In our previous lessons we have seen how the Bible has come to us from God and that HE IS THE ONLY REAL AUTHOR. We have seen that the Bible is a book that has two parts and that each part is a different message from God to people living in different times. We also discovered that it is a complete guide for all mankind! Now we will examine the topic of “How To Study The Bible.” The reason why this topic is so important is because of all the negative things we noted so far. The fact that there are so many religions CLAIMING to follow the Bible means that something must be wrong. How can there be one message from one true author, and yet have so many different groups? In addition, there are so many people today CLAIMING that they are receiving personal guidance from the Holy Spirit and yet, once again, we have different teachings and confusion! This cannot be right! Therefore, we must see what the problem is. If the only source of our message from God today is the Bible and if the Bible contains only one consistent message, then if we find different teachings in religion today the problem most likely can be found in the way people are studying the Bible. Because of this, we need to be very careful how we study God’s message. By keeping in mind a few guidelines, we believe that anyone can properly use the Bible and discover the truth that God intended.
Before we proceed, we will look at some ways that people study.
As an introduction to our topic, we will go back to a point from our previous lesson. Have you ever noticed that when people get together to study the Bible together they begin the study with a prayer? What do they usually pray for? Usually it is for some sort of guidance from God, or the Holy Spirit. Does God guide your thoughts and minds so that you automatically get the truth from the Holy Spirit? Do you remember our previous discussions about this matter? We saw how God set up his plan to guide the original disciples to the truth through the Holy Spirit. The result of that guidance was the completion of the message of the Bible. We know that the Spirit guided all of those people to the SAME truth. Today we are in a different situation. We are trying to get the truth OUT OF the Bible.
Many people today believe that by asking the Holy Spirit for guidance he will give the same kind of guidance he did to the ones who originally received and wrote the message. The question we have to answer is whether this kind of guidance is available, and if so, then how will we know that we are receiving it? One thing we can conclude from common sense is that if two people ask for and claim to have received such guidance from the Holy Spirit in their study, and yet they come to different conclusions, then one of two things MUST be true! Either 1) the Holy Spirit has changed his pattern of consistently revealing the same message to all people in all places, or, 2) what we are seeing today is in fact NOT guidance coming from the Holy Spirit.
The point we want to make here is this. IF the Holy Spirit is guiding people today then we ought to see consistency BOTH in the message being received by the people and the message being taught by the people! The fact that we see such a great INCONSISTENCY in belief and teaching today PROVES that simply claiming to be guided by God does not mean that guidance is being received!
Therefore, simply saying a prayer before studying the Bible is not enough.
Sometimes when people get together to study the Bible they will sit around a table, read a passage, and then the study leader will ask each person around the table to give their opinion of what the passage means to them. (This is often referred to as “Bible sharing”.) Is this the correct way to study the Bible? We must remember that the Bible is God’s message and he wants us to understand the meaning that he intended. In “Bible sharing”, there is a great danger that the participants might simply make the Bible say what they want it to say, and completely miss the meaning that God intended. This is not the proper way to study the Bible.
The story is told about a man who began each day with a breakfast devotional in which he would ask the Lord for guidance for the day. To find the answer to his prayer he would take his Bible, and while flipping through the pages, without looking, he would forcefully plant his finger on a page. He would take whatever verse his finger happened to fall upon as God’s direct instruction for him to do that day.
The story continues that one day while having his breakfast he turned his eyes toward heaven and asked, “Lord, what would you like for me to do today?” As was his custom, he energetically began to flip the pages of his Bible, closed his eyes, and then placed his finger on a page. He then opened his eyes and discovered that his finger had landed upon Matthew 27:5 which says, “Judas went out and hung himself.” He thought for a moment, then with much confusion in his heart turned his eyes to heaven, and said, “Lord, surely you don’t want me to hang myself.” He decided to try it again and so closing his eyes tightly and concentrating seriously, he began flipping through the pages of his Bible again. When he had planted his finger on a page he opened his eyes to find that he had landed upon Luke 10:37 which says, “You go and do likewise.” He thought for a moment and, suddenly, a cold chill ran through his body. He then pleaded, “Lord… SURELY you don’t want me to hang myself!” Filled with terror, and with cold sweat streaming down his face, he began flipping the pages of his Bible one more time, and then, with much hesitation…, he planted his finger for the third and final time. Afraid to open his eyes, he slowly peeked out of one squinted eye and to his dismay, discovered that he had landed squarely upon John 13:27 which reads, “And whatever you do, do it quickly.”
