This is the first lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
When I was in eighth grade my church gave me a brand new black Bible with red-colored edges and my name embossed in gold on the cover. It smelled fresh and crackled when first opened. I felt a special connection with this Bible.
I tried many times to read that Bible, from page one to the end, like a book “ought” to be read. But frustration grew as I got bogged down in Leviticus, and then completely stalled out in Numbers. So most of the pages of that Bible remained clean, but I was vaguely glad to have it on my shelf.
When I was 17 someone gave me a New Testament in a fresh new version that was very easy to read. I had met some lively, enthused college-age kids who saw the Bible as a book full of life and light. So I read that New Testament straight through in a couple of weeks. The speeches of Jesus flashed like lightning. Hebrews explained Christ. James explained life. Romans laid out a progressive, perfectly rational, description of God, the world, and me. As I read the New Testament, it had a “ring of truth” to it. Each idea made sense. It all fit together. I remember thinking how my assumptions about God had been so simplistic and so skewed, but the light of Scripture was revealing a God who made perfect sense. I also knew that I was being changed. My attitude. My language. My behavior. I didn’t even choose to make changes; they were just happening.
Fast forward ten years. I was headed to seminary to do three years of study before beginning a career as a pastor—a course change from my life-long passion to become a surgeon. I signed up for Greek to study the New Testament in its original language. And Hebrew, for the Old Testament. (Taking both at once was a terrible idea.) Ahead of me lay many courses in Scripture. And here is a frightening truth: I could have become self-righteous and Pharisaical about it all.
Two mistakes we can make with the Bible are 1) being ignorant of its content because we just don’t read it; or 2) being obsessed about knowing the Bible in its details; being proud of our knowledge, but ignoring the spirit of the word and not being shaped by it.
We’re calling this weekly series of lessons in the months to come “How to Live the Bible.” Our goal is to deepen our relationship with God through God’s Word. To “live the Bible” means continual life transformation through the work of the Holy Spirit using the implanted word of God. We will probe how we can develop a biblical mindset, worldview, attitude, and instincts that lead us to right living and effective witness. The Bible has shaped the history of the world. It’s the foundation of whole civilizations. It holds the keys of salvation from evil and sin. It should shape us.
The Bible is not just a book of rules. And so “How to Live the Bible” is not about how we can list the commands of Scripture that apply to us, and complain about all the people who are not obeying. That accomplishes nothing. We need to learn how to consume the truth of Scripture and for truth to become the spiritual muscle tissue of our lives. Then the mandates get fulfilled.
Along the way we’ll come to a few major themes. For instance,
- LAW — Is the Bible filled with laws to be obeyed, and is this how we “live the Bible?” For instance, what about the Ten Commandments? What about the Old Testament laws? How did Jesus change things? What did Paul mean by being “dead to the law”? What about the new “law” of love?
- LOVE — How does the “great commandment” form the basis of living the Bible?
- ETHICS — What is the method whereby we use biblical revelation for ethical decisions (personal ethics, business ethics, social ethics, medical ethics, etc.)?
- THEOLOGICAL STRUCTURE — How can a believer gain a comprehensive structure of belief? Living the Bible is about gaining a grasp of reality and living in reality at all times.
- BIBLICAL MINDSET AND INSTINCTS — How do we gain minds and hearts that will instinctively react to all life circumstances out of the truth of Scripture?
- SIN AND VICES; RIGHTEOUSNESS AND VIRTUES; JUSTIFICATION AND SANCTIFICATION — What are the ways God shows us the dark side of ourselves and how does the Holy Spirit transform us?
Living the Bible best happens when our instincts and motives are so thoroughly shaped by the God’s truth, that we automatically make good decisions without even thinking about them. Everyone admires believers who are even-tempered, consistently courteous and kind, able to hold convictions while respecting others. Scripture must form our character.
Everyday life includes highs and lows, accomplishments and failures, gains and losses. Whatever our circumstances, we need what James called “the implanted word” which can rescue us (James 1:21). We are to be “doers of the word, and not hearers only.” Or, as Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matthew 7:24).
And so we begin this 30-week journey of learning together “how to live the Bible.”
Prayer: God, lead us in this journey. Do a mighty work in us, for your glory.
[If you believe this series will be helpful, this is the perfect time to forward this to a friend, a group, or a congregation, and tell them they too may sign up for the weekly emails here]
Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s minister at large. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel is the author of 18 books, including How to Understand the Bible—A Simple Guide and Spiritual Influence: the Hidden Power Behind Leadership (Zondervan, 2012). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.