We live in a world of practicality. The information we take in should be processed and used to enhance our personal lives; to make us better people. For most people, spirituality is about improving oneself. Being “spiritual” is like the icing on the self-improvement cake—something done to be more well-rounded and peaceful.
Christianity is far more than this. Of all the religions in the world, Christianity is distinct. A Christ-follower is someone sought by God and redeemed by Him; we can’t reach Him on our own. Our personal transformation happens because of God’s work in us, not our work for God.
Why does all of this matter? It matters because when we come to God’s Word looking to apply everything, we often miss the point. We want to immediately apply what we read for practical purposes, for self-improvement. But that’s not how God’s Word was designed to be read!
The Bible tells us who God is
The Bible, while very applicable to our lives, wasn’t written just for personal life decisions. It was ultimately written to tell us who God is and how He interacts with humanity. The “metanarrative” of Scripture is the big picture of God’s redemptive plan for the world, beginning in Genesis and ending in Revelation. When we study the Bible, the most important thing to look for (and what will make sense of our own lives in the process) is who God is, not how Scripture applies to our immediate environment.
The Bible tells us who we are
The crazy thing? As you ask “Who is God?” in each passage you study, you will learn a whole lot about who you are. Trying to learn more about yourself in Scripture is an endless circle. But when you start and end with who God is and how He acts in the Bible, your eyes are opened to how He’s acting in your very own life.
Studying the Bible with an emphasis on context and God’s character helps us understand our role in God’s redemptive plan, and roots our identity appropriately in the gospel.
The Bible gives us timeless theological principles
None of this means the Bible shouldn’t be applied to our daily lives. It just shouldn’t be our immediate question every time we read it. The Bible gives us timeless principles we can live by in our love lives, our work and our friendships. But these principles are gleaned as we learn the bigger picture, understand what the gospel was meant to do and let go of “self-improvement” Scripture reading.
How to study the Bible effectively with God in mind
What does this mean for your next Bible study session? As you read a passage, think about how those verses interact with the chapter, the book, and the whole of the Bible. I highly recommend reading through the Bible chronologically—it will help you see how God moved through history, and will connect the books of the Bible in a way that makes much more sense!
Rather than ask, “How can I apply this to my life today?” ask, “Who is God in this passage? How does He act? What character traits does He show?” As you learn more about how God behaves with man, you’ll begin to see patterns. This reveals His character to you! When you know God intimately through His Word, you’ll begin to trust Him more. This in turn affects how you live.
It’s counterintuitive, but it’s effective. To live a godly life, you don’t need to learn more about identity or about yourself or about behavior. You need to learn more about God. It might not always feel applicable, but when you live according to what He teaches you and the Spirit within you, it will be.