CROSSING OVER ♦ STUDY
The Bible contains the self-revelation of God to humanity. It was written by many persons over several centuries and in many different cultures. It contains different types of writing with various purposes. Yet there is consistency about its primary subject, God, his purity, character, and plan for human redemption.
It is simultaneously a human and divine book. We call it God’s Word and consider it explanatory about life and completely authoritative for believers. God’s own moral holiness and reliability are the ground on which we base our own morality and ethics. The book of Proverbs seems to best summarize the Bible’s role in our lives, which is to be wisdom heeded.
Why You Need God’s Word
I use the word “study” in this lesson to broadly define not only deep training and education in the scriptures, but also a life of devoted reading and examination of godly living. This doesn’t always mean reading the Bible only, which we’ll discuss. So we are actually dealing with habits of study and learning.
For now, I want you to understand that all manner of study is your primary means of getting God’s words, his concepts and promises, into your mind. It is feeding yourself. No, the Bible wasn’t downloaded into your spirit when you got saved! You’ve got to pick it up and diligently read it; in doing so, you discover the voice of God.
One reason the word of God is essential to our spiritual life is because it reverses the “sin process.” In our sinful condition we obeyed the ideas, impulses, and arguments in our minds; they gratified us in ways that pleased us. We didn’t desire God or godliness, for we were spiritually dead. So if you’ll remember from the Introduction of this study, sin was our only script. It made sense to us, although it degraded us and, sometimes, led us in a downward spiral. Nevertheless, we desired it and our lives infested with the works of the flesh.
Now on the Lord’s side, it is our responsibility to trash those ungodly habits and scrub down the walls of our souls with the bad thinking, wrong attitudes, and foul urges that we still sense within. Be honest about it: In certain circumstances you feel a lean toward your old self in your responses. Carnality refers to our sensual, worldly, or sinful desires and decision-making. Your old self acted in devious ways to get ahead. Your old self was full with lusts of every kind. Your old self treated others hatefully and was combative. The script has changed now because you’re living to please God, not yourself. You need a way to clean up.
How to Ward Off Satan
The word of God is that means. When we implant God’s thoughts into our hearts, we challenge those carnal and sinful ideas, impulses, and arguments. The word of God is part of our spiritual arsenal and with it we do what the apostle Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 10:5: “We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
The more we put God’s mind into our souls—by habit—the more we undo the works of the flesh. Sinful appetites begin to disappear; soon we notice that we are no longer the same person. Trust me: there is no better feeling than the one that comes with noticing yourself change.
If you are not feeding on the word of God, you cannot expect the personal holiness that characterized Jesus because your life will not be clean. You may not do the ungodly things you once did, but your decisions and way of thinking will be carnal. This is to put yourself at odds with the Spirit of God who is working in you to put to death the works of the flesh.
This person will get in the routine of a Christian—going to church, being good, reading occasionally, acting spiritual—but there will be no excitement or intensity about God and godly things. This person will suffer spiritual malnutrition and grow weak. There will be little assurance of salvation and no confidence of God’s nearness. His or her life will be lackluster. Who puts their trust in a glorious God just to present him a mediocre spiritual life?
Further, these people leave themselves vulnerable to spiritual attack. Jesus, when tempted by Satan, used the word of God to rebuke him and deflect his wiles. The Devil cannot fight the word of God. Remember, Jesus is himself the Word of God to humankind. The Bible is not a perfect book, although it is perfect in its intent and purpose. Yet we consider its content the very voice of God with which we are to speak when the Enemy comes.
This Truth is Jesus, who is existentially the Word in a much greater way than we can ever comprehend in this life. Satan cannot possibly contend with Christ or defeat us with his word. But if we’re in battle without our weapon—the word of God in our hearts—we just might be overcome. No study, no victory.
Reading the Scriptures Devotionally
What does a life of study look like? There are a few things to be said here. We enter the life of study when we read devotionally. This means we take the scriptures and read them prayerfully and meditatively to hear what the Holy Spirit may be speaking to us. We use God’s words to examine ourselves.
Devotional reading is very important throughout your spiritual life, especially as a new believer. You’re now discerning the will of the Lord for your life and seeking how to please him. The clearest way you will hear God’s voice and get the direction you need is through the word of God. Develop a habit now of reading the Bible this way, perhaps prior to your prayer time. You will approach God more confidently since you will know his promises to you. I will not suggest a certain amount of time here because, hopefully, the reading will get good to you! Just do it regularly.
Start your reading with more easily “digestible” books of the Bible. In the New Testament, the Gospels, which are biographies of Jesus’s life and ministry, are always a great start, with a lean toward John. Also consider 1 and 2 Corinthians, Ephesians, and 1-3 John. Now the Old Testament is a challenge for beginners (and many veterans!); however, you can learn much in Psalms and Proverbs. Whatever you do, don’t try to read the Bible from start to finish, beginning at Genesis. It won’t be fun!
Academic Study of the Bible
The next step is study in its proper sense. This is academic in nature and requires more tools for studying, more than the Bible alone. Don’t let the word “academic” frighten you. This kind of study is for every Christian, not just pastors and Christian leaders. In fact, if you are going to understand the scriptures well, you must engage this kind of learning to some degree.
The point of this level of study is to mine the scriptures and understand the context of the words, which are greatly conditioned. They are conditioned by time, location, culture, event, personality, language, and more. The purpose is to understand those words with all the ramifications that originally weighed upon them, to hear them as they would have been heard—and only thereafter are we be able to apply them to our lives. Biblical tools like Bible dictionaries and commentaries are necessary to help you do this. They aid by presenting the scriptures as the literary artifacts they are.
