All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17, ESV).
The above passage is one of the familiar passages that we use to teach about the inspiration of Scripture. The King James Bible phrases it as “All scripture is given by inspiration of God” (hence, the theological term “divine inspiration of Scripture”), whereas the ESV translates it more literally, “breathed out by God.” The image depicts the words of the Bible being exhaled from the lips of God.
It is important that we avoid the temptation to simply focus on the fact that God breathed forth these words. Paul tells his young protegé, and us, that God breathed these words forth for a reason. God wants us to learn from His word. This learning is both doctrinal and practical, covering what we both should and should not believe and do. God wants us to know what to believe, and what not to believe; what to do, and what not to do.
Teaching indicates what we need to know. The New Testament teaches that we receive eternal life by believing in Jesus:
- “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
- “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
- “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).
There are certain teachings that are essential to salvation. There are things God wants us to know. I hate to be divisive with other Christians, so I do not reject a professed believer over purely denominationally distinctive doctrines. Accepting other believers who adhere only to your own church’s official statement of faith borders on cultism. Yet, we have to believe in the right Jesus. We have to adhere to certain biblical truths. Since the early centuries of Christian history, the key doctrines of the faith have been best described by the ancient creeds: The Apostle’s Creed and the Nicene Creed are the most familiar. While these creeds do not include every important teaching of Scripture, they are an important starting point. Any church that disagrees with these core teachings cannot truly be considered “Christian.” (I know some believers take offense at the statement, “I believe in … the holy catholic church.” However, the word “catholic” here should be taken in its original meaning of “universal,” indicating that there is one true worldwide body of Christ.)
The “flip side” of teaching would be correction. If teaching is the presentation and definition of truth, correction is exposing error. Again, we need to avoid the temptation to mark everybody as a false believer if they do not share all of our beliefs. Yet, there are some core teachings. If Jesus is truly God in human flesh, and the “fullness of deity dwells bodily in Him” (Colossians 2:9), then He is not merely a nice guy and great teacher who showed us that we can all be gods (He is not some sort of New Age guru). If He was tempted in every way that we are, yet without sin (Hebrews 4:15), we cannot claim that He sinned. If He died on the cross and rose on the third day, we cannot claim that He just swooned during the crucifixion and awoke from a long nap on Sunday morning. If the Bible tells us that we are appointed to die once, and then face a final judgment (Hebrews 9:27), a Christian cannot believe in reincarnation.
In addition to instruction about correct and incorrect belief, the Bible gives us instruction about correct and incorrect behavior. It has to reprove us when we sin. Passages like Ephesians 5:3-20 point out a plethora of sins: adultery, fornication, covetousness, etc. The list can go on and on. God forgives our sins, but He does not shrug about them. He cares deeply that we do His will. That means, we have to avoid doing things contrary to His will.
Along with the negative (what not to do), the Bible gives us specific instruction about things we should do as children of God. This does not mean we do these things to become Christians, or to become children of God. Rather, because we are His children, God gives us training in righteousness. He shows us how to resist temptation, pray, worship. He gives countless examples of ways that we can tell others about Jesus or serve others.
I realize every one of these items could be addressed in greater detail. I made no attempt to give an exhaustive teaching on correct and incorrect doctrine (this would require an in-depth systematic theology textbook, which usually runs about 1500 or more pages). Nor could I cover all examples of godly and sinful living.
However, as we read the Bible, we should look at it from this perspective. What is God trying to tell me? What is He trying to teach me about Himself, or myself, or the world He created? What sinful behaviors or bad habits is He pointing out in my life? What false beliefs is He seeking to correct? What should I be doing as a beloved child of God? Ask these questions whenever you approach God’s Word, and He will reveal His truth to you.