In Our Discipling Relationships, Best-Sellers Are Great . . . But the Bible Is Best
Books are tremendous tools for discipling. But with so many good resources out there, we can be tempted to forget the best book on discipleship—the Bible.
Throughout history, pastors and theologians have used the catchy acronym S.C.A.N to summarize four important attributes of the Bible: its sufficiency, clarity, authority, and necessity. In this article, I want to explain what those attributes mean and how they should shape how we disciple others.
Is the Bible sufficient in teaching us how to change a flat tire? Can it help us file our taxes? Of course not. But the Bible is sufficient for teaching God’s children how to live in godliness as they cherish God. In other words, if Christians want to grow in maturity, they don’t have to look anywhere but the Word. Note the common factor in the psalmist’s boast in Psalm 119: he has more wisdom than his enemies because God’s law is with him (v. 98); he has more prudence than his teachers because he meditates on God’s testimonies (v. 99); he has more understanding than the aged because he keeps God’s precepts (v. 100).
The sufficiency of Scripture is good news for Christians. As we seek to be discipled and disciple others, we can have confidence that the Bible can get the job done. Of course, other helpful resources may be of some use. But we must never neglect the Bible in our discipling. To do so would downplay the notion that the Bible is indeed “profitable” for godliness (2 Tim. 3:16).
Are you or your friend struggling with anxiety? Know that the Bible is sufficient to address anxiety and remind each other of the sovereign Father who cares for our daily needs (Matt. 6:25–33). Are you discouraged in your fight with sin? Read together about the great comfort that God is forgiving and he will complete his work of sanctification in you (1 John 1:9; Phil. 1:6).
Is the entire Bible crystal-clear? Not always. Even the Apostle Peter admitted that some of Paul’s teachings are “hard to understand” (2 Pet. 3:16). Further, we know from experience that some doctrines or passages, like the Revelation 20 or Romans 7, are hard to understand (which is why so many faithful Christians differ with one another!).
So what does it mean to say the Bible is “clear”? It means that the essential truths about Christianity from the Bible are clear. “The truth, the knowledge of which is necessary to everyone for salvation,” writes Bavinck, “is written in such a simple and intelligible form” (Bavinck, RD, 477).
The clarity of Scripture is essential in discipling because it reminds us that what we need for godliness and salvation is clearly presented in the Bible. Ordinary Christians can understand justification, the deity of Christ, the atonement, and many other important doctrines. They’re unambiguous. We don’t need a human priest or an enlightened guru to uncover the gospel for us. Instead, all of God’s children, through the guidance of the Holy Spirit, can read and learn from the Bible and grow in godliness.
One of the five driving mantras of the reformation—sola scriptura—was directed against the Roman Catholic Church’s inadequate view of Scripture. Rome argued that church tradition rivaled Scripture’s authority. The Reformers, however, argued that Scripture alone is the final authority for both believers and the church. No person, organization, or political power stands above it. Scripture brooks no rivals. What the Bible declares is final.
Monarchs are authoritative. Presidents are powerful. They can direct and command their citizens with their words and policies. But we serve a King who is far more sovereign and powerful than any human king. This King of creation spoke and indeed continues to speak to us through his Word. No matter how upside-down our society and our political world may become, God has given us his immovable, certain, and authoritative book to live by. So read to each other from it, knowing that the book in your hands holds more authority than any kings or presidents in history.
Nature tells us something of the character of God. David proclaimed that “the heavens declare the glory of God and the sky above proclaims his work” (Ps. 19:1). Paul writes that creation reveals God’s “invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature” (Rom. 1:20). The skies reveal God’s majesty, the seas unveil of his power, and the animals exhibit his wisdom as the Creator.
But as much as they tell us about God, they never explain how to be reconciled to God. Only the gospel of Jesus Christ fully and clearly reveals to us our depravity and God’s grace. Only Scripture empowers us to grow in maturity and godliness as we continue to battle sin and forget our right standing with God. And this good news is written and recorded in a book. Nature doesn’t tell us how to know God and be reconciled to him. We can only know this by reading and believing the words of the Old and the New Testaments. Scripture is necessary in a Christian’s life because it reveals the gospel.
The doctrine of the necessity of Scripture reminds us that we cannot push aside the Bible in our discipleship ministry. Are there other helpful resources? Absolutely. But we need the Scripture to encourage each other when others are discouraged. We need the Scripture to convict us of our sins. We need the Scripture to remind us of the gospel of Jesus. If we want to grow in Christlikeness, we need to the Scripture to do its work. Consider Psalm 119 as the psalmist praises God because he uses his Word to illuminate their ways and their paths of life (vv. 105–106).
Mark Dever defines discipling as “helping others to follow Jesus by doing deliberate spiritual good to them.” While there are many ways to do this, why not read the Bible together?
Christian, consider reading and studying the Bible to each other in your discipling relationships. Read one of Paul’s letters on a Saturday morning at a coffee shop. Try to memorize the a few psalms together during the week. It may seem fruitless or awkward at first, but remember this—the Word of God is sufficient, clear, authoritative, and necessary for you and your brothers and sisters to grow in godliness as you cherish God.
So trust in his Word and tolle lege.