Holistic Bible Study

For I have not shrunk back from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.

– Acts 20:27 (VW)

Biblical illiteracy is epidemic in the church today. Unlike any other time in history, we swim in an ocean of Bibles, but we don’t make an effort to study them for ourselves. We prefer to trust others to tell us what the Bible says and means. As a result, we’re ignorant of even the basics, and we let every wind of strange and corrupt doctrine sway us.

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the rudimentary principles of the Words of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is without experience in the Word of Righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food belongs to those who are of full age, that is, those who by reason of use have their understanding exercised to discern both good and evil.

– Hebrews 5:12-14 (VW)

Just as with those Hebrews, the typical western Christian is spiritually under-nourished and doesn’t know it. We don’t have a famine of the word of God. We have a famine of hearing the word of God (Amos 8:11).

In the secular world, there are those who are truly health-conscious, and there are those who only think they are. The difference is in how far health awareness affects that person’s way of life and thinking. Those who think healthy do so holistically: eating right, getting plenty of exercise, etc. Those who only think they do limit themselves to one or two healthy habits, if any at all. This is also true in the spiritual realm.

A healthy spiritual life is one where you love God with your whole being (Matthew 22:35-40), you trust and obey Jesus in all areas, you do everything you can to know Him more, you’re constantly on your guard against the world, the flesh, and the devil, and so on. You don’t dabble in worship, or pick and choose when you want to obey. You’d be fooling yourself if you think you’ll make any progress in overcoming the flesh and becoming like Christ if you do so in an only half-hearted manner.

An essential part of a healthy spiritual life comes through regularly reading and studying the Bible for yourself. When you open your Bible, don’t just read your favorite parts, or the parts that seem more important to you. That’s like taking an excess of one vitamin and ignoring the rest, or eating only bread and nothing else. It doesn’t work. Instead, study the whole Bible. This is especially important if you’re a preacher or teacher.

All Scripture is breathed by God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.

– 2 Timothy 3:16-17

The early church rapidly grew as the apostles proclaimed Jesus Christ. All they had was the Old Testament and their experience with Jesus. Even though they used the Old Testament scriptures, they didn’t teach the Mosaic Law – that was not part of the New Covenant. But they did teach about man’s character and nature, about God’s character, nature, and will, and about Jesus Christ from those scriptures.

Now we have the New Testament as well. It contains not only the four gospel accounts, but also much apostolic doctrine and practical instruction. It’s tempting to focus primarily on the gospels. We want to hear what Jesus said more than what the apostles said. Somehow we feel those “letters in red” are more inspired than the rest of the Bible. But all of scripture is God-breathed. What Peter, James, and John had to write is just as inspired as what Jesus directly said. (The same is true of the Old Testament writers.) Just as Moses pointed to Jesus, the Prophet that was to come (Deuteronomy 18:15, Acts 3:22), Jesus pointed to the Holy Spirit who would teach the disciples things they were “not able to bear” at the time (John 16:12-14). Those are the things that the apostles wrote about in the rest of the New Testament. If you focus only on what Jesus said in the gospels, you’ll be missing out on important truth.

It’s very important to read and study your whole Bible. Don’t become fixated on your favorite part or doctrine. Don’t limit yourself to just the basics, otherwise you won’t reach spiritual maturity (Hebrews 6:1-3). Study both doctrine and application. At the same time, pay attention to context. Be aware of the differences between old and new covenants so you can understand what applies to you and what doesn’t. Put your whole heart, mind, body and spirit into becoming a mature Christian.

Know Your Bible For Yourself

So, you want to know what the Bible really says: what it says about God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, man, right and wrong, etc.? Then study the Bible. Don’t listen to what a church or some famous preacher or teacher says. Don’t listen to Hollywood, the History Channel, Time magazine, the Pope, Brigham Young, the Watchtower, Joel Olsteen, Billy Graham, Charles Wesley, Martin Luther, John Calvin. Don’t listen to the church fathers (Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, etc.) Don’t listen to your pastor. Don’t listen to me. Especially, don’t assume you know it yourself.

There is an incredible amount of Bible disinformation out in the world today, from verses taken out of context to outright lies. You may think you or someone else has the inside scoop on truth, but how will you know unless you lay aside your own biases and study the scriptures on your own, for yourself. Maybe others are correct in what they teach… but then again, maybe not. If you have access to the Bible, then you are responsible to find out what it says.

Have you come across something in your studies that you don’t understand? Maybe it looks like one verse contradicts another? Let the Bible interpret itself. The only contradictions in the Bible are those you haven’t fully studied yet. Read everything in context: Who was the text written to? When was it written? Why was it written? etc. If you have to, look up the meanings of the original words in a Hebrew or Greek lexicon. Find out how the words are used elsewhere. An exhaustive concordance is your friend. As you know your Bible more, you will be able to recognize error (your own or someone else’s) when you see it.

Don’t think you know the Bible… Know the Bible.

Knowing God Through The Psalms

The path to greater faith is to know God better, for how can you trust someone you don’t know, and how can you trust someone more if you don’t know him more?

For the last 9 years I’ve kept a journal of my Bible readings. I keep track of each date, passage, and thing I’ve discovered. My primary focus is to know God better, so when I find something in my reading that directly or indirectly describes who God is, what He does, why He does it, to whom He does it, and so on, I write it down so I can remember for the benefit of my relationship with Him.

Psalm 18 is one of those psalms that contains much of who God is and what He does. It begins with David saying, “I love You”, and then continues with his reasons why. Here’s what the first verse tells me about my God…

He is to be served. David, the king of Israel willingly served God. But Yahweh is a kind and loving master who does more for us than we can do for Him, as the rest of the psalm shows. He is worthy to be served…

God saves us from our enemies. This is not to say that we will not be persecuted, but that we can trust that He will bring us through those trials. David was persecuted by Saul, but God delivered him. God delivers us from Satan, our enemy.

God is our strength. He doesn’t just give us strength – He is our strength. Rather than taking matters into his own hands, David relied on God for deliverance. He proved God through trust, and God came through. Ultimately, this is also the experience of those who also trust in God.

What else does this psalm tell you about God?

“Have this mind in you…”

“Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus…”

– Philippians 2:5

This phrase begins the best known hymn of the early church, a hymn of praise to Jesus who humbled Himself to the level of a slave, and died a slave’s death, to reconcile us to God. But we tend to overlook this command for all the good doctrine about our Savior that follows it. And when we consider obeying it, we think only in generalities.

Next time you spend time in the gospels reading about Jesus, frequently recall this phrase: “Have this mind in you which was also in Christ Jesus.” Every time you see Jesus heal the sick, instruct His disciples, speak of the kingdom of God, deal with those who oppose Him, etc., ask yourself why He did what He did or said what He said, then ask the Holy Spirit to transform your mind to think the same way. Discover the mind of Christ, then have the same mind in you.