I’ve been listening to a sermon entitled “The Essentials of Handling God’s Word (Part 3).” It’s vintage John MacArthur teaching – straightforward, easy to understand and saturated with Scripture. I highly recommend it.
MacArthur provides a compelling list of five requirements for comprehending Scripture. The sermon answers the question, “What does it take to understand the Bible?” What are the prerequisites for making sense of the Word?
Here’s a recap of those requirements:
You must have experienced the new birth and thereby possess the Holy Spirit. You must be a true born-again believer in Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 2:14 is clear about this: “The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.”
You must have a strong, overwhelming passion to understand Scripture. “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk” (1 Peter 2:2). Is your craving for the Word as all consuming as a baby’s craving for milk?
Like the Bereans in Acts 17, would you describe yourself as someone who “examines the Scriptures every day”? The word “examine” means to conduct a judicial investigation. There’s nothing superficial about that, is there? It takes much time, energy, hard work and self-discipline.
If you’re living a life of habitual sin, you’ll have great difficulty understanding the Bible. It’s unlikely that you’ll even want to spend time in the Word, and if you do, your sin will get in the way because, as MacArthur says, “It clouds your understanding. It darkens your mind.”
To comprehend Scripture, we must “get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent, and humbly accept the word planted in you, with can save you” (James 1:21). And in the 1 Peter 2 passage quoted above, it’s significant that Peter says to “rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy and slander” (1 Peter 2:1). Only then will you have that intense desire for the Word.
It’s essential to bathe your Word-time in prayer – before, during and after we read the Word, we should be asking for God’s help to understand it and obey it.
That’s quite a list, isn’t it? I’ve been thinking a lot about each of these things the past few days. This sermon has had quite an impact on me.
Did you notice what is not on the list?
A Bible college or seminary education.
Knowledge of Greek and Hebrew.
Being born and raised in a Christian home.
Being taught the Bible from a young age.
The Bible can be understood by anyone of any age or any background, regardless of how long you’ve been a Christian or what kind of life you’ve lived. God wants you to read, study and understand the Bible, but to do so, you must be a genuine believer in Jesus, have a compelling desire to know God’s truth, be willing to work at it, live a holy life, and spend time on your knees while doing it, crying out for God’s help.
Then, and only then, will you understand the Bible and proclaim with the psalmist, “O how I love your law” (Psalm 119:97).
As we reflect on this list, I’d like to focus on Requirement #1. There’s a reason it’s the first thing on the list. Each of these items is critical, but we must be sure to get first things first.
If you’ve had trouble understanding the Bible, could it that you’ve yet to experience the new birth? Could this be why it’s such a struggle for you to even read the Bible? And when you hear a sermon, could this be why what is said doesn’t make much sense to you?
Please take my words to heart. I’m writing this because I regularly encounter professing Christians who spend little if any time in the Word, and when they do, they find it difficult to understand and therefore receive no benefit.
This saddens me deeply and I want to help. To that end, I’ve created a Bible study on the foundational, essential, life-changing truths of the Christian faith. The title is Jesus: Who He Is, What He Did, and Why It Matters: A Bible Study for New Believers and Skeptics. I take you through the gospel of John, chapters 1-3, and explain the meaning of salvation and what it means to be born again and to have a vital, life-changing relationship with God through His Son Jesus Christ.
If you’re having trouble reading and understanding the Bible, I highly recommend you read this book and answer the questions that follow each section. I urge you to heed the warning of 2 Corinthians 13:5 — “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.”
This is also a great book for those who do spend much profitable time in the Word and would like to lead others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. This book is ideal for a small group Bible study or one-to-one discipleship. If you or your church is involved in any type of outreach ministry, this is the kind of resource that can help you get the gospel into the hands of those who need it most, whether it be loved ones, co-workers or your next door neighbor.