There are a lot of important questions when studying the Bible. I don’t mean to negate these at all. Context is so meaningful that one would be foolish to disregard it. What did it mean to the original audience? That’s our first real clue to the meaning for today. Use your study tools such as concordances, commentaries, word studies, dictionaries, and whatever you can get your hands on. These tools will help us answer the most important question in Bible study, but are not always essential. What is the most important question in Bible study?
What is the Holy Spirit teaching you today?
That’s it. You can dig into the Greek and learn a lot, but if you do not see what God wants you to see for your life today then you have wasted your time.
I belong to a religious tradition that overplays study and downplays Holy Spirit influence. I appreciate the emphasis on putting the work into Bible study and reaching reasonable conclusions. That perspective keeps us from thinking that every hunch is a message from God. But an unintended consequence may teach us to rely on our own intelligence beyond what God may desire to show us in our hearts.
The Holy Spirit indwells every Christian. The Scriptures teach that the Spirit of God lives within us. I do not believe he is there to take up space nor to just be a witness to our salvation. I listen to Jesus talk to the disciples and I know that He is One who comforts and One who convicts.
The Holy Spirit speaks to every Christian. How does the Holy Spirit speak to you? I’m not suggesting that there will be a whisper in the ear so much as I’m believing that God can communicate to us in any way He desires. I’ll leave that to Him. Among the ways that we might consider, there is no more certain and sure manner of communication than the teaching of the Word of God. It has been preserved for us for centuries for a reason… and by a certain power!
The Holy Spirit reveals your sin. The Word is a mirror but not a magic mirror. It doesn’t tell us what we want to hear. It tells us the truth – which isn’t always pretty. As we study the Bible we should be acutely aware of our own sin… the shortcomings of our journey … the intentional and unintentional ways we fall short of His glory … the undone will of God in our daily lives. If you are reading the Bible and are not convicted by your own failure, you’re not listening.
The Holy Spirit will only communicate the truth. If you are reading the Bible and come away convinced that you are awesome because you’re so good, you are listening to another spirit. You need to test the spirits because our own pride can insert into the Scriptures a message of complete acceptance of our own sinful habits and self-produced problems. When our reading of the Bible excuses away our sin – which we all have – we are not hearing from the Holy Spirit.
The Holy Spirit will reveal grace. The purpose of knowing our sin and being sensitive to it is so that we can understand grace. Until you know the truth about your sin you can never know grace. What tears of joy can flow when we are afflicted by the pain of our failings followed by the beauty of forgiveness and mercy. God shows us our sin but does not want us to stay there. He desires us to know the cleansing power of the blood of Jesus – not just in an academic sense but in a very personal sense.
When we study the Bible we are not just exercising a discipline, we are hearing from the Holy Spirit. We are not just hearing about an ancient circumstance but a contemporary outreach of God into our lives.
Before opening your Bible pray and ask God to reveal to you what you need to know today. Exercise discernment. The more you study and get to know God you will realize He will never teach you something different from His word. I know we are afraid God might ask us to do something crazy … but I think we are more afraid to recognize that God knows our hearts. He is very aware of the bruises and pains that need healing … the ones that have caused us to neglect Him. So just enter His presence with ears and hearts open.
His most likely message might be …
I forgive you.
I can help you.
I love you.
Thanks for reading.