Reading the Bible can be the gateway to heavenly bliss or the pathway to subtle self-destruction. To read the Bible is to walk on holy ground, so we must come to the Word oh so aware of the fine line that exists between reading and sinning.
As you read this article, please take to heart 2 Corinthians 13:5 and “Examine yourselves . . . test yourselves”.
Sin #1 – Reading without praying – the sin of proud self-reliance.
Reading the Word must be bathed in prayer – before, during and after. God is the ultimate Author of this Book and so we must go to Him for understanding and the innumerable blessings He wants to shower upon us through the Bible.
How to avoid it – Make this humble prayer your own – “Let me understand the teaching of your precepts” (Psalm 119: 27a).
Sin #2 – Reading without meditating – the sin of mindless mysticism.
Reading is only the beginning of our journey into God’s truth. We must think about what we read, and think long and hard. Some parts of the Bible are more difficult to comprehend than others; when faced with a challenging passage, you may simply need to spend more time pondering it.
How to avoid it – Proclaim with conviction – “Then I will meditate on your wonders” (Psalm 119:27b). When opening the Book, be opening, exercising and filling your mind, not emptying it.
Sin #3 – Reading without communing – the sin of dead intellectualism.
Reading the Bible is the means to the awesome end of deeper fellowship with God. If reading the Bible doesn’t result in sweeter intimacy with King Jesus, something is amiss. Time in the Word should never be an end in itself. It’s the entrance into the presence of Christ, our Creator, our Sustainer and the Lover of our souls.
How to avoid it – As you read, pray like the psalmist, “I seek you with all my heart” (Psalm 119:10a) and “Do not utterly forsake me” (Psalm 119:8b).
Sin #4 – Reading without understanding – the sin of empty ritualism.
Are the words only words? We commune with God through His Word as His Spirit reveals the meaning. Reading without understanding is not reading but a meaningless ritual, a mere formality that grieves the Spirit, displeases the Father and dishonors His Son.
How to avoid it – As you realize the sacredness of Scripture, pray “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law” (Psalm 119:18). This is not just another book. Say with Peter “You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
Sin #5 – Reading without believing – the sin of self-righteous legalism.
What do Bible reading, prayer, church attendance, tithing, and helping the needy all have in common? They can be either the expression of saving faith or the expression of non-saving faith. For the genuine believer, they are evidence of life. For the false believer, they are evidence of a spurious conversion and serve only to strengthen his self-deception. Bible reading, like any good work, is never the cause of our salvation but rather its result. The difference is infinitely, eternally huge.
How to avoid it – Ponder the wonder of salvation by grace, through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8-9). Nothing we do earns God’s favor (including Bible reading). From start to finish, salvation is His work, not ours.
Sin #6 – Reading without obeying – the sin of cheap grace.
Salvation is free, but it will cost you everything. Is this not the ultimate paradox of Scripture? We are not saved by good works, but for good works, and so Bible reading is one of the main activities God uses to empower us to live a life of increasing obedience, holiness and Christ-likeness. Sinless perfection will escape us this side of heaven, but a changed life will not. If your Bible reading doesn’t have life-transforming results, please consider the possibility that you are still dead in your sins and in need to be born of the Spirit (John 3:1-8).
How to avoid it – Spend much time in Psalm 119 and meditate much on the many verses that speak of obeying the Word. May these prayers be yours – “I will obey your decrees” (Psalm 119:8a) and “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free” (Psalm 119:32).
Sin #7 – Reading without studying – the sin of superficial skimming.
“Raking is easy, but you get only leaves; digging is hard, but you might find diamonds” (John Piper). Reading is but the first step to understanding the meaning and rejoicing as one who finds great wealth (Psalm 119:162). Ask questions; record your thoughts and responses in a journal; do word studies; join a Bible study group (or start one yourself). There are 101 ways to dig into the Word.
How to avoid it – Realize the need to dive in, not remain on the surface. This takes time and effort, fueled by the grace of God and the enabling of His Spirit. So get out your shovel and get digging, knowing that “it is God who works in you to will and to act” (Philippians 2:13 – another mind-boggling paradox).
And may your time in the Word be a source of divine renewal for the glory of God. While reading, be sure to be praying, meditating, communing, understanding, believing, obeying and studying, and you are sure to declare “Your statutes are my delight!” (Psalm 119:24).