2018 Update: This is a post originally written for the 2016 year. I’m updating it again for the third year. I’ve also included recommendations for a few devotionals to accompany your daily Bible reading, books to help you in your communion with God, as well as a recommendation for a book on productivity in the New Year. I hope this post helps you reach your goals!
And hey, before you get started, can I just be honest? I fell off my plan the past few months. In fact, you could say I’ve been completely undisciplined in this area. Perhaps you find yourself in a similar spot, maybe even ashamed because you couldn’t stick to your 2017 goal. The good news is, there is grace for us when we fail; grace that picks us up to keep going. Our Father is not ashamed of you for trying – and you shouldn’t be either.
I want to persuade you to start a personal Bible reading plan for 2018. But first, a personal anecdote.
I used to be one of those people who scoffed at the concept of Bible reading plans. All of these books and calendars that aim to help Christians read through the Bible in a certain length of time just seemed too “restrictive” to me. I had convinced myself that whenever I read the Bible, it needed to be something I felt like doing. Besides, if I try to read through the Bible in a year, how could I possibly study every intricate detail of each passage that I read? Instead, I told myself that it was better to study one book in depth at a time, so that I could learn it like the back of my hand.
Unfortunately, my excuses were just my own spiritual blindness and hard-heartedness. Between having convinced myself that Bible reading needed to come from the motivation of my emotion and feelings, combined with the fact that I wanted to read extremely slowly (and focus more on a commentary than the Biblical text itself) – the end result was that I read very little Bible. So little, in fact, that it wasn’t until recently that I actually read through the entire Bible.
Can you relate to making excuses as it pertains to reading your Bible? What excuses do you make? Does your job get in the way? Your kids? Is there “just not enough time in the day”? We all do it. My goal here is not to get you to feel down on yourself, but instead I want to encourage you by providing some practical reasons why you should use a Bible reading plan, as well as give you some practical helps on how to do this in 2018. Continue Reading
Reading our Bibles (specifically, the Old Testament) in the way it is meant to be read is a much misunderstood subject in the church today. Most Christians, when pressed, will confess that they have no idea where to even start in understanding the Bible. This raises the question: how are we meant to read our Bibles? It is a great question that we need to answer, and there is a simple answer with enormous implications for how we read our Bibles. We must read God’s Word through an intentionally Christian, Christ-centered and redemptive lens.
Understanding the Old Testament through a Christ-centered lens isn’t just a random idea that someone cooked up on their own; it is actually quite a Biblical idea that we get from a proper understanding of the New Testament. Let’s take a look at two passages real quick that show us where this idea comes from.
In Luke 24, the resurrected Jesus appears to two disciples who are traveling on the road to Emmaus. Upon conversing with these two disciples for a short time, Jesus then began “with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). Jesus himself taught that the entirety of Old Testament Scripture points to him.
Similarly, in the book of Acts Paul and Silas meet a group of Jews living in Berea. After Paul and Silas began teaching in the synagogue about Christ, the Berean Jews began to examine “the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so” (Acts 17:11). After intensely studying the Scriptures (which at the time would’ve consisted of the Old Testament Scriptures we have today), the Bible says that the Berean’s therefore believed. This therefore is important – what we can gather from this encounter with the Berean’s is that a serious reading of the Old Testament should lead us to understanding more about God’s redemptive plan through Jesus Christ.
This Christ-centered approach to reading the Old Testament – an approach that the New Testament so clearly teaches us – is often referred to as the Redemptive (or Redemptive-Historical) approach to understanding God’s Word. This is how the Bible itself teaches us to read the Old Testament. I know that this can be a real struggle for most of us. Yet, if we don’t understand the text in this way then it is reasonable for us to conclude that we are not getting everything out of the Scriptures that God himself intended for us to have. For this reason, I want to give you three tips that might help you in your Bible study as you try to understand the Scriptures in a Redemptive way.
