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Essentials for Christian Growth – Part 1 (October 26, 2010)

The birth of our firstborn child was an exciting time.  His birth opened up a new world to us, as this little infant became an integral part of our lives. Before long, the novelty wore off as it became obvious that it was necessary to settle down into a daily routine—taking care of this infant to ensure he grew up properly.

What’s true in the physical realm is also true in the spiritual realm.  When a person receives eternal life, he receives Jesus Christ as his personal Savior and Lord.  It is a thrilling time; you are a new person in Christ and you have been born into God’s eternal family. Eventually, like the physical child born into a physical family, things settle down and the work goes into nurturing that infant. You also need to be nurtured and grow in the Lord. As part of God’s eternal family, it’s His responsibility to help you grow and provide the means for your growth. God has provided several means for spiritual growth.

We want to look at the first means of spiritual growth. Food is an essential need in our lives.  We can’t grow without food.  You would starve to death without food, and God has provided His food.  His food is the Bible.  It is the living Word of God and we want to look at the spiritual food He has provided for our growth. 1 Peter 1:23 tells us that the Word of God brought us into His family and it is the Word of God that is used by the Lord to help us grow. Peter writes, “For you have been born again, not of seed which is perishable, but imperishable, that is through the living and abiding word of God.” When the Word of God came to you, you believed the message of the Gospel and you were saved.  You became a part of God’s family when you were born again.

1 Peter 2:2 states, “Like newborn babes long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation, if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.” Just as newborn babes long for milk, Christians long for the pure milk of the Word of God.  We’ve been born again by the Word, and now we are to desire this Word as the means by which we grow.  That’s why Peter said, “if you have tasted the kindness of the Lord.”  If you have been saved, if you have understood the grace of God that salvation is free, then you have understood it by the Word of God and you are to grow by that same Word.

Why is the Bible important to our growth?  Simply because it is the Word of God.  When we say that, we mean exactly that: It is the word— the words that come from God Himself.  2 Timothy 3:16 says “All Scripture is inspired by God and it is profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness.” This classic verse tells us that the Bible is the word of God.

The word “inspired” is literally “God breathed out.”  In other words, every word in the Bible from Genesis through Revelation, comes from God—the very source of the Bible,

The apostle Paul says that not only are these God’s words, he also said God’s words are profitable.  Why is the Bible profitable?  The Bible teaches us what God wants us to know about Him, about living and about life.  It teaches us the truth that we need to know.  Additionally, the Bible states it is profitable for correction.  It reveals to us when we’re in sin the Bible rebukes us for sin and gets us back on the path of right living  Finally, the Bible is profitable for training in righteousness.  It not only gets us back on the path, it tells us how to stay on the path.  It instructs us in living a life that pleases the Lord Jesus Christ.  Paul says that the Bible is the spiritual nourishment we need to grow up to become more like the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

The health and success of your Christian life depends entirely on what you do with your Bible.  If you neglect it, you will stagnate in your spiritual growth.  However if you get into the Bible, if you open and study your Bible and dig into God’s word, you’ll become spiritually strong which will lead to growth in the Lord.  You’ll get to know Jesus Christ in a way you did not realize was possible.  Your faith will increase and your life will be blessed.  A Christian who regularly studies the Bible knows and experiences not only the joy of the Lord, but also knows the comfort of the Lord in times of trouble. The importance of the Bible cannot be underestimated.

So how do we get into the Bible?  How do we study it so that it makes sense?  How do we get into the Bible in such a way that the Bible gets into us, and gets a hold of our lives and changes it for the better?  To start, I want to talk about preparation for Bible study—because we don’t just come to the Bible and study it.  We must have prepared hearts to study God’s Word.  You must have the right attitude when you approach the Bible, so let’s look at the preparation, or the right attitudes, for Bible study.

