How to Benefit from Scripture
Not only is the Bible the best-selling book of all time, it consistently ranks as the best-selling book of the year every year, with over 100 million copies printed annually. In the United States, almost nine out of every ten households own a copy of the Bible.
Yet despite the widespread availability of Scripture, Christian leaders are becoming increasingly alarmed by how seldom it is read and by the growing number of Christians whose lives seem unchanged by it. Some researchers even concluded, "Americans revere the Bible--but, by and large, they don't read it. And because they don't read it, they have become a nation of biblical illiterates."
What can we do to make sure, not only that we understand what’s in the Bible, but that its words transform us?
The New Testament book of James gives some helpful advice on how to interact with Scripture in order to benefit from it. This advice can be boiled down to three basic guidelines: recognize, receive, and respond.
1) To benefit from Scripture, we need to RECOGNIZE its priceless value.
James 1:17 tells us that God is the giver of every good thing we have in life. In the next verse, as if to highlight the greatest of God’s gifts, James points to God’s Word. He says, “[God] chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.” (James 1:18) James points to Scripture as one of the most precious of God’s good gifts.
The Holy Spirit uses the words of Scripture to awaken our consciences, to correct our thinking, to strengthen our faith, to shape our character, and to increase our wisdom. Scripture is the instrument God uses to bring people to life spiritually. 1 Peter 1:23 says, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.” If you possess a Bible, it is certainly the most valuable item you own.
2) To benefit from Scripture, we need to RECEIVE its truth into our minds and hearts.
James 1:21 says “humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” A Bible sitting on a shelf or stacked on my bedside table can’t change me. For a Bible’s words to transform my character, I need to open it. I need to accept the truths of Scripture – to take active steps to receive them.
Receiving Scripture is done in several ways. The primary ways to receive Scripture are to read it, to study it, to memorize it, and to hear it preached. The Westminster Shorter Catechism says, “The Spirit of God maketh the reading, but especially the preaching of the Word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort, through faith, unto salvation.” The reason many people fail to benefit from Scripture is simply because they do not read it and do not gather with other believers to hear it preached.
Why is this so? It is common to explain our negligence of Scripture by pointing to our busy schedules. We don’t read the Bible, we say, because we don’t have time. But the real reason might be deeper than that. Notice that James links the reception of the Word to humility (“humbly accept the word”). If we are neglecting Scripture, James might ask whether the real reason we don’t read the Bible is not because we lack time, but because we are proud. We secretly feel that we are strong enough and wise enough to make it through life on our own. We feel we don’t need God’s counsel. If this is the case with you, plead with God to humble your heart so that you begin to see your desperate need for his Word.
3) To benefit from Scripture, we need to RESPOND to what it says.
Immediately after urging us to receive God’s Word, James writes: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:22-25)
The counsel James gives is really just common sense. We wouldn’t expect a doctor’s prescription to improve our health if we don’t take the medicine. We wouldn’t expect to lose weight merely by reading about a diet plan. We realize that for words to change our lives, they need to be put into practice. It is the same with God’s Word. In order to benefit from Scripture, we need to respond to it.
The two primary (and necessary) responses to Scripture are repentance and faith. Repentance means recognizing that we have done wrong, admitting our guilt, and taking steps to change our behavior. The Bible often calls us to repent. But God wants more than repentance – he calls us to belief. Specifically, he calls us to believe the gospel – the good news about Christ. The gospel tells us that, even though we have fallen far short of God’s standards of goodness, God loves us anyway and sent his Son to rescue and restore us. Through his obedient life, his sacrificial death, and his triumphant resurrection, Jesus accomplished everything necessary for us to be forgiven and restored to a relationship with God. God wants you to believe this good news!
The Bible can change your life! Recognize its value. Take active steps to receive it. Respond with faith and repentance to what it says. Psalm 1:3 says that people who do these things are “like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither— whatever they do prospers.”