Reading the Bible is Not Enough
The "radical" idea of studying and applying Scripture to our lives
We intentionally try to carve out an hour each morning to have family and personal Bible time. As all good plans go, it is easier said than done. I often fail to resist being pulled away - checking my phone, pausing sentence to write a note to myself about something unrelated. Someone may be cranky, another wants to sleep in, the house is filled with distracting noise, the weather is coaxing us to push aside our plans to get outdoors. I know this is a relatable human experience, to have something important that we must prioritize, but have a deficit in our attention to it.
In the last few weeks, I’ve pondered often on the idea of daily Bible time. I don’t think we face much criticism for reading the Bible, and frankly, I don’t think reading the Bible is all that difficult if all you’re doing is reading it…aside from overcoming the hurdle of distractions (which is not an experience limited to just Christians).
The first struggle I think that Christians have to overcome is not seeing that daily Bible reading as a chore, but as a joyful gift and blessed way we can connect and hear from our Creator. To get into the habit of being delighted and honored to own, hold, and read God’s Holy Word changes how you approach that daily Bible time.
Now in our world today, I can go to the coffee shop or local park, open my Bible, and read to my hearts content. I’ve never had a single person approach me with a negative comment about me publicly (yet quietly) displaying my faith through reading.
I’ve also had zero issues with finding or using resources to study Scripture - books, sermons, podcasts, self-proclaimed Instagram theologians, courses, and essays.
The main hurdle starts when you begin to apply that Scripture to your life. That’s when you start facing opposition - from family, friends, neighbors, strangers on the internet. American is adamantly preaching the opposite of God’s Word, so Christians who apply the Word are now being called radicals. When you think if it from the angle of the majority of American citizens who no longer want to be a nation under God, I guess the word fits from a modern Godless perspective. Though, it does give me a good chuckle to see radical and Christian in the same news headline since this is a word that really got it’s start in the 1700-1800’s to describe the progressive liberal ideology that goes against God’s Word.
I know persecution is a word that’s been thrown around a lot the past few years, Christians claiming to be persecuted for their faith, and the left denying it. The truth is that the country is not criminalizing people who call themselves Christians, we aren’t being attacked for simply having the label of our religion listed on Facebook. We aren’t being criminalized for silently reading our Bible in Panera, but the country is starting to criminalize the Christians that are speaking up against the nation turning away from God. We aren’t facing opposition when we buy a theology book on Amazon, but we are being criminalized for praying outside Planned Parenthood, criminalized for saying that children are too young to undergo gender surgery, silenced at school board meetings when trying to reveal sexual content children have access to.
The beliefs that America were once founded on are now often viewed as being as some sort of contagious virus that needs to be eradicated from society. Christianity is more often viewed as patriarchal, sexist, oppressive, and abusive. It’s become dangerous to publicly promote living for God, standing firm against sin, submitting to God (or elders, authority, husband, parents, etc). It’s become a radical idea to stay home with your babies. It’s a radical idea that marriage is between a man and woman. It’s a radical idea to believe that parents are the ones that should have a say over how their children are raised. It’s become a radical idea to announce aloud that we are sinners in need of a Savior, to pick up our cross and follow Jesus.
Despite our efforts, conservative evangelical Christianity is not the norm in America anymore, and even in Christian social circles, one can quickly find themselves being negatively labeled as being radically legalistic for applying Scripture that the world no longer agrees with God’s Word. It’s even radical now to state that the Bible is literally the Word of God (according to this Gallup poll, only 20% of Americans believe that the Holy Bible is the literal word of God)!
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I have to admit here that I used to be a Christian that tried being modern and Biblical. I met a lot of frustration because it was impossible path to walk - you cannot serve the world AND God. You cannot insert your opinion into Scripture and claim it as fact, it is futile.
