Approaching the Scriptures for the first time with the intent to learn Spiritual truths from them can be a daunting task. Even, or especially, if we know the Bible is the word of God.
Why? Because it is natural to assume the word of God is complex, full of deep symbolism, conflicting analogies, way over our heads, and mostly irrelevant to daily life. We just need to know what to do.
There are people in history who have devoted their wholes lives to studying Scripture, church history, catechisms, creeds, specific saints, Greek and Hebrew, etc. Who am I to think I can even come close? I would need to go to an accredited seminary, study for years under senior professors, and dig deeply into what many other biblical scholars and missionaries have learned before me.
Right? Well, no.
Actually, the thoughts of God expressed through His word are surprisingly delightful and profound. His grace and truth are amazing things to investigate and discover. You can recognize wit and wisdom when you hear it. Likewise, His Spirit testifies to our spirit that these things are true. He only requires a sincere and humble heart, a willingness to show up and listen with the intent, an expectation even, to learn from Him.
The trap is not to settle for human wit and wisdom. Plus, many have either been beaten down so much they don't feel worthy to read the word of God (or see only punishment in it), or they have been exalted because of worldly success or emotional highs or a miraculous experience they think they don't need the word of God to know God.
Those things and other crafty schemes are what so easily ensnare so many of us into thinking we need to depend on someone else to interpret Scripture for us. True, we need a guide. Absolutely! But, this guide should be leading us into deeper understanding of His word, Scripture, not greater guilt for sin, higher morality for improved citizenship, sacrificial charitable and humanitarian deeds, or even out-of-body experiences. Let the word have its application, only guide the new Christian into all truth.
At the same time, God hides these things from those motivated by selfish gain, arrogance, or coming to Him with firm mind made up, self-righteousness, and prejudgment. The wise and understanding of this world have no advantage in understanding God's truth. Truth is revealed to babes: those who don't think they already know better and filter what they hear through existing worldly knowledge and philosophy.
Churches from all denominations, online sermons, stand-alone verses, thick systemic theology texts, and voluminous commentaries can often be a deterrent or distraction from studying Scripture.
"Someone else has already come to an interpreted conclusion. Why reinvent the wheel? They've done the 'hard' part. Thank goodness! I just need to behave (which can be a struggle, by the way) and not get caught."
Again, no. Being saved, living the Christian life, and maturing as a Christian are not about behavior modification, being morally superior, or highly emotional. It's not even about fighting for human rights or achieving material abundance in this life. Rather, it is about thought modification.
Romans 12:2 says, "Do not be conformed to [the patterns of] this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind..." Perhaps you've heard of stinkin-thinkin? Well, here's a chance to forsake that negative spiral so "...that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect." Let what you do follow what you believe. First, believe!
Nowadays, instead of teaching how to study the Bible and letting the Holy Spirit do his job, preachers skip right to making applications in life. How can I be a better [fill in one of your many earthly roles here]? How can I be more [fill in the desired virtue here]? Fortunately, simply living out those applications is not what Jesus meant when He said, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly." (John 10:10b) The answer to "How?" becomes self-evident when you understand "Why?"
Is someone "blessed" because they have a big house, a nice new sports car, and a cushy salary? That's what the worldly would have you think. But, the Father's plan, executed through Jesus Christ, is about something much more important. Let us let the Guide, who is the Holy Spirit, and a Pastor/Teacher (someone gifted by God to assist) lead us so that we are not tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Eph 4:11-14).
What is the Holy Spirit's job? Simple, because He's highly motivated, but not easy, because we resist Him so much...
When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. (John 16:13)
Let yourself be filled with the humility and curiosity of a child gently and sincerely asking one of his parents, "Where do I come from?" Other questions to contemplate while reading Scripture may include:
- "The whole Bible is so big! Where do I start?"
- "It's so confusing. What should I learn first?"
- "Is accuracy important? What translation should I use?"
- "Who can I trust to help me understand what I read?"
Should I listen to sermons, read other books about the Bible, such as commentaries, or follow guidelines to living out Christian applications, such as The Purpose-Driven Life?"
Wow! That's a lot to consider. First, don't worry. God knows where you are in life. He knows your heart, your humility, your eagerness to know Him and diligently seek Him. Coming to Him should not provoke anxiety. Rather, it should result in peace, joy, and rest for your souls.
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30)
Second, don't stress about the end so much as just enjoying the journey. Think of it this way: God wants to work in you. You're job is simply to show up.
At the same time don't just continue randomly to show up and pick a verse to memorize. Have a purpose and a plan for taking that wonderful journey. Ask questions, even tough ones. God has solid answers. Be prayerful. This is not an exercise in academics. The more diligent your seeking, the more rich and rewarding the experience will be.
To make some simple suggestions about getting started, I will assume your initial goals, or questions, may include ones like these:
- What is the 'Big Picture' of the Bible?
- Who is Jesus Christ? How can I know Him?
- What is salvation all about?
- What does it mean to go from lost to saved?
- How can I understand the job of the Holy Spirit?
- What is Christian living really all about?
Well, here are some simple guidelines I'd like to offer for getting started, plus a few areas of focus to keep in mind. Don't get stuck on what you don't understand. Keep your perspective on the context and come back to it.
- Open the Scriptures; God has already spoken.
- Follow your heart's desire to know Him through the Scriptures.
- Seek to see things from His perspective and understand His thoughts.
- Get to know Jesus Christ as a Person, especially since the Father is well-pleased with Him.
- Desire to eventually understand God's eternal plan, but don't jump to conclusions.
Follow your heart's desire. My heart wants to dabble and dive. It wants to skim and inspect. Sometimes I read a passage for quick refreshment. Other times I study for a scheduled length of time on a particular area of Scripture or an a specific topic.
Lastly, remember you are in the age of the church. While much of the New Testament quotes from the Old Testament, mostly to show where Scripture is being fulfilled, it also has language that is exclusive to the church. So, it would worthwhile to discover what's so special about the church. That way, you'll understand the boundaries of what belongs to the church and what belongs to another age.
Please leave a comment if you would like to engage in a conversation about these and other 'Scripture Q&A' or 'Why Scripture' posts. Thank you!
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