1. Stick to the Four C’s
Comprehension: What is the meaning of this text in its original context?
Conviction: What sin problem or human need would the original audience have understood from this passage? What sin problem or need do you share with the original audience?
Consolation: How does this passage address or reveal God’s response to that sin problem or need? How is this sin problem or need ultimately met in Christ?
Compel: What am I being called to think or do in light of this passage? How does the gospel enable me to accomplish this?
2. Learn to Ask the Right Questions
- How does this passage or topic fit into the grand narrative of scripture (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration)? If you’re reading the Old Testament, try to figure out where the people of God are within the history of Israel.
- What is distinctively Christian about how I am reading this passage or engaging this topic?
- Does this passage or topic point forward to the cross, backward to the cross, or forward to Christ’s return? How?
- What does this passage or topic tell me about Jesus?
- How does this passage or topic equip God’s people to live on mission?
3. Equip Yourself with a Few Good Resources
A. The ESV Study Bible: This resource is without equal, especially if you are just beginning to understand the Bible in a Redemptive way. Not only does it contain excellent verse-by-verse notes on the Bible, but it also contains excellent maps and timelines that will help you understand Redemptive history better. It also has some great short articles that cover more ground about the Redemptive approach to reading the Bible.
B. Equip yourself by reading any of these books which are concise, excellent books on this topic:
- The God who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story by D.A. Carson
- Jesus on Every Page by David Murray
- The Unfolding Mystery: Discovering Christ in the Old Testament by Edmund P. Clowney
C. For some more advanced reading, equip yourself with a good Systematic Theology book. The editions by Wayne Grudem or John Frame are both very good. These will help you deal with more advanced subjects and themes as you begin to see them play out in the Scriptures.
“My Study Bible notes say…”
“Well, MY Study Bible notes say…so I think..”
“MY Study Bible has history scholars in it and THEY say..so I think…”
A typical weeknight Bible study session. Or should I say, a Study Bible session.
The modern church has a deep-rooted but easily blinded problem: biblical illiteracy. In an age where the answers to our questions are just a Google search away, we quickly rely on whatever answers we can access the fastest. We look for answers before we know what question we are even asking, and readily accept information about the Bible before we’ve critically read the Bible for ourselves. We become a slave to what other people say about the text, rather than learning how to read for ourselves.
One of the worst culprits of this phenomena are Study Bibles. Now please don’t misunderstand me; I love Study Bibles, and I love all of the internet resources readily available at our fingertips. We truly live in a time where we are gifted with far more information than we know what to do with. The problem arises when we quickly accept all of this information without learning how to work for ourselves.
A church who does not engage critically with the Bible text themselves is a church who knows Bible facts without having a Bible heart. There is no life in facts. The Holy Spirit rewards us and brings us life and joy through our work and effort with the text, not in quick Google searches and Study Bible look-ups of the facts. We are unable to really respond to peoples questions and oppositions to a Christian worldview because we ourselves are just walking fact machines. We learn to rely on resources to answer peoples questions and not the Bible itself. Does Scripture say that it is Gods Word or resources about Gods Word that are useful for all things, including teaching and rebuke?
I’m not at all arguing for the elimination or removal of resources like commentaries and Study Bibles, quite the opposite as a matter of fact. Instead I am arguing for the church to learn where the proper place is for these resources. We should use these resources after we have learned how to think critically about the text for ourselves, not before.
Below are some suggestions I have for individuals and the church that I think would not only benefit our minds but our hearts. Learning how to think critically about the Bible for ourselves can only serve to increase our affections for Jesus.
1. Learn how to ask the right questions. God could’ve chosen not to leave any form of communication with us, but instead he left us the Bible. When we pause to think about that, our desire should be to learn how to interact with it! Here are some questions that might help you engage with the Biblical text:
– How does this passage or topic fit into the grand narrative of scripture (Creation, Fall, Redemption, Restoration)?
