Does Bible Study Make You Feel Guilty?

The preacher hammers the importance of daily Bible study, and most of the church sits feeling condemned, inadequate, and guilty, because we sure messed that up last week!

Does Bible study make you feel guilty?

It’s actually not the study itself, but our failures along the way. We make commitments (or at least have a vague idea of what we ought to do) and end up not fulfilling them. We don’t hit our targets, don’t actualize our vision, don’t work the plan perfectly. And our hearts condemn us.

It’s as if we feel that God accepts us on the basis of whether or not we hit our targets for the day.

I have this feeling that God wants me to spend some time in the word today (a minimum of 15 or 20 minutes?), and I never got around to it. And I missed yesterday, too. The days pile fast and guilt grows. I’m failing God, myself, my family, my church. I can’t let the church know I’m a failure at this because this is what being a Christian is all about, right? If I’m not in the Bible every day, they might think I’m not really a Christian–or at least not a serious one. I’ll tell everyone else they should be reading the Bible every day, I’ll put on a face like I’m getting it done, and I’ll continue to feel bad every week when I don’t make it.

Have you ever felt this way?

Trade Law for Grace!

We feel like this when we still place ourselves under law. When we don’t understand why Jesus died for us in the first place, we can get the idea that God is pleased with us when we have our act together and displeased when we don’t get the works in we feel we should. As if our works keep us holy and in His grace.

Get this, Brothers and Sisters: as many of you as have been baptized have put on Christ, you are one in Christ Jesus, and you are sons of God through faith (Galatians 3.26-4.7). Because you are sons, you are heirs alongside THE Son, Jesus. You inherit eternal fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit! God adopted you into His family while you were spiritually immature and broken–and He continues to cover you by the blood of His Son while you grow in Christ. You have freedom in God’s house even while you are not perfect! God does not accept you on the basis of what you do for Him, but on the basis of what Jesus Christ has already done on the cross. Nothing you do for God now will make you more holy, more righteous, more acceptable to Him–you are totally accepted right now in Christ Jesus!

So don’t feel condemned and guilty when you don’t get the works perfect. Keep loving God; keep loving your neighbor; keep loving your family. Keep striving to know and understand more, but don’t feel like you have fallen out of God’s favor when you fail.

In God’s grace is an amazing freedom–including the freedom to fail and keep right on going. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8.1).

Being under a heartless law system stifles growth and kills the spirit. But being under the grace of a kind and loving God provides and promotes an attitude of steady joy in the face of all our failures. I hope you and I forever revel in that joy!

Interestingly, those with the perspective of grace find their Bible study becomes even more frequent and fruitful!

Christian Habits: Dwelling on the Word

When we were of the world, we thought and acted like them, but now that we know Christ (or rather are known by Him) our habits have changed (and are changing). You must be “transformed by the renewal of your mind” (Romans 12.2), an inward change which results in a new lifestyle.

Take the apostle Paul for example. After fighting tooth-and-nail against the Christian “sect” (as he saw them), Christ knocked him into the dirt and showed him how much he would have to suffer for Christ. Immediately he reversed course, as he began to publicly proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, reasoning with anyone who would listen. One day he killed Christians; the next he loved and joined them.

So it is with all Christians–there is a definite change in our habits. One day we are of the “sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 2.2); the next we are falling on our knees praying to Jesus as Lord and King, submitting to His every command. One day we wonder what this whole “Christianity” thing is about; the next we cling tightly to our Bible, knowing it is the inspired and holy word of God.

Not everyone’s conversion feels quite so dramatic, but we must understand the change involved in stepping from the world into the family of God.

One of the first signs of a changed heart, a converted mind, a reborn soul is that intense love for God’s word as absolute, bedrock, divine truth. Paul prays for the Ephesian Christians:

Eph. 1.15 For this reason I too, having heard of the faith in the Lord Jesus which exists among you and your love for all the saints, 16 do not cease giving thanks for you, while making mention of you in my prayers; 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give to you a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened, so that you will know what is the hope of His calling, what are the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the surpassing greatness of His power toward us who believe.

Paul wanted the Christians to know certain things about God and about their salvation. How would they come to know these things?

Eph. 3.3 …by revelation there was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in brief. 4 By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, 5 which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit; 6 to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel, 7 of which I was made a minister, according to the gift of God’s grace which was given to me according to the working of His power. 8 To me, the very least of all saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unfathomable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light what is the administration of the mystery which for ages has been hidden in God who created all things; 10 so that the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known through the church to the rulers and the authorities in the heavenly places.

Through the Holy Spirit, God made known to Paul the mystery of the gospel. Paul wrote it down, and he preached and taught that gospel. Those are the means by which God chose to continue revealing the gospel of His Son–through the reading and teaching of Scripture.

God put the church together in great part to give us an environment which fosters growth in the word.

Eph. 4.11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; 15 but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love.

All those gifts God gave the church in verse 11 have to do with teaching and preaching at some level–the passing along of God’s word. Notice the benefits of staying in the word and continuing in a steady teaching / learning environment:

  • You will be built up in Christ
  • You will attain the unity of the faith
  • You will come to know the Son of God
  • You will grow up in Christ
  • You will take part in the growth of the whole body of Christ, the church

Every Christian should habitually be in the word, whether it’s listening to the Bible read or taught (by a competent teacher!) or reading and studying for himself. Is your life characterized by a love for the word and a continual hungering and thirsting for righteousness?

