It is written:
“as also in all his epistles, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which untaught and unstable people twist to their own destruction, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures.” (2 Peter 3:16)
When Jesus was being tempted by the devil for forty days in the wilderness, He faced many different forms of attack from the father of lies. One was when the devil tried to trick Jesus by quoting Scripture to Him which had been taken out of context (Luke 4:1-13). Fortunately, Jesus knew the context of the Scriptures well enough to show how Satan was twisting God’s Word.
Context is extremely important in our interpretation of Scripture.
“Learn to always study whatever chapter, or even a short statement of Scripture, in the light of its context. It has been well said: “Any text of Scripture used out of harmony with its context ceases to be Scripture and becomes only a pretext for Scripture.” These may not be the exact words of the one quoted from memory, but they express the thought exactly. We need to stay with the context in all of our efforts to teach others. The context is an infallible commentary on the Scriptures. Use it, and you will have no trouble learning what to do to be saved from your past sins, and also how to live the life in Christ he wants us to live.” (S. H. Hall, Scripture Studies: (Volumes 1 and 2), 317 (Kindle Edition); McLoud, Oklahoma; Cobb Publishing)
Quite often, Scripture is taken out of context by well-meaning disciples and are used in ways that are not good.
Consider a few examples.
Non-Christians Need Only Confess Sins To Be Forgiven?
If I were studying with someone who asked what they they needed to do to be saved, what would you say if I shared this verse with them?
Genesis 6:14-Make yourself an ark of gopherwood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and outside with pitch.
What would be wrong with sharing that passage of Scripture to someone who was wanting to know what to do to be saved?
Obviously, this text was written to Noah (not to those in our dispensation), and is not a Scripture that deals with how a person is saved spiritually (Genesis 6 is dealing with salvation from the physical flood that God was going to bring upon the Earth).
Context shows us that applying this to the plan to the plan of salvation for non-Christians today is a misuse of that Scripture.
In a similar way, many misuse what John said:
1 John 1:9-If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Someone may ask, “What is wrong with applying this verse to the plan of salvation for non-Christians? Maybe all a non-Christian has to do is confess their sins to God, and they are forgiven!”
So what’s the problem?
Very simply: 1 John 1:9 is a promise given to those who are already Christians, because the Book of 1 John was written to believers who had already been baptized into Christ for the remission of their sins (as several references in 1 John make clear).
1 John 2:1-My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
1 John 2:7-Brethren, I write no new commandment to you, but an old commandment which you have had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which you heard from the beginning.
1 John 2:12-14-I write to you, little children, Because your sins are forgiven you for His name’s sake. 13 I write to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I write to you, young men, Because you have overcome the wicked one. I write to you, little children, Because you have known the Father. 14 I have written to you, fathers, Because you have known Him who is from the beginning. I have written to you, young men, Because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, And you have overcome the wicked one.
1 John 3:1-3-Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. 2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
1 John 5:13-These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God.
Clearly, 1 John is written to people who were already saved Christians. The promise of 1 John 1:9 is the plan of salvation for believers who have already been baptized and added to the church (Acts 2:37-47). Applying this text to non-Christians is taking this Scripture out of context.
Accept Christ Into Your Heart?
In the same that these verses are taken out of context, I have heard many preachers do the same with what John said in Revelation.
Revelation 3:20-Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me.
“All you need do to be saved,” someone says, “is open your heart to Jesus and invite Him in!”
However, we have the same issue with this statement that we discovered in 1 John: context shows us that this is talking to people who were already members of the church!
Notice to whom Revelation 3:20 is addressed:
Revelation 3:14-“And to the angel of the church of the Laodiceans write, ‘These things says the Amen, the Faithful and True Witness, the Beginning of the creation of God:
These were Christians-members of the church-who needed to repent and invite Christ back into their hearts and congregation. This is not the plan of salvation for non-Christians!
Friends, context matters when studying the Word of God.
What does God’s Word say to unsaved people in our day and age about what they need to do to be saved?
Unbelievers are told:
Acts 16:31-So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Hearing God’s Word (Acts 16:32), what did they do?
Acts 16:33-And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.
What does God’s Word tell believers they need to do to be saved?
Acts 2:38-Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
What did these people do when they heard God’s Word?
Acts 2:41, 47-Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them….praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.
What did God’s Word tell believers who had repented of their sins what they needed to do to be saved?
Acts 22:16-And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’
This last example is especially interesting, because it is directed to Saul of Tarsus, who (as a believer in Jesus who had repented of sins) was praying for three days and nights (Acts 9:1-11).
Context shows that the sinner’s prayer salvation so often embraced today in the religious world is not from God’s Word.
Why not be saved today?
The churches of Christ stand ready to assist you.
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit, be with you all. Amen.