What Should I Expect My First Time Through the Bible?
If this is my first read through the Bible, what should I expect? So many great Bible reading questions arrive at the start of a new year, like this one from a listener named Mike. “Hello Pastor John! I have been blessed by your ministry for many years. In the year ahead I hope to read my Bible from cover to cover for the very first time, using the Discipleship Journal Bible reading plan you use. I feel a little excited and a lot intimidated and enormously unprepared for the year ahead. I’ve never done anything like this before. What’s your advice for me? And what obstacles must I expect to overcome to pull this off?”
Well, amen and praise God for what Mike is resolving to do. Just an hour and a half ago, I was reading my Discipleship Journal reading plan reading. So I’ve been on this system for 20 or 25 years. I love this system. I try other things, and I generally come back to it. Well good, Mike. You should be excited.
And yes, you should be intimidated. You are, in significant ways, unprepared — me too. That’s why we’re reading. Paul said it’s all inspired precisely to make us prepared, “that the man of God may be complete, equipped” — or we could say prepared — “for every good work,” including Bible reading (2 Timothy 3:16–17). You have to read to get prepared to read, right? It’s okay to be intimidated by reading the Bible.
Bible Reading Is Intimidating
So what should you expect? Let me give you three negatives to scare you off, and nine positives to suck you back in.
1. Expect opposition.
Satan hates the word of God and will disincline you, blind you, distract you, bore you. He will fight with all his might to keep this from happening.
So, pray and fight and ask God to make all four of those things that Satan tries to do to backfire, to blow up in his face as you become a stronger warrior against him. Ask God to keep your heart inclined, remove your blindness, grant you focus instead of distraction, and give you excitement instead of boredom.
But you can expect opposition.
2. Expect to be shocked.
The outrage of sin and its graphic descriptions and the horrors of God’s judgments and the failures of God’s people are appalling in the Bible. The Bible is stunningly graphic in its description, both of our outrageous sin and God’s breathtaking judgment on sin.
You will want to throw up if you have any kind of sympathetic engagement with the Bible at times when you see what God ordains against sin in this world.
So, expect your views of man and God to be blown up, in a good way — shocked.
3. Expect to be confused.
And you can expect that for three reasons:
1. God conceals many things that we’d like to know. Deuteronomy 29:29: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words.” So there are things you’re going to want to know, and God says, “Nope, that’s my business, not yours.”
2. What he has revealed is often hard to understand. Peter said that flat-out in 2 Peter 3:16: “As [Paul] does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in [Paul’s letters] that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.” There are some things in Paul’s letters that are hard to understand — things that we should not expect to find easy. So we’re going to be confused at times.
3. And the third reason you’re going to be confused is that Christ has given teachers to the church. Have you ever thought about that? In the New Testament, he didn’t just give a Bible and say, “Now, we don’t need any teachers, because we’ve got the Bible — we’ve got the Holy Spirit — so no human beings need to be teachers in the church.” He didn’t do that. He said in every church there should be elders. Those elders must be apt to teach, which means people need explanations for what they see in the Bible, and teachers are called to figure things out and help others. So unless you’re one of those teachers and unless you’re God, you’re going to run into confusing things in the Bible that you need help from other people.
So, the implication of those three is: Pray for illumination. Do whatever digging in study that helps you. Put things together that you can put together. And what you can’t figure out, put on the shelf for later attention, and keep on moving. If you get bogged down with what you can’t understand, you’ll never finish the reading for the day.
Nine Blessings to Expect from the Bible
Those are my negatives. Here are the nine positives. I’ll just tick them off really, really quickly. These are things you can expect.
1. Expect your faith to be deepened and strengthened.
Because Romans 10:17 says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” Or almost the same, expect your hope in God to be made more unshakable, because Romans 15:4 says everything in the whole Bible is written for your hope.
2. Expect God to do serious, liberating work in your life.
Because Jesus said, “You will know the truth,” — when you read my Bible, you’ll know the truth — “and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
3. Expect new power in war with Satan.
Because that’s the way Jesus defeated him in the wilderness. He quoted Scripture to the devil, and the devil could not stand before it (Matthew 4:1–11). He won’t stand before you either. He’s a liar. He’s a deceiver. He can’t abide the truth. You’re filling your head up with the truth. You’re going to be a valiant warrior more than you dreamed against Satan.
4. Expect a deep, sanctifying work in your life.
Because John 17:17 says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
5. Expect to become a more loving person to those around you.
Because Paul in Philippians 1:9 prays that our “love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment.” And he said in 1 Timothy 1:5 that the goal of his instruction — that is, the goal of the Bible — is “love . . . from a pure heart” — so, unifying love for people growing in your heart as you immerse yourself in the whole sweep of Scripture.
6. Expect that even though you are now saved in a decisive way, you’re going to go on being saved by the Scriptures.
Most people don’t think about this. First Timothy 4:16: “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.” The Bible is the means of God by which he goes on saving us.
7. Expect joy — great joy, unshakable joy — that the world does not know.
Because Jesus said, “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). So, send the roots of your mind and your heart down into the whole Bible, and your joy will become indestructible.
8. Expect to meet God.
You will meet God, not just truths about God. Expect to meet God, because it says in 1 Samuel 3:21, “The Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord.” He revealed himself by the word — himself by the word. And he does that. Expect to meet him.
9. Expect to see the glory of Christ.
Second Corinthians 3:18: “We all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.” Now, how do we know that happens in the Bible? Because if you follow the flow of Paul’s thought from 3:18 into 4:4 and 4:6, he refers to how we see the glory of Christ. Namely, we see it in the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. And the gospel is the written narrative of the stories or the events and their meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ.
So Mike, I will pray for you what Paul prayed in 2 Thessalonians 1:11. He said this: “To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power.”
This is a great resolve before you. You’ve got a great intention on your heart. Be valiant, make a vow to the Lord to keep it, and you won’t regret it.