. But it was redemptive and healing and empowering as God’s Word, through the Holy Spirit, brought me to life at least in regard to those three issues.
That is what God’s Word does! That is why I refuse to feed the people at Bridgeway with a lot of self-help, five-ways-to-make-your-life-livable nonsense that might make you feel better for today but that you will likely forget in a week or two.
Here at Bridgeway we believe this about the Word of God. We don’t study it and preach it and memorize it because we want a big head and the inflated ego that comes with it. We are devoted to God’s Word because of what it is, God’s Word, and because of what it does: it pierces, and divides, and discerns, and exposes. But we especially love it because, since it is God’s Word, it shows us God! It mediates meetings with God. We encounter him in and through his Word. We see him in it. And we savor all that it says.