Mormon Missionaries: Jesus isn’t God. Jesus is a god. The Apostles knew this.
Me: (sips tea) But the Apostles considered Jesus God, their God.
Mormon: They never said so.
Me: Thomas in John’s Gospel calls Jesus, ‘My Lord and my God!’
Mormon: (flips to John 20:28 in his Bible) …hmm… ‘My Lord and my God’…
(Conversation paraphrased but authentic)
Negative opinions shared about Christians are common, but I clearly remember a friend commenting positively on the churched. With sincere sky-blue eyes, she shared how amazed she was at everyday churchgoers’ knowledge of the Bible (shocker, right?). Attending a small group in a home, she quietly marveled at the Scriptural fluency and dexterity possessed by the circle.
As Christians, our textbook is the Bible. In God’s great kindness, he didn’t leave us in a cerebral stone age to guess His character and involvement. Giving us the Scriptures, putting it into finite human writ, He made his heart’s penmanship knowable. Consider the Bible you possess. Many antagonists would give all that they have to destroy every copy and manuscript on the planet, yet here you sit with God’s printed dissertation on reality. He has protected the Good Book from hands eager to shred. Saying, “I love you,” He has placed it safely in your lap.
Guilt-reading and legalism
Real life, however, doesn’t give us many breaks to sit and read such a gift. We rely on God’s grace to understand our schedule-swamped hearts, but it seems a flavorless and incomplete walk. If we do read we might judge our relationship with God by how much we read, thus we slip into scholastic legalism and the gavel slams hard when we miss a day. We must avoid these two poisons and develop a heart that savors the text, yet doesn’t become pharisaical. Legalism, though, is an easy pitfall. I remember reading on one Bible teacher’s blog that every Christian should read the Bible through once a year while simultaneously engaging in a deep study of one New Testament book. This you should do on top of your Bible reading plan, end quote.
Red flag. Yes, we should read the Bible. But, the moment we cross chapter-marks to quantify our acceptability to God, bammo, the milk sours into legalism. Subtly draining the cross of its power, this thinking dooms illiterate believers and those who presently have too much baby spit-up on their shoulder to devote “enough” hours to the library.
Jesus’ work on the cross was and is enough to unlock the gate and welcome you warmly to the feast. Breaking the spell of legalism by acknowledging that the Blood was enough is the first step to correctly studying the Bible.
But why study the Bible at all if the blood is enough?
Preparedness. In the opening example with the Mormon missionaries, Biblical knowledge helped me steer them toward the truth. I even took a napkin and wrote the New Testament references where Jesus is called God quite directly (John 20:28; Act. 20:28; Rom. 9:5; 1 Cor. 10:4,9; Tit. 2:13; 2 Pet. 1:1; 1 John 5:20). These citations didn’t come overnight but were a product of consistently sharpening the sword.
Secondly, we study the Bible because by it we understand our role on the field. The Holy Spirit is the one who transforms lives and convicts, but how can I prepare as a worker for Christ without the scriptures? The ideal in my mind is a Scripturally savvy Christian who is able to quote Lamentations 3:33 the next time an atheist describes the Hebrew God as a gleeful killer, or Deuteronomy 32:4 the next time someone laments that God isn’t just. Knowledge of scripture counters the enemy’s tactics and sows truth. Plus, this prioritizing of readiness to share the Good News with someone, even without a Bible in hand, is crucial for any love-soaked ministry we do. Unless we are able to pontificate the life-changing Messiah when asked “Why are you so nice?” others will reduce our kindness to Karma, and falsehood will play out in their minds.
It’s hard to achieve preparedness without accomplishing the other goals of Bible study (Time with God, metaphysical clarity, comfort in life, strengthened faith), but I emphasize here being equipped for evangelism. The right heart says, “Lord, I am saved not by guilt-reading, but by grace through faith in Christ,” It is then that we can develop our swordsmanship with the text and truly study without burden, thus being armed and ready to serve our King who saved us by His blood.