Happy New Year to everyone listening. As we leave 2020 and embark into the great unknown of 2021, Pastor John and I are praying for you all, as Paul prays in 2 Thessalonians 3:5: that the Lord will “direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.”
To that end — that your hearts would be riveted on the love of God — we kick off year number nine on the podcast talking about daily Bible reading. With a new year means a reset on our Bible reading plans. Pastor John, you use the Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan, something we talked about in episode 1140, an episode titled “A New Year, A New Bible Reading Plan.” Check that out if you want more: episode 1140.
But today we want to talk about the sustained discipline and spiritual energy such a plan requires over the duration of an entire year. It’s daunting for those who have never done it. Here’s the question: “Hello, Pastor John. My name is Angel. I’m 16. I strive to tell people around me about Jesus and proclaim the gospel of salvation. But I find myself missing one major thing in my life that can be a huge obstacle, and that is my lack of desire for daily Bible reading. More often than not, I find myself forcefully reading the word rather than having an actual passion for doing so. I desire to have that passion. I wonder sometimes if I lack it because I am not a Christian at all. Would a regenerate heart neglect passionate Bible reading? I’m praying for satisfaction. But what do I do now, especially with the new year, and a new Bible reading plan ahead of me?”
Let me start this way: John Piper does not read through the Bible every year because there is a biblical law requiring me to do it; rather, because there’s something like — I don’t know what to call it — a natural or spiritual law in my soul that sets off alarm bells if I don’t. What I mean is this: my mental, psychological, spiritual condition has taught me over the years that without daily communion, daily fellowship with the living Christ, my God, my Savior, my treasure, my friend, in and through his word, the totality of Scripture — without that — my sight of him becomes blurred.
Ordinary Means of Grace
And I mean quickly, folks. We’re not talking like, “Oh, he missed it for a month, and he starts getting blurred.” It doesn’t work that way. You miss the word for some hours of neglect or some days of neglect, my sight of him becomes blurred, my savoring of him becomes dull, and therefore, my showing him — which is what I exist for — through my life is diminished or forced. In other words, I believe that God has established that ongoing reception of the word of God, day by day, is the ordinary means by which we fellowship with him through the Spirit in Christ. This is his design, not mine.
“Ongoing reception of the word of God is the ordinary means by which we fellowship with God.”
When I speak of a law in my own soul, all I mean is that I have discovered that, in my case, that daily fellowship with God, by the Spirit, through his word, to sustain my sight of him and my savoring of him and my showing of him, that happens best through reading the whole Bible year by year — about four or five chapters a day. Some people are disinclined to do this because they fall behind and give up, which is why I love the Discipleship Journal Reading Plan, because you’ll only read 25 days out of each month, which gives you five or six days at the end of every month to catch up, which is genius.
Three Ways God Uses His Word
But what I want to do in the next few minutes, at the beginning of the year here, is not persuade people of a particular plan, but to give the profound biblical truth and reality that ongoing feeding upon the word of God day by day is built into God’s way of saving you. In other words, we’re not putting icing on the cake of Christianity when we talk about Bible reading. We’re talking about the cake of God’s spiritual plan to preserve you and bring you safely to heaven with all the necessary holiness that the Spirit creates only by the word of God.
So, here are three passages of Scripture that are, to my mind, simply explosive with serious, wonderful implications about feeding day by day on God’s word, and I hope that these three passages answer Angel’s concerns, specifically about the relationship between regeneration and Bible reading.
1. By the Scriptures, God grows us up into salvation.
The first is 1 Peter 1:23–2:3. Here’s what it says:
You have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you. So put away all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander. Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation — if indeed you have tasted that the Lord is good.
Here are four really plain observations that anybody could get from this text.
1. The miracle of new birth — the coming into being of a Christian as a child of God — happens through the word of God.
2. Our experience of that miracle is described as tasting that the Lord is good. Before we were born again, the Lord did not taste good. He tasted boring. The word was boring. His cross was foolishness. Heaven was unreal. Nothing about this faith tasted satisfying or real. Now, having been born again, we have tasted. Something’s come alive. There are taste buds now on the tongue of our soul, and he and his word are very delectable.
3. Even though they are delectable, nevertheless, we must be told to desire this spiritual food. In other words, eating is not automatic. Peter wouldn’t tell us to do it if it were automatic. Our desires rise, and they fall. They’re passionate one day, and they’re lukewarm the next day. Peter didn’t give us this command — “Desire it, desire it, desire it” — because we didn’t need to hear that command. We need to be told it is essential and crucial that you desire this. Do what you have to do to stoke this desire for spiritual food in the word of God by which you were born again.
4. Here’s the real serious point: desire it so that you may grow up into salvation. That means that the evidence of your new birth will be shown by your ongoing feeding on the word of God, which works in you all the kinds of things that keep you on the narrow road that leads to life and final salvation. That’s not a small thing.
So, what people should ask themselves is this: If they are not pursuing a daily strategy of feeding on the word of God, what is your alternative strategy for growing up into salvation? Those are Peter’s words. They’re not mine. God’s word is designed by God to help us grow up into salvation. If you don’t use the word that way, day in and day out, what’s your alternative strategy for making it home?
2. Through the Bible, God brings us home.
Here’s the second text: James 1:18, 21.
Of his own will [God] brought us forth by the word of truth [just like being born again], that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures. . . . Put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
Isn’t that amazing? Peter and James, without quoting each other (we know that because the language is so different) are nevertheless talking about exactly the same thing.
James says God “brought us forth by the word.” Peter said we were “born again” by the word.
Peter says, “long for” the word, and James says, “receive with meekness the implanted word.” It’s already in you. Now receive it. You’ve been born again by it. Now go on daily, meekly embracing it, receiving it, meditating on it, praying over it, eating it, savoring it in a meek disposition.
And Peter says in order that you may “grow up into salvation,” and James says, “which is able to save your souls.”
That’s simply amazing, folks. That is really serious when these two writers say exactly the same thing in such different language, because the nature, the essence of it, is so baked in to what it means to be a Christian. This is really serious: Both Peter and James say that the Christian life begins with a new birth, which is brought about by the word of God. Both of them stress that, in order to make it home to final salvation, we need to be receiving the word meekly. We need to be drinking in the milk daily, because by it we grow up into salvation. It keeps us in a vital, happy fellowship with Jesus and brings us safely home.
3. By his words, God gives life.
Let me just mention one more quickly, from John 6:63, where Jesus says,
It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.
Here it is: “The words” — the words, the words — “that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” To which Peter responds, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68). The words of Jesus are life.
“The evidence of your new birth will be shown by your ongoing feeding on the word of God.”
So many people treat the Christian life as though it were a natural or automatic thing that they’re going to have life tomorrow that they have today. It isn’t automatic. It is sure for God’s elect they will have life tomorrow; he will see to it that they make it to heaven. But the elect, real Christians, realize that God’s way of getting them home is preserving them and keeping them in fellowship with Christ by saying, “My words are your life,” and feeding on them every day.
So, here at the beginning of the year, oh, that I could so pray that the Spirit would so work, that the hearts of his people — many of them listening to this — would hear what I am saying not as a burden, but as life. May I simply testify — here at the beginning of the year, I get to give my testimony: I love to get up early in the morning, grab my cup of hot tea in the wintertime, sit in my chair for an hour, and enjoy fellowship with Jesus, the living King of the universe, in four different places of the Bible. It is my life.
May I say it again? It is my life. Oh, may God cause you to experience his word as life.