– What is distinctively Christian about how I am reading this passage or engaging this topic? Note: Our Bible studies, sermons and readings are not Christian because they use the name of Jesus or reference scripture. Cults, heretics and even atheists can do that.
– What does this passage or topic tell me about Jesus?
– Does this passage or topic point forward to the cross, backward to the cross, or forward to Christ’s return? How?
– How does this passage or topic equip God’s people to live on mission?
2. Put down the Study Bible, turn off the internet and engage just with the Biblical text. Allow time for the Bible to speak for itself, engage and think about everything you know in light of the current text. After you’ve spent time engaging with the text on its own, make a list of your questions that remain unanswered. Then take these questions and open your Study Bible, internet resources and commentaries.
3. Leave the Study Bible at home. When we bring our Study Bibles to church gatherings, sermons and Bible studies the temptation is to rely on our notes rather than engage with others on the text.
4. Churches: teach your people HOW to ask the questions. One of the primary responsibilities of a local church should be teaching her people how to engage with God’s written Word.
5. Try to read at least one resource a year on engaging with the Bible. Here are a few recommendations:
– The God who is There: Finding Your Place in God’s Story by D.A. Carson
– From Creation to New Creation: Making Sense of the Whole Bible Story by Tim Chester
– Jesus on Every Page by David Murray
– New Testament Exegesis by Gordon Fee
This is the fifth part in a series:
- Gospel-Centered Bible Study
- Awe-Inspired Bible Study
- Self-Surrendering Bible Study
- God-Glorifying Bible Study
Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. – 1 John 4:8–10 (ESV).
Rounding out this five-part series that has taken much longer to finish than originally intended is the subject of God’s love as a motivation for our Bible study. This aspect of the Christian faith is the nuts and bolts, the glue that holds everything together. None of the other pieces would fit together as they do if one thing wasn’t for sure: God is love.
The question is, what kind of love is manifested in God? I think there are two extremes that we can gravitate towards, neither of which is Biblical. The first of these is the view I think most nominal or secular folks would take these days, that is the position that certainly God is loving; by loving they mean he is completely affirming of all of their wants and desires, their lusts and there passions. God essentially becomes the great beach-bum, surfer-dude grandfather in the sky who looks down on his children and says, “As long as everyone is having a good time, I’m happy.” This is destructive and poisonous milk that can destroy growth of faith, and is something I am seeking to address.
The other extreme is for those of us who tend to “intellectualize” the faith. We enjoy reading books and sermons written by 300-year-old dead guys and talking about in-depth topics over a pint. I am certainly guilty of this. What we then tend to gravitate towards is a God who we would say is loving, but we forget to what extreme he is loving, we forget what our response is supposed to be towards that love, and we tend to think of him as more hands off.
My goal is to address a Biblical perspective of God’s love, and how our response to that can fuel our study of God’s Word.
1) God Cares for the Details in Our Lives
When we study theology and read our Bibles often, we tend to magnify the love of God less. I’m not sure exactly why this is. One would think that as we came to study and know God more, our affection would grow for him more and more. Time and time again in my own life and the lives of others, I find it to be the exact opposite. Our knowledge and pursuit of God stops in our heads, and never makes its way into the deep crevices of our soul.
Pastor Paul Tripp calls this the “Danger of Familiarity.” As the months and years go on and we get into a “routine” with our faith, we forget the small things. We forget, as my good friend reminded me of this simple truth a few weeks ago, that “Jesus loves me, this I know.” Two things occur when we get into this mode with our Bible study, we forget that God cares for our needs, and we forget how our love for God is meant to fuel our life and actions.
Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?…But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith (Matthew 6:26, 30)? What a simple and glorious truth are these words of Jesus! Our God is kind, he is loving, and he cares for our most basic needs. He is intimately and deeply involved in our lives. Scripture says he has the hair on our heads numbered. Incredible! Such a foundational truth this is, and yet we often squander this affection from God in vain intellectual pursuits.
