The questions of life plague our souls, shake us mercilessly, and even cast us into a tailspin of desperation. Into this chaos, we have considered a universally pressing question, drawing upon a booklet entitled, How Can We Know For Sure? 1
The answer, as we have contended in the prior articles,2 is that God has spoken. He has spoken authoritatively, clearly, necessarily, and sufficiently. He has given us his written Word, a Word that, as Jesus has declared, “cannot be broken.” (John 10:35).
But does that assertion, even by Jesus himself, satisfy your soul’s quest for confidence?
You may still protest. How do we avoid the seemingly inevitable conclusion that we are still left to decide? Are we not left irreducibly to our own assessments, our own interpretation and confined by our own limitations? How do we become convinced of the Bible’s trustworthiness?
Surely it is one thing to make the claim that the Bible is the word of God, but making such a claim does not by fiat create the truthfulness of that claim. A purely assumed certainty of Scripture makes quite uncertain the purported certainty itself. Is not the argument circular, so that the conclusion of the Bible’s truthfulness comes from the very presupposition of its truthfulness?
But such a crude, unreasonable, and deflating circularity is hardly at work here. Let us return to a theme introduced earlier.
As corrupt and sinful people, our sinfulness dwells not only in our hearts, lives, and tongues (stubbornness), but also in our minds (blindness).3 In our rebellion against God we are wholly unwilling, non-desirous, and unable to accept divine truth. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.”4
Romans 1 indicates that as unbelievers we “suppress the truth” (1:18), and have “exchanged the truth of God for a lie” (1:25). Such suppression and idolatrous substitution of lies for truth turn us into fools, though we claim “to be wise” (1:22). In short, our rejection of God’s words in general revelation distorts our view of God and of reality. Such warping rebellion marks a point of no return morally and intellectually.
Having already described this pervasive corruption, we noted the wholly undeserved gift of God’s Word. He comes to us graciously and discloses to us forgiveness in the Son of God. His Word is a redemptive Word, and by faith in Jesus Christ – the Protagonist of Scripture,5 our eyes are opened to the real and glorious hope of the gospel. We see Jesus for who he really is. We also have our eyes peeled to the truths and truthfulness of Scripture. Such understanding is entirely a gift. It is not a production of our wills or our minds. It simply cannot be.
In the Second Epistle to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul explains this fact by way of the “impossible” task of gospel ministry. Why is it impossible? Because human hearts are blind, recalcitrant, and humanly irretrievable. Paul and his fellow apostles were fully aware that human words were positively insufficient to bring any sort of spiritual renewal. If it were not for the divine nature of the gospel and the work of the Holy Spirit, Paul and his fellow preachers were pitiable fools!6 What instead compelled them to preach was the divine and personal power of the Word of God to bring about change.
4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 5 For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. 6 For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.7
Into the darkened circularity of our sinful reasoning shines the Holy Spirit of God, who beams in with redeeming, unfailing, and wholly satisfying truth! God removes the blinders from our eyes and brings us from darkness to light.8
So, here is what happens. We hear the Scriptures and the Spirit of God, Scripture’s Author, opens our heart and mind. By the instrument of faith, this Spirit gives light to our minds concerning the gospel of Jesus Christ and the words of Scripture. This point bears restatement: the Holy Spirit works in us, bringing about this change. The Spirit who gave the prophets and the apostles the Scriptures is the same Spirit who convinces us of their reliability.9 By the ministry of the Spirit of God, we now know what we could notknow. We see what we could not see. The Spirit of God shines in our hearts this Spiritual understanding.10
We turn once again to the New Testament. In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul speaks directly about this Spirit-wrought change in us that enables us to understand the word of God:
9 But, as it is written, ‘What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him’— 10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.11
How then are we persuaded? Answering this very question Reformer John Calvin properly directs us away from the human rationality, as it is simply inadequate.
