Why We Must Be Bible People
Bible literacy matters. Over the years I have spent many hours pleading with people to see that sentence as true. And it has saddened to me how often that sentence hits them as novel, edgy—or worse, irrelevant—when it leaves my lips.
Perhaps it’s because those three words have the ring of one of the final taboo ideas left in our culture: fundamentalism. Immediately our post-modern minds go to the stodgy three-piece suit preachers of our grandparents’ generation wagging their fingers with the “Good Book” in their hands. Ours, we say, is an organic faith, not a rigid one filled with a bunch of to-dos. Our Christianity is not a religion—its a relationship. We aren’t anti-Bible, per se. Certainly not! There are many things in the Bible that have helped and inspired us over the years. What we are anti (sometimes even to our surprise) is that earnest, rigorous, dirt-under-nails, restless consumption of the Bible.
But what remains of a Christianity that doesn’t seriously engage God’s word? Sadly, a fluffy, pithy, sentimentalism who’s entire belief system is more fit for a coffee mug than a catechism. This is not the faith that was “once for all handed down to the saints.” (Jude 3). This is not the faith that many souls including William Tyndale who helped translate our English Bible were burned at the stake for. And so it seems fitting to commend again to us the Holy Bible—as fundamentalist as it might feel—and it’s supreme value in the life of the Christian.
ONE BAD REASON TO READ
This article provides five good reasons to study the Christian scriptures. Of course, there are bad reasons to study the scriptures too. We are warned in the Bible not to read the Bible for its own sake. “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life, and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39-40).
So before you get into God’s word, remember that becoming Bible-literate is not about being smarter, or beefing up your spiritual resumé, or lording your knowledge over others. It’s about looking through the pages to the Savior on the other side. It’s about seeing and savoring Jesus Christ through his word. We don’t worship the font. We worship the Father.
We can now look at five reasons the Bible itself provides for us to become its pupils.
THE HEART CAN’T LOVE WHAT THE MIND DOESN’T KNOW
When asked about the greatest commandment Jesus provided an answer that implicitly demands a regular diet of scripture to be satisfied: “And he said to him, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment.'” (Matthew 22:37-38). Just as our heart must be engaged in treasuring God supremely, our mind must be equally engaged in thinking of God rightly. Wrong or no thoughts about God produce wrong or no love for God. As Jen Wilkins says “the heart can’t love what the mind doesn’t know.”
Similarly, the Apostle Paul routinely connects our love for God and others with a growing knowledge of Him:
Philippians 1:9-11 “And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” (emphasis mine)
1 Timothy 1:5 “The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (emphasis mine)
What does scripture have in mind with ideas like loving God with our mind, or love that abounds with knowledge or instruction that generates love except that we come to love Him more as we come to learn Him more? And how do we learn more about our God than to marvel at His attributes, his nature and his promises as they are revealed in the Scriptures?
CONSUMING PROMISES EMBOLDENS OUR FAITH
When Paul sought to encourage his sheepish son in the faith, Timothy, as he was pastoring the church in Ephesus, he used the strongest weapon in his arsenal to do so: the gospel.
“Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” (2 Timothy 1:8-10) (emphasis mine)
John Piper points out from this passage that “the cure for wimpy Christians is weighty doctrine.” Paul provides rich truth as the cure for Timid Timothy’s faith. And his cure is our cure: Sound doctrine revealed to us in the Bible. Watch your trust in Him grow as you anchor yourself to his thousand promises to you by reading His word daily.
WE BECOME LIKE WHAT WE BEHOLD
My five-year-old daughter looked at me and my wife last week and announced, “when I grow up, I wanna be a singer and a mommy!” Now, where on earth did she get such an ambition? Could it be that the two adults she spends most of her time with just happen to be a singer and a mommy? Here lies a truth here as old as the Bible itself:
”And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18)
We become like what we behold. Gazing at God in His word, by the power of His Spirit, has a transforming effect on our heart, mind and life. In time, those of us who do as David does and “set the Lord continually before” ourselves (Psalm 16:8) will find our interests changing to God’s interests. We’ll find that the sinful things we formerly loved have less attraction to us. We’ll find holiness blooming in our lives. We’ll find that we are starting to look more like our Father in Heaven.
Do you have the ambition to be like your Father? Then use the means He’s provided for that to happen. Sit with Him regularly in His word.
OUR JOY IS MADE FULL
Jesus had just spent a chapter and a half instructing and exhorting his disciples. In the middle of his sermon, he commentates by saying: “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:11). Jesus tells His disciples that what He’s telling his disciples is for their joy!
That sentence has profound implications. Think about it: Every word of Christ is meant for your eternal happiness. There is nothing a person thinks about more than their happiness and here in black and white is where it can be found. Your forever happiness is directly tied to what Jesus has to say to you. It stands to reason that we should be hanging on every word He provides. And he provides us so many words! Words of promise for our joy! Words of warning for our joy! Words of encouragement for our joy! Words, words words, all for our joy in Him, forever.
THERE IS WORK TO BE DONE
2 Timothy 3:16-17 tells us that “all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” (emphasis mine)
So many modern, especially young, Christians have a desire to go and do for God over and above knowing God. With so much injustice and inequality in the world, it’s hard for many of us to justify lingering for an hour over forty words a dead author wrote over 2000 years ago. But Paul’s words couldn’t be clearer: If we want to be about the work of God we must first be about the Word of God.
God’s Word reveals to us His priorities and values. It shows us what breaks His heart, what makes Him angry, and what He is accomplishing in the world. Early Christians garnered a reputation for caring for the marginalized by rescuing the abandoned children of the Roman empire. Where did they get this impulse? The scriptures.
“Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” (Psalm 82:3-4)
“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27)
The Bible is where we learn that God loves the forgotten and the misfit. It’s where we see the value of pastoring our families. It’s where we observe the generosity of the Macedonian Christians and are instructed to be open-handed with wealth. It’s where we’re taught the sanctity of every human life and given impetus to fight for the unborn. It’s where we realize through Paul’s interaction with Peter that race should not be a barrier to Christian unity. It is where we become equipped for every good work.
May we be people who don’t cringe at a call for Bible literacy. There is gold here for us if we will only press into the scriptures. There is more to be had than what Coffee Mug Christianity offers us. Coffee mugs shatter, but the Word of God stands forever.