This is definitely NOT the proper way to study the Bible.
Think for a just a moment about your studies back when you were in school. If, for example, you were to enroll in a Chemistry course, how would you study Chemistry? Would you pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit? Would the teacher read a section of the textbook and then go around the room asking each student for their opinion about what they think the section means to them? Would you ask questions and find your answers by flipping through the textbook pages and planting your finger? Of course not! You would open your Chemistry book, starting from page 1, and then you would read and study from there. You would also re-read everything carefully and go over it again and again and again! This is how Bible study is done. The process of Bible study is the same as studying in school. What is different is the book we study. Our Chemistry book was made by man but the Bible came from God!
We must learn to think of the process of studying the Bible the same way as the process of study we would use in a school situation. We have to use the minds that God gave us to reason out and test all the things that we study. Our primary instrument for Bible study is common sense and the process of Bible study is rational and logical, even if the conclusions which we might come to as a result of the process are not!
The following guidelines are suggested to assist in studying and reasoning out logically what God is trying to tell us. After we discover the true meaning of the message, then it will be up to each one of us to decide whether we will follow God’s instructions.
THE MAIN PURPOSE OF THE BIBLE IS TO CHANGE OUR LIVES, NOT TO INCREASE OUR KNOWLEDGE.
One fact we all must accept about the Bible is that there is a finite amount of information contained within its pages. Knowing this to be true, we should remember that there is not specific answers for every possible question we might ask. Rather than being like an encyclopedia, the Bible is more like a speech in which the speaker is trying to give specific information that applies to a topic about which he has chosen to speak. God has chosen what to speak about and it is our responsibility to listen to and follow what he says.
Let us now turn to and read some passages that illustrate this point. We will begin with John 20:30-31. Notice that the purpose for the author writing his book is clearly stated. He is not trying to write a general history of the life of Jesus but rather a very specific and carefully constructed view of certain portions of Jesus’ life that would – in the opinion of the writer – convince any reader that Jesus is the Christ.
Another passage we need to consider is 2 Peter 1:3-4. Notice how Peter indicates that God has provided us with all things (information and instruction) which we need “for life and for godliness” and how there is a PURPOSE behind God giving his message to mankind. That purpose is “change”!
Another important passage is the 2 Timothy 3:16-17 we looked at in our previous lesson. As we discovered, it contains the idea that, because the Bible comes from God (and not from man), it is “USEFUL FOR” a number specific things. This would indicate, once again, that the message from God came in order to accomplish something besides reading for entertainment.
Ultimately, we must accept that it is not enough simply to devote ourselves to daily Bible reading or even to memorizing certain passages. God’s intention for all mankind continues to be for us to listen carefully to all of what he says, but, more importantly, for us to follow whatever he says!
ΤHE BIBLE COMES FROM GOD.
All the information we have seen in our studies so far shows us that the Bible comes from God and belongs to him. Since this is true, each person should be very careful to accept each and every teaching found inside. Bible study is not like eating at a cafeteria, where a person can select only the food they like and pass over the food they do not like. The only choice a person has is whether to BELIEVE and FOLLOW God. If we choose to do so, then we MUST accept and submit to EVERYTHING that God says. Therefore, if conflicts arise between the teachings of a certain religious group, and what is taught in the Bible, then we must choose which one we will follow. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away! Unfortunately, deciding NOT to choose … IS to choose!
Let us consider an interesting passage from the life of Jesus. Matthew 7:21-23 contains a warning to anyone wishing to become a follower of God. It explains that it is not enough for a person to claim to be a follower and be a “religious” person. What God is looking for in a follower is someone that will do the things HE wants them to do. This means that the message God gave us in the Bible contains all things that he wants his followers to do and anyone seeking to be one of his followers must choose to accept those things and do them in the way God wants them done.
