Every person who claims to be a Christian will tell you that he believes what he believes because it’s what the Bible teaches. Even the most over-reaching TV evangelists, whose goal is to separate folks from their dollars, lace their talks with passages of Scripture to lend legitimacy to what they say. It is uncomfortably common for even some well-known and well-respected preachers to use Bible texts out of context to prove up some point of doctrine they are pushing. It is a dangerous practice to cobble together a string of proof texts, lifted out of their contexts, and pass that off as Biblical doctrine or Biblical theology.
There are some ways to guard against over using your Bible’s concordance or Google searches to validate your beliefs.
Begin with prayer – God wants us to know his truth and the One who is Truth. This is the reason he gave us the Bible. It is his revelation to us so that we can know his heart, his will, and his ways. Only from Holy Scripture are we able to know who God is and what he has done for sinners like us. Begin each reading with asking God to teach you his truth from the texts you will read today. Be open to have what you believe challenged by what you find in the Bible. Trust that God will answer your request and read God’s words knowing that you have his attention and with the expectation that you are going to know God better than before. Come to the Bible with an open heart asking God to teach you His truth, not to prop up the truth you already are comfortable with. You might find your truth to be wrong.
Read whole books of the Bible – I often hear someone say about a current movie, “Did you read the book?”, and then some comment about it. Most people I know read posts on social media, news articles, magazines, etc. but likely never read a book of the Bible. Yet, a long book like Paul’s letter to the Romans can be read by almost anyone in a fairly short amount of time. There are others that I read often that I can read in a few minutes. Ephesians, Galatians, Colossians, 1 John, 1 Peter and others are examples. Even though many books of the Bible are much longer, even the longest books such as Matthew, Luke and the Acts are easy to read in no more than a few hours. It is worth the effort.
Only by reading whole books of the Bible (I have not forgotten the Old Testament…) can you get the full intended message of that book. If you only lift out a verse here and there, you will miss much of what is being said. I like to read a book, for instance one of Paul’s letters, 4 or 5 times in succession over a few days so that I become very familiar with who the audience was, what the issues were that Paul was addressing, and what solution he offered. It will be amazing how much more clearly you understand familiar verses once you see them in context. (Context includes, geography, culture, spiritual condition, and time among other things)
One of the last books of the New Testament to be written was the Gospel of John. Some time around 95 AD the great Apostle, and then elder of the church in Ephesus, wrote a summary of what he had seen and experienced. Some of the most profound truths in all of the Bible are found in this book that is focused on the person and work of Jesus who is the Son of God. For many years I recommended that new believers read John first and then other books. Now, in my old age, I believe every Christian should read it and reread it until it becomes familiar. John was written for a major purpose. In the 20th chapter verse 31, ” these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” What better reason to read a book than this? It was written so that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God and that by that believing we may have life in his name. Have you read this book? Read it now. It can change your life!
A proof text is often a pretext if taken out of context – You might wonder “What is a “pretext”? “Pretext = a reason given in justification of a course of action that is not the real reason“. To say it bluntly, it becomes a lie. Politicians do this all the time. A person making a speech will have every word scrutinized and often one sentence or phrase is lifted out of that talk and taken out of its original context and presented in a way that causes unsuspecting listeners to believe the person said something he did not really say or intend. Unfortunately both political parties use this tactic. And sadly, Christians use the same tactic to bash some minister or group that they don’t like for some reason. The way to avoid the danger of being caught up in such an ugly and unChristian activity is to give attention to context. When reading the Bible answer these questions the best you possibly can.
To whom was the statement addressed?
What was the culture like where those people lived?
Where did they live and why?
What problem, or problems, was the writer addressing?
Is the same idea or theme repeated in other places in the Bible?
What result do you think the writer hoped for?
The words you are reading are God’s words. What was (is) His message?
What principal(s) can I take away from this to apply to my daily living for God?
When you quote a passage of Scripture to prove a point you are making be certain, the best you can be certain, that you are being honest with God’s Word. Was the original speaker or writer making the same point you are trying to make? if not, be very careful.
After reading the Bible, write out what you have learned – Writing might not be as helpful for you as it has been for me but I think it is a good practice. It makes you think. And, I believe what our churches desperately need are pews packed with believers who think! People are needed who have carefully sought out doctrines for themselves and have reasoned answers as to why they believe what they believe and can communicate it well. The only way to have sure footing, a solid foundation for your faith, is to know the Word of God for yourself. None of us is an island, we need community, we must have other believers to help make us the people God desires but our faith is personal and must be rooted in the revealed Word of God, not in what someone said about it.
Make it your business to know why you know what you know and believe what you believe and you will never fall. If you rely on “what we have always believed…” or “that’s what Brother Voidhead said” you are open game for the enemy of your soul. Find your own faith for yourself but thankfully you don’t have to do it by yourself. In our church there are men and women leading studies where books of the Bible are studied each week, line by line. Get involved, find a couple of trusted friends you can call on if you can’t decide how to interpret a difficult passage.
Do all you can to be sure your beliefs about God and His loving work for ungodly people is biblical. Read your Bible for all it’s worth. It’s worth everything!
May God bless those who read His book and cause them to treasure Christ above all others.