First, you need purity of life. This is not to be confused with perfection, but rather the active pursuit of purity in your life. What would pursuing purity look like?  I like 1 Peter 2:2  where he states, “Like newborn babes long for the pure milk of the word that by it you may grow in respect to salvation”. How do we obtain an intense, heartfelt desire to study the Bible? 1 Peter 2:1 tells us how by stating “Therefore, putting aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisy, and envy, and all slander.” When there’s sin in your life that you refuse to confess—poor attitudes towards other people, lack of forgiveness, malice, and hatred; if you refuse to confess sin and let God to deal with, then you won’t have a desire for the Word of God.  What keeps many Christians from a desire for reading and studying the Word of God, is they refuse to let God deal with the sin in their lives.  But when you confess sin, when you forgive people, when you have the purity of heart and attitude, then the desire comes.  If there isn’t a desire, you need to go back and find out what sin is hindering that desire. This is what is meant by having purity of life.

We also need humble dependency upon the Lord to teach us.  We don’t come to the Bible believing we are totally capable of understanding everything.  We come to God’s Word with a humble dependency upon the Author of this Book, the God of the Bible.  This means that we need to pray for understanding and trust the Lord to open up His Word. The psalmist put it well in Psalm 119:18, when he said “Open my eyes that I may behold wonderful things from Thy Law.” He said, “Lord, open my eyes.”  He didn’t mean physically open his eyes rather spiritually—“Give me insight into the Word of God,” and that’s what we need to do.  When you come to the Bible, pray for understanding, and God will provide.  The Bible teaches that when we receive Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit comes into our hearts.  He is God the Holy Spirit and one of the things that the Spirit of God does is teach Scripture.  That is, when we hear the truth, He affirms it in our heart and confirms it.  He makes His point with an inner conviction in our spirit.  We need to depend upon the Lord, and God will answer our prayers and teach us the Word of God.

In addition to preparation, we need a desire to obey.  This is important because we don’t study the Bible to gain mere facts or satisfy curiosity.  We study the Bible to learn what Jesus Christ wants us to do.  The Bible wasn’t given to fill our heads with knowledge rather it was given to help us express our love and obedience to Jesus Christ. Jesus said in John 14:15 “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” How do we know His commandments unless we get into the Bible?  These days, God doesn’t speak to us any other way except through the Bible.  Long ago God spoke through dreams, visions, prophets and other ways.  Today, the Bible says God speaks to us through His Son, and the message of His Son is found in the New Testament.  We must have the attitude of not trying to gain knowledge, but to learn what God wants us to do so that we might express our love for Jesus Christ and obey Him.  Jesus said in Luke 6:46, “Why do you call Me Lord and don’t do the things I say?”  What a strong, significant question this is—why do we call Him Lord if we’re not going to obey Him?  To do so is hypocrisy. Come to the Bible with the attitude of “I will obey before I know what He wants me to do.”  My attitude is: “I submit to the authority of Jesus Christ as revealed in the Bible.”

Once you’ve prepared yourself to study God’s Word, then you’re ready to approach the Bible.  So let’s look at the principles of Bible study: We’ve prepared our hearts for Bible study and now we can examine the principles of Bible study.

Many think the Bible is a closed book and therefore think it’s difficult to understand.  I’ve had people say, “I can’t possibly understand the Bible,” but that’s not true.  The Bible isn’t a difficult Book to understand.  It just takes some disciplined effort and some common sense.  Often, the reason we don’t understand the Bible is because we’re too lazy to get into the Bible and study it.  I would suggest that you start by reading one book of the Bible and a good place to begin is the gospel of John.  The gospel of John is a great book because it clearly presents Jesus Christ as God in flesh.  Avoid starting off with a complicated book like Revelation.  People approach me and say, “I’ve just come to know the Lord and I’m ready to study Revelation.”  New Christians are not ready to study a complex book such as Revelation therefore,  it’s best to start with a different book.  Study Revelation in the future, but for now stick with a basic book like the gospel of John or the gospel of Mark or one of the epistles such as Romans or Galatians.

