One morning, my daughter tried to use my unplugged straightener to pick up a sock. Her assessment of the similarities between my hair straightener and her training chopsticks was comical, but also dangerous. Had she chosen to exercise her sock-grabbing skills when the straightener was on-or worse, while I wasn’t there-the outcome wouldn’t have been so funny.
Surprisingly, the Bible is also a commonly misused item. Some common forms of misapplication include taking verses out of context to push a personal agenda, treating it like a book of good advice, or using it like a Magic 8 Ball, hoping a page picked at random will provide answers.
And like my straightener, misuse of the Bible can be dangerous, causing us to miss its entire aim. Jesus knew the self-reliant Pharisees had a tendency to misuse the Scriptures and addressed this in John 5:39-40:
“You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life” (emphasis added).
The Pharisees thought the Scriptures in themselves gave eternal life, but no one is justified by the Law (Gal. 2:16,3:11,Heb. 7:19, 10:1). The Bible is a witness, not a savior. To treat it like a savior is a misuse of its intended purpose. The Bible testifies of the One who is the antidote for the disease of sin. If we study it, but stop short of going to Jesus Himself, we are no different than the unsaved Pharisees.
What’s the Difference?
Obviously, the answer isn’t to stop going to the Bible. We must be diligent students of this God-breathed Word to see the Father clearly, to see Jesus clearly, and to understand what He accomplished for us on the cross. But if we stop short of going to the Jesus the Bible points to, we risk the fatal mistake of the Pharisees: avoiding Jesus as Savior.
How can you know if you are using the Bible to avoid