What happens to you when you read the scriptures or go through a Bible study? Many people take their time with the Word as a perfunctory ritual to assuage a guilty conscience. I am guilty of that sometimes. Other Christians avoid time in the Word, not wanting to be confronted with some transformational truth that will challenge their complacent lifestyle. I’ve done that more times than I want to admit.
One of the difficulties for many Christians when it comes to spending time in the Scriptures is not that they don’t understand what they are reading, or don’t want to learn, it’s that the Scriptures do more than unfold principles about Christian living. The Scriptures unavoidably and unmistakably point us, in all things, to the person of Jesus Christ.
In my own spiritual journey I’m beginning a recognize a new development. As I go into the Word or go through a study or book that emphasizes scripture strongly, I feel a compelling, absolute need to share it with others, write about it, teach it—specifically how it relates to the person of Jesus. I’ve felt such strong feelings before, but not approaching this level. Has that ever happened to you?
Recently I’ve visited several churches in the states. In one church in particular, I invited friends and we settled in for the service as the auditorium began filling up. We noticed how people entered the church with joy, even expectation. The worship was exuberant and thankful. When the pastor arose to speak I noticed he had his notes prepared and laid out before him. He spoke passionately and with conviction. He told Bible stories. I’d say that at least half of his message was stories from the Bible. It was impressive. I can’t think of a sermon I’ve ever heard in the States that had so many stories. But there was one thing missing.
Some pastors, even though they are quite familiar with the scriptures, do not bring the Bible to the pulpit. They tell stories from the Bible, but only abbreviated or summarized in their own words. Often pastors will not read from the Scripture, or have almost no referencing to the Scripture itself, and fail to lead the congregants through the text of the living Word of God. It has been heart-breaking to see this trend because listeners I have observed in many congregations furiously scribble notes, eager to learn from their shepherd. The hunger for spiritual truth in the room is often intense! Imagine the level of transformation that could come if the Bible didn’t go missing.
In thinking about these recent experiences I was reminded of a passage from the book, God is the Gospel, by John Piper. In it Piper asks:
“The critical question for our generation—and for every generation is this: If you could have heaven, with no sickness, and with all the friends you ever had on earth, and all the food you ever liked, and all the leisure activities you ever enjoyed, and all the natural beauties you ever saw, all the physical pleasures you ever tasted, and no human conflict or any natural disasters, could you be satisfied with heaven, if Christ were not there?”
He then provides what should be the answer for us:
“Christ did not die to forgive sinners who go on treasuring anything above seeing and savoring God. And people who would be happy in heaven if Christ were not there, will not be there. The gospel is not a way to get people to heaven; it is a way to get people to God. If we don’t want God above all things we have not been converted by the gospel.”
This is not to say that anyone who does not have Christ as his or her supreme affection, at this moment, will not go to heaven. Rather, the transformation wrought by the Gospel through our spiritual growth should have the affect of making Christ our supreme affection. And can we be on such a path if the Scriptures do not become to us as breath and blood?
Too often, way too often, the Bible has been missing from my life. I remember it, remind myself of its commands and stories and attempt to live by its precepts. But that’s not the same as giving myself over to the living word of God. Because when I open the pages and consume what is before me it is incredibly different than the occasional mental reminder. It is much deeper than that. It becomes absolutely compelling and the desire to let it transform me and come out of me becomes overwhelming.
James admonishes us in James 1:22, “Prove yourselves to be doers of the word.” That little Greek word for “doers,” is powerful. In virtually all other Greek literature of the period it was used to mean, “maker” or “producer,” as in someone who produces a stage play, or someone who creates something with inborn talent. Let that sink in. “Prove yourselves to be makers and producers of the Word.” That only happens when the Word of God populates our being so fully we cannot help but naturally and normally live lives with the intention of being the living, walking embodiment of what that word says.
For Christ to become our supreme affection we must have “Christ formed in [us]” (Galatians 4:19). That happens when we give God’s Word primacy in our lives, because, “The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edge sword, piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).