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“Bible study won’t change your life.”

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.


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17 thoughts on “Why Studying the Bible Won't (Necessarily) Change Your Life”

  1. Rick says:

    Great post. Sometimes I need that reminder.

  2. Jason says:

    Trevin,
    Thank you for this. I have been thinking a lot this week about getting back to the basics. I have just started reading CJ Mahaney’s book on the Cross-Centered Life.

    I am someone who can easily fall into the trap of amassing knowledge without transformation. I am meeting with one of my pastors this week to start walking through Romans 9-11 verse by verse because I believe the case is compelling that this has to do, at least in part, with individual election. I realize at times like this, I can go through my Bible looking for verses to support my point of view and at the same time lose the grand message of the Gospel.

    As I was processing this, I was thinking that many well-known pastors are not known primarily as Calvinists, even if they strongly hold to the doctrines of Grace. Rather, they are known as Gospel loving, Christ exalting preachers. I would pray that for each of us, we would major in the majors, minor in the minors, and read the Bible so that we might see Christ and love him better.

  3. Diane Stortz says:

    In 2000 I joined with about twenty other women to read through the Bible in a year for the sole purpose of getting to know God. No homework. No questions to answer. No “study.” Just read. We alternated OT and NT books (a good plan) and met together each week to talk about what we’d read–with no guided questions other than “What stood out for you this week?” When you read to discover who God is, what he says about himself, what he does–that’s when your life really can change! We did this several other years as well, and new groups spun off this one and did the same.

    Now I’m writing a book for Bethany House called “A Woman’s Guide to Reading Through the Bible in Year”–a very simple guide to help others have the same wonderful experience. It’s short and simple because the goal is to read the Bible, not to get bogged down in 300 pages about how to do it!

    Thanks for your post.

  4. Cody says:

    I really enjoyed this post and I totally agree. I’ve amassed a lot of knowledge ABOUT God through Bible, but to my shame I have not amassed nearly enough knowledge OF God. I struggle seeing how every passage points to Christ, even though I believe that they do. Are there any resources that can help me read the Bible with a Christ-centered hermeneutic? Any advice would be much appreciated. Thanks!

  5. Trevin Wax says:

    Cody,

    I recommend Graeme Goldsworthy’s Preaching the Whole Bible as Christian Scripture to start.

  6. Gwen says:

    Thanks for the reminder (not the 1st one either:). I too, get “caught up” specifically in the history because I love history. Recently God has been challenging me to go beyond what I know (or think I know:) or have read about Him to experiencing Him “in the light” of what I’ve read. Subtle yet profound difference.

  7. Virginia says:

    Having read the above article I certainly agree that reading and studying Gods word does not neccessarily change one. For I myself have been in many bible studies, and in a particular one, and as a consequence of being there and also being told in other churches when seeking help, was told by various members of the congregation, “What does scripture say?” Sad to say over time it had quite a devestating affect on me. I wont go into detail; but suffice to say that My late husband and I did not go to church or come under any pursuasion but still had a heart for God and His Word, and in so doing we were taught much By Him; but now since I lost my husband, I tentively attend a church where there is good thought provoking teaching that one is encouraged to inplement, if one so chooses, and where one feels truly fed, accepted and loved, and it is that love coupled with that that kind of teaching that helps one to accept God and Jesus and willing to live as He has taught us throughth His Word Through the Help of the Holy Spirit.

  8. Andrew says:

    The strangest anecdote I’ve heard on this issue is that of Edgar Cayce, who had read the Bible cover to cover for every year of his life…yet became convince of reincarnation and the akashic records (of previous lives). There is a large difference between reading the Bible as ritual and having the Bible “read” into you as discipleship.

  9. Carlton says:

    I have been dealing with this issue lately from a different perspective. Many people I serve use the Bible as a book of trivia. To many, its a book full of Jeopardy questions and the more questions you know the answer to the more spiritual you perceived.

    Thank you for articulating what I haven’t been able to.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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