It isn’t too early for you to begin in-depth study. I hope that doesn’t seem contradictory to what I stated about the books of the Bible you should study. Certain books and themes of the scriptures are definitely too advanced for you now, but you can deeply study the ones I suggested. You’ll know when you’re in over your head! However, if you are a go-getter and are ready for deep learning, feel free to dive in.
I don’t mean to sound like a doctor, but I encourage you to first consult with your pastor or leaders to learn more about biblical tools, those you should consider and how to use them. You may be surprised that there is bad material out there on the scriptures and books with biases. This is why consultation is necessary, especially for new converts.
Learning Through Other Resources
Study can also be considered our continual exploration of godly wisdom, which comes in several ways. I urge you to add into your study routine good spiritual books and literature. Your own personal study is essential and hearing your pastors and leaders is vital; but how is God speaking outside of the circle where you associate? For instance, good books by great Christian authors can be renewing to your spiritual life and introduce new concepts to you. This is also a helpful way of filling in knowledge gaps in your own study.
Further, don’t overlook magazines and periodicals. There is wholesome devotional, topical, and trending Christian information in them. Some of these are specialty literature targeted at certain groups and vocations. Trust me: there is excellent information in them that will help advance you as a Christian worker in your church, mission, or para-church organization. It isn’t a far-fetched assertion that you can acquire a university-level self-education on certain topics just by reading these journals. After all, they’re often written by scholars and leaders at the forefront of ministry.
Christian media is also a wonderful way to broaden your study habit. There is good Christian ministry still to be found on television, but the internet is better by far. The internet allows for great pastors and teachers—perhaps your own—to deliver the gospel message directly to our computers and handheld devices. We can listen to or view sermons, even entire services, at our leisure. Some ministries make their entire sermon libraries available.
I especially enjoy being able to view my favorite Bible teachers and churches, as though I were actually in attendance. It is so helpful to have the ability to hear the gospel this way when we might have missed church or we are going through a tough time.
Also, take advantage of conferences or symposia that may be happening nearby. If a good Bible teacher is coming to your area, consider going and being a part of the gathering. There are often other workshops taking place at these events besides the headline speakers. These could be really helpful to you. Sometimes the religion department at colleges and universities host special speakers, forums, and debates that are highly informative and exciting. Find a way to stay connected to great events like these.
A Word About Bible Versions
Now let me caution you about something: Don’t be a devotional Bible reader only. Advance in your study life. Grow. Get deeply into the word of God. Study the history. Do the word studies. Learn the history, culture, and customs. I promise that once you’ve done all the research, rereading the text will be a totally different experience and you will become excited about the Bible—promise.
Bible version is an important topic regarding study. All the original texts of the Bible have been lost. Yet the Bible has come to us intact due to the enormous number of copies of it. Our modern versions of the Bible have been translated (from Hebrew and Greek) from the best copies.
The logical question one may ask, however, is why so many translations. Well there are a few reasons: there is more than one way of saying things; language changes as the years go by; and translations have different purposes.
Some translations seek to render as near an exact word-for-word vernacular of the original language, with varying degrees of accomplishment: consider the very familiar King James Version (KJV) and New American Standard Version (NAS). Other translations attempt to give a looser, more common thought-for-thought speech in explaining the original words: think the New International Version (NIV) and New Living Translation (NLT). Then, there are those that paraphrase, or completely rephrase, the original ideas in an exceptionally common lingo: the Message Bible.
All translations exist somewhere on this scale. What is best for you right now? Something in the middle, but do your own research. There are many Bible versions out there and they all have value. There are a few in the thought-for-thought category that I recommend for you. Go to your bookstore (or easier, online) and read them. See what makes sense to you. I think the New International Version is probably the best of this group. After all, it is the most popular selling Bible of any with good reason.
When I study I try to use several different versions. My preferred three are the New American Standard (for deep study), the New International Version (for church and ordinary reading), and the New Living Translation (for easy and extended reading). Websites like BibleGateway.com and apps like the wonderful YouVersion Bible have all of these and more, including a plethora in other languages.
It’s a blessing to have this quality of access to the scriptures. At one time in history, only the priests had access to the Bible—and the rest of the people weren’t even literate.
The Word of God is Life
The word of God is your food, and your food is your life. The more you eat the more energy you acquire. The more you eat the right things the healthier you become. Further, each time you open your Bible to read, you are encountering God. What a privilege! The Bible is your most direct way of learning about him. The more you know about God the better you can trust him. So let study become a way of life for you. What you learn will never disappoint you.
God’s Purpose & Your Responsibility
God’s purpose for you is that you learn about him and his purpose through the scriptures. His desire is that you mature through diligent, lifelong study, which will make you useful in his service. God wants you to eliminate sin in your life by undoing bad habits with his thoughts. Further, he has called you to victory over Satan and his dark powers by using the word of God as a weapon. Your responsibility is to read the Bible and understand the promises of God, his ways and actions, and his principles. You should study the scriptures and seek to memorize verses so that they become part of you. In this way you will train yourself to think biblically about life and situations. Pray the scriptures and ask God for further illumination about them. Use the scriptures when you feel that you are being spiritually attacked. Grow further in your learning by adding good spiritual books and magazines.
INPUT: Approach every passage of scripture you read with questions: What is happening? Who is speaking? Where did this occur? What were the cultural norms of the time? Why was this included in the Bible? What is God trying to make me see? Think of your own questions. OUTPUT: You will begin to think in ways that bring you closer to the true meaning of the text, not what you may think it means.
Daily Bread: Study
2 Timothy 2:15—“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”
2 Timothy 3:16-17—“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.”
Psalms 119:105; Matthew 4:1-11; John 15:3, 7; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5; Ephesians 5:25-27; 6:10-18; 2 Peter 1:19-21