Ultimately, since the Bible comes from God, we must accept it as the final authority on any subject. We must also reject any person or idea that does not agree with its teachings – no matter how sincere or religious they may appear! It is “the will of the Father” that we must seek to follow and that will is contained only in the Bible.
GOD’S MESSAGE HAS ONLY ONE MEANING AND SHOULD NOT BE CHANGED.
Since the message of Christianity comes from the New Testament, and since the New Testament message was completed during the time of the first Christians and written down for all time, then the teachings and practices of Christianity today should be the same as those of original Christianity. Since we have the same God and the same message, then if we understand and follow exactly what the Bible says we will become the same kind of Christians they were!
God’s message will never change even though time and technology might. The world today is much more advanced than it was during the time of Jesus. During his time, people didn’t have any cars, buses, television sets, radios, airplanes, gas stoves, and the Internet. However, God’s message is not intended to make man more advanced in the area of technology. The part of man that the Bible message affects does not change with the advances in technology. Man today still sins in the very same ways that men were sinning back in the time of Jesus. The Bible seeks to help man eliminate sin from his life and so the message of the Bible is just as much for US as it was for THEM! God’s message is the same for all people living in all times and all places and so genuine Christianity will always be the same anywhere it happens to be found and in any time period.
WHEN WE STUDY THE BIBLE, WE MUST PUT ASIDE ALL RELIGIOUS IDEAS THAT WE WERE TAUGHT IN THE PAST.
Religious bias1 is perhaps the most dangerous enemy of good Bible study. It sneaks into a person’s mind very slowly over the years and causes a person to believe very strongly in one certain way of thinking, to the point where they can easily become close-minded to any beliefs which differ from their own.
The main problem with this is that, in reality, those beliefs that have been planted in the heart of an individual may not be correct. For most people, religious bias comes from the years of exposure to their “family religion” and, while this may seem innocent it must be admitted that growing up in a certain religious environment causes one to trust whatever beliefs and practices one has been exposed to – without the proper investigation. One reason why religious bias is so dangerous is that it is hard for a person who is biased to realize it because, as it usually turns out, their biased view of religion is the only one they have ever known and they have never studied the Bible to make certain that their beliefs are true. Evidence that religious bias exists can be seen in the fact that so many people today are drawn to believe that certain things are right and wrong without any real explanation for why they think so. Many people will simply oppose any teaching or practice which is not found in their own church because of the conviction in their heart that, “My church is the right church and since we don’t practice that teaching then it must be wrong because if that teaching was correct then my church would be doing it!” This way of thinking has led many sincere people to conclude that the most important thing in religion is to belong to the right group. The idea seems to be that if a person is in the right group then they are “covered” by the group’s good behavior and practices. In such a situation the individual would no longer have to think about what they personally believe, but rather, they would simply need to follow whatever the group’s leaders told them to do. This idea is very wrong!
Where does this religious bias come from? Once we become adults one of the most dangerous things we carry with us into Bible study is the knowledge we have learned from our past religious experiences. Most of the things we know about religion were learned by listening to friends, family members, and various religious leaders. Very few of us can say that we believe as we do because of careful Bible study! However, how can we be certain that all of the things we heard from all those people are true if we never study the Bible to check to see if they are true? Does the fact that a certain religious group has existed in a particular country for hundreds of years prove that what they teach is correct? What if this same religious group currently has millions of followers? Does that prove that its teachings and practices are genuine and come from God? Of course not and yet it is very possible that a person involved in such a group might be biased and mistakenly think so.
Even in Bible study, our bias might keep us from seeing and accepting God’s truth. After all, the thought of having to accept that the religion of one’s family is teaching error is a powerful force to overcome! However, whenever we study the Bible we MUST put aside all former teachings we learned over the years and pretend that we have never heard about them. Then we MUST study the facts presented in the Bible without being biased! We MUST make conclusion based only upon what the facts presented by God in the Bible tell us. Once we have finished our research and made our conclusions is the time we can bring back our religion’s ideas and compare them side by side with what we have learned from our Bible study. If what we have learned from our Bible study matches what we were taught in our religion then we have nothing to worry about. However, if the two are different then we have a problem. We must decide which of the two we will follow—our religion or God’s teachings!
This is the difficulty everyone faces when they decide to study the TRUTH of the Bible and it takes much strength and courage to carry through to the end.
