I spent this past week at The Gospel Coalition conference. Good times. The whole point of the week was to learn to believe and fully grasp that all of the Old Testament is for Christians. Every page of the OT is filled with Christ, and in fact cannot be understood without understanding of Him.
The conference opened with a guy who is a whole lot smarter than me. He had an hour to stand on the stage and convince us that the way we engage with the Scriptures really matters. Turns out, there’s a way to read the Bible that leads to death not life. For someone who loves to study the Bible as much as I do, that’s enough to give me pause.
The text was one I’m familiar with and one I love: John 5. Jesus is chatting with the Pharisees and explaining to them why they don’t recognize Him as God. He says that the Pharisees don’t can’t see Him as the Messiah because they don’t know how to read the Bible.
The problem isn’t that they don’t read the Bible. The problem isn’t that they don’t love the Bible. The folks He’s talking to know the Scripture better than you or I. The problem is they don’t get the Bible.
The Pharisees study the Old Testament and they miss the point entirely. They don’t get it. They don’t see that every page of the Old Testament (and the NT) points to the person and work of Jesus Christ.
They don’t read the Bible ‘right’ because they’re not interested in seeing how the prophets and law make much of God. They’re interested in seeing how the stories recorded in the Old Testament make much of them.
If they opened each page of the Bible, desperately seeking the glory of God – they would see Jesus on every page. But their heart beat is to receive glory for themselves. They read the Scriptures wondering what it all means for them; loving the parts that are about them, desperate to get wisdom to get more for themselves.
They read the Bible like they are the main character, and as a result Jesus says they cannot believe in Him.
It’s not enough to be someone who pours over the Bible. It’s not enough to love the Bible. We have to seek the glory of God in the Bible, and not our own. We have to long to dig into the Word so that we can see the glory that comes from Him in the person of Christ.
Don’t be too quick to dismiss the warning to the Pharisees. John 5 was written down for you and I. It was written down, not so that we would condemn and judge them, but so that we would examine ourselves. When we look at the way we think about the Bible, feel about the Bible and interact with the Bible, we will be able to examine if we are reading the Bible to seek God’s glory or our own:
1. Head. What is the primary thing you seek to learn from the Bible? Information about yourself or about God? Do you tend to approach the Scripture to get information or insight into your own life or into God’s glory? Do you tear through the pages of Scripture, taking verses out of context to try to learn what type of job to take or person you’ll marry? When you say you want to ‘hear’ from God through the Word, do you just mean that you want to ‘hear’ about your life? Or do you want to hear about who He is and see the fullness of Him in Christ?
2. Heart. How do you feel about the Bible? Do you get bored easily? As a teacher I’ve noticed that it’s amazingly easy to get people to tune in to what you’re saying; all you have to do is talk about their favorite subject: themselves. If I started typing right now about personality types and inviting you in to identifying your own strengths and weaknesses you’d be hooked, because we all love anything centered on self. The Bible isn’t about us, and for some of us – that’s why it’s boring. We’re only interested in the passages that seem to make much of us. If we’re not a character featured in a text, or if it says something negative about us, we’d rather just skip it. God’s glory just isn’t captivating enough to us; we’d rather hear about our own glory.
3. Hands. Consider the time you spend in the Word. Does it reflect that seeking God’s glory through the Bible is your primary objective in life? So many of us say we’re just not learners, but the reality is, we’re willing to invest hours and hours into learning what we need to have a successful career. When our glory is at stake, we’ll spend all the time and energy necessary. We’re just not interested in investing our time and energy in seeking the glory that comes from God in the person of Christ.
This isn’t a small detail. John is talking about the difference between believing in Him and not believing in Him. The way we engage with the Bible reflects an eternal reality in our hearts. There are only two types of people in the world: those who seek God’s glory and those who seek their own.
Being a Christian doesn’t make texts like this irrelevant. The warning in Scripture are for us as Christians. They’re to persevere us through repentance and faith; through a renewed vigor to passionately examine and dig into the Old Testament and New, seeking to see the glory that comes from God in the face of our King and truest companion: Jesus.