As we stand on the threshold of a brand-new year, we’re talking Bible reading. The question is from an anonymous listener, a man and a new believer. Wonderful! We love getting messages from new believers. Here’s his email: “Pastor John, thank you for this podcast. I’m simply overwhelmed at how much I don’t know about the Bible as a young Christian. I want to be knowledgeable about Scripture so that it can guide me and so that I can use it to guide others in the future. But there is so much. I don’t know where to begin. If I were studying for an exam in a class, I would start with a list of essential topics to be tested on. But with the Bible, I feel like the test is life, and I don’t know what I need to know to be prepared, if that makes sense. In other words, where do I start? What is the first and most essential thing I need to know to follow Christ by reading his word?”
Well, my answer is probably going to be a little bit frustrating because he’s asking for a particular truth in the Bible, and I’m going to say “Bible, Bible, Bible, Bible.” I have never met a mature, fruitful, strong, spiritually discerning Christian who is not full of Scripture, devoted to regular meditation on Scripture, and given to storing it in the heart through Bible memorization. And that’s not a coincidence.
So, what I want to do is persuade our new believing friend that it is absolutely essential, after coming to faith in Christ, to be radically, deeply, experientially devoted to Scripture, to be unshakably, unwaveringly persuaded that reading and meditating on and understanding and memorizing and enjoying the Scriptures is absolutely essential for the Christian life. This would include being in the word every day, with the aim that we will meet God there and, little by little, the glory of his truth will fill and transform our lives.
And that may seem obvious to him or to others, but it isn’t obvious, because I know fairly well-along Christians who don’t do this. They don’t do this, and they’ve been Christians for years. They’re lackadaisical. They think it’s optional because they know so much already, and they read so many other books. I don’t regard that as a very good habit at all. I think it’s dangerous.
I have ten reasons that I believe this, ten reasons to make Bible reading, Bible understanding, and Bible memory essential to the Christian life. Resist feelings of self-sufficiency that say, “I don’t need Scripture every day.” So, here are my ten reasons.
Scripture saves: “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Timothy 4:16). Salvation has happened to God’s people. Salvation is, at this moment, happening to God’s people. And salvation will happen completely at the resurrection of God’s people. It is happening now by means. Paul says, “Hold fast to the teaching, and save yourself.” God saves us daily by Scripture.
Scripture frees from Satan: “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). The context is that the Jewish leaders think they are not slaves, but Jesus tells them, “You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires” (John 8:44). Satan is your enemy, young Christian. He’s a thousand times stronger than you are.
John writes to the young believers, “I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one” (1 John 2:14). This is our only hope for defeating a supernatural enemy. Every time Jesus was tempted by the devil, he struck back with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). He had it memorized so that he didn’t have to carry a book in the wilderness.
3. Grace and Peace
Scripture imparts grace and peace: “May grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord” (2 Peter 1:2). Knowledge of God gained through Scripture is not identical with grace, but Peter says that it is a means of grace. If we want to be made peaceful and powerful through divine grace, Peter says, it happens “in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord.” That knowledge is found in one place: Scripture.
Scripture sanctifies: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth,” Jesus prayed (John 17:17). Sanctification is the process of becoming holy — that is, becoming more like Christ and like God, who is perfectly holy. This is not optional. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Strive for . . . the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” We don’t become perfect in this life, but we do become holy. God sanctifies his people, and so Jesus prays to his Father, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” It couldn’t be more plain or more important.
Scripture gives joy: “You received the word in much affliction, with the joy of the Holy Spirit,” Paul told the Thessalonians (1 Thessalonians 1:6). Or Psalm 1:2 says, “His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Life without joy is unbearable. The Christian life is a life of many afflictions, but in them all God sustains joy, and he does it by the Scriptures.
Scripture protects us from destructive error: “Until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God . . . so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro . . . by every wind of doctrine” (Ephesians 4:13–14). How do young Christians keep from being leaves blown around by cultural and theological winds and opinions? Answer: “the unity of the faith” and “the knowledge of the Son of God” — knowledge that they experience not as the opinion of man, but as the word of God. That’s found in one place: the Scriptures.
Scripture is the hope of heaven, and what I mean by this is that full understanding, full enjoyment, of the truth of Scripture will be experienced only in heaven: “Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). The knowledge of God — all the fullness that a created being can comprehend and enjoy properly — will not be withheld from us indefinitely. The frustrations of our present limitations of understanding and enjoyment will be removed. How fitting it is, then, that we be ever-growing now in what will be our final joy in the age to come.
Scripture will be resisted by some: “The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” (2 Timothy 4:3). In other words, we need to know the Scriptures so that we’re not taken off guard, knocked off-balance, or led away by false teachers. We need to receive the Scriptures regularly to be ready to meet those who refuse to receive the Scriptures.
The right handling of Scripture is approved by God: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). It is a precious thing to be assigned to do a very important task and then to find the Master approving of what he’s asked you to do. We’re all assigned, in some measure, to handle the word of God, and what a wonderful opportunity to be pleasing to the Lord.
Finally, Scripture gives and sustains life: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God,” Jesus said (Matthew 4:4). Spiritual life, eternal life — just like physical life — must be fed, though not by bread, but by the word of God. If you think that you have eternal life as a kind of vaccination against hell, which needs no nourishment, you don’t know what spiritual life is.
So, there are ten reasons for why young believers should resolve with all their might, with all the might that God gives them, to make reading and meditating on and understanding and memorizing the Scriptures an essential, nonnegotiable part of their Christian life.