: Bible

No secret key to living the Christian life

Ever read a book or heard a sermon about the key to living the Christian life?

Typically, as the story goes, the author/preacher struggled for years in living for Christ. He or she was an earnest, devoted follower of Jesus, but never seemed to make much progress in Christlikeness.

Then one day, someone gives them a book. Or perhaps they hear a particular sermon at a conference or a message delivered by a guest preacher at their church. And in a moment, everything is different.

Perhaps the “secret” is surrender to the Lordship of Christ, or abiding in Christ, or being filled with the Spirit, or another great biblical truth. Suddenly, the beauty and glory of this truth shines in their soul and from that instant they are changed. This becomes the key that unlocks everything that had prevented their spiritual progress.

After that experience their growth in grace and their Christian influence accelerates dramatically. They manifest more spiritual fruit in the next few months than they’ve heretofore seen in their entire life.

And now, they eagerly offer the secret key for Christian living to you. Follow the steps they took, pursue the same experience, and you, too, can enjoy unparalleled new freedom as a disciple of Jesus.

Without denying that these folks had a powerful experience, the reality is this: no one truth is the secret to living the Christian life.

Think about it–if there were one supreme key to Christian living, don’t you think it would have been put so plainly that we couldn’t miss it? In all his letters, wouldn’t Paul have identified “the secret” as clearly as a full moon on a cloudless night? When he wrote to the Corinthians about all their problems, why didn’t he just say, “Here’s the answer! Just experience this one truth and it will solve everything”? But he didn’t. And that’s because there is no such secret to daily Christian living.

I heard someone say that God has not given us one key, but a key ring. On that key ring are many keys. That key ring is the Bible and the keys are its many verses and principles.

If there is anything like a Master Key it is Master Himself, Jesus Christ. He has told us that, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Mt. 4:4, quoting Deut. 8:3.) In other words, to live the Christian life we need every word of God—the whole Bible—not just one key or secret.

The Apostle Paul put it this way: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). God has inspired all Scripture and it has a variety of uses, but no individual truth is the secret or key to everything in the Christian walk.

We need the whole Bible in order to live the Christian life. Without question some passages and some truths are more important than others, but none of them is the key. Of course, we do need to continually submit to the Lordship of Christ, experience what it means to abide in Christ, and always seek to be filled with the Spirit, etc. And although there is much overlap in the experience of these truths, they are not identical in meaning, and none of them is ever held forth as the key to Christian living.

Therefore it should be our aim to master as much of the Bible as we can. We should read it all the way through, study it, memorize it, meditate on it, an apply it to our lives so that we may live the Christian life as God desires and become more like Jesus Himself. That’s what God wants us to be—like Jesus—and there’s no one secret key to doing that.

 

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In 1987 I made notes while reading a Banner of Truth booklet, Living the Christian Life. I recently reflected upon  those notes, modified them, and expanded upon them for this piece.

 

 

Ask often, “What does the Bible say?”

Some of the most important changes in my life occurred when I thought to ask, “What does the Bible say about this?”

The way I spend the Lord’s Day, for example, and my thinking about what activities please God in worship were dramatically changed when I purposed to study what God’s Word said about those matters.

Far more often than we do, Christians should ask such questions. In our relationships, finances, use of time, priorities, parenting, simplifying, and everything else, we should more quickly ask, “What does the Bible say about this?”

The wisdom of frequently asking this question is obvious if we believe truths like these:

• “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7b)

• “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105)

• Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)

• “All Scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17

Nothing will simplify our lives more than finding the will of God on a matter and doing it. And the best way to discover the will of God is to search the Word of God.

What’s the most significant issue in your life right now? What major decision is before you? Be sure to ask, “What does the Bible say about this?” Then, as you turn to the Bible, pray the prayer of Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”

 

From Donald S. Whitney, Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 50-51.

Why salvation is far from some people

“Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek your statutes” (Psalm 119:155).

One characteristic of those the Bible describes as “wicked” is that they do not seek God’s statutes, God’s Word. For that reason, “Salvation is far from” them since the way of salvation—the way to God—is found only in the Word of God.

Everything we know about God is revealed to us by God, not discovered by us in our wisdom. As the Apostle Paul put it in 1 Corinthians 1:21, “For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe.”

The contrast between what Paul preached and the ways people want to find God, if they claim to want God at all, is explained in the next verse (22): “For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles.”

Just as in Paul’s day, people still think they can find God or find whatever they deem “salvation” through some means other than what God has revealed in Scripture.

