I realized I’ve talked a lot about letting the Bible study us instead of studying the Bible over the years, but I haven’t talked about how I do this. I will use this short series to do just that! Today’s post will lay a foundation before before I get into specifics.
I’ve been reading the Bible devotionally now for about 15 years, reading the Old Testament through once and the New Testament twice each year. I have found this to be transformational.
What it doesn’t mean is that I’m studying the Bible exegetically. I’m not looking for the correct interpretation, context, nor am I using commentary, study aids, or reading anyone else’s devotional. I’m simply reading the Bible text to personally interact with God, intimately and relationally. I’m asking Him to reveal what’s in me that needs to change, based on what I’m reading, and trusting that the outcome of the experience will be for my highest good.
I’m reading for my personal re-formation.
Jesus said His sheep hear His voice and they won’t follow another (John 10:3-5). We can be confident that we will hear God speak to us. It’s normal that we should hear Him for ourselves (including many other ways besides Scripture). But when we only “hear God” second-hand—through our pastor, teachers, study aids, devotionals, books, blogs, and other media—this ability can become atrophied.
All these other things are good, even important, but they shouldn’t be our primary way of relating to God.
While theology and doctrine are also very important, they don’t constitute our relationship with God, nor our life in Him. The best analogy I can come up with is that theology and doctrine are like guardrails on each side of the road that keep us from ending up in the ditch.
On one side, you have the “guardrail of theology.” Succinctly put, God is love. And His perfect love casts out fear. God looks and acts exactly like Jesus. To quote Bill Johnson, “Jesus Christ is perfect theology.” (Matt.11:27; John 1:18; 14:7; Heb.1:3; 1 John 4:8). Whatever doesn’t look like Jesus, or love, is not like God no matter what the text seems to say. Whenever I think of God, or my relationship to Him in any way that’s different than Jesus, my Christ-centered theology will keep me from “veering off the road.”
On the other side, you have the “guardrail of doctrine.” Scripture is inspired of God “and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim.3:16-17). This guardrail “keeps me in the room” while God is working on me for my good.
With these two guardrails firmly in place, I am free to roam wherever I believe Jesus is leading me. And He almost always wants to look “under my hood” to reveal what’s going on inside of me (Heb.4:12).
We don’t read the Bible devotionally to formulate doctrine, or prove what’s wrong with everyone else, we read it to integrate what we’ve heard into our everyday lives. And if we don’t, here’s what James said about that…
22 Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice. 23 If you listen to the word, but do not put it into practice you are like people who look in a mirror and see themselves as they are. 24 They take a good look at themselves and then go away and at once forget what they look like. 25 But if you look closely into the perfect law that sets people free, and keep on paying attention to it and do not simply listen and then forget it, but put it into practice—you will be blessed by God in what you do. (James 1:22-25 NET *)
Reading the Bible without acting on it is a form of self-deception. What changes us is when we live out what’s been revealed to us in Scripture, not just by the reading of it.
Remember that our life is not found in reading Scripture, it’s found in Jesus Christ Himself.
39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. 40 But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life. (John 5:39-40 NKJV)
When our interaction with Scripture does not lead us into an encounter with Jesus, we risk idolizing the Bible and becoming religious and Pharisaical instead of Christ-like. Instead of being known by our love for one another, we’re known for what we’re against and for being divisive (Pharisee means “separatist”).
We must be willing to regularly respond to Jesus in our devotional reading when He says, “Come to Me that you may have life.” We will get into practical specifics next time.