The Gospel of John is a great place to begin to learn how to study the Bible systematically.  Don’t pick it up one day and read a verse, then pick it up another day and read another verse in another place.  Read it through and through, from beginning to end.  Also, set aside a definite time for your Bible reading; a time during the day that you can be alone in a quiet place where there are no interruptions.  Read on a regular basis, preferably daily.  Read a little each day.  Don’t burden yourself, by insisting you must read for an hour.  Start with ten minutes each day or whatever fits your schedule.  Read a little each day, and while you read, ask specific questions. Answering questions while are reading is how we should approach Bible study. Here are some excellent questions to ask:

First, you ought to ask, “Who is the author writing to?”  That is, is he writing to unbelievers or is he writing to Christ’s disciples?  Knowing who the author is writing to, makes a difference in understanding.  The next question would be to ask is “Who is speaking?”  Is it God, man, Satan or an angel who is talking?  Find out who is doing the talking and who is the person talking to?  Then ask, “What is he saying?”  Is the speaker encouraging those he is speaking to or is he rebuking them? Is he giving promises for the future or is he warning of danger?  Perhaps the speaker is sharing something about himself?  Maybe the speaker is giving a command to follow. Always ask yourself what the speaker is saying.

As you read, you should also ask, “Why is he saying what he is saying?  What are the reasons he is speaking?  What’s the purpose of saying what he is saying?  Have they done something wrong or have they done something right?  Is it an encouragement or rebuke?  What is going on?  What’s the situation?

Then ask, “When is he saying that?”  What I mean by this is: what’s taken place, or about to take place?  What is the local situation?  When is it happening?  Is it happening before some important event?  Is it happening after some significant holy day?  Try to determine the timeframe of when a person speaks.

Additionally, ask “How does he say what he says?” Does he say it by parables, figures of speech, or literal language?  In other words, find out how the speaker is communicating his message?  One should also ask, “Where is he speaking?” In other words, from what location is he speaking?  Is he speaking in a field, in the temple, in a room or in a garden?  Where?—Is the Lord Jesus on the Cross? Determine where the speaker speaking from.

John 14 demonstrates the importance of these questions.  John 14 is a precious passage in the Word of God.  When you do Bible study, write these things down to remember so write it in your Bible or a notebook.  In this case, my first question would be: Who’s speaking?  It’s Jesus who’s speaking.  Who is He speaking to?  He’s speaking to His disciples, the believers.  What is He saying?  He’s giving a message of encouragement and promise.  Why is He saying what He is saying?  He’s about to be crucified and then resurrected and return to His Father, and He knows that it won’t be easy for His disciples while He’s gone and that’s why He’s saying what He’s saying—a message of encouragement and promise.  When did He speak this?  He said it a few hours before his arrest.  How did He give His message?  He gave it in literal language—straightforward truth.  (It’s interesting that while it’s straight forward, it’s not always clear.  It’s clear now because we understand what He was saying after reading other portions of Scripture, but it wasn’t clear to the disciples, even though it was literal and straightforward.  They needed the Holy Spirit to teach them more truth.)  Where was He when He gave this message?  He was in an upper room in the city of Jerusalem. We’ve gone through John 14 to demonstrate how important it is to ask questions because asking questions opens up the Bible.

Another principle to apply when studying the Bible is to study the verse or passage in context.  The “context” means “its setting.”  The verses before and after the passage you are reading affect the meaning of the verses in between.  Not reading in context makes it impossible to interpret the Bible any way you want.  I know of people who pull a verse here and there, and make the Bible mean anything they want. For instance, Matthew 27:5 reads “He went away and hanged himself.”  Since we don’t know what the context is, the correct meaning is lacking. Then you say, “That doesn’t seem right, so I’ll turn to another passage Scripture, and I’ll just pull out Luke 10:37.”  Luke 10:37 says, “Go and do thou likewise.” Then you would say, “Well, that doesn’t make sense.  He hung himself and now I must go and do likewise?  Since this makes no sense, the search for sense continues by turning to John 13:27 which reads, “What thou doest, do quickly.” Anyone can see the absurdity of taking a Bible verse out of context.  Avoid this error by learning what the theme of the book is, which is revealed as you read the book.  As you read John’s gospel, you’ll see the theme is the deity of Christ.  Then you see the theme of the chapter by reading it.  It is common sense, so it will become clear to you as you will see patterns repeated again and again.  Never take a verse or a passage and isolate it.  Nobody likes to be quoted out of context and God is no exception; so don’t quote God out of context.  See His word in its proper setting, and it’ll begin to make sense.  Most of the problems people have with understanding the Bible is because they will not see it in its context.

