The Ultimate Goal of Reading the Bible

Skamania Lodge | Stevenson, Washington


Earlier this year, Crossway published the book I was working on last year called A Peculiar Glory: How the Christian Scriptures Reveal their Complete Truthfulness. The argument of that book is that the Bible, because it was inspired by God, and is therefore God’s word, reveals the self-authenticating glory of God in such a way that those who are not spiritually blinded can see and know that this is the very word of God and is true.

The reason that’s relevant for what we’re going to do together in the three sessions that we have this weekend is that, if it’s true, then it carries huge implications about the way we read the Bible. If the spiritual sight of the glory of God — the spiritual sense of a divine and supernatural light — is the means by which God planned for the truthfulness of his Word to be known, and if that sight is a supernatural experience enabled by the Holy Spirit opening the eyes of our heart (Ephesians 1:18), then the implication is that we should read our Bibles with the desire and the prayer and the expectation that this supernatural encounter — this miracle — will happen. And so we should be on the lookout for the supernatural reality of the glory of God and take whatever steps we can to see it.

So when I came to the end of that book, A Peculiar Glory, I said that a second book needed to be written about Reading the Bible Supernaturally. I finished that book this past March. And that’s the basis of this three-part series. So here’s where we are going.

Session One: The Ultimate Goal of Reading the Bible

Session Two: The Supernatural Act of Reading the Bible

Session Three: The Natural Act of Reading the Bible Supernaturally

My approach here will be to state the ultimate goal of reading the Bible as I understand it, and then explain it and defend it from Scripture by developing six implications that are true if this goal is true.

The Ultimate Goal Is Worship

Our ultimate goal in reading the Bible is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought Bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation.

If this is true, then there are six implications to establish. We will take these one at a time and I hope with each one the goal becomes clearer and more firmly biblical and true in your mind.

1. The infinite worth and beauty of God are the ultimate value and excellence of the universe.

The goal of Bible reading, as I have expressed it, elevates the worth and beauty of God — the glory of God — to the highest place possible. The ultimate aim of all Bible reading, I argue, is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in everlasting, white-hot worship. There is nothing higher in the universe — nothing more valuable, nothing more beautiful — than the worth and beauty of God. The word “infinite” is not an exaggeration or a rhetorical flourish. It is strictly accurate. So I draw that out in the first implication: the infinite worth and beauty of God are the ultimate value and excellence of the universe. How obvious this is! Yet how few people act as if this were true.

When I speak of the “worth and beauty of God” I am referring to what the Bible calls “the glory of God.” The “glory of God” is the way we designate the infinite beauty and the infinite greatness of the Person who was there before anything else was there. In other words, it is the worth and beauty and greatness that exists without origin, without comparison, without analogy, without being judged or assessed by any external criteria. It is the all-defining, absolute original worth, original greatness, original beauty. All created worth and greatness and beauty comes from this original and points to it.

How do we know that the glory of God — the worth and beauty of God — is the ultimate value and excellence in the universe? We know it because, from beginning to end, God shows us in his Word that his ultimate goal in all that he does is to communicate his glory for the world to see and for his people to admire and enjoy and praise. There is no divine goal, no divine purpose beyond this or higher than this. This is ultimate. Here are just a few examples of how God shows us this:

  • Before the foundation of the world he predestined his people for sonship “to the praise of the glory of his grace” (Ephesians 1:3–6).

  • Then he created the universe with man as the climax for this glory. “The heavens are telling his glory” (Psalm 19:1). And Isaiah 43:7, “. . . everyone whom I created for my glory.”

  • Then he sent his Son into the world to reveal his glory in the flesh: “We have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father” (John 1:14).

  • Then the Son came to the end of his life and as he faced the cross prayed, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you” (John 17:1).

  • Then he was “raised from the dead by the glory of the Father” (Romans 6:4). And he was exalted with “a name that is above every name, so that . . . every tongue would confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9–11)

  • And he sent the Holy Spirit with the explicit mission: “He will glorify me” (John 16:14).

  • And God is working to sanctify his people with “the fruits of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).

  • And he is coming again “to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:9–10).

In other words, from election and predestination before creation to the consummation of the age at the end of creation, God has done and will do all that he does with this ultimate goal: to communicate his glory to the world.

So, because of these Scriptures and many like them, I affirm the first implication: The infinite worth and beauty of God are the ultimate value and excellence of the universe.

If our ultimate goal in reading the Bible is that God’s infinite worth and beauty be exalted, then the implication is that this worth and beauty of God are the ultimate value and excellence of the universe. And we have now seen this is true.