STUDY ALL AVAILABLE MATERIAL ON A SUBJECT BEFORE YOU MAKE ANY CONCLUSIONS.
Another reason why people sometimes come to wrong conclusions about what the Bible teaches is because they only study a portion of all the evidence found in the Bible. We are all familiar with making conclusions based upon evidence because it happens every day in the courts of our land. Judges make rulings based upon the presentation of evidence and as long as they are not biased, and, they examine ALL of the evidence, then it is possible for them to make fair and truthful judgments.
In many ways, there is a parallel between our example of a judge in a courtroom and studying the Bible. When a judge hears a case, the lawyers for each side present their evidence. One side will go first and then the other. Suppose that a certain judge presides over a case in which there are a total of ten (10) witnesses. Let us say that there will be five (5) for the prosecution and five (5) for the defense. Would it be proper for the judge to hear the testimony of the five prosecution witnesses and then stop the trial and make his decision? Of course not because that would not be fair! After all, no matter how convincing the first witnesses might be there might be a witness from the other side that would prove the truth of the matter beyond a doubt. Therefore, a good judge MUST consider ALL evidence before making any conclusions!
Consider the following hypothetical illustration. Let us say that there is a topic we are very interested in learning about and the Bible has ten (10) verses that provide the details of what God has to say. Now let us say that there is a hypothetical religious group, we will call it “Group A”, and they begin a search for what God says on the matter. These people are very sincere and honest but they only accept 4 out of the 10 possible verses. While they take great care in putting these 4 passages into context their conclusion is only partly correct because they refuse to add the remaining 6 pieces of evidence. Now then, let us say that there is another religious group, “Group B”. They accept the remaining 6 verses which “Group A” would not accept, but this new group refuses to accept the 4 that are used by Group A! Naturally, their conclusion is “different” from Group A!
To make matters even more confusing for us, let us say that there is a third group, “Group C”. They take 2 of the verses from “Group A” and 3 of the 6 used by “Group B” to come up with a completely different conclusion, which they feel is a compromise between the extreme positions of the other two!
Notice that while each group makes a conclusion which they can say is “based upon what the Bible says” none of the three is accomplishing what they should because none are looking at ALL of what the Bible says regarding this particular question. Each group arrives at a conclusion and each conclusion is a little different. The problem is that each group CLAIMS to be teaching the truth and has Bible verses to support their belief!
The ultimate question we must ask is, “Which group is correct?” The answer of course is, “None of them!” While all three groups go to the Bible for evidence on which to base their conclusion, they do not consider ALL of the evidence. The result is that their different teachings come about due to their only looking at partial evidence. However many passages God might give for consideration, our conclusion MUST include information contained in ALL OF THEM!
In reality, our sample using three groups does not accurately represent what is happening today because there are literally hundreds of groups creating different ideas and teachings based upon partial evidence!
It isn’t enough for someone to simply say that they have found a certain Bible verse to support a certain teaching they have or answer a question. Each individual verse must fit together with the other passages which speak about the same subject in much the same way pieces of a jigsaw puzzle fit together to form a picture. Each piece fits only one way and a person cannot understand the meaning of the picture unless all the pieces are assembled in their proper place. We know from our experiences in school that in order for a person to adequately understand a lesson, all the points presented in the material must be understood and linked together logically. It is the same for studying and understanding the Bible.
WE MUST CAREFULLY PUT EACH AND EVERY VERSE INTO ITS PROPER CONTEXT.
One of the most common mistakes people make when they study the Bible is taking a passage and attaching a meaning to it which is out of the original context2. Context plays an extremely important part in all communication and it is especially important when determining the correct meaning of written communication. A sentence that is part of a paragraph might have several possible meanings if it is looked at by itself. However, when a person looks at that sentence in the context of the other sentences found in the same paragraph then the intended meaning of the original writer is much easier to determine.
In Bible study, we must remember that each individual verse is actually a sentence, or a portion of a sentence, and that each sentence is part of a paragraph, and that each paragraph is part of a thought, which in turn is combined with other thoughts presented by God through an author to communicate something to the intended readers. It may become necessary to read the entire chapter of a Bible book, or even an entire book, before we can understand the intended meaning of a single verse!
