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David B. Garner is Associate Professor of Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary and Pastor of Teaching at Proclamation Presbyterian Church (Bryn Mawr, PA). Pastor, professor, and author, he has also served as a missionary, ministering in Europe and Central and Southeast Asia. From 2003-2007, he served as Director for TE3 (Theological Education for Eastern Europe), a regional theological training ministry based in Sofia, Bulgaria.

Column: Sine Qua Non by David Garner

Sine Qua Non

February 27, 2014 •

You may think this quasi strange, but I have an affinity for certain Latin words.  The fact is, you actually know and use many of them too. Have you ever felt like a persona non grata? Do you cheer for your alma mater or depend on a per diem for business travels? How great is it when lawyers agree to work pro bono? Do you invest in stocks sold by a man in his garage or do you prefer a bona fide company? Et cetera, et cetera

What about sine qua non? Most of us have heard the phrase, may feel like we should know what it means, but for our lives, we simply cannot remember.  So let me introduce, remind, or whatever the case may be.

A sine qua non is something basic and fundamental: not something that merely benefits or aids, but something absolutely necessary, indispensable, and essential.  Which of us can live without air to breathe? Which of us can survive without water, without food? These elements are the sine qua non of our survival.

As it is in the natural world, so it is in the spiritual domain. Just as we depend on oxygen and food, we depend on the Spirit of life and the Word of God. Once dead in our trespasses and sins, we now live by the Spirit of the resurrected Jesus Christ (Romans 8:9-11; 1 Corinthians 15). This same Spirit has given us his powerful Word which nourishes us, generously giving us spiritual food and spiritual drink.

God’s Word explains creation, the nature of mankind, the fall and sin, the grace of God, and the consummate hope that is ours in Christ Jesus. God’s Word faithfully and truthfully instructs us about Jesus, about redemption, about forgiveness, about life. The Bible lucidly describes God, history, and destiny. It shines its blazing and illumining light on us, explains us to ourselves, and both shows and gives us what we need. Scripture is a light unto our feet and a lamp unto our path (Psalm 119:105).

Put somewhat differently, God’s Word feeds us with the spiritual calories to sustain us daily, eternally. Dependent as we are, we need God’s Word and we need to know what God has said. Knowing Scripture is essential and indispensable.

Jesus says, “for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5b). As he tells us in this upper room discourse, he is the Vine and we are the branches. Our lives, our sustenance, and our fruitfulness depend entirely upon him. Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Jesus and his Word are the sine qua non of spiritual life and vitality.

Pressured and squeezed as we are by our circumstances, busied as we are by our 4G lives, we often try to get by without sufficient caloric consumption. Yes, we affirm the exclusivity of Jesus Christ for salvation and spiritual life, and we even truly believe in the value and authority of the Bible. However, these truths often get filed in virtual file folders retrieved only when we think them relevant. Such a selective filing system fails to honor the comprehensively relevant Scriptures we claim to love and trust.

When Scripture’s authority and sufficiency get buried beneath the pile of pragmatism and drowned out by the relentless aggression of imposter authorities which scream in our ears, we become spiritually anemic, lethargic, impotent, and we get dulled to the spiritual truths which transform. Like cataract layers over our spiritual eyes, self-sufficiency sneaks in and blinds us to the necessary, the essential, and the indispensable. We simply cannot survive on spiritual junk food.

This column, “Sine Qua Non,” will draw us back to Scripture’s relevant teaching about Jesus Christ, about our lives and the nature of a Christ-honoring godliness. It will not remind us only of Scripture’s irreplaceable authority, but consider explicitly how Scripture truly remains the sine qua non of our vitality.

God has indeed given us everything we need concerning life and godliness (2 Pet 1:3). Everything. Everything for life. Everything for a godly life. It’s all there. 

Of course, the Bible does not speak about everything, but it does speak to everything. God’s Word is the sine qua non for our right thinking, right living, and right decisions. Only by actual reliance on the actual Word of God understood and celebrated will we enjoy the peace that surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:6-7).

Such peace comes only from the God of heaven and earth, who is Source of all things. As Creator, Sustainer, Redeemer, and Consummator, the God of Scripture is the Sine qua Non of all things.

To this God and to his Word we joyfully and blessedly turn. There is no other place to go, no other terra firma.

Join in this sweet (re-)discovery. Abandon the status quo. You will not be disappointed.

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