STAY IN THE WORD!

Taking Romans Personally

“I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” – Romans 12.1-2

Humility Quote C. S. LewisPaul connects Romans 12 (“therefore”) to the mountain of previous teaching from Romans 1-11. Before he presents what we should do, Paul deals with great theological truths about what God has already done and how we stand in relation to Him because of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Beyond being merely an intellectual exercise, the renewing of our minds includes actually obeying God–doing that which is good and right–which Paul immediately outlines for us in Romans 12.3-15.7. Here’s a quick breakdown of what is covered:

  1. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought; evaluate yourself properly (12.3-8)
  2. Love genuinely (12.9-13)
  3. Rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep (12.14-21)
  4. Subject yourself to the government (13.1-7)
  5. Love your neighbor as yourself (13.8-10)
  6. Walk properly, as in the daytime (13.11-14)
  7. Welcome the weak in faith (14.1-15.7)

Just about all of this has to do with submitting ourselves to others. How do we actually present our lives as living sacrifices to God and renew our minds? We follow Christ’s footsteps (see 13.14; 15.1-13) by assuming the lowest place, subjecting ourselves to every ordinance of God, submitting to one another in love, yielding to our enemies, and welcoming brethren with whom we don’t see eye to eye.

Humility Quote by D. A. CarsonIn a conversation last night with a friend, something hit me. He asked (in light of the “bearing with the weak in faith” from Romans 14) how we decide who is stronger and who is weaker?

“How can you know who is the weak one?” he asked.

“Whoever the other guy is, that’s the weak one,” I jokingly replied.

But silliness aside, I’m pretty sure that is not the question God would have us ask, because if we use Romans 14 to start a big row over who is weak and who is strong, does that not tend to divide rather than unify, as Paul insisted upon?

As I read Romans 12-15, God speaks to me, personally. I know He didn’t write Romans directly to me, but I should read it as a message from God to me. In other words, I don’t read it to figure out how you ought to change in your actions towards me; rather I read to discover how I might repent and change in my actions towards you. I can only worry about and change myself, and God has only given me control over one person on this planet!

FlowerIf every Christian read the Bible this way, wouldn’t we make gigantic strides towards unity? If every husband only worried about being the right kind of husband and didn’t worry about forcing his wife to be the right kind of wife…if every wife only worried about respecting her husband properly…if every brother only worried about how he was treating his fellow siblings and not about what they did to him or didn’t do for him…how powerful would that be?!

Is that how you read God’s word?

“If it is possible, as much as depends on you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12.18)

Playing It Safe

Living or ExistingSome folks habitually “play it safe.” They won’t board an airplane. They won’t go overseas. They won’t step too far out of their comfort zone. In their minds, life is too precious to jeopardize it in such frivolous ways.

Jesus told a story in Luke 19.11-27 which included a man who played it safe. It’s the story of the ten minas (one mina was about three-months’ wages) which a nobleman distributed evenly among ten servants, telling them to “Engage in business until I return.” When he returned, the nobleman found several servants who had multiplied his money. But one fearful servant returned the single mina he’d been given, saying, “Lord, here is your mina, which I kept laid away in a handkerchief; for I was afraid of you, because you are a severe man.”

The nobleman-now-king took the mina away from him and gave it to another servant who had most-successfully multiplied his money. Everyone was dumbfounded that he would take away what little the one servant had and give it to the one who had the most, but he answered, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.”

Safe!The fearful servant tried to play it safe, but too late he discovered he had done exactly the opposite. The king told him he should have at least put the money in the bank so it would have earned a little interest! Do SOMETHING, even if it’s small.

Fear freezes. We must not let fear control us to the point that we fail to DO SOMETHING. Everyone knows there is something wrong with the lady shut up in her house, refusing to come out because of her phobias. But many live that way, holding to their daily routines, their safe routes, their points of protection, their comfortable zones, and woe to the one who would nudge them off course!

Whole churches play it safe for years. Comfortable pew warmers smile, sit, chat, and go home. Did the preacher say something about helping the poor? Can we just write a check for that? Did someone encourage us to teach the gospel to our neighbor? Well, we have such a good relationship with the neighbor, it would be a shame to ruin it with talk about religion. The whole world around us is dissolving into an ethical and moral nightmare; are we content to watch it crash and burn and not speak the words of life necessary to fight against evil? We’ll complain amongst ourselves at the deterioration of society; then we’ll go home and allow Netflix to entertain us with the same filth we protest against.

Rock ClimbingMen play it safe by not addressing sin in their own lives, by not confessing sin to other faithful men who can support, pray, and help. We don’t address sin in our families for fear of straining relationships…yet the relationship is really strained because of the sin! We play it safe when we don’t stretch ourselves to grow in the talents and abilities God has given us to use for His glory.

We need to stop playing it safe. When the King returns, will He find us working to increase what He entrusted to us, or will He find us sitting on our couches, eating ice cream, and immersing ourselves in the world’s entertainment? I hate to admit I do way too much of what’s in that last sentence.

Jesus didn’t die so we could watch Netflix. Jesus didn’t die so we could play. Jesus didn’t die so we could increase our wealth. He died so we could have life and that we, in turn, could become life givers and producers in His kingdom!

Jesus didn’t play it safe…and He doesn’t want us to, either.