It is great and wonderful God loves us in this way, but there is certainly more to God’s love. God’s love is so great, and so perfect, and so much more than we can possibly imagine, that he would descend from his throne and die in the presence of beggars and thieves like you and me to redeem his people. And what is our response from this? Vain debate and thick textbooks? Quoting Spurgeon until we are blue in the face? Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another…If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother (1 John 4:11, 20-21). Pastor Tripp also rightly says that we can measure our love for God by the extent to which we love one another.
I think that deserves some repetition: We can measure our love for God by the extent to which we love one another.
Paul (the Apostle, not the Tripp), says if I have not love, I am nothing. Or in the words of my Islam professor, if I am not motivated by the love of God in my study of His Word and service towards others than I am a charade. I have no business reaching out to others, serving them, or sharing my faith with them if I am not deeply motivated by compassion and love for them.
Man, those words cut me deep. How many times have you and I read scripture, or books by the saints, and just came away thinking “Man, thats some good knowledge! Deeeeeeep!” How weak are we? Our knowledge of God, our study of His word, is meant to move us towards compassion and empathy for one another. May this be a call for all of us who are in this trap to turn from this snare we are in and be moved into deep affection by the profound love of God.
2) Sacrificial, Committal Love
Today’s society is so bent on this concept of “love.” I’m afraid there are so many definitions floating around these days that love no longer has any weight. Love is more of a fleeting emotion, like lust and happiness, than it is a deep and committal sensation for another person.
For many people, this concept of love meshes with their ideas about the love of God. God affirms everything about us and where we are. He “meets us where we are”, but then never takes us anywhere. He has no desire over our life except for us to be happy and who we want to be.
This concept of God’s love is not only belittling to the concept of love, but it belittles the creator himself. Surely we must relent that this is a puny and small idea of a loving God!
Let us take a brief survey over Scripture to see the extent of which the Bible says God is loving:
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. – 1 John 4:10
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. – Romans 5:7–8
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. -John 15:13-14
God’s love is absolutely life-changing. You see, God’s love does not simply stop at the cross, a one time saving act that never has any impact on the rest of our lives. God’s love is meant to change every aspect of our lives, he wants to make us into a new creation, continually making us more like himself. As C.S. Lewis says,
Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself. -Mere Christianity
The love of God is far greater than anything we can possibly fathom. This love is meant to spur us on to good deeds, not because we have to, but because we want to. This love should spur us on to deeper intimacy with the Sovereign Commander of The Universe, not cause us to be apathetic and not pursue Him at all.
Look at how the Pslamist responds to God’s love through praise in adoration:
Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods,
for his steadfast love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
for his steadfast love endures forever; – Psalm 136:1-3
Love is not an emotion, it is not something that changes on a whim. Love, especially the love of God, is sacrificial and committal. As I detailed in another post, society’s concept of love is vile and insufficient, a meager shadow of the reality of God’s love for us. God has given us everything by giving us himself. He completely, freely, and willingly gave himself for a people who had turned his back on him and rejected him. A people who to this day still turn our backs and reject him.
There is no greater love than the sacrificial and committal love of God our savior. This love should move us towards obedience and service to him.
I don’t know where you’re at when you’re reading this. Maybe you’ve been a Christian for years, and this is a reminder to you for where your heart should be during your study of God’s Word. If you’re like me, you need a reminder like this to get your head out of the clouds and move towards deep compassion and affection.
Maybe you’re not a Christian at all. Maybe you’re not sure what you believe. A good many of you might have been going to church for some time, but the church and its members has wounded you. Unfortunately, the reality is that Christians are no better off than anyone else, the only difference is we are redeemed sinners. We still mess up, and we still cause great harm to others even when we don’t intend to.
Wherever you’re at, I just hope this post was an encouragement and a challenge to you. This is a deep subject that I’ve already gone overboard on, but if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to reach out to me either through comments or the “Contact Me” page.