The Piercing Word of God
I was twelve years old when I came under the knife of God's Word. The cuts went deep, deeper than blood, as they cut my soul in gracious surgery. I was cut with the clear understanding that though I was an outward son of the church, I was not a son of God. The other cut that the knife brought was the conviction that Jesus Christ was God and that he had died on the cross for my sins.
My pastor directed me to read John 1:12 and Romans 10:9-10. And as I read, the lights came on. It was as if the marrow of those verses were sucked off the page and into my soul. I did believe! Thus began my experience with the penetrating power of God's Word. It has cut me untold numbers of times since. But each pain, responded to, has brought a fresh, satisfying healing.
All Scripture is, as Paul has said, theopneustos, "breathed out by God" (2 Timothy 3:16). It is the very breath of divine reality. There is nothing like it. Hebrews 4:12-13 give us four reasons we must not disregard God's Word:
1. The Living Word
The writer of Hebrews directly warns that God's Word is alive, saying, "The word of God is living and active" (v. 12a). It lives because it endures forever (Psalm 119:89). Even more, it lives because it has life in itself. God is "living" (3:12), and the Word, as God's breath (2 Timothy 3:16), partakes of God's living character. It is alive!
The character of the Word's aliveness is that it is "active," or as that word is sometimes rendered, "effective." God's Word vibrates with active, effectual power as it rushes to fulfill the purpose for which it was spoken. As Isaiah 55:11 so beautifully says: "so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it." Indeed, the Word of God is alive and effectual! It does what it promises to do. It regards neither age nor education. It can change you if you are twelve or 102. If you will listen to God's Word, it will change your life. This truth is both a promise and a warning to all of us.
2. The Penetrating Word
God's Word is not only living, but penetrating, as the next line so clearly states: "sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and marrow" (v. 12b).
What we have here is a poetic statement of the power of God's Word to pierce the human personality to its very depths. God's Word can cut through anything and bring conviction.
God's Word can cut through anything and bring conviction.
God's Word cleaves through our hard-shelled souls like a hot knife through warm butter. Certainly we Christians find this to be true in our lives. There are sections of God's Word that cut through all the pretensions and religious facade, leaving us convicted.
When God wills it, his Word will pierce anyone. The soul safest from God's penetrating Word is never the unhappy hearer, but those who, though hearing, never hear and never resist. Tragically, many of these are regular church attenders. The true hearer wittingly or unwittingly invites the divine surgeon to do his gracious cutting.
3. The Discerning Word
Having established that God's Word is living and penetrating, the writer adds, "discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart" (v. 12c). The root word for "discerning" is the word kritikos, from which we derive critic. So the emphasis here is on the discerning judgment of "the thoughts and intentions of the heart". The heart is the seat of human personality. It is hidden from all. Yet God's Word sifts through its thoughts and attitudes with unerring discrimination.
"The sword of the Spirit" (Ephesians 6:17) will tell us what is in our hearts. Fellow-believers, if we really want to understand ourselves, we must fill our souls with God's Word. God's Word–read, meditated upon, and prayerfully applied–will give you brilliant discernment and profound self-knowledge. James indicates that God's Word functions as a mirror revealing who and what we really are (cf. James 1:23 24). This gift of self-knowledge is no small grace because when we grasp something of the serpentine ways of our hearts, we are disposed to cast ourselves even more on God's grace. And that is no small grace! The wise Christian invites the penetrating, discerning work of God's Word in his life.
4. A Reckoning God
Verse 13 gives us one of Scripture's great descriptions of God's knowing: "No creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account."
God sees everything. This can be discomforting if we have something to hide. "The eyes of the LORD are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good" (Proverbs 15:3). The psalmist likewise witnesses, "You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your presence" (Psalm 90:8).
This is sobering truth indeed. But the metaphorical language that follows makes God's knowing absolutely terrifying for those who imagine they can avoid his gaze: "All are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account." "All"–everything–everyone–is stark naked before him. There is nothing to hide in or behind. All creatures are in the grip of God, totally vulnerable, and helpless.
Blessed be the double-edged sword of judgment and sanctification. God cuts us deeply that we might die. God cuts us again with his Word that we might live.
This article is adapted from Hebrews: An Anchor for the Soul by R. Kent Hughes.