We open 2019 working through some important questions about Bible reading, all emailed in to us from you. Thanks for your continued engagement. Today’s question comes to us from a listener in Germany named Michael.
“Dear Pastor John, when does a lack of Bible reading become sin? I fear this trend in my own friends. In our Western society, we have easy access to the Bible, but I feel like many Christians spend little, or even almost no time, in the word. A ‘Christian’ that reads a lot and doesn’t act upon it is not better either. Nevertheless, when would you start correcting a fellow believer for not spending enough time in the word?”
Let’s take Michael’s first question as the main one: “When does a lack of Bible reading become sin?” My hope is that in giving a kind of triage of diminishing Bible reading, Michael might be able to discern when to step into his friend’s life and exhort him. Here are my five symptoms of sinful diminishing of Bible reading. It’s my attempt at answering, When does diminishing Bible reading become a sin? How might we discern when our slacking off in Bible reading and meditation is becoming sinful?
Loss of Desperation
Diminishing Bible reading and meditation is becoming sinful when it is owing to a loss of desperation for what the Bible alone can give.
“God designed the Bible as a tree that produces delicious fruit of living for the glory of God and the good of others.”
God’s word is designed like nothing else to give us glimpses of God himself: “The Lord appeared again at Shiloh, for the Lord revealed himself to Samuel at Shiloh by the word of the Lord” (1 Samuel 3:21). The Bible gives faith: “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). We believe through the apostles’ word (John 17:20). The Bible gives joy: “These things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13). The Bible gives holiness: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (John 17:17).
Wherever diminishing Bible reading is owing to a loss of desperation for seeing God, trusting God, rejoicing in God, and holiness — as if those these things don’t matter or can be found without the word — sin is taking hold.
Reading Without Faith
Diminishing Bible reading and meditation is becoming sinful when it is owing to disillusionment with the Bible because it has not been pursued by faith, but rather as a performance to win God’s favor.
Paul says, “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). That includes Bible reading that is not from faith. Reading by faith means reading with a reliance on the great reality that in Christ God is one hundred percent for us. He will incline our hearts to his word (Psalm 119:36). He’ll open our eyes (Psalm 119:18). He’ll satisfy our souls (Psalm 90:14).
If we don’t read by faith, we will be disillusioned. And if diminishing Bible reading is owing to that disillusionment, it is sin.
Fruit from an Alien Tree
Diminishing Bible reading and meditation is becoming sinful when the activities that replace it are not experienced as the fruit of it.
“If our Bible reading is diminishing because we no longer embrace the preciousness of the word, the diminishing is sin.”
In other words, it’s right to stop reading your Bible in the morning and go to work if your work is experienced as a fruit of what you saw of God and savored of God in the word. God did not design the Bible to be read eighteen hours a day so that we do nothing else. He designed the Bible as a tree that produces delicious fruit of living for the glory of God and the good of others.
The test is this: When we stop reading the Bible, is it because we are gladly experiencing its replacement as the fruit of it? If not, then probably our lives are not the fruit of God’s word, but an alien tree. And our diminishing Bible reading is becoming sinful.
Dead Taste Buds
Diminishing Bible reading and meditation is becoming sinful when we are drifting away from it because we have ceased to find in it something more precious than gold and sweeter than honey. That’s Psalm 19:10: “More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).
This preciousness and this sweetness are meant to entice us back, freely and joyfully, to the word. Then we gladly say, “Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day” (Psalm 119:97). If our Bible reading is diminishing because we no longer embrace this preciousness or taste this sweetness, the diminishing is sin.
Jaded by Hypocrisy
Finally, diminishing Bible reading and meditation is becoming sinful when it is owing to an immature, adolescent-like recoiling from the traditions we saw in our parents, or in our church, that seemed hypocritical and barren.
“The preciousness and sweetness of the word are meant to entice us back, freely and joyfully, to the Bible.”
It’s a mark of great immaturity in twentysomethings — and thirty and forty-somethings — to refuse to do something well because your parents did it poorly. This is like refusing to be a doctor because your dad was a quack, or refusing to enjoy dessert because your mom was overweight, or refusing to listen to classical music because that’s all they let you listen to when you were a teenager.
That’s idiotic. That’s immature. Don’t be like that. This includes refusing to read your Bible daily because your dad did it, and he beat your mom. He was abusive, and he read his Bible. That kind of immaturity is a tactical triumph of Satan. You don’t want to be Satan’s lackey and actually be like an immature, adolescent follower of the evil one.
Perhaps the concluding words should be to all of us. If we begin to drift from reading and meditating on God’s word, we should say with Peter, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).