The Joy of Being Reformed (6): Who or What Is Influencing You More Than You’d Like to Admit?

Why do you believe what you believe and live the way you live? You make decisions every day that affect you and others around you. Your beliefs shape those decisions, and your beliefs are shaped by some authority, an authority that you listen to. Isn’t that right? 

If you had a brain tumor and needed surgery, you’d be very interested in what Dr. Bartolome Oliver thought because, with over 47 years of experience, he’s probably the top neurosurgeon in the world. If Dr. Oliver spoke to you about your brain tumor, you’d listen and probably believe him, even let him operate on your brain, because he has extensive experience and is considered preeminent in his profession. You’re probably not going to find someone more qualified to operate on your brain than Dr. Oliver.

My point is that our beliefs, thoughts, choices, and actions are informed and shaped by some authority, some source of truth, someone or something we trust. Preeminence matters to us. We are all influenced by what we believe has authority and preeminence.

Think about every aspect of your life. Think about your work, marriage, parenting, college choice, theology, involvement in church, entertainment choices, eating habits, exercise habits, purchasing habits, family traditions, and more. Think about what goes into the decisions you make. Behind every decision are thoughts that are informed by some authority, some source of truth. Isn’t that right? And as Christians, our authority is God revealed in Holy Scripture. Honestly, sometimes we listen and follow; sometimes we don’t.

Brothers and sisters, sometimes we submit to God’s authority and sometimes we don’t. God has given us His Holy Spirit to teach us His Holy Scripture so that our beliefs, thoughts, decisions, and actions are shaped by God’s authority and truth, and this is for our wellbeing and flourishing. As the Holy Spirit works through the public reading, preaching, and teaching of God’s Word and the private meditation on God’s Word, and as we receive God’s Word by faith, the Holy Spirit more and more shapes every aspect of our lives according to His Word. He brings us into alignment with Him.

God is astonishingly gracious and kind to reveal His law and gospel to us. Without His divine revelation, we are lost and confused. We will self-destruct. The tension, though, is that at many points of life God’s Word clashes with our desires or our self-interests. Will we receive God’s Holy Word with confidence and adjust ourselves to it or just turn away and surround ourselves with teachers that suit our own passions, as 2 Timothy 4:3 talks about? We should be careful because we can always find some authority, friend, pastor, guru, or personality to justify or rationalize our disinterest in submitting to God’s good authority.

Consider what Belgic Confession Article Five says about God’s Holy Word. It begins: “We receive all these books, and these only, as holy and canonical, for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith.” [1] First, it says “we receive.” The Christian faith is a corporate faith. It’s never just you and Jesus. It’s always Jesus and the body of Christ of which you are a member. Together, as the church, we receive the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments as God’s holy and canonical Word and submit to it, to God Himself.  

Second, canonical means that all Scripture is, as Westminster Confession of Faith 1:2 says, “given by inspiration of God, to be the rule of faith and life.” Canon is law, a rule of doctrine and faith. Christians receive Scripture, including every part, as the only source of authority for their faith and life, or as Article Five says, “for the regulation, foundation, and confirmation of our faith.”

Article Five continues:

We believe without any doubt all things contained in them, not so much because the church receives and approves them as such, but especially because the Holy Spirit witnesses in our hearts that they are from God, and also because they contain the evidence of this in themselves; for even the blind are able to perceive that the things foretold in them are being fulfilled. [2]

Again, we believe the Scriptures together, as Christ’s church. This provides community, support, and accountability. We interpret the Bible together as a church, and not just as a church today, but as a church throughout history. We place our confidence exclusively in sixty-six divinely authored and authoritative books. We never change the Word; the Word always changes us.

Article Five gives an apologetic for why we consider the Bible God’s Word. We don’t receive it as God’s Word because the church says so. The church doesn’t form the Scriptures; the Scriptures form the church. We receive the Bible as God’s authoritative Word because the Holy Spirit testifies to Scripture’s divine authority in our hearts. Additionally, the Scriptures themselves present sufficient authenticating evidence within them. More could be said about this. Check out Westminster Confession of Faith Chapter One. 

In 1 Thessalonians 2:13, Paul, speaking as an apostle sent by Christ and representatively of all the apostles and even ministers of the gospel, said:

And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers.

God spoke through prophets and apostles, and they gave us the Bible. Therefore, when we receive the testimony of Scripture, we receive not the word of men, though men penned it, but we receive God’s authoritative Word. And as Spirit-filled believers, God’s Word is working in us to align our beliefs, thoughts, choices, and actions to Christ. 

Think about every aspect of your life. Think about your theology, involvement in church, work, marriage, parenting, and so forth. How aligned is it all with Scripture? What is out of alignment and how is that affecting you and others? What do you believe that cannot be defended by Scripture? Are you willing to change?

Let me conclude with one encouragement. How would you know if your beliefs, thoughts, choices, and actions align with Scripture? Well, you must know Scripture. Right? And you should be able to give rational arguments from Scripture to justify your beliefs, thoughts, choices, and actions. Right? But I think many professing Christians overlook something vital to their discernment. It’s found in Ephesians 5:21. It’s a command from Jesus. It says, “submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ.” One essential way we discern whether our beliefs, thoughts, choices, and actions align with Scripture is by submitting ourselves to one another, to the church, out of reverence for Christ. In other words, we need a local church to help us believe, think, choose, an act in conformity to God’s Word. We shouldn’t think and discern alone; we should think and discern in community. “Lone Ranger Christians” are probably not Christians and are probably self-deceived. We receive God’s authority in Scripture together, and we work together to understand, believe, and apply it. Accountability is a marvelous protection.

So, listen to your church shepherds. Ask them questions. Submit to them, learn from them, and imitate them (Heb. 13:7, 17). Submit to your brothers and sisters (Eph. 5:21). Confess your sins to and pray with and for one another (James 5:16). Encourage and build one another up (1 Thess. 5:11). Walk the pilgrim journey of submission to God’s Word together with those who are committed to receiving God’s Word as the ultimate authority for their faith and life, and the Holy Spirit will guide you into all truth and godliness which is what your heart desires (Jn. 16:13). 


[2] Ibid.  

Scripture quotations are from the ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved. May not copy or download more than 500 consecutive verses of the ESV Bible or more than one-half of any book of the ESV Bible.

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Jonathan Shirk

Welcome to the online home of Jonathan Shirk, family man, Reformed pastor, author, podcaster, and small town theologian. Whether you're from a small town or big city, may this website help you find deeper comfort and joy in the gospel.

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