Published on June 1st, 2018 | by Katherine Forster
When Our Bible Study Is All Wrong
I talk an awful lot about Bible study.
If you could be a fly on the wall when I talk with friends about our struggles with sin, the question you might hear the most is, “But have you been in the Word lately?” Bible study isn’t the only aspect of our spiritual walk, but it is an essential one. It’s nearly impossible to grow in our faith if we’re not in God’s word.
But just because you’re reading, studying, and even memorizing your Bible doesn’t necessarily mean you’re growing in Christ. In fact, Satan loves to take hold of good, beautiful things like this and twist them into an opportunity for sin.
It is possible to be very full of biblical knowledge, very arrogant, and very far from God.
Made to Know God—Not Just About Him
The entire purpose of our lives is knowing God. This is the reason we were created. A relationship with the one who created us is our only source of fulfillment and joy.
But there’s a big difference between knowing God, and knowing about God.
I know a lot about my favorite musicians, given that I’ve listened to most of their music, follow many of them on social media, and might even have read articles they’ve written. But I’ve never even met most of them. I certainly couldn’t call them acquaintances or friends.
The people I know, on the other hand, are those who go to my church, hang out with me at the mall or McDonalds, or maybe even live in other states but will spend two hours on a video call. We might have inside jokes or funny stories about each other; certainly we’ll know a lot about each other’s preferences, personality, and lives.
My friends and I have lots of knowledge about each other, too—the difference is that it’s in the context of a relationship.
What about our knowledge of God?
Go Check Your Motivation
What happens when we divorce knowledge about God from our relationship with him? When we seek it as an end in itself?
J.I. Packer (author of a book entitled Knowing God!) offers this stern warning:
[If] we pursue theological knowledge for its own sake, it is bound to go bad on us… To be preoccupied with getting theological knowledge as an end in itself, to approach Bible study with no higher a motive than a desire to know all the answers, is the direct route to a state of self-satisfied self-deception. (Knowing God, 17)
In other words, if we just want to study our Bible so we can know all the answers, feel better about ourselves, and impress parents and teachers (or even God!), we’re doing it wrong. That kind of Bible study isn’t going to grow your faith—it’s just going to make you proud and arrogant.
That’s not to say God can’t or won’t use Bible study that’s done for the wrong motives. He did just that for me. His word is far too powerful to stand being trifled with; it must do something within us.
He patiently waited for months and years as I studied and memorized for mostly selfish purposes. And when the time came, all that Scripture I’d stored in my head started knocking on the door of my heart. Slowly, my motivations started to change, and I started wanting to study the Bible to know him—not to win a competition or enjoy admiring looks. In the end, knowing the facts and winning the prizes didn’t mean anything. It was knowing him that made all the difference.
What is our motive in Bible study? Is it just to know all the answers, to think we’re a better Christian than somebody else? Or are we seeking to go deeper in our relationship with God?
Battling Pride, Pursuing God
The problem, however, is how to get away from these selfish, prideful motivations. Should we keep from studying our Bibles because it might lead us into sin?
Of course not.
What we need isn’t fewer temptations. We don’t need less opportunity to sin. We need more of the God who is to be our all in all! And ironically, that strengthening of our faith and deepening of our relationship with our Savior happens through his word.
The answer isn’t to stop studying our Bible. No, the answer is to keep studying! But let the purpose of your study be radically different.
Our aim in studying the Godhead must be to know God Himself the better. Our concern must be to enlarge our acquaintance, not simply with the doctrine of God’s attributes, but with the living God whose attributes they are. As He is the subject of our study, and our helper in it, so He must Himself be the end of it. We must seek, in studying God, to be led to God. (Knowing God, 18, italics added)
We’re not studying just so we can know more facts about God. We’re studying to know God.
Only he is able to transform our hearts and our motivations. Only he can cause us to love him more than we love knowledge about him.
Go to his word, day after day. Come to him, admitting that you can do nothing and pleading for his help. Pray for his strength to fight the pride that threatens to take over your heart, and ask instead to be led to him. That is a prayer he loves to answer.