Another excellent Bible study principle is to interpret the Bible in the normal sense of language.  This is significant and important because the Bible is a piece of literature.  It is divine literature, but it is also literature, and we need to remember that.  The Bible should be read as any piece of literature is read; that means you take it literally, at face value, unless it becomes obvious by its context that you ought to interpret it in another way, such as a figure of speech: a hyperbole, a simile, a metaphor.  But you only do that when the context makes it obvious.  For instance, Jesus said, I am the door. Obviously, He didn’t mean He was a literal door rather He meant that He functions as a door.  Applying normal language to literature is common, plain sense.  Look for the plain, obvious meaning rather than some deep, symbolic meaning.

Moreover, I will say that the Bible will not say one thing to you and another thing to me.  I’ve had people say that to me.  “Well, the Bible says this to me or this is what it means to me.”  A good question to pose to a person who makes such a statement is to ask, “What if you weren’t alive, then what would it mean?”  It’s really not important to say it means something to you and something else to me.  God has one meaning in His Word for a passage or a verse.  There may be different applications to our lives, but He means only one thing, so take the statements as they are presented.  It has been said that “When the plain sense makes good sense, let’s be careful not to make it nonsense.”  Take the Bible’s obvious meaning and don’t look for the sensational or hidden message because it’s not there.  God wants you to understand His Word not play games, which means He wants to earnestly communicate to you.  God is reasonable and wants us to understand His Word, so He gave it to us the only way we could understand it—by using the normal laws of language. If it means one thing to this person and something else to that person, then nobody can be certain what God means.  Once the Bible is open to subjectivity we lose ourselves in the sea of our own understanding rather than God’s clear communication.

Finally, if you don’t understand something in the Bible, don’t be discouraged.  There are many things in the Bible that are difficult to understand. I encourage you to live by what you do understand, and trust the Lord to give you light on the obscure passages—in His own time.  Don’t fret over what you don’t know; rather actively obey what you do know.

In summary, we’ve looked at preparation—have your heart right before the Lord.  Next, we examined the principles of Bible study, and finally we are to engage in practicing the Bible.  Practicing the Bible is often left out when people try to understand the Bible. Practicing the Bible is an important element of Bible study because after you read the Bible and study it, you must obey its message and apply what you’ve read to your own life.

James 1:22 tells us, “Be doers of the word, and not hearers only, who deceive themselves.” This means don’t merely read what the Bible says, but put it into practice.  Don’t go away from the Bible saying, “Isn’t that interesting?” rather, God says to apply it!  Ask, “What does the Lord want me to do?” or “What does the Lord want me to start or stop doing?  Is there something I’m doing that’s wrong?  Is there something I’m not doing that I ought to be doing?  Maybe there’s something I’m doing but I ought to do more often and more consistently?”  This is the application of God’s word, and only God can apply it to your heart.  To apply it to your life,  ask the questions and be sensitive.  You’ve got to want the Bible to get a hold of your life and change it for God’s glory.  This is why the apostle Paul told Timothy that the Bible is profitable in 2 Timothy 3:16 because the Bible affects our lives in every situation of life.

One Bible teacher said this: “Nothing darkens the mind like disobedience.  To obey a truth prepares you to see other truths.  To disobey a truth, darkens your mind to all truths.”

When you study the Bible, it is important that you obey every truth that God begins to apply to your life.  Maybe you’re asking yourself, “But what about the days I don’t feel like studying the Bible?”  There will be days where you have no desire to study the Bible. Everybody has days where you just don’t feel like picking up your Bible to read or study.  What do you do then?  You read and study it anyway.  When I was a young child and I was sick, my Mom used to come to me and tell me that I had to eat.  And I’d say, “But I don’t feel like eating.”  And she’d say, “But you must eat, even if you don’t feel like it because you need this food to strengthen you, to nourish you so you can be strong again.”  Whether you feel like it or not is not the issue; the issue is you need food for strength.

With the Bible, the same truth applies: The Bible is spiritual food from God, and as our Heavenly Father, He comes to us and He says, “Look, you need it.  Whether you feel like it or not, you need it to be nourished so that you can grow strong in the Lord.”