Of all the spiritual practices a Christian can engage in, I believe none is more likely to be made legalistic than reading the Bible. After all, it is measurable by number of verses, chapters, or books read. We develop checklists and reading plans to track our progress. We can learn more in our reading and compare our knowledge against another person’s.
But if we allow ourselves to fall into the trap of feeling proud because of all that we have read or ashamed of what we have not read, we have missed the point of being in the Word altogether.
In Jesus’ time, no one knew the Scriptures better than the religious leaders. They often used God’s word to try to trip Jesus up in a teaching or in a misapplication of the law. They knew the Scriptures front and back. Knew the Law, knew the Prophets, knew the Wisdom Literature and the Psalms. Yet they did not know the heart of God.
When Nicodemus, a Pharisee, had a conversation with Jesus about being born in the Spirit, Jesus asked incredulously, “You are Israel’s teacher… and do you not understand these things?” (John 3:10)
The Pharisees had knowledge of God, but no understanding. Information, but no insight. Words, but not the Spirit.
They were no different than the Israelites who were judged in the time of the prophets. They were faithful in bringing sacrifices and tithing so that they could boast about the good things they did, but did not actually turn to God. (Amos 4:4-6; Luke 18:10-14)
When coming to the Bible, I ask you to check your motives. Are you coming to feel good about yourself for completing a spiritual act? Are you coming to earn something from God? Are you coming to be puffed up with knowledge?
Or are you coming in humility? Coming to receive from God? Coming with a malleable heart, one that God can transform into His Image?
“Knowledge puffs up while love builds up.” (1 Corinthians 8:1)
When we come to the Bible, we are coming to the very words of God Himself. The Holy Spirit uniquely uses Scripture to speak to us. To teach us about who God is, who we are, and how we can live in Christ. I am convinced God is less concerned about whether we can recite the Ten Commandments than he is about whether we are willing to allow Him to change us through those commands.
In reading, meditating, and studying the Bible we have the chance to open ourselves up to what God desires to reveal to us today. We have the opportunity to interact with the God who created the universe and then decided to tell us about it. We can commune with the One who came to live among us, teach us, and die for us so that we will have eternal life.
Let’s not trade that for a checklist.