It’s a question I ask everyone I meet in a pastoral or counselling setting. I ask it in the first meeting – not as a theology test but as a way of getting to know where they are coming from. We can learn a lot from this simple question and it helps in the counselling process to avoid those unhelpful assumptions that can and do creep in.
Here is a sample of some of the answers I receive:
“…for refreshment, instruction, in order to grow… it convicts us of our sin… because it’s the word of God… it gives me hope… to apply it to my life… I find it interesting… to get closer to God and to understand Him”.
Good reasons. But in the vast majority of cases, I find that people either have no expectation of change or, in practice, they have simply given up on Bible reading altogether as they feel it has made little or no difference. When it comes to the realities of reading the Bible, typical of some responses include:
“…I know the answer is there but I just can’t find it!”
“…I don’t read my Bible at all – I know I should”.
This is a vast subject for a short blog post, but can I try to outline a helpful way to look at Bible reading using Scripture itself? I have found this simple explanation has helped many people engage with the word with a renewed sense of expectancy (and joy).
In Romans 8:29 we read of the very reason for our salvation:
“…those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers”.
This ‘conforming’ process is a lifetime work, but how does it happen? God uses many means to move us towards Christlikeness; suffering, trials, wise counsel, the fellowship of fellow believers, church discipline, teachers and preachers. But predominantly He uses His word to sanctify us. In John 17:17 , Jesus prays to the Father, interceding for the disciples (and by extension you and me):
“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth”.
Here we see the Father sanctifying the believer through the word, by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and at the intercession of the Son. A truly Trinitarian, supernatural, miraculous work. When we come humbly and prayerfully to the word of God, we start to realise that Paul’s confidence in Philippians 1:6 can be our confidence also: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ”.
Scriptures begin to come to life. The word of God ‘works’ in us. As Paul writes to the Thessalonians:
“And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers”. (1 Thessalonians 2:13)
It protects us from sin:
“I have stored up your word in my heart,
that I might not sin against you” (Psalm 119:11)
It equips us for service:
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work”. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
And it cuts to the very ‘heart of the human problem’ (which is the ‘problem of the human heart’):
“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart”. (Hebrews 4:12)
So, why read the Bible? So that God can graciously conform us to the likeness of Jesus Christ by the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts. The work is collaborative to an extent, as Paul describes in Romans 8:13b:
“…if by the [Holy] Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live”.
We need to be obedient to the word and not “…quench the Spirit” (1 Thess 5:19), but even the strength to obey is a gracious gift of God, so all glory goes to Him.
The world, the flesh and the devil seek to interrupt this work of sanctification, but we must not allow them. Our true joy is in glorifying God, we do this by simple obedience and trusting in His work, conforming us to the image of His Son. Be blessed today as you read and obey His word.
Dean Foley is a professional biblical counsellor working with churches and para-church organisations across central and SW London.