Don’t Just Read the Bible for Yourself

On page 511 of my ESV Bible, crafted by the careful penmanship of a novice writer, nestled in the inside margin of Psalm 116:12–13 and Psalm 118:6–7, are three words: “I love Dad.”

The ink is as red as my daughter’s hands. It hasn’t been that long since she learned to write, but as soon as she could string a few legible letters together, she started leaving notes for everyone in our house. Most of the time they’re in the form of notecards, occasionally as her own header to a masterpiece coloring page, but for this once, she managed to make it into my Bible — and of all the brief notes and highlights that I come across when reading, none are as helpful as this.

It’s helpful because it reminds me that I read the Bible not only for myself, but for those around me. Her note, simple as it is (and sweet), presses home for me that the goal of Christian maturity is not merely that I might get along better in life, but that I might, being glad in the glory of Jesus, love more like Jesus did. The aim behind Bible-reading, after all, is not some kind of black-hole holiness — that theoretical moralism that envisions character in isolation from others — but rather, that we might learn how to roll up our sleeves for the people God has placed in our lives. In other words, we don’t just read the Bible to read, we read it to walk.

How the Walking Works

“Walking” is the apostle Paul’s favorite metaphor for the Christian life. The meaning is to live. To walk is to be in motion, to be active in a certain way, upon a specific path. There is no mistaking what path Paul has in mind — the path of resurrection life (Romans 6:4), of faith (2 Corinthians 5:6–7), of the Spirit (Galatians 5:16), of love, light, and wisdom (Ephesians 5:2, 8, 15). We are to walk in the reality, as Kevin Vanhoozer calls it, of “what is in Christ” — that is, in his truth, goodness, and beauty.

This walking piece keeps us from confining our Bible interpretation to our heads. We are left here to live here, and the Bible has everything to do with that. All the Bible knowledge in the world isn’t worth a thing if it doesn’t translate into actually witnessing to what the Bible’s all about. To be sure, the Bible is not a playbook for life. We won’t advance any yardage if we confuse reading to walk as an abbreviated form of “application.” We don’t wear the Scriptures on a wristband, anxiously checking it before every next move. What do I do now? And now? And now?

Living, or walking for the glory of God, in a way worthy of God, is the goal — but the crucial piece that connects the reading to the walking is believing. That is what Paul means when he says that we walk by faith, not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). We learn the path of what is in Christ by seeing Christ and treasuring him.

The Heart Behind the Walk

Similar to the walking piece, this believing piece keeps us from confining our Bible application to our hands. To simply read and then walk leads to a reductionistic pragmatism. God is not pleased with our rote doing, and certainly not if it doesn’t proceed from faith (Romans 14:23). Instead, there should be a certain nature of all things practical. There is a way — a manner of the heart — that must accompany our acts. God wants that first — a soul satisfied with him — and then lives that inescapably line up.

Interpretation and application must be rooted in hearts that love God.

The move one step behind our walking is our glad-hearted embrace of Jesus. The more we see the glory of Jesus in the Bible, the more our hearts will be overcome by his majesty, and the more our practice will be patterned by his character. This doesn’t mean we gloss over the clear commands of Scripture, it just means that we don’t settle for a superficial obedience. Interpretation and application must be rooted in hearts that love God. We know that if we are going to do what he says in a way that honors him, then we do it with hearts that reckon to die is gain (Philippians 1:21), that his steadfast love is better than life (Psalm 63:3), that nothing compares with the surpassing worth of knowing him (Philippians 3:8).

The first place Bible reading wants to bring us is him — and then, gladly united to Jesus with eyes wide open, looking at the world before us, at the people in our lives who might write notes in our Bibles, we walk.