In addition to the context of the sentences we must also consider such things as the historical, cultural, and social backgrounds of the original writer and the readers in order to understand the intended meaning of the verses of the Bible.
When it comes to Bible study, there are two basic types of context we need to understand:
Adding this point about context to what we have already learned, we find that proper Bible study is done by finding all available information on the topic we want to study and then putting each passage into its proper context so that we can discover each passage’s intended meaning. Once we have done that we can combine the individual details together like puzzle pieces to create a “picture” which will answer our question.
BIBLE STUDY IS A TWO-PHASE PROJECT. WE MUST FIRST SEEK TO OBTAIN THE ORIGINAL INTENDED MEANING. THEN WE CAN DETERMINE IF THAT MEANING APPLIES TO OUR TIME.
Does every verse of the Bible have an application for us in our time? When we read the story of Noah in the book of Genesis and find that God gave instructions to build a giant boat are we to build that boat again today? It is doubtful that anyone would answer, “Yes”, to that question because context shows us that those instructions were only for Noah. What about the other passages and teachings found in the Bible? How can we determine which portions of the Bible we should and should not follow in our lives today?3
Here is where we come to the heart of what the process of Bible study is all about. While some might try to say that Bible study is simply a matter of reading the Bible and doing everything it says, it is a bit more complicated than that. The case of Noah and his giant boat shows us that there are instructions found inside the Bible which are only for certain people living in certain places and in certain times. Because of this, we learn that Bible study is in fact a two-phase process.
The first phase of Bible study is discovering the intended meaning of the original writer. This is done by carefully investigating each verse in its context.
Once the original meaning has been understood then we must see if the intended meaning has any application in our lives today. This is the second phase of the Bible study process. In this phase we must look more closely at the background of the passage and see who is doing the speaking and to whom is the person speaking. In order for something to be applicable for us in our time it needs to be established that the instruction was really intended for us.
We should also be aware of the fact that not all instructions found in the Bible come to us in the same form. Some instructions are given in the form of direct statements, or commands, which everyone must accept and follow in exactly the same way. (An example of this kind of teaching would be the commandment, “Thou shall not kill.”) However, other instructions take the form of principles, which can be applied in various ways, depending upon the circumstances. (An example of this kind of teaching would be “Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth.”) Even if we determine that a passage of the Bible applies to us, we need to consider whether it applies in our time in the same way as it did in the time of the Bible people. This can be very difficult to do!
NO PASSAGE FROM THE BIBLE THAT IS DIFFICULT TO UNDERSTAND WILL CONTRADICT ONE WHICH IS EASY TO UNDERSTAND.
Analyzing a passage of the Bible is not always easy to do because some passages are very difficult to understand. However, most Bible studies will include verses that will be easy to understand and some not so easy. We must remember that any conclusions we might make concerning a difficult passage should not contradict verses which are easy to understand. In such cases the easier passages make a foundation of understanding for that topic and the more difficult passages must be studies while considering those easier ones. There cannot be two different (or opposing) conclusions for any one subject.
If we encounter a difficult passage that seems to contradict a conclusion that can easily be seen from looking at a number of very simple and clear passages, then we must conclude that our understanding of the difficult passage is wrong. It is not logical that God would say one thing using very simple statements and then say the opposite using statements which are difficult to understand. (Going back to our example of the puzzle, a person cannot force a puzzle piece to fit where it does not belong! We establish where a piece of the puzzle belongs by carefully looking at the surrounding pieces.) If working out the context of the passage does not help then look for other verses that give information about the same subject. Perhaps the meaning of those other passages will be clearer and help understand the intended meaning of the difficult passage. (If we go back to the puzzle illustration, if there is one piece that gives people a problem at the beginning of the puzzle, all you have to do is leave it aside until the very end and it will be easy to find where it goes because there will be only one space left!)
