Life by the Book
By James Meredith
Dec. 9, 2012
I’d known Brad for more than four decades, since we were young boys. Over the years, we had enjoyed many long conversations about God’s Word. He always had a deep curiosity for what Scripture had to say.
Yet Brad remained “committed” to nominal Christianity. In Brad’s world, being a Christian meant going to church and doing your best to be a good person. Nothing more.
It was 11 o’clock on a summer night in 2006 when my phone rang. As soon as I heard Brad’s voice at that late hour, I thought, Oh no … what happened? But it wasn’t bad news. It was the best news imaginable.
Brad explained he had found a gospel tract in a convenience store and taken it home. It talked about repentance — the kind of topic we’d discussed many times before. He was certainly familiar with the Scripture passages that speak of turning from sin, asking forgiveness, and following Christ.
But this night was different. Something clicked inside, and Brad suddenly realized he wasn’t right with God. He needed to know Jesus in a personal way. There, alone in his living room — absent any sermon or altar call — he had begun a journey with God that continues to grow and flourish to this day.
“The tract says I should call someone and tell them I just became born again,” Brad explained. Tears filled my eyes as I realized that decades of prayers had been answered.
That is the power of the Word.
The Bible is the top-selling book of all time. It occupies shelves in the homes of Christians and unbelievers alike. To fully grasp the influence of God’s Word, however, we must look to its dynamic impact on individual people. People like you and me … and Brad.
Yet one of the biggest dangers we face as believers is a tendency to neglect Scripture. Life gets busy. Time is at a premium. And it’s tempting to rely on the Sunday sermon as our sole source of biblical insight.
God intends that His Word play a far greater role in our lives. Here are three vital principles to follow as we seek to give Scripture the central place in our hearts it deserves.
A recent survey by the Barna Group found that 56 percent of Americans under age 26 (and 43 percent overall) believe the Bible teaches the same spiritual truths as all other religions. People find it increasingly acceptable to define truth by their own standards. Right and wrong become a matter of personal opinion. Those who dare assert that God commands distinct standards for life and eternity are greeted with scorn.
Sadly, even believers can be drawn into such compromise. The remedy: Know the Word.
Second Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (NKJV).
This verse covers all the bases. Scripture shapes our beliefs. It carries the authority to confront us when we stray, then guide us into a proper course correction. It defines right and wrong, even while leading us into the blessed life God intends His people to enjoy. There is no other source for truth, because no other source is needed.
However, effective use of this valuable tool requires a constant state of readiness. We must be prepared to invoke its truths at any moment. But this isn’t possible unless we know what it says. A casual, superficial knowledge of the Word isn’t enough. The battle against spiritual deception is often quite subtle.
For example, contemporary debates over morality often lead to Matthew 7:1 being cited: “[Jesus said], ‘Judge not, that you not be judged.’” The assertion is then made that right and wrong are matters of personal interpretation. Anyone who feels otherwise is guilty of being judgmental.
A Christian with a meager understanding of the Word could be taken in by this deception. But a firm grasp of Scripture reveals that Jesus was talking about hypocrisy in this passage (see vv. 1-5). It warns us against applying God’s righteous standards to others while ignoring them ourselves. (In-depth study of the passage also reveals that any judgment of another must be motivated by a desire to see that person restored to a right relationship with God.)
Multiple times in Scripture, believers are called to proper discernment, as well as a firm commitment to godliness (Psalm 119:2-4; 1 Corinthians 2:13-16). Such discernment grows out of an ever-increasing passion to know the Word of God.
While an intellectual understanding of Scripture is vital, we must go beyond mere knowledge. God’s Word is alive (Hebrews 4:12). In other words, it constantly works within us, testing our motives, defining our priorities, and exposing our intentions.
As such, the Bible deserves a place in our hearts as well as our minds. Psalm 119 says it well: “I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.” Later, the Psalmist explained his zeal: “Because I love your commands more than gold” (vv. 16,127, NIV).
The desire for “gold” consumes many human hearts today. For proof, one need only look at the lines snaking out of convenience stores when a lottery jackpot climbs to an especially high amount.
Others ignore the lottery, yet they will devote every waking hour to building a lucrative career. Either way, the motivation to accumulate wealth is the same.
What would it “look like” if we applied this same fervency to a desire for Scripture? We likely would not limit ourselves to an occasional glance between Sundays. Instead, we would constantly crave a deeper understanding of its principles and precepts.
Passion for Scripture will keep our focus on the Lord when the lure of this world gets especially strong. Do we feel tempted by bad choices? Are we fighting a spiritual battle, or struggling to leave behind a destructive habit? We must cultivate a love for God’s Word. As we seek its wisdom, it will birth within us a growing distaste for the world and all its trappings.
In many ways, a heartfelt passion for the Word is critical to our very survival as Christians. Why? Because, simply put, sometimes Scripture offends our human sensibilities. It contradicts our understanding, and even our expectations of God.
This shouldn’t surprise us; He tells us His ways are not our ways (Isaiah 55:7-9). A love for Scripture compels us to follow its instruction even during those moments when we cannot fathom where it is leading us.
God’s Word must impact how we live. The act of “following its instruction” is how we discover Scripture’s greatest purpose — and its greatest challenge.
Living the Word means building our lives upon the values and priorities found on its pages. These are eternal values. Godly priorities. Life-altering choices. The way of the Word is far different from the way of the world.
Human nature tends to make us behave like … well, humans. So when we read, “Pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44), we might be inclined to omit the person at our job, or on the TV, who is particularly loud in disparaging our faith. And it’s challenging to “set your heart on things above” (Colossians 3:1) in a world that places such a high value on accumulating material things.
Yet living the Word demands that we allow its teachings to guide and govern every area of life. Granted, sometimes we struggle, or even fail. We battle the pressures of a secularized society that scoffs at the authority of Scripture. Sometimes we succumb to the temptation to follow our own desires. Even then, however, God’s Word is there for us, promising strength, power and forgiveness for those who seek its Author (1 Corinthians 10:12-14; 1 John 1:9).
Many of us have used a GPS to guide us on a trip through unfamiliar territory. When difficult or confusing intersections present themselves, a comforting voice will remind us, “Turn right,” or “Exit left.” Part of the sense of calm these devices brings is in knowing that a missed maneuver won’t ruin our journey. Instead, the GPS begins “recalculating” our route to get us back on track.
In a similar way, God designed Scripture to guide the course of our lives. If we fail to follow its instructions, we will soon find ourselves lost in a strange and dangerous land. How much better it is to change course, allowing the Word to speak into every moment of the day, big or small, reminding us that the steps of righteous men and women are guided by the Lord.
The Bible is worthy to be learned, loved and lived. Its pages reveal to us the way that leads to life.
That’s what my friend Brad discovered one amazing night in 2006. Since then he has devoured its teachings — and it shows. Today our long conversations on the Word reflect a spiritual thirst and vibrancy that never existed before. But it began when Scripture, implanted in his heart over the course of years, bore fruit through the power of the Spirit. No ordinary book could ever do that. Only the Word of God.
And that Word holds the power to transform each of our lives. On this Bible Sunday, and every day, may our prayers echo the cry of the Psalmist: “Let me live that I may praise you … for I have not forgotten your commands” (Psalm 119:175,176).
JAMES MEREDITH is technical editor of the Pentecostal Evangel.
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