This blog is an urgent call, in light of the times we are living in, to study the Bible carefully, not just devotionally–and some basic “how to” steps to do it.
Many Christians make time for devotional moments with God, but fewer set aside space to regularly study the teachings of Scripture more deeply. Maybe it is an issue of time, not knowing how, or thinking that deeper Bible study is primarily for teachers and pastors.
In any case, we lose out on much spiritual growth and many rich insights in our relationship with God when we miss this kind of study. Also, our faith and relationship with God could very much be at risk, as I’ll explain later.
There has been a major trend in Christianity that “doctrines aren’t important; it is one’s relationship with Jesus that counts.” The idea of “doctrine” (the teachings of a Bible on a given topic) has become suspect to many. Doctrinal fights and judgmental attitudes within or between denominations helped birth this “Jesus only” trend. But it is a huge mistake and a serious spiritual danger. Here’s why:
1. You Need a Solid Foundation for Your Faith
The doctrines of the Bible work like the frame of a building, or the skeletal structure in the human body. They give stability, strength, and form. A broken or missing member causes major challenges. We’ve heard of buildings collapsing, with tragic loss of life, because codes were not followed. Paul pionts to this role of Biblical truth when he calls the church “the pillar and foundation of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15 NIV). The Church–and our spiritual lives–are built with a foundation and superstructure of Biblical truth.
The teachings of the Bible describe the truths that form a Christian worldview and inform our concept of God and reality. They are not just like boards or dry bones. Bible teachings fill out the beauty of depth of God’s character and reveal His plans and purposes for us. The nature of God, Christ, the Holy Spirit; the nature of humans, the truths related to salvation, judgment, heaven, the afterlife, the Last Days, the Second Coming, and so many more, make up our belief system and give us stability and hope.
The bottom line is that Jesus is fleshed out by the truths of Scripture. Bible doctrines tell us more about Him, and about God’s amazing, beautiful character. To ignore doctrine is to diminish God and all that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are to us.
2. To Be Secure in Jesus and Safe from Deception
Years ago, I knew two young women who got caught in a cult. Both died as a result. The grief for their family and church was gut wrenching. Ever since, I have been cautious about leaders who exhibit cult-like personalities. While this is an extreme case, false teaching is nevertheless destructive.
Bible writers sound many warnings about false teachers and distorted doctrines, both in their day, and the Last Days. They warn that the goal of these misguided people is often to recruit followers and make money. Ego is foremost, rather than the glory of God. In my early pastorate, a man began to produce videos criticizing leaders and presenting his take on truth. He eventually began accepting donations and became quite wealthy. Later, he confessed to his wrong motives. Here are two cases from the Bible:
“For there are many rebellious people, full of meaningless talk and deception, especially those of the circumcision group. They must be silenced, because they are disrupting whole households by teaching things they ought not to teach—and that for the sake of dishonest gain.”Titus 1:10-11 NIV
“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. Avoid godless chatter (false teaching), because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some.”2 Timothy 2:15-18 NIV
Be cautious of people claiming to bring you a new message or truth from God, especially if they have attitudes of criticism, or self-promotion. There are many false teachers today, as in Bible times. Following them can be damaging to your faith and even dangerous. On the other hand, take time to prayerfully and carefully study out what they are saying, in the ways I’ll describe later. It is an opportunity to grow and see real truth more deeply. You may be able to help others as well.
3. To Keep Safe in Our Relationship with Jesus Through the Last Days
Bible writers left us urgent warnings about deception and false teaches in the Last Days of earth’s history. Satan knows that His time is short. He hates God and everyone connected with Him, so he wants to destroy our belief structure and collapse our faith. He gets demonic pleasure out of tearing down what God has built up. He delights in attacking and troubling us as he pokes a finger in God’s eye.
Corruption of truth come from challenges outside the faith, such as when social or political movements co-opt and misapply, or redefine, thought categories. They can also originate from inside the Church when teachers distort key doctrines, sometimes with apparently well-meaning motives. John urges us: “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits (people, teachings) to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world” (1 John 4:1 NIV). I have seen so many distortions of Scripture in my years as a pastor. Fact check everything you aren’t sure about.
Paul tells us he received his gospel directly from Jesus, probably through visions (Galatians 1:11). This included revelations of what would happen in the last days. Here are two of his serious alerts about the Endtimes:
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.2 Timothy 4:1-4 NIV
“The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.”1 Timothy 4:1-2 NIV
Paul wasn’t alone in warning about spiritual dangers in the last days. The apostles were all aware this will happen.
“Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, ‘Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.’ But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.”2 Peter 3:3-7 NIV (See also Jude 3-4)
Revelation, Jesus’ message to the Church about what would take place between His Ascension and Second Coming, especially in the Last Days, warns about the false teachings of Balaam (Revelation 2:14), the Nicolaitans (2:15), and Jezebel (2:20) that had infiltrated the Christian Church.
