Sola Scriptura is the Christian understanding that the Bible alone is the Holy Spirit's way of guiding the Christian. Only the Bible can bind a Christian's conscience. The idea here is that when God guides, he does not do so apart from the words found in Scripture.
But how is this applied to the Christian life? Here are some examples:
You are driving down the highway in your car and you are approaching an exit to a town. You suddenly have an urge to leave the highway and go into the town. You believe it could be the Holy Spirit guiding you. What should you do?
You can choose to exit, or you can continue driving along - the choice is yours. By choosing not to act upon this feeling you are not sinning and you are not ignoring the voice of God.
It is certainly acceptable to believe that God can use these feelings in order for us to do something that he has preordained us to do: You might take the exit and then pick up a hitch-hiker who becomes a Christian because you tell them the Gospel; You might take the exit and be saved from a major traffic pile-up with a fuel tanker that kills dozens of people; You might take the exit and collide with another car, making you a paraplegic for the rest of your life; or you might take the exit and nothing happens except you make yourself 15 minutes late.
God can and does use these strange feelings we might have in order for us to do something that fits in with his sovereign plan (whether we can see it or not), but if we ignore these feelings then it is NOT a sin.
You open the Bible and read Mark 1:35 - which is about Jesus rising early in the morning while it was still dark and going off to a desolate place to pray. You conclude that this verse teaches us that we, too, should get up every morning and pray. Is this a correct application of the verse?
No. Even though the application is partly biblical, the verse has not been understood or applied in its literary context. You can't just take a verse out of nowhere and make it say something it doesn't really say.
Of course, praying daily is a wonderful thing and is backed up by scripture. However, this part of scripture does not back it up. We need to remember that when we interpret scripture, we must try to identify what scripture describes, and what it prescribes. Mark 1 is a description of Jesus' early ministry - so we need to work out what it says about Jesus.
What makes the "we should pray daily" application ridiculous is that the logical extreme teaches that Christians should pray only in the morning before the sun comes up - and that they should only pray in a desolate place. Of course, such an application would be impossible to achieve, much less be backed up elsewhere in Scipture.
You spend time with another Christian who is a member of the opposite sex. He/she is married but their marriage is in trouble. The more time you spend with them listening to his/her troubles, you feel an emotional bond developing and you become attracted to him/her. You realise that they, too, are becoming attracted to you. After a time of prayer together, you feel that it is God who is drawing the two of you together into a special relationship. Is this what God is wanting?
No. Absolutely not. It does not matter what you "feel", the Bible is clear when it comes to messing around with marriage. Your "special relationship" is likely to further destroy the person's already fragile marriage, and you may also end up committing adultery. Hebrews 13.4 and Exodus 20.14 make God's mind on this absolutely clear. God will NOT guide you into sin.
You have run out of pens at home and it is quite irritating not to have one around. While at work one day, you notice a bunch of pens that you could swipe. As you consider this, you feel that doing so would be wrong, and that God is clearly telling you to not take them. Is God guiding here?
Yes. God is guiding here because stealing is against God's law. The reason why you feel that it is wrong is because you know from the Scriptures that God speaks against stealing. God speaks to you now because God has spoken to you before through the Bible about this matter.
You are a man. You read in Ephesians 5.22-24 that women should submit to men. Because of this, you decide that you cannot work under a female boss. Moreover, you feel that you should rebuke any woman who disagrees with you. Is this what God is guiding?
No. Ephesians 5.22-24 is about wives and husbands and how wives should submit to their husbands in the marriage relationship. This passage has no other application in the workplace or in relationships with women apart from your wife.
You have been brought up in a church that has a very tough stand on drinking alcohol - they believe that Christians who drink alcohol are sinning against the Lord. One day while reading Psalm 104, you come across some verses which indicates that God has created wine "to gladden the heart of man". After further research into the Bible, you come to the conclusion that God doesn't mind us drinking alcohol, so long as we don't get drunk. One day at a friend's place, you have a glass of wine, but feel terribly guilty afterwards for drinking alcohol. You wonder if God is telling you through your guilt feelings that you have sinned by drinking alcohol. Is God saying this?
No. Your guilty feelings are NOT from God. The Bible is clear about alcohol and the study you have done into the scriptures has confirmed God's teaching that alcohol is a gift from God that has to be enjoyed in moderation. The fact that you feel guilty is meaningless at this point, since it is clear that you have not sinned in any way.
You are a man. While meeting with your pastor, he announces that he has a prophecy from the Lord about you! He says that God is telling you to find the wife he has chosen for you so that God can do his special work through you. The pastor then says that the woman he has chosen for you has red hair. You know of four young women in the congregation who have red hair, none of whom you have ever considered approaching for a relationship. Should you take this prophecy to be from God?
No. You can marry whomever you darn well please, so long as she is a Christian and she is single. You don't need your pastor to manipulate you into doing what he thinks God is telling you to do. Moreover, God's plan for you has already been worked out in advance and there's no way you can stuff things up and ruin God's hard work. Scripture does not reveal anything about the woman you should marry, just that she should be a Christian and should be single.
You feel that God is wanting to do something special in your life. One day you open the Bible and read Psalm 45.5, which says "Your arrows are sharp in the heart of the king's enemies; the peoples fall under you." From this you deduce that God (the King) has decreed that you are to be a spiritual warrior. This means that you will be a great preacher whom God will use to defeat satanic forces and bring many unbelievers to the Lord. Is this what God is saying to you?
No. Absolutely not. If you read the verse in context, you realise that the verse is actually about God. Verse 6 follows verse 5, saying "Your Throne, O God, is for ever and ever". If you think that this verse was written thousands of years ago just for you, think again.
You hear a fellow Christian say to an unbeliever that if he/she does not place their trust in Christ, then their sins remain unforgiven and they are headed to hell. Despite sounding harsh, you believe that this is true. Is it?
Yes. The Bible is very clear about the exclusiveness of Christianity and the wrath that is due to those who refuse to repent. John 3.36 is one verse that says this - but there are many others.
From the Theosalient Department
© 2005 Neil McKenzie Cameron, http://one-salient-oversight.blogspot.com/
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs 2.5 License.