“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.” (John 5:39–40 ESV)
You will find no mature Christian that will not tell you that one of the foundational ways to grow in your faith is to read the bible. This has always been one of the foundational disciplines that leads to authentic spiritual transformation, especially since the scriptures have been translated and available to the common man. But how we read our bibles matters greatly. According to the the text above, it is possible to read our bibles and miss the Author all together.
It is not uncommon for us to read our bibles and see how we should behave, what we should feel and what we need to be doing. Yes, indeed, the bible is full of these things, but if this becomes our primary focus in our bible reading, then we miss the entire point of the bible. The bible is not about us and what we must do, the bible is about a good, sovereign and holy God and what He has done on our behalf. The more that we read the bible through this lens, the more we will begin to see a God who is sovereignly ruling over what often times seems to us like an “out of control” world. The more that we read through this lens, the more we will begin to experience the peace that transcends all understanding that Paul talks about in Philippians. If you read your bible and hear “do more, try hard, run faster” then you will ultimately be worn out by what seems to be a litany of commands that you must follow to appease God. Jesus perfectly obeyed on your behalf because you can’t. Jesus said, “it is finished;” Hebrews tells us that the alter is closed and that we no longer need to drag our sacrifices into the temple. All that is required now is your sacrifice of praise.
Our primary work is to abandon our work and believe in the One who worked on our behalf. Jesus was asked “what must we do, to be doing the works of God?” (John 6:28). That sounds like us, doesn’t it? What do we need to do? Our identity is far too often tied up in what we do – even spiritually – rather than whose we are. Jesus answers their (and our) question in the following verse (29), “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” Martin Luther said it like this, “It ought to be the first concern of every Christian to lay aside all confidence in works and increasingly to strengthen faith alone and through faith to grow in the knowledge, not of works, but of Christ Jesus, who suffered and rose for him, as Peter teaches in the last chapter of his first Epistle (1 Peter 5:10). No other work makes a Christian. Thus when the Jews asked Christ, as related in John 6:28, what they must do “to be doing the work of God,” he brushed aside the multitude of works which he saw they did in great profusion and suggested one work, saying, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent John 6:29.” Martin Luther’s Basic Theological Writings by Martin Luther, Timothy F. Lull, William R. Russell and Jaroslav Jan Pelikan. Page 395, chapter 32, The Freedom of a Christian.
That sounds good, you might say, but how in the world do I develop that kind of belief (faith)? As a friend of mine put it, “you stare until you see it.” Paul says it like this, “we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18 ESV). We become like that which we worship. Worship is an old English word that means worth-ship. Whatever captivates and occupies the upper most affections of our heart is the object of our worship – and our lives will be marked by it. It might be a relationship (or relationships), financial success, athletics, marriage, Christian service or a litany of other things. John Calvin said that our hearts are little “idol factories.” Unfortunately, in the church, these idols are good things that we turn into “god things” – these are secondary things that we make primary things. Paul tells us that being transformed is the work of God (“for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.”) Our work is to stare, to beg God to enlighten the eyes of our hearts (Ephesians 1:18-21), to root out those things which we have come to rely upon other than Him, to see Him as the ultimate Treasure (Matthew 13:44) and to give us the faith to believe (Mark 9:24).
For most of us we know what we should and should not do, but lack the fuel to actually obey. Who among us would say that fear, anxiety and worry are a good thing? And yet, fear, anxiety and worry rule the hearts of far to many Christians. Didn’t Jesus tell us not to worry about the things of this life in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6:25-33). We know we shouldn’t, and the advice that most people give us is to just “seek first the kingdom of heaven.” Is there any more ethereal and abstract counsel than that? We miss the entire middle part of the text – the birds don’t worry about these things, the lilies don’t work to be clothed in all of their splendor. Why don’t they? The real power to overcoming worry is understanding what the birds and lilies intuitively understand – that there is a good God on the throne that is in absolute control. For me, I began to actually win the battle with anxiety when I began to believe at a deeper level that God was actually in control of all things – despite how things currently looked in my life.
How do you start? “What can I do,” you might ask? Pick a book of the bible (try the gospel of John) and start reading. Ask God to show you who He is, what He’s like and what He’s done. Then take some notes, write down everything that you notice about God’s character, nature and behavior. Avoid writing down what you should be doing (you already know that). Try this for a month or two and see if the Creator of the universe does not reveal Himself to you in new ways!