In Revelation 12-18, Jesus describes the deceptions and false miracles that will become nearly universal in the world. Paul refers to the same thing:
“Then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with how Satan works. He will use all sorts of displays of power through signs and wonders that serve the lie, and all the ways that wickedness deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”2 Thessalonians 2:8-12 NIV
Jesus told a powerful parable about building a solid faith. He described two men building homes. One built his house on sand, without taking time to dig deeply and build a solid foundation. The other chose solid rock to build on. When a torrential flood came, the house built on the rock was able to withstand the storm while the house built on sand collapsed.
Jesus’ crucial lesson is that we must take time to dig deeply and build our faith on Jesus (our Rock) and His word. Character and faith built on the word will survive the many kinds of storms that come against us.
How to Study Doctrine (Bible Teaching)
By now, it is clear how important it is to study God’s word more deeply, for our own spiritual growth and for our spiritual safety. I’ve had the privilege of theological training and being a pastor for many years, so I want to share a few things that have helped me. Here are 7 simple suggestions:
1. Accept questions and challenges as an opportunity to learn and grow.
When a question comes up, perhaps in a sermon, Bible teaching, or in your devotions, make a mental note of it. Keep a notebook or computer document of topics for future study.
2. Set aside time for Bible study in addition to your devotions.
If you want to study more deeply, you must set aside time for it. Even 30 minutes of study each day will begin to yield great dividends. Some combine their devotions with deeper study by keeping their focus on God. Choose a place with comfortable seating, good lighting, and fresh air for brain oxygenation. Take breaks every 25 minutes or so and walk around to keep the blood flowing.
3. Collect a notebook or computer doc, your Bible (or Bible App), a concordance, and a Bible dictionary.
A concordance lists all major words and where they are found in scripture; an online site like Biblegateway.com has a concordance search box that allows you to look up a word, words, or phrase, and with click of your mouse see all the verses in the Bible where they are used. A Bible dictionary will give definitions for Bible words, names, or places. A good search engine can substitute.
Bibles come in all varieties and levels of accuracy today. A “formal” translation which more literally follows the Greek and Hebrew is preferable for accuracy in Bible study. The King James Version (and New KJV), The New American Standard Bible, and the English Standard Version are formal translations. The later are easiest to understand. I prefer the New American Standard Bible for readability and accuracy.
Dynamic equivalency Bibles are good for devotional reading, but are not as accurate in some places. The Message, the Living Bible, and the New Living Translation are examples of this kind of Bible. The New International Version tried to strike a balance, but is not as literal as the formal translations I listed earlier. Don’t stress over this. Better to begin with the Bible you have than not begin at all.
4. Begin with prayer for the Holy Spirit to guide you in your study.
Jesus promised the Holy Spirit to “guide us into all truth” (John 16:13). He said the Father is more willing to give us the Spirit’s help than an earthly father is willing to give good things to his child (Luke 11:13). When we ask humbly in dependence on Him, He will always help us. Jesus died to fulfill the promise of the Spirit’s help in this, and every aspect of our lives.
The Bible was prepared by God to be an inspired and sufficient guide for our lives. It tells how to have a relationship with God and ultimately spend eternity with Him. The Spirit “inspired” Bible writers, and He will open it up (reveal the meaning) to you as you ask His help and depend on His guidance.
5. Write down key words, phrases, and concepts in your question. Research these.
In your concordance, look up key words or phrases in each verse they are used. Using Biblegateway.com (described above), you can scan the verses it lists for the most relevant. The Bible often defines its own terms, either in the immediate context or related passages. Write down what you find as you go. Use a Bible dictionary as a help, if you wish.
Doing this kind of study is building a conceptual framework made up of definitions and ideas. It is like constructing something piece by piece, painting a picture one stroke at a time, or putting a jigsaw puzzle together. The end product will emerge little by little. The joy is in seeing it come together and having the Divine Teacher at your side guiding you.
Scripture itself calls us to this kind of study: “From infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:15-17 NIV)
6. As you study ask what this tells you about the God’s character, His plan to save you, and what He wants you to do about what you learned.
When Jesus revealed Himself to Saul (later Paul) on the Damascus Road, Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” and “What do you want me to do?” These are good questions to ask as we study.
We should relate everything we study to the great central truth of Jesus’ atonement for our sins on the cross and the gift of salvation. This will draw our hearts to Him. “If I be lifted up, I will draw all people to myself,” He said (John 12:32).
Currently, I am studying words that describe what Jesus’ death means. It has helped me see His love even more.
7. God’s greatest desire
God longs for us to love Him with our whole heart and mind. Understanding things logically and intellectually without seeking to know God’s heart can be spiritually self-defeating. Ask God to show you His love and heart for you as you study.
A Wonderful Promise of Spiritual Treasure
The Wise Man, Solomon promised that if we do this kind of study, with the same intensity of purpose as if we were looking for say treasure buried in our back yard, we will be richly rewarded. Indeed, we are searching for eternal, spiritual treasure which will fill our hearts and minds with God’s truth and goodness. We will build a house of truth on the Rock, Jesus, He will keep us safe in the coming storms of life.
“My son, if you accept my words
and store up my commands within you,
turning your ear to wisdom
and applying your heart to understanding—
indeed, if you call out for insight
and cry aloud for understanding,
and if you look for it as for silver
and search for it as for hidden treasure,
then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.
For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.” Proverbs 2:1-6
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