A very good and simple illustration of this point from the Bible is found when we compare two parallel statements made by Jesus. In Luke 14:26 he says that anyone who “does not hate” his relatives cannot be his disciple. The use of the word “hate” gives us some difficulty because it is a very strong word in our language today. Does Jesus mean that disciples must carry true hatred in their hearts for their relatives as a requirement for being a disciple? This is confusing. However, there is a parallel passage for this topic. It is found in Matthew 10:37-38. Here, context reveals that Jesus is speaking about the same topic – the commitment of discipleship – and once again he speaks of the believer and his attitude regarding relatives. (The context here is extremely important in establishing a link with the one found in Luke 14!) Here Jesus more clearly brings out the meaning of what he said in Luke 14. By looking carefully at both passages – and considering also the rest of Jesus’ teachings on commitment, discipleship, love, and hate — we can more easily understand that Jesus intended for the people of Luke 14 to understand what is more clearly explained in Matthew 10.
BIBLE EXAMPLES HELP TO CONFIRM OUR UNDERSTANDING AND CONCLUSIONS.
After completing research and coming to a conclusion, if we can identify examples of people in the Bible doing or teaching the same thing that we have concluded, we can be fairly certain that our own conclusion is correct. On the other hand, if we find examples of people from that time, and in the same situation, doing or teaching something different from what we have concluded then that would be an indication that our own conclusion might not be correct. Bible examples may not always be present, but when they are we should pay careful attention to what they show us.
Simply finding an example of someone doing or not doing something may or may not be an indication of some kind of instruction from God. It may or may not be something that all believers are supposed to do. The discovery of a single example of someone doing something in the Bible does not in itself mean that we should or must do the same thing. Even the continued occurrence of one or more people doing something repeatedly in the Bible does not in itself indicate something that everyone must do. Frequency alone is not sufficient evidence to make such a determination. We might be fairly certain that an example is being intended if we find people in different places and different contexts doing the same things. In such cases it could be possible that there is some instruction from God that is causing the consistent pattern of behavior. However, concluding such, without any accompanying instruction, even if a consistent pattern can be seen, would still be guessing!
THE EXPLANATIONS WHICH GOD GIVES IN THE BIBLE SHOULD ALWAYS TAKE PRIORITY OVER OUR PERSONAL EXPERIENCES, FEELINGS AND EXPECTATIONS.
Sometimes people have what is often called a “RELIGIOUS EXPERIENCE”, which may take the form of anything from seeing a vision in a dream to receiving what some people call “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” during a religious gathering. While none of us can say what God may or may not do to communicate with people today we should remember that even if something unique like this might happen to us we do not have the right to say that we no longer need to study the Bible! Whatever we might experience, the facts we learned in our last lesson remain. God said that his message has already been revealed, during the first century, and every person who lives after the death of his son is required to understand and follow that message. This fact will never change. Ever since Jesus left the Earth people have wanted to “experience” God in a personal way. Unfortunately, this desire has often led sincere people to believe that they have experienced something which in fact they did not. Some people after receiving these kinds of experiences have left the Bible message behind believing, instead, that have direct guidance from God.
We must never allow “personal religious experiences” to become more important than what we read in the Bible. If we feel that we have experienced God’s direct action or revelation in our own life then we should examine the Bible carefully to see if it describes the same experience as something which is indeed from God. If the Bible is silent or explains things differently—in even a small way—then our experience isn’t from God because we have discovered that God will not say or do something to you that he has not previously said or done in the lives of the original Christians!
Before proceeding any further, please turn now and read the verses found in 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11. Please read through this passage twice.
This is an amazing Bible passage! It speaks of miracles, and deception, and the power of the Evil One4, and it also speaks of God acting in a way that seems opposite of his usual character! Let us take the points one by one as they are presented. All the negative statements are introduced by the portion that describes the hearts and minds of the people being spoken about. They are people who will no longer hold fast to the truth and instead will put their trust in what they have experienced. Notice that it is their desire for these miraculous powers that causes them to not be satisfied with the truth. This desire blinds them to the point where they can no longer see that the power they are witnessing is from the Evil One. Since they refuse to love the truth, God responds by doing something very interesting. The passage says that he will send to them “a working of deception” to cause them to believe that what they are seeing and experiencing is from him when in fact it is not! What can we learn from this passage? One very clear thing is that you cannot be certain that all powerful things you see with your eyes are from God! We also learn that God’s power and God’s message will always agree. We also learn that Satan can CLAIM to be doing God’s power, and that the only way to know the difference is by examining the message that is found together with that power.
