Scripture’s sufficiency means that God’s Word is reliable and trustworthy for the faith and practice of the people of God (2 Peter 1:3). Our view on this point affects how we read and interpret the Bible. I have often heard Christians in Bible studies ask, “What does this verse mean to you?” That question gets my attention, because there’s a difference between explaining what the text genuinely means and what I feel the text means. Rather than asking, “What does this text mean to you?”, we should ask, “What does this text teach?” or even, “How should I interpret this verse?”
Reading and studying the Bible is not concerned with what we feel the text may mean, but rather what the biblical text actually says and teaches. Every biblical text has a meaning and purpose, which is why every Christian must study Scripture diligently to know it and to conform to its truth (2 Timothy 2:15; Romans 8:28). The “felt needs” approach to biblical interpretation is dangerous, because it reveals the presupposition that feeling lies at the same level of biblical truth. To examine what the Bible teaches is to engage in sound principles of biblical interpretation to conform to the truth in the trustworthy Word of God.
A feeling–centered mindset in not only dangerous during our Bible studies, but also during our trials. To be a disciple of Jesus is to be a learner and student of Jesus. As such, the Christian life is profoundly doctrinal. And so, when James tells Christians to consider it all joy when they face various trials (James 1:2-3), we know that joy is both practical and doctrinal. True joy stems from the Lord who is the fount of all joy, and who alone provides both real and practical joy through the Holy Spirit (Nehemiah 8:10; Galatians 5:22-23). To endure trials, we need to know the Lord, who provides joy, peace, and comfort both before, during, and after trials. Such knowledge comes from the Word of God.
Neither Bible study nor the Christian life are centered on our feelings; they are centered on being mastered by the Word of God, that we may be anchored in God’s truth whether in good times or bad.
Whether in Bible studies or in writing, I’ve often seen Christians functionally equate Scripture and personal experience when it comes to issues of sufficiency. The danger of this approach is that it says, “Scripture is sufficient in every way,” but then adds “My feelings matter too.” And this cause problems in our view of growth in Christian life and service. Going back to the example of trials, I’ve been told by many Christians the Lord is distant from them—yet the Scripture teaches the Lord is near (Psalm 145). Affirming the sufficiency of Scripture is a good start, but we need to also understand how it affects our lives. If we fail to understand this point, we will see feelings at the same level of biblical truth, rather than regulated by the Scriptures. The Scriptures teach a lot about emotions such as anger, but they never teach we are to give into anger. Instead, the Scriptures teach the difference between righteous and unrighteous anger (Ephesians 4:26-27). Our feelings, such as anger, need an anchor greater than feeling; they need divine truth and to be taught by the Lord.
We do not ground our lives in our feelings, but the sufficient Word of God. Feelings are not the final authority—yet feelings are theological, and as such should be accounted for and understood in light of the Scriptures.
Biblical doctrine provides the foundation for life in Christ and ministry in the local church and outside of it (2 Timothy 3:16-17). The Scripture is sufficient, dear Pastor, so preach the sixty-six books in the Word of God. The Scripture is sufficient, dear Worship Leader, so teach the people to sing songs that are grounded in the Word of God. The Scriptures are sufficient, dear Youth Pastors, so preach and teach children, teenagers, and college students the whole counsel of God, that they may be equipped to walk and minister in a manner worthy of the grace of God (Ephesians 4:1). Dear church elder and elder board, please function in your ministry as overseers under the sufficient Word of God. Dear Christian editor, parent, podcaster, or writer, the Scripture is sufficient, so teach from it and live by it. “The Bible is enough” as Dr. Matthew Barrett rightly notes. “[We] need not look for a new, additional, or better revelation. We have God’s best Word already, and nothing needs to be added to it.”
Dave Jenkins (MAR, MDiv, Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary) is the executive director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the executive editor of Theology for Life Magazine, and the host of the Equipping You in Grace Podcast and Warriors of Grace Podcast. You can follow him on Twitter (@davejjenkins), Facebook (Dave Jenkins SOG), and Instagram.