Bible Study: Appeasing Guilt or Encountering God?
Few things awaken and revive my soul like studying God’s Word. I am fascinated with the God revealed in the Bible—the God who spoke creation into existence (Gen. 1), who breathed life into mankind (Gen. 2:7), who pursued humanity after the Fall (Gen. 3:8-10), who promised a coming Messiah (Gen. 3:15), who came to us in the person of Christ (John 1:1-18), and who is working out all things according to the counsel of his will (Eph. 1:11). It seems unbelievable that every day I can open my Bible and encounter this God.
Encountering the Living God
The astounding claim of Scripture is that God speaks to us through his Word. He has chosen to reveal himself and his plan of redemption through the inspired Scriptures. This means that when we read the Bible we are reading the very words of God; we are actually hearing God speak!
This should inform our perception of personal Bible study. Ultimately, we make a habit of Bible study because we long to hear the voice of God. We believe that in the Bible we have the opportunity to hear the one voice that speaks absolute truth. We know that despite all the competing voices in our world (including our own) we can go to the Bible and hear the voice of God.
Do we truly understand the significance of this?
There aren’t enough Bible studies in the world to atone for your sin.
I’m not so sure many of us do. I fear the biblical reason for doing Bible study has often been lost in the clutter of Christian culture. It becomes another thing we have to do so we can go to bed with a clear conscience. But the discipline of Bible study cannot be reduced to something we check off on our spiritual “to do” list in an attempt to feel good about ourselves before God. Doing your Bible study like a “good little Christian” will never draw you near to God. There aren’t enough Bible studies in the world to atone for your sin. The only work that can make you acceptable before the Father is the work of his Son Jesus. It is Jesus’ work, not yours, which saves you.
When you truly understand the radical nature of the gospel, you will be set free from trying to manipulate the discipline of Bible study as a means by which you earn brownie points with God. You will be free to genuinely pursue God through his Word. You will begin to enjoy the fact that Bible study is a confrontation with the living God. Isn’t this what we need more than anything? Amidst a demonic culture consumed with false spirituality and a Christian subculture permeated by legalistic undertones, don’t we desperately need to be confronted by God’s authoritative truth?
I know that I do! I need God’s Spirit to revitalize my apathetic heart. I need God to speak life into my dead bones. I need God’s Word to make me wise among a foolish generation. I need God to teach me how to rejoice in my cynical spirit. I need God to open my eyes to His goodness and His glory instead of focusing on my self and my shame. And I need this on a daily basis. I need to hear God’s transforming voice every single day as he speaks life and peace into this otherwise chaotic soul.
Don’t you also need this?
As a matter of fact, if you could totally disregard the sense of guilt so often attached to the discipline of Bible study (or lack thereof), wouldn’t you actually want this? Wouldn’t you want to encounter the living God? I think you do.
Committing to Hear His Voice
I’m going to make a proposal. What if, from the overflow of the free grace you’ve received in the gospel, you made a commitment to hear from God in His Word? I challenge you to make a habit of setting aside time every day to encounter the living God through his Word. For now, forget about doing the discipline “perfectly” or having it all figured out. There is always time to learn more about Bible study (check out the Verity Forum below!) and the best part is it just gets better with time! The important thing is that you start somewhere and begin to build this discipline now.
If your heart is screaming, “Yes, I need this!” but you feel unsure of how to proceed, allow me to make two suggestions:
1. Begin a study through a book of the Bible.
- Ask someone to make this commitment with you—God’s Word is best interpreted in the context of godly community. If you commit to study the Bible alongside another believer you will have accountability and encouragement as you each seek to hear rightly from God in his Word.
- Pick a book of the Bible (such as 1 John or Colossians) and decide on a consistent time—Choose a daily time when you will personally study the passage and then a weekly time to get together and discuss one of the passages you both studied.
- Decide on a Bible study method—There are a variety of ways to study the Bible. It could be as simple as reading the text and asking, “What does this teach me about God and what does this teach me about man?” Or you could choose something a bit more involved like an inductive study method—my personal favorite/recommendation.
- Start working your way through the book one passage at a time—Every day take a small passage from the book and study it until you’re finished with that particular book. Go prayerfully into this time believing God speaks through His Word. Ask his Spirit to bring alive the truths of each passage to transform you.
2. Come to the Verity Fellowship Forum (yes, this is my shameless plug!).
Verity Forum is a day of workshops to encourage you with the gospel and equip you to minister well. There will be two full tracks dedicated to Bible study. These Christ-centered sessions will teach you how to do good, faithful Bible study. They will equip you to handle the Word well. You will leave feeling prepared to do anything from personal Bible ready to writing a full-blown Bible study for others. If you long to hear from God in his Word but feel like you need training on how to do that then the Verity Forum is definitely for you. Come and get equipped to encounter the living God through his Word!
The Verity Forum is our spring event on May 7th, 2016. Whitney will be teaching workshops titled "Grasping the Genre of Your Text" and "How to Write and Pick Bible Study Materials." You can read more about the Verity Forum workshops on the event page. Downloadable media from the event is now available.