Sunday, May 10, 2015

How can we read and understand the Bible?

The doctrine is crystal clear on this point. A natural man cannot understand the things of God—neither can he behold the God who is made present in the scriptures. “But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (2 Cor. 2:14). The fool says in his heart that there is no God—not because he is a fool, though that may indeed be the case, but because natural man cannot know God.

The Bible clearly teaches that man is born in sin; he cannot understand the things of God apart from God’s call. But the Bible is equally clear at this point; Paul declares that to us belongs the ministry, or the word, of reconciliation. “And all things are of God, who hath reconciled us to himself by Jesus Christ, and hath given to us the ministry of reconciliation; To wit, that God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them; and hath committed unto us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18, 19). It is to be our aim to reconcile the world to Christ. Is Paul thus saying that the whole of the world is going to receive the word of God? No, a thousand times no! Rather Paul is saying that we should use every tool possible for offering Christ to the lost world, in the knowledge and hope that some will be saved. It was Paul’s aim to lead to Christ every person whom he met, and he used every bit of persuasive speech that he could muster to influence his audience. “Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus” (Colossians 1:28). A worthy goal—that of presenting every man in Christ, and it was something that Paul knew to be impossible, for there has been no time of universal salvation, nor will there be any time where all sinful men find regeneration. Rather Paul was giving to us a lofty goal—that, if by any means, some more might be saved.

Isn’t Paul at this point suggesting the need of the field of apologetics? If by any means, he says, implying that we ought to be ready to defend the faith against all. Indeed, Peter says this very thing, “Be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear” (I Peter 3:15). We have to live in a blinded culture, with a blind people who have devised all sorts of evil thoughts and systems to deny God, but we ought not to remain blinded ourselves. Let us seek to do as both Peter and Paul did, to present in every manner that we can possibly conceive the resurrected Christ in the hope that some might have their veil torn down, and that they might see. We can present the word of God as servants who need not to be ashamed. Examine our proofs, test the words, and perhaps find the very power of God.

Nancy Pearcey has some great insights along this line: “At its best, apologetics includes not only the critique of idols but also the creation of life-giving alternatives. Christians often have a habit of defining themselves by what they are against. Yet to oppose what is wrong, it is most effective to offer something better— to “overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12: 21). If science is often used to bolster arguments for materialism and determinism, then Christians should make it their goal to do better, more accurate science. If literature is used to glamorize sin and brokenness, then Christians should fire up their imaginations to create higher quality, more inspiring works of fiction.”1 Christians from many different perspectives tend to agree on this one main point—that if the Bible says it, then it must be true. Our disagreements tend to come more on interpretation of the Bible, rather than on questioning the foundation of the Bible. In other words, we have great general agreement that the Bible is true, but sometimes we differ on what it is saying. But how can we defend that which we know not?

The knowledge of the Bible is weak among many of our churches. I was a bit shocked at the end of last year when a national movement almost was started to read the Bible through this year, and so many of whom I would term the best of servants admitted to not ever having read the Bible through. According to a recent survey, less than 20 percent of churchgoers read the Bible on a daily basis.2

Believing the Bible to be true, as Jesus did when he reminded us “that the scripture cannot be broken” is a huge asset in our Christian world today. The word of God is the foundation of all wisdom, and that wisdom which is not based on its truths must be error-ridden. It becomes our job, in defending the faith, to proclaim the truth of the scriptures to all, and that includes being able to show where people make their mistakes. But how can we do that unless we know the Bible ourselves, with a knowledge of the vain philosophies that have so successfully captivated so many? The field of apologetics is wide open, and I am so glad to see professors like Nancy Pearcey reminding us to sharpen ourselves to better face the unbelieving world.

Lewis reminds us that when we find ourselves going the wrong way the quickest way back is to turn around and go back the way we came. If you find yourself a believer, but not given to Bible reading, the quickest way to correct that is to begin reading today. Annual Bible reading plans abound, and there is no shortage of devotional reading plans that can be followed. The quickest way to maturity is to begin building the basics in your life, and a daily habit of reading his word will begin to transform your life. I am hoping and praying for a renewed movement for Christians to read their Bible, similar to what I saw starting at the end of last year when many people spoke of beginning Bible reading.

But how are we to read the Bible? First, we need to read it with great respect towards its context. I am reminded of the saint who wanted to know the will of God for his life, and opened his Bible at random, reading, “Judas hanged himself.” Puzzled, he decided to try again, and opening he read, “Go thou and do likewise.” We can all laugh at the old saw, but there is no substitute for knowing the word of God. Many are the Christian fables that abound, and one that I often hear is that there is more than one way of coming to God. I think American Christians may want to believe this because tolerance is considered such a great virtue. Can other religions be correct in any way? Our Lord has said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man comes to the Father except by me”? Christianity has closed itself off as the only way to God, and that message rings clearly in the scripture, but how shall we know it if we do not read it?

As to understanding the Bible, that is proving for me to be a lifelong pursuit, and so it ought to be with all of us. We have found the lost treasure, the hidden diamond, and it is both rare and precious. Understanding comes with frequent reading, it is to be hoped, and as we become more aware of the precious treasure we have been given, we should become much more aware of our need to share. Paul tells us that we have a ministry of reconciliation, and I think it is past time that we found out about it. Is it time for your daily Bible reading yet? Our Lord reminds us that blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it. How precious it is that we can go to read the Bible for ourselves, and then seek to keep it. There is a great blessing here for all who will find it.

1. Pearcey, Nancy (2015-03-01). Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes (p. 269). David C. Cook. Kindle Edition.
2. “However, when asked how often they personally (not as part of a church worship service) read the Bible, a similar number respond "Every Day" (19 percent) as respond "Rarely/Never" (18 percent). A quarter indicate they read the Bible a few times a week. Fourteen percent say they read the Bible "Once a Week" and another 22 percent say "Once a Month" or "A Few Times a Month."”
LifeWay, Rankin, Russ, 2012, retrieved from:

No comments: