A gracEmail subscriber writes: “I want to grow in my relationship with God, but I’m now struggling with where the Bible fits into the equation. How do I approach scripture to apply it to my faith journey?”
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The best place for learning how to approach scripture is Scripture itself. The 39 books that we call the “Old Testament” were regarded as sacred writings by the Jews before there were any Christians, and also from the first by Christians, who then were all Jews, and who eventually added 27 more books of their own that we call the “New Testament.” If we can identify how New Testament writers approached and applied the Old Testament, we will at that same time also discover ways to approach and apply both Old and New Testaments today.
For anyone wishing to receive the maximum benefit the Bible offers as a path to knowing and pleasing God, there simply is no substitute for becoming saturated in the scriptures. Achieving this goal requires commitment and persistence, but it really is not that difficult. Repeatedly devour the whole Bible. Savor its language. Digest its basic story. Absorb its themes. Soak up scripture from first to last until you are saturated with it from head to toe. Only in some way like this will you experience scripture at its best. Jesus knew the scriptures intimately, and the “perfect” passage came to his mind exactly when and as needed–for example, words from Deuteronomy 8 about Israel’s 40 years of testing in the wilderness, just as Jesus himself is facing the devil’s temptations for 40 days in the badlands of Judea (Matt. 4).
Peter was also “soaked” in the scriptures, and appropriate words popped into his head about filling an apostolic vacancy, although from a text on a totally different subject (Acts 1:15-22). When the Temple officials persecuted believers in Jerusalem, the disciples went praying to God in response, and they did so knowing the scriptures. The words of Psalm 2:1-2 burst upon their consciousness and shaped their prayer. Likewise, James, at just the right time during the Jerusalem Conference, suddenly remembered the prophecy of Amos 9:11-12, resolving the theological issue then before the council (Acts 15:14-21).
God gives us an anointing that teaches us (1 John 2:26-27), a Spirit of wisdom and revelation to know him (Eph. 1:17), and knowledge of his will so we can please him, bear fruit, and grow into spiritual maturity (Col. 1:9-14). We do not read the Bible merely to pass an academic requirement, and certainly not to win an argument or to prove some personal point. The more thoroughly the Bible’s scenes, themes, and very words are embedded in our minds, the better prepared and equipped we are for the Holy Spirit to teach us in the course of our everyday lives. No wonder Paul urges that we let the word of Christ reside in us richly (Col. 3:16). There is no substitute for reading and re-reading the Bible, filling one’s mind and heart to overflow, confident that in time God will put it all to very good use.