Shape Your Life with the Words of Life
The Christian life, from start to finish, is utterly dependent on the grace of God.
Not only do we come into spiritual life by sheer grace (Act 18:27; Romans 3:24; Ephesians 2:5), but it is in divine grace that we continue on (Acts 13:43). It is by God’s grace that our soul survives through many trials (2 Corinthians 12:9; Hebrews 4:16), is strengthened for everyday life (2 Timothy 2:1; Hebrews 13:9), and grows into greater maturity and health (2 Peter 3:18).
And it is by God’s grace that we are enabled to make choices and expend effort to seek more of God (1 Corinthians 15:10). It is a gift that we would have the desire and take action to avail ourselves of the means of God’s grace — his voice (the word), his ear (prayer), and his people (fellowship) — with the most basic principle of grace being the enveloping of our lives in his word.
The Word Original
Before we identify the presence of God’s voice in our lives to be the many good habits of taking in his word — whether morning Bible reading, hearing sermons, Scripture meditation and memorization, Bible studies, and much more — first let’s see his word as a general principle, rather than the specific practices.
Before printing it and binding it and covering it with leather, consider the concept of God’s word. That God speaks. He reveals himself to us. He communicates himself for us. His word, as John Frame says, is “his powerful, authoritative self-expression.” Just as the words of a friend are central in revealing his person to us, so it is with God.
The one who created us — and sustains us moment by moment — has expressed himself to us in human words, and it is vital that we listen. The other principal means of his grace (prayer and fellowship), while equally essential, are not as fundamental as this one. It all begins, creation (Genesis 1:3) and new creation (2 Corinthians 4:6), with the voice of God. And this self-expression of God is so deep and rich and full that it is not just personal, but a person.
The Word Incarnate
The complete and climactic self-revelation of God to man is the God-man, his Son (Hebrews 1:1–2). Jesus is “the Word” (John 1:1), and “the Word became flesh” (John 1:14). As such, he is the one who most fully and finally “has made [the Father] known” (John 1:18). Jesus is God’s culminating self-expression, and says without sham, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).
Jesus is the Word of God embodied, and the grace of God incarnate (Titus 2:11). So full and complete is his revealing of God that he is not a word-thing, but a Word-person. He fulfilled the destiny of humanity in his perfect life and sacrificial death (Hebrews 2:9), and rose again in triumph over sin and death, and now sits at the Father’s right hand, with all things being put in subjection to him (1 Corinthians 15:25–28). He is the divine-human Word our souls need for survival and strength and growth. But how do we access this Word now that he is stationed in heaven?
The Word Evangelical
The most frequent use of “word” in the New Testament is in reference to the message of the gospel — the word evangelical, you might call it — the message about Jesus, or “the word of Christ” (Colossians 3:16). For Paul, the terms “preach Christ” and “proclaim Christ” and “speak the word” are synonymous (Philippians 1:14–17). The mission of his life, he says, is “to testify to the gospel of the grace of God” (Act 20:24), which is “the word of his grace” (Acts 20:32).
It is “the word of truth, the gospel” which not only comes to a people for conversion, but also bears fruit and grows (Colossians 1:5). It is “the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation” that changed everything for the Ephesians (1:13), and “the word of life” to which the Philippians must hold fast in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (2:15–16). And so, in the Christian fight for joy, John Piper writes,
The central strategy is to preach the gospel to yourself. . . . Hearing the word of the cross, and preaching it to ourselves, is the central strategy for sinners in the fight for joy. (When I Don’t Desire God, 81, 91)
And as this gospel-word passes from mouth to mouth, from person to person, from people to people, from nation to nation, how will the message about Jesus stay on message? What will keep the spoken word faithful and true and life-changing?
The Word Written
Having spied the pinnacle of God’s Word in the person and work of Jesus, and the prominence of God’s word in his gospel, now we come to the essential place, this side of heaven, for God’s word written. As crucial as it is for spiritual life that we have God in his Word Jesus, and that we have Jesus in his word the gospel, so we need the Scriptures as God’s inspired, inerrant, and infallible revelation of himself.
Without the Bible, we will soon lose the genuine gospel and the real Jesus and the true God. For now, if we are to saturate our lives with the words of life, we must be people of the Book. Which is no necessary prescription for certain practices. But it is a summons to the principle of soaking our lives in the voice of God, and diversifying the portfolio of media. Before pondering the many and wonderful practices that are best for you, in your context and season of life, put this rock in place: Fashion rhythms of life that help you revolve around having God’s incarnate Word, by God’s gospel word, through God’s written word.
The Word Pervasive
And then countless creative routines may follow, whether it’s reading through the Bible in a year, or memorizing whole books, or meditating on single verses, or aggressively identifying and pursuing applications, or listening to sermon podcasts, or reading biblically rich content online, or taking Bible classes, or consuming Christian books, and on and on — and changing it all up from time to time. The potential practices are limitless, but the principle beneath the practices is this: The fundamental means of God’s ongoing grace, through his Spirit, in the life of the Christian, and the life of the church, is God’s self-expression in his Word, in the gospel, perfectly kept for us and on display in the external written word of the Scriptures.
May God give us intentionality to shape our weeks with his word, ingenuity to shower our days with his voice, and creativity to punctuate our lives, and the lives of those around us, with dozens of fresh routines for regularly availing ourselves of his life-giving words.
A revised and expanded version of this article now appears in Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus Through the Spiritual Disciplines. The book is available in hardback, for Kindle, as an audio book, and free of charge as a full PDF.
David Mathis also has written a study-guide workbook to facilitate individual and group study of the book.
Also available is an email course of five short videos, provided by Crossway Books.