Photo taken by Ian Tan
Early this year, someone new joined the small church that I attend. He identified himself as a Singaporean working in the United States, temporarily sent back to Singapore for a work project. During one prayer meeting he shared that he was serving as a youth leader back in his home church. He seemed to know the Bible very well and sounded very confident of his own salvation. He could easily quote the relevant verses (John 14:6, Ephesians 5:8 and more), and share how important a faith in Jesus was for salvation. We quickly accepted him as part of our small church family.
But merely a month later, our pastor and other church members informed me that this man was actually a fraudster. He had made up stories and borrowed money from various church members. He eventually fled with the money that our church members had lent him and never returned to our church. His phone line was canceled too and beyond contact. I never saw him again.
I was very surprised at this chain of events. How could a person so knowledgeable about the Bible turn out to be a fraudster?
I realized that knowledge of the Bible does not necessarily translate into godly living. James 1:23-24 says this is like a person who looks at himself in the mirror and goes away, immediately forgetting what he looks like. If God’s Word has no impact on the way we lead our lives, then we will be no different from a non-believer.
Even though I have been a Christian for a number of years, I didn’t always read the Bible. For a long time, I heard God’s Word only in church on Sundays. Even then, I was like the person in James 1:24—my life was not transformed. I was still living by my own flesh. I was a Christian outwardly, but inwardly my heart was not aligned with God. I indulged in my own sinful ways without a repentant heart.
But then I went through a dark period a few years ago. The only thing that comforted me during that time was God’s Word, and I realized how desperately I needed the Bible in my life. I have since learned a few things about reading the Bible, and reading it effectively. Perhaps they might be helpful for you as well.
Set aside time
Setting aside quiet time to read the Bible is very important to me, because I want to focus without distraction. This habit started during my period of darkness. God’s Word was what gave me strength to go through that period, and I realized how much I need His Word and how truly it refreshes me. Like Jesus withdrawing to lonely places and praying (Luke 5:16), I try to find time in the midst of my busyness, so that I can slip away and be with my heavenly Father. Daily, God’s Word gives me the strength that I need.
Ask God for help
Also, I dare not take the Word of God lightly. We know that all Scripture is God-breathed and is good for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17), but I do not always have the wisdom I need to understand and apply what I am reading. And so, I humbly seek the help of the Holy Spirit, knowing that our God is a generous God and is always ready to give us wisdom without reproach when we ask for it (James 1:5).
When I first came across Ephesians 1:14, for example, I really had trouble understanding it. It says that the Holy Spirit “is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.” But other parts of the Bible tell us that not everyone who calls out to the Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 7:21). So how can the Holy Spirit guarantee my salvation?
I brought my confusion to a trusted mentor, whom God used to help answer my question. My mentor explained to me that the Holy Spirit helps us to understand and walk in the ways of the Lord as we work out our salvation, and so guarantees our salvation when we do not harden our hearts and allows Him to work in us.
Allow God to convict me
As I read God’s Word, I remind myself to invite God to search my heart (Psalm 139:23-24). When I lay bare my heart, God helps me see how His wondrous truths could be applied to my life. There are times the Holy Spirit shows me how to repent of my erroneous ways.
Sometime last year, I said some things that made my friend upset. During a morning devotion, I came across the verse Matthew 15:18, “But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them.” This caused me to reflect that the words I speak can defile me. I realized that what I said to my friend was not at all glorifying to God, and it reflected how self-centered my heart was, and how insensitive I had been towards her. I needed to apologize to her and align my heart with God.
God’s Word is like a double-edged sword to me, judging my thoughts and the attitudes of my heart (Hebrews 4:12). When I read the Bible humbly, I allow it to convict me of my sins. Through this, God is shaping me into the unique individual that He designed me to be. Though I will not be perfect until the day I see Him face to face, I know that even now, God is in the process of transforming us into His image with an ever-increasing glory when we allow His living Word of truth to sanctify us (2 Corinthians 3:18).
Simply knowing the Bible is not enough. Though I had listened to many Sunday sermons, I did not allow them to change my life. Only when I read the Bible with a humble and contrite heart did the Word lead me back to God for salvation. God is always ready to forgive us no matter how far we have gone astray from Him (1 John 1:9). Knowing this, we recognize that the Word of God is like a gift, and effective Bible reading will consistently point us back to God.
Let us be doers and not just hearers of God’s Word (James 1:22). Let us read our Bible so that we can be men and women after God’s own heart, working out our salvation as sojourners. Then we will live as true disciples of Christ.