As a result, some “demand signs,” such as some sort of miraculous proof or evident power to convince them. There are many land mines on this road. With some, no “proof” is conclusive; for every sign there’s a plausible explanation that justifies their continued unbelief even as they demand yet another, even greater sign. With others, any coincidence or unexplained phenomenon, no matter how small, is a persuasive sign of God’s presence and blessing—or the exact opposite. Such an experience-driven approach fosters a perpetual susceptibility to find unwarranted meaning in circumstances and a gullibility toward anyone who claims to have “a word from God.” But regardless where one falls along the spectrum of demanding signs, the result is that phenomena—not God’s written revelation—determines what is true.

Still others who “do not seek [God’s] statutes” instead “seek wisdom” elsewhere. For them, the message that a murdered messiah is the way to God sounds foolish. They want secret knowledge or complex knowledge. They want a salvation that serves their pride for being admitted to an exclusive group or flatters them for their cleverness. Bowing before the shameful execution of a Jewish peasant does not foster the elite status they expect with salvation, so they dismiss the Jesus way to God as foolishness.

God’s salvation is far from such folks. “Those who are perishing,” explains 2 Thessalonians 2:10, do so “because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.” No appetite for Scripture means no salvation in the soul. Anyone who doesn’t want God’s Word doesn’t want God, for He is discovered and experienced through the way it pleased Him to make Himself known—Scripture.

It is through God’s Word that we learn how we need God’s salvation. There we learn that we’ve broken God’s law and need to be saved from the penalty of breaking it. God reveals in Scripture how He sent His Son, Jesus, to rescue guilty people by dying on a Roman cross to receive the wrath of God that others deserved. Through the Bible we learn that God demonstrated His acceptance of Jesus’ presentation of Himself on behalf of sinners by raising Him from the dead and placing Him on the throne of Heaven. God reveals in Scripture how we must repent and place our faith in Jesus before He returns to judge the world. So if we do not seek the one place where all this is found, salvation will remain far away.

So, Psalm 119:155 tells us that if someone has no interest in the Word of God, they are not saved, that is, “salvation is far from them.” Those who do not seek God’s statutes do not receive God’s salvation.

Moreover, those who do not seek God’s statutes are entitled to no assurance that they have ever received God’s salvation, despite any profession to the contrary. I know many who claim to have received the Lord’s salvation, and may even faithfully attend meetings where the Bible is preached and taught, but on other days, in the privacy of their own homes, they manifest no hunger for the spiritual food found in Scripture. But anyone who has truly experienced the power of God in salvation wants to continue to experience the power of God through Scripture. God’s salvation produces an ongoing appetite for God’s Word, and those who do not have the latter do not have the former.

What about those who do seek God’s statutes? Instead of being “far from” them (Psalm 119:155), salvation is near them. But while Scripture brings God’s salvation near, Scripture itself saves no one. Scripture brings salvation near by telling of the way to salvation—Jesus Christ. As Jesus Himself said to the Torah-loving Pharisees, “You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (John 5:39-40).

So although salvation is near when we seek God’s Word, salvation is not automatic because we seek God’s Word. Salvation is near to those who seek the Book that bears witness of Jesus, the One in whom there is salvation. Scripture tells who Jesus is and what He has done on behalf of sinners. For salvation to go from being “near” to a present reality we must come to the One who can save us. Anyone who will unite themselves to Jesus by faith will be saved by Him from the wrath of God.

What about you? Is salvation far or near? If the only indication of how close salvation is to you was how earnestly you seek God’s Word, what would it show? A salvation far away? Near? A present reality?

The good news is that regardless of how near or far salvation has been until now, God will save you before you finish reading this paragraph if you will ask Him. Scripture does not specify an amount of time you must seek God’s Word nor a particular process of doing so before He will save you. Even if you have had no interest in the Bible until this moment, He is willing to save you in this moment.

“Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31)

Bible Reading Record

Jesus often asked questions about people’s understanding of the Scriptures, sometimes beginning with the words, “Have you not read . . . ?” He assumed that those claiming to be the people of God would have read the Word of God. And a case can be made that this question implies a familiarity with the entire Word of God.

When Jesus said, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4), surely He intended at the very least for us to read “every word,” for how can we “live . . . by every word that comes from the mouth of God” if we’ve never even read “every word that comes from the mouth of God”?

Since “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16), shouldn’t we read it?[1]

Below you’ll find a link to a tool to help you do just that. The Bible Reading Record is formatted for front and back of a 5.5 x 8.5 inch page, which means it can be used as a bulletin insert, or hole-punched to fit into many daily planners, journals, notebooks, etc.