Enlightened by his power we believe that Scripture is from God, not on the basis of our own judgment nor that of others; but, rising above human judgment, we conclude with absolute certainty, as if we saw God’s own majesty present in it, that it came to us by the ministry of men from God’s very mouth…. It is a conviction which does not call for rational proofs; a knowledge with which indeed the mind rests more securely and steadily than in any rational proofs; an awareness which can only be born of heavenly revelation. I speak only of what every believer experiences, save that my words fall far short of a just account of the matter.12
The conviction about Scripture’s truthfulness is no mere human phenomenon. It cannot be reduced to probabilities, proofs, or evidences. Certainty cannot come by reasoning, but instead takes root in our hearts by the work of the Holy Spirit himself. Such conviction is not irrational; it is supra rational, that is, it exceeds our powers of rationality.13
The Spirit then who produced the Scripture by the agency of the prophets and the apostles is the very same Spirit who illumines us to receive the Scripture as wholly true. Note well that Spirit does not change the Scripture; he changes us and opens our minds and hearts to Scripture’s truth. He enters the closed circle of our rebellion and blindness, in which we rely upon our finite and sinful intellect, and delivers us from our self-absorbed darkness into his grace-filled light.
1 The booklet, How Can I Know For Sure?, contains a series of questions after each section, intended for group discussion. To purchase a copy, go to http://www.reformedresources.org/books/how-can-i-know-for-sure/.
2 Part 1: “How Can I Know For Sure? Certain Uncertainty”
Part 3: “The Uniqueness of the Bible”
Part 4: “The Holy Spirit and the Word of God”
3 See Romans 3:10-20; 8:1-11; Ephesians 2:1-4.
4 2 Corinthians 2:14.
5 See John 5:39-47; Luke 24:13-49.
6 See 1 Corinthians 2:4; 15:1-19.
7 2 Corinthians 4:1-6.
8 “It is then from God Himself that we learn the true character of the Scriptures. In the very nature of the case, it must be so. Only God can identify what He Himself has spoken. If man, unaided, could identify God’s Word, man would have powers, which are God’s alone. And if man really has these powers, God, whatever else He might be, would not be the One of whom the Bible speaks. We are in reality face to face with the question of theism. Unless we first think rightly of God, we shall be in error upon everything else. Unless we first think rightly of God, we shall indeed be in error when we come to consider His Word. We Christians need not be ashamed to proclaim boldly that our final persuasion of the Divinity of the Bible is from God Himself. God, in His gentle grace, has identified His Word for us; He has told us that the Bible is from Himself. Those who know Him not may depreciate this doctrine of the internal testimony of the Spirit; those who are His know that God has truly brought them out of darkness into light.” E. J. Young, Thy Word is Truth (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1963), 35, my emphasis. See John 1:1-6; Ephesians 2:1-10.
 So writes John Calvin, “I answer, the selfsame Spirit revealed . . . the author of the Scriptures is God. Neither Moses nor the prophets brought to us by chance the things we have received at their hands; they spoke as moved by God, and testified with confidence and courage that God’s very mouth had spoken. The same Spirit who made Moses and the prophets certain of their calling, has now testified to our own hearts that he used them as his servants for our instruction.” John Calvin, quoted in Readings in Christian Thought (edited by Hugh T. Kerr; Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1966), 162-63.
10 While in one important sense this illumination is instantaneous (we did not see before and now by faith we see), our fortification in this divine gift of understanding occurs over time. In fact, the life of a believer in Jesus Christ involves a progressive deepening of understanding in God’s Word and confidence in its relevant authority in the face of temptations and pressures within and without. Hebrews 5:12-14 describes the life of a believer as exercise! “For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.”
11 1 Corinthians 2:9-12.
12 John Calvin, Institutes, 1.7.5.
13 Because sin distorts understanding, divine grace by the Spirit redeems our minds, enabling us to see and to receive God’s (biblical) truth with conviction. Illumination is “regeneration on its noetic [the mind] side.” John Murray, “The Attestation of Scripture,” in The Infallible Word (Second edition; edited by N.B. Stonehouse and Paul Woolley; Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1967), 51.