This warning is echoed in 2 Corinthians 11:13-15, where we are told that people will be deceived by the servants of the Devil. They will believe that what they are seeing is true when in fact it is not. With warnings such as these we surely cannot accept everything we see or experience as being genuine simply because it is being done “in the name of God”. We first must verify what we have seen or experienced by testing it against what we find being taught in the Bible.
There is a direct relationship between what we are saying here and what Jesus taught in Matthew 7:21-23. Remember how he spoke of people doing miraculous things “in his name”, but how he will reject those people because their lives were not based upon God’s will — the truth?
We all would like very much to have a very direct relationship with God in which we could constantly receive personal guidance and instruction. However, we should remember that God has already decided how he will relate to us. He gave to us his second message and has shown what he expects people to do. It is our responsibility to accept what God offers and accept these things on his terms. If we start placing too much desire upon our wishes for how we would like God to communicate with us in our lives, then we should not be surprised if all the things we desire begin to happen just as we want them to. However, just because our expectations become realities this does not mean that what we are receiving is some sort of reward from him. Considering the warnings mentioned above, we may in fact be receiving a “powerful delusion” from God and, in reality, everything we are experiencing might be a lie! The only way we can be absolutely certain we are in a right relationship with God is if we learn his message and carefully follow what he says. There is no substitute for studying the Bible.
Once there was a man who lived in a house beside a river. After several days of heavy rain the river began to rise and when the water entered his house the man escaped by crawling up on his roof. As the water continued to rise he became afraid for his life and so began praying to God that he might be delivered from this terrible situation. A few minutes later, a man in a very small boat came paddling over to the house and he offered to take the man to safety. The man replied, “No thank you for I have prayed to the Lord and he will save me!” The man in the boat scratched his head and left. Time passed and the water continued to rise until it was up to the level of the roof! Again, the man prayed to the Lord and a few minutes later, a man in a large motor boat came by and offered to take him to safety. The man replied, “No thank you for I have prayed to the Lord and I know he will save me!” The water continued to rise until even though the man stood at the highest point of his roof the water was up to his knees! Once again the man prayed to the Lord, this time with loud cries and tears, and a few minutes later, a helicopter arrived and the pilot sent down a ladder and offered to take the man to safety. Once again, the man replied, “No thank you, Sir, for I have prayed to the Lord and I just know that he will save me!” Shortly thereafter the water swept the man away and he drowned. All at once he found himself standing in the presence of the Lord. The man suddenly became upset and asked, “Lord, why did you desert me and leave me to die when I asked you three times to save me?” In reply, the Lord said, “How can you say I left you to die? Didn’t I send you a man in a small boat, then one in a large motor boat, and finally one in a helicopter?”
The lesson is simple. The man expected a certain reaction from God based on what he wanted God to do. His biased expectations blinded him to the point that he did not recognize God’s hand in the offers of the men that tried to rescue him. God speaks to us and tells us exactly what HE wants and in the way that HE wants! We cannot demand that he do the things we want and in the way that we want them done! He is God and does things his own way!
EVERY INDIVIDUAL HAS THE RESPONSIBILITY TO STUDY THE BIBLE FOR HIMSELF/HERSELF.
Please read and consider very carefully Romans 14:10 and 2 Corinthians 5:10. Both of these passages speak about the same topic. What is that topic? It is the Judgment Day! Both passages emphasize one point, how the Judgment will take place. Each person will be responsible for their own actions, and the determination of where they end up will be based upon the things each person has done.
Since the final judgment will be a matter that is between each individual person and God then it is very important for each person to make certain they know exactly what they are supposed to do. You cannot blame anyone but yourself if you do not find the truth
A RELIGIOUS GROUP DOES NOT DETERMINE WHAT THE BIBLE DOES AND DOES NOT TEACH REGARDING A CERTAIN MATTER. IT IS THE BIBLE THAT DETERMINES WHAT A RELIGIOUS GROUP SHOULD AND SHOULD NOT TEACH
Considering the attitudes of people in modern religion, this might be the most important guideline to remember. Just because a group of influential religious people (whether they might be preachers, priests, pastors, elders, apostles, or even angels from heaven) decide that a certain teaching should or should not be taught does not make it correct! If a teaching is genuine, then we should be able to find it explained and taught to the original Christians inside of the Bible! Following teachings that originate from men is wrong. We already have enough things given to us by God to do. We certainly don’t need the added burden of having to follow additional teachings given by religious leaders. The message of the Bible belongs to God and if we want to establish a relationship with him we must LISTEN TO WHAT HE SAYS and disregard the opinions of men! Always remember that God’s word must take priority over the opinions and teachings of ALL MEN!
