OK, I admit to indulging in a bit of overstatement to shock you into recognizing what should be obvious: just because you know the Bible doesn’t mean the Word will bear fruit in your life. It is possible to know the Scriptures, read the Scriptures, revere the Scriptures, and study the Scriptures and miss the point entirely.
Take the liberal scholar who knows the Greek New Testament better than most orthodox pastors. He can quote whole sections of the Bible in its original languages. Definitions of biblical words tumble out of his mouth as he effortlessly places everything in historical context. And yet he does not believe in the Jesus he reads about in the pages of the Bible. Sure, he is endlessly fascinated by the communities that gave us such an interesting artifact of study. But to him, his job is to immerse himself into a world of fables and dreams. The Bible is an epic story with no bearing on reality today.
Or take the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ day who were steeped in the rich traditions of their people’s history. The leaders knew the Scriptures backwards and forwards, yet they had missed the signs pointing to the most important chapter in the Story that God was writing – the chapter that had been foreshadowed by the prophets and Bible writers for thousands of years. That’s why Jesus could say: “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). He doesn’t condemn them for their meticulous knowledge of the Old Testament. He mourns the fact that they’ve missed the point of it all.
Even today, it’s possible to get so wrapped up in searching the Scriptures that we miss what God is trying to teach us. Consider would-be prophets who scour over the prophecies of Revelation trying to pull out clues and codes about the European Union or the next major ecological catastrophe. Caught up in the thrill, the writers lose sight of Revelation’s main purpose: to unveil Jesus!
Others get bogged down in theological discussions (Calvinism vs. Arminianism, anyone?) until they eventually start coming to the Scriptures to look for more ammunition for their next debate. The Bible quietly gets twisted into a divine reference book designed to uphold a beloved system of theology instead of God’s divine revelation designed to shine light on a glorious Savior.
And then there’s the common type of Bible study that begins with us at the center and brings God into our world to address our already-defined needs and problems. We look at the Bible as a book of divine instruction, a manual for succeeding in life, or a map for making sure we get to heaven when we die.
These ways of studying the Scripture will not result in life transformation. Why? Because they’re missing something. Better put, they’re missing Someone.
Bible study alone is not what transforms your life. Jesus transforms your life. Of course, He does this through His written Word to us. So we must affirm that life change doesn’t happen apart from God’s Word. But the reason God’s Word changes our life is not because of our personal study but because in the Scriptures we are introduced to Jesus, the Author. That’s why every page ought to be written in red, as every section is breathed out by our King and points us to Him.
It’s possible to amass great amounts of biblical knowledge, to impress people with your mastery of Bible trivia, to creatively apply the Bible in ways that seem so down to earth and practical, to dot your theological i’s and cross your exegetical t’s – and still miss Jesus. Scary, isn’t it?
That’s why it’s not enough to be “Bible-believing” or “Word-centered,” because, after all, the Bible we believe and the Word we proclaim is itself Christ-centered.
The purpose of our Bible study is to know God and make Him known. The Bible unveils Jesus Christ as the focal point of human history. All creation exists by Him, through Him, to Him, and for Him. Our Bible study should exist for Him too. That’s the only kind of Bible study that will change your life.