The front page is for the Old Testament, the back is for the New. Each book of the Bible is listed. Beside each is a set of numbers which corresponds to the number of chapters for that book.  For example, since there are fifty chapters in Genesis, beside the word “Genesis” you’ll find “1 2 3 4 5 . . . 50.” As you read each chapter, mark through it on the Bible Reading Record.

Another option is to copy-and-paste the file to your phone (to the “Notes” app, for example), tablet, or computer and delete the numbers representing chapters of the Bible as you read them. So after you read Genesis chapters 1 and 2, you delete the numbers 1 and 2 after the word “Genesis.” On your next reading, the first number you see in Genesis is 3, which tells you that you’re to begin reading at Genesis 3. If you don’t want to delete the numbers, you could italicize them. This will help you keep track of your progress.

I recommend reading through the entire Bible once each year, and perhaps the New Testament a second time. You can read all sixty-six books of God’s Word in twelve months merely by reading three chapters each day and five on the Lord’s Day. You can read the New Testament in less than three months at this pace.

My favorite plan involves reading in five places each day. I begin in Genesis (the Law), Joshua (History), Job (Poetry), Isaiah (the Prophets), and Matthew (the New Testament) and read an equal number of chapters in each section. A variation of this plan is to read in three places daily starting in Genesis, Job, and Matthew, respectively. The three sections are roughly the same in length, so you will finish them all about the same time.

The real advantage of such a design is in its variety. Many who intend to read straight through the Bible become confused in Leviticus, discouraged in Numbers, and give up completely by Deuteronomy. But when you are reading in more than one place each day, it’s easier to keep up the momentum.[2]

Regardless of the plan you use or how long it takes you to read through the Bible, I hope you’ll find this tool helpful for maintaining consistency in daily Scripture reading.

You can download the Bible Reading Record from the Center for Biblical Spirituality here.

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[1] Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Revised and Updated edition (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014), 27.

[2] Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 29-30.

 

Go to the Scriptures for Endurance, Encouragement, & Hope

On most mornings I turn to the Scriptures as much out of a good, lifelong habit as anything else. On some mornings I approach God’s Word with a more keen sense of purpose. And sometimes I come with a real desire to meet God.

But on many occasions—often outside my daily routine of Bible intake—I turn to the Word of God out of an acute awareness of need. The world’s increasing complexity may have tensed my anxiety and frustration levels close to the snapping point. Or suffering, finances, or circumstances may have drained all my courage, endurance, or heart.

At such times we should go to the Bible and ask the Lord to give us patience, comfort, and hope through His Word.

We can do so with confidence, because the Bible expressly says, “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that we through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4).

When the apostle Paul spoke of things “written in former days” he was referring to what we now call the Old Testament. Today we can affirm that “whatever was written in former days” applies to the New Testament as well. The whole Bible was written “for our instruction,” that is, to instruct us—chiefly about God and His glory, and His work through Jesus Christ. And through these Scriptures, God gives real “endurance and . . . encouragement . . . [and] hope.”

Every now and then my heart is so broken, or my grief so deep, or my burden so heavy that I drop down in my desk chair, open the Bible, put my head in my hands and cry out, “Father, please encourage me through Your Word.” Or, “Lord, I’m so discouraged. I don’t know if I can go on. Give me hope!”

How does He answer? Sometimes it’s through promises, such as, “I will never leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5). Or He answers through the assurances of doctrinal passages like Romans 8:18: “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth  comparing with the glory that is to be revealed in us.” Or He may reply through the comfort of psalms penned by writers with the same passions coursing through my soul: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise Him, my salvation and my God” (Psalm 42:5).

Overall, I think God means for us to draw endurance, encouragement, and hope from the Scriptures by seeing there how He has always accomplished His purposes throughout the world and at all times, and then believing that He will accomplish them in our lives. I can read the Old Testament, and then see how God fulfilled it later in Jesus Christ and the church. I can read in the New Testament of both the power of Christ and His tender mercies toward His own. Then I encounter the repeated promises that Jesus will return for His people and take us to an eternal home of joy more glorious than all the sunsets in the history of the world combined.

Through these holy, historic, and living words God grants endurance  regarding His timing and providence in my life. Through these God-breathed lines I experience the encouragement of His presence and precious promises. And in the pages of Scripture He gives me the hope of a better world that is one day closer.

In His mercy, the Lord encourages us through people, circumstances, and countless other ways. But there’s no simpler, purer, or more direct means of receiving endurance, encouragement, or hope than by going to His Word and asking for it.

 

This material originally appeared in Donald S. Whitney, Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), 52-53.