Consider carefully the following passages, paying careful attention to their context.5
Galatians 1:6-9 - “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you by the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel – 7 which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ. 8 But even if we or an angel from heaven should preach a gospel to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!”
2 Timothy 3:1-5 - “But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. 2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power.”
2 Timothy 4:1-5 - “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.”
Do you remember what we mentioned back in our introduction to this course material, about the hundreds of Christian groups? It isn’t enough for people today to simply CLAIM to be Christians, or to CLAIM to follow the truth! If we CLAIM to follow God then we must truly follow him!
USE BIBLE RESEARCH AND REFERENCE BOOKS TO HELP YOU FIND THE TRUTH
Seeing that, in some instances, it is necessary to study through as many as a hundred verses or more before making a conclusion, one might wonder how we go about finding all those passages. Fortunately, there are a number of helpful reference tools which can make our study efforts easier and more fulfilling. One such reference book is called a CONCORDANCE. This is a special book that provides lists verses from the Bible that speak about a certain subject. These books do not explain teachings or give commentary on the verses. They simply provide lists of verses. This tool will help find all of the “puzzle pieces” and make it much easier for us to do research.
A LEXICON is also a useful tool. This is simply a dictionary for the Bible languages and we can find lexicons for both the Hebrew language of the Old Testament, and the Greek language of the New Testament. We can use lexicons to look up the meanings of the words found in the original language text of the Bible.
To gain more understanding, sometimes it helps to look for information on the English topic using a BIBLE DICTIONARY. These books are good because they often give historical and cultural information on the people and places we read about in the Bible.
COMMENTARIES are books that are written by men and women who feel they can help people by explaining the passages of the Bible. Commentaries come in various types. Some commentaries might deal with a certain book of the Bible and go through its content verse by verse. Other commentaries are topical and deal with a certain subject or question. We should always be cautious when using commentaries because the people who write them are NOT being guided by God as the original writers of the Bible were! Many times these people misinterpret the Bible because they fail to apply the guidelines for Bible study we have learned. Therefore, when reading a commentary one should never take the comments of the author without first studying the Bible and finding the truth. Use commentaries only to see if other people have come to the same conclusions you did in your own study!
The Bible is the only BOOK which contains God’s message for man. It is the only one we can completely trust!
Bible study is one of the most important endeavors we will ever perform! We cannot follow God unless we know what he wants us to do. We cannot know what he wants us to do unless we study. This is a simple truth that will not change throughout time! By keeping these few guidelines in mind you will find that you can understand the Bible and form your own conclusions, and these conclusions can be based upon facts. However, always remember that YOU are responsible to answer to God for what YOU believe! Do not neglect this or you will regret it!
In addition, never forget that it is not enough to simply study the Bible and CLAIM to be a Christian. God’s goal is not fully accomplished in our lives until we obey what he has told us to do. As a closing thought to our lesson, let us examine 1 John 2:3-6. Notice how the writer here states, in a similar way Jesus did in Matthew 7:21-23, that it is not enough for someone to SAY they believe in God. If the claim of belief is not supported by the action of obedience, then there is no truth in the claim! This is why Bible study alone is not sufficient. Bible study helps us to know God’s will. Obedience to that will makes us his possession!
In this lesson, we discussed many points relating to how proper Bible study is done. In our next lesson, we will continue this discussion and try to apply what we have learned in a practical way
1 Bias happens when a person assumes that what he has been told is true even though he has never investigated to see if there is evidence to prove that it is true.
2 Context means looking at how something fits together with the things going on around it.
3 Do not forget that we have already seen how God has spoken to man in TWO messages and that the second message is the one intended for us today. That message is the New Testament.
4 The phrase “Evil One” is often used to refer to Satan.
5 These three passages are quoted from the New International Version of the Bible.
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