To give an example, I had grown up with a cultural perspective and didn’t understand Biblical theology aside from the basic Gospel teachings. My skin used to crawl at the thought of applying the word “submit” to my life, or to be anything but a feminist. I’d rage over the idea of someone claiming that an actively gay man can’t be a true Christian. I considered the possibility that maybe God gifted us with healing rocks. I preached that we are perfect the way we are, and to follow your heart and dreams. The truth is that I had built up my faith on counterfeit Christianity, and was confused as to why I still felt so lost, anxious, and depressed. Thankfully I was turned into the right direction, and I no longer try to use Scripture to defend my progressive worldview, but study Scripture to grow my Biblical worldview.
I felt relatable to Matthew 7, “…everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand…”, or the parable of the sower in Luke 8, or even James 1:22-25 when it states, “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says…” My life was being built on sand, not the Cornerstone, and it was easy to be deceived because I didn’t know enough of the Bible to discern Truth from false teachings.
Through my studying, the Bible is quite clear on the commandment of Christians to apply God’s Word to our lives. Psalm 119 comes to mind, as well as Charles Spurgeon’s commentary regarding the first verse, “Never was there a more important question for any man.”
How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.Praise be to you, Lord; teach me your decrees. With my lips I recount all the laws that come from your mouth. I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches. I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word. -Psalm 119:9-16
Paul remains one of my favorite people in the Bible because his story goes from a man who killed Christians for their faith in Jesus, to dying at the hands of the Romans for living out the Christian faith. But remember, Paul wasn’t persecuted because he simple said he was a Christian but still lived a worldly life. Nero was the leader of the Roman Empire at the time, who was a Godless man who continued the society’s trends of going against the word of God. Paul didn’t tiptoe around offending the Romans when they were worshiping Nero, Apollo, and Jupiter and didn’t forsake the Great Commission when Christianity was against Roman law.
As Paul applied these teachings to his life, he also preached it to others, like in 2 Timothy he pens, “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
My sister is currently reading A.W. Tozer on the pursuit of God, which is a fantastic book. I purchased the book used with underlined markings and notes in the margins. As I read through myself, I quickly understood why the book’s previous owner had marked up the pages, and I too picked up my highlighter in admiration and hope over Tozer’s words. It stirred my soul in the pursuit of Him, and now my sister has her sticky notes covering the pages. I could quote the entire book if it wasn’t considered plagiarism, but I’ll share these two:
“If we cooperate with Him in loving obedience, God will manifest Himself to us, and that manifestation will be the difference between a nominal Christian life and a life radiant with the light of His face.” - AW Tozer
“We pursue God because, and only because, He has first put an urge within us that spurs us to the pursuit. "No man can come to me," said our Lord, "except the Father which hath sent me draw him," and it is by this very prevenient drawing that God takes from us every vestige of credit for the act of coming.” AW Tozer
I know I can bring up this topic and it opens the doors to other conversations - discussions on legalism, on hypocrisy within the Church, in being called out as judgmental against someone’s sin, what the Bible defines love, etc. I think they are all fantastic questions to ponder and dive into to discuss at another time, but I know that you and I cannot answer a lot of those questions without a firmer knowledge of Scripture and Christians are called to read, to know, and to apply God’s Word in their lives. At the rate the world is moving away from God, I wouldn’t be surprised if our freedoms disappeared during our lifetime, so take advantage of what we take for granted….as radical as we may end up viewed for doing it.
I’ll end it here because I know I could keep going forever, but I’ll leave you to continue the topic in the comments. I’m curious on your thoughts and I’m curious if you think you can gain a firmer knowledge of the Bible just by studying it? Or do you think you need to also apply what you’ve learned to your life in order to really grasp the knowledge you have attained?
Thanks for reading friends! Soli deo Gloria!
Personally, I think one can study the Word of God from a purely academic standpoint without applying it and honestly without even being a Christian. There are dozens of Biblical commentary you can dive into to read up on the historical background, what theologians say about the meaning of certain verses...but that only takes you so far. I think the key difference is "knowing of" or "knowing personally". Lee Strobel could run circles around the academic study of the Bible, but he didn't truly know until he came to accept Jesus into his life and apply it. I could read up on the Greek and Hebrew definitions of submit, as well as the cultural and historical background and supporting verses...but I couldn't truly tell you what it means to submit to God until I experienced it myself.