Chris and I were riding home yesterday and listening to J. I. Packer’s book “Knowing God.” We heard something that resonated with us. It applies to all biblical understanding and the challenges we see every day for individual interpretation. It flies in the face of the fact that the Bible says one thing, that one thing can mean different things to different people. That is not interpretation, it is instead personal application; an application only binding personally. This is what Packer said:
Modern muddle-headedness and confusion as to the meaning of faith in God is almost beyond description. Men say they believe in God, but have no idea who it is tha tthey believe in, or what difference believing in Him may make. The Christian who wants to help his floundering fellows into what a famous old tract used to call ‘safety, certainty, and enjoyment’ is constantly bewildered as to where to begin: the fantastic hotch-potch of fancies about God that confronts him quite takes his breath away… “people have got into the way of following private religious hunches rather than learning of God from His own Word; and we have to try and help them to unlearn the pride and, in some cases, misconceptions about Scripture which give rise to this attitude, and to base their convictions henceforth, not on what they feel, but on what the Bible says. A second answer as that modern man thinks of all religions as equal and equivalent, and draws his stock of ideas about God from pagan as well as Christian sources; and we have to try and show people and uniqueness and finality of the Lord Jesus Christ, God’s last word to man. A third answer is that men have ceased to recognize the reality of their own sinfulness, which imparts a degree of perversity and enmity against God to all that they think and do; and it is our task to try and introduce people to this fact about themselves, and so make them self-distrustful and open to correction by the word of Christ. A forth answer… is that people today are in the habit of dissociating the thought of God’s goodness from that of his severity; and we must seek to wean them from this habit, since nothing but misbelief is possible as long as it persists.
To summarize Packer, many if not most self-identified Christians today regularly make decisions on scriptural doctrine that help them define and support their own ideas, personal convictions and desires rather than seeking deep truth and applying those to ones life. For instance, many think that because Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, that regardless how we live or what our testimony may be, if one claims belief in God they’re going to Heaven regardless how they’ve lived their life (1 John 2:2). It is not a matter of ignoring scriptural direction, but making it their scripture, not owning it, but coopting it into a personal application alien to the rest of Scripture. It takes a single scripture on personal authority and ignores the free, unattached and non-reciprocative agape love of God. Love one another first and foremost.