2. The supremely authentic and intense worship of God’s worth and beauty is the ultimate aim of all his work and word.

So here we are moving beyond the objective fact of the first implication, that the infinite worth and beauty of God are the ultimate value and excellence of the universe, to the implication for our subjective response, namely, that God’s ultimate aim is that his worth and beauty be worshiped — worshiped with authentic and intense worship.

Remember, I am arguing that the ultimate goal of Bible reading is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought Bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation.

So now I’m saying this implies that the supremely authentic and intense worship of God’s worth and beauty is the ultimate aim of all his work and word.

We could just say, “Well, obviously that is implicit in the first implication. Why else would God reveal his glory to us as the ultimate value and excellence of the universe?” But we better to go to the Scriptures and see it explicitly.

The Bible is indispensable to the Christian life. Without the written Word, we simply could not know the Incarnate Word.

God tells us why he is revealing his glory in John 4:23, “The hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.” The Father is seeking worshipers. In creation and in the incarnation and in redemption and in the consummation of the ages, his aim is not just the revelation of his glory, but the worship of his glory — as Paul says in Ephesians 1:6, “the praise of the glory of his grace.”

And when I say that the ultimate goal of Bible reading is that God’s glory would be exalted “in everlasting, white-hot worship,” I’m trying, with that phrase white-hot, to get at what authentic and intense worship would be in the unclouded presence of infinite worth and beauty. God is not moderately pleasing. He is infinitely pleasing. If we are not intensely pleased, we need forgiveness and healing.

Jesus said to the church at Laodicea, “Because you are lukewarm . . . I will spit you out of my mouth” (Revelation 3:16). And Paul said in Romans 12:11, “Do not be slothful in zeal, be fervent in spirit.” The word “fervent” in the original (zeontes) means boiling.

So the ultimate aim of God in all that he does is to communicate his glory in order that we might enjoy him supremely and respond with white-hot worship. And if this authentic, intense worship is the ultimate aim of all God’s work and word, then it is the ultimate aim of the Bible — and our reading the Bible. In all our reading, we are aiming and hoping and praying that God would use his Word to make us a vital part of the everlasting, white-hot worship of his infinite worth and beauty. That is the ultimate goal of reading the Bible.

How does that happen in reading the Bible? That is where we turn next. It happens by seeing in Scripture God’s supreme worth and beauty. Because there is no song in worship without a sight of God’s wonders.

3. We should always read God’s word in order to see this supreme worth and beauty.

One of the clearest texts that connects reading with seeing the glories of God in Christ is Ephesians 3:4: “When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ.” In other words, by reading we can see, or at least get a glimpse into what Paul was shown by God.

Then four verses later (verse 8) Paul describes what God has shown him. He says, “To me this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ” (Ephesians 3:8).

And then, pressing into what that actually means, we see those “unsearchable riches” described in Colossians 1:27 like this: “the riches of the glory of this mystery.” So the “mystery of Christ” in Ephesians 3:4 is the “unsearchable riches of Christ” in verse 8, and the riches of his glory in Colossians 1:27.

It is amazing and wonderful that God has appointed something so ordinary as reading to be the means of seeing something so extraordinary — the glory of Christ, the unsearchable riches of Christ. “By reading you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ.”

It’s as if he said, you can fly by sitting. Or you can be on the top of Mount Everest by breathing. Or you can break the sound barrier by walking. By reading we can see divine glory! By the most ordinary act, we can see the most wonderful reality. A surge of joy goes through me when this hits home to me.

When I say in my third implication that “We should always read God’s word in order see this supreme worth and beauty,” I don’t mean that we should not see the life-issues that are there in front of us — singleness, marriage, parenting, vocation, aging, war, sickness, death. On the contrary, I mean, by all means, see them! See them all. See them with meticulous clarity in all their relations as the author’s intended. But never see them apart from the glory of God. Never see them apart from the unsearchable riches of Christ.

If we do not read with a view to the ultimate divine purpose for reading, what we do read will be distorted.

4. We should aim in all our seeing to savor God’s excellence above all things.

So we turn now from the supreme worth of God’s glory, and from the final white-hot worship of God’s glory, and from seeing God’s glory in our reading, to savoring God’s glory in our reading. There will be no white-hot worship rising up from the blood-bought Bride of Christ where the glory of God is only seen and not savored.

Two times Jesus says that he has given us his words — readable words — so that we might share in his own joy — once in his teaching and once in his praying. “These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full” (John 15:11). “But now I am coming to you [Father], and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves” (John 17:13).

Therefore, we do not read rightly, where the words of Jesus do not lead us into the joyful savoring that Jesus himself had in his Father’s glory. He gave us words “that our joy might be full” with the joy that he himself has in his Father — “that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.”

And the apostle Peter puts it like this in 1 Peter 2:2–3: By drinking the pure spiritual milk of the word we will grow up into salvation “if indeed [we] have tasted that the Lord is good” (1 Peter 2:3). If we have tasted God’s goodness. Not just seen God’s goodness but tasted it — in the pure spiritual milk of the Word — that is by reading. The condition for growing up into salvation by reading the Scriptures is that in them we taste — savor! — the glory of God.

The whole book of Psalms begins with the promise that for the person who reads and meditates on the instruction of the Lord, “his delight is in the law of the Lord” (Psalm 1:3). And I count at least 28 times in Psalm 119 where it says that reading the word of God gives delight. And Psalm 19 may make the matter clearest of all:

The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. . . . More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. (Psalm 19:7–10)

“More desirable than gold.” “Sweeter than honey.” “Rejoicing the heart.” This is what I mean by savoring God. And it happens through reading the Word. So I conclude that this fourth implication is biblical and true: We should aim in all our Bible reading not only to see but also to savor the excellence of God above all things.

Which confirms, then, our thesis that the ultimate goal of reading the Bible is that God’s infinite worth and beauty would be exalted in everlasting, white-hot worship — because that worship is what savoring is in the unclouded presence of God.

5. In all our reading of the Bible, we should aim to be transformed by this seeing and savoring into the likeness of his beauty.

The reason transformation is implied in the ultimate goal of reading is that white-hot worship is invisible until there is an expression of it in visible acts of praise, and acts of sacrificial, Christlike love. But God does not intend for his glory to be magnified only through invisible heart actions that only he can see. He intends for his glory to be manifest, and that means worship must, as Romans 12:1–2 says, include the beautiful acts of goodness performed by our bodies. Which means that the ultimate goal of God in reading must include our transformation into the likeness of Christ.

The confirmation that we are truly savoring the glory of God and not merely some human substitute is that the seeing and savoring changes us into the likeness of the Christ we see and savor.

The key text here is 2 Corinthians 3:18.

And 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. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

By seeing and savoring (implied because the text is talking about the work of the Spirit here and no mere powerless human seeing) the glory of the Lord for what it really is — namely as supremely beautiful and valuable and excellent, and so savoring it for what it is worth — we are changed into the likeness of that very glory.

And how is that transforming glory of the Lord seen? How is that seeing connected to reading? Paul tells us in the next paragraph (don’t be diverted by the chapter break).

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Where is the glory seen? It is seen in the gospel. “The gospel of the glory of Christ.” And the gospel is the narrative of events in which God saves us by the death and resurrection of Christ — the gospel is a story to be read and spoken. By reading the gospel we see the glory of Christ and 2 Corinthians 3:18 comes true: “Beholding the glory of the Lord we are transformed.”

Hence, the fifth implication: In all our Bible reading, we should aim to be transformed by this seeing and savoring the beauty of Christ.

This is implied in the ultimate goal of reading the Bible because the white-hot worship God aims at must not remain invisible in the heart, but become visible in transformed lives of beautiful love.

6. We read the Bible so that more and more people would be drawn into the worshiping family of God until the Bride of Christ — across all centuries and cultures — is complete in number and beauty.

When we get a glimpse into the heavenly white-hot worship in Revelation 5 one of the first things that strikes us is that the song they are singing is a song about the cultural and ethnic extent and diversity of Christ’s redemption.

And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9–10)

This was promised in the Old Testament Scriptures:

All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations. (Psalm 22:27–28)

God's glory shines all the more brightly when it refracts through a diversity of ethnic prisms.

One of the great themes running through all of Scripture is God’s intention to reveal himself to all the peoples of the world and get white-hot worship not just from one culture and ethnicity, but from all of them. This diversity will make his glory shine all the more brightly when it is refracted in so many different ethnic prisms.

The Bible Is Indispensable

And none of this great final goal of creation will happen without the Scriptures. God has made the written word as indispensable as the incarnate Word. For the achievement of God’s ultimate purpose, he has made Christ essential and the Bible essential. The Bible is not as glorious, not as ultimate, not as foundational, as Christ. But both are indispensable.

Without the written word — explaining and preserving for us who God is and what he has done — there would be no saving knowledge of God, no new birth, no faith, no seeing and savoring of God’s glory, no experience of forgiveness, no transformation, and, in the end, no completed and beautified Bride for the Son, and no white-hot worshipping family for the Father.

The ultimate aim of creation, the ultimate aim of inspiring the Scriptures, and our ultimate aim in reading them is that God’s infinite worth and beauty will be exalted in the everlasting, white-hot worship of the blood-bought Bride of Christ from every people, language, tribe, and nation.

Oh, how thankful we should be that God has given us, and preserved for us, his Word!