I hear people say fairly often that they want to study the Bible more. Maybe they are new Christians, or maybe they have wandered away from the faith in the past and want to turn over a new leaf. Regardless of the motivation, the intent is wonderful. People need to know the Bible, because that is where God has revealed himself in a tangible way. We can touch a Bible, turn its pages, write in the margins, cry over what we learn, and see into both the past and the future. A Bible is something we can clutch in times of crisis.
Some people know a great deal about the Bible. They can recite the names of the books in order. They can recite a lot of verses, too, along with the reference. They can turn quickly to any verse you mention and tell you all about the writer and the times in which that verse was written. People need to know a lot in order to know the Bible.
Still, a Christian does not study the Bible in order to be able to name the books or the authors. Knowing all the kings from David to Zerubabel does not make anyone a better Christian. Never forget that an intellectual grasp of the text of the Bible is only the starting point. What the head knows as fact must be transformed by the Holy Spirit into understanding within the heart. The heart is the source of Christlike behavior, not the brain.
Here is the important thing to know: unless you are changed by what you learn in the Bible, you don’t know the Bible at all.
A friend of mine had one of the best Sunday School teachers of all time. My friend said that she always wanted to be just like Jesus after hearing her teacher tell stories about him. My friend actually grew up to be a lot like Jesus. She is the kindest person I have ever known. Her life story is one episode after another in which she gave her time, her money, even her home to people in need. My friend says she always hears the voice of that teacher from her childhood when she sees someone in need. Her heart was forever transformed when the facts of the Bible were transformed by the work of the Holy Spirit through that Sunday School teacher.
What happened to my friend is that Jesus himself became real to her in the teaching of that teacher. She was led to grow beyond the facts of the story of Jesus to the truth of Jesus himself. The Bible revealed God to her, and the Holy Spirit used her wonderful teacher to open her heart. Because her heart was open, the Holy Spirit could work a transformation in her life.
This is what Bible study is all about. Christians do not study the Bible in order to become college professors or great preacher. They study the Bible in order to become more Christlike. In the name of Christ they may teach or preach or practice medicine or write books or cook meals or drill wells. They don’t do these things because of having perfected their ability to recite the descendants of Abraham; they do these things because in Abraham’s story, they met the God who created all that is, the God who longs for relationship with sinful human beings.
Every Christian needs to study the Bible. The mastery of its facts and form is important for anyone who wants to grow in faith, but the purpose of all that study is not mastery of facts. The purpose is to draw closer to God himself.
Why do Christians study the Bible? In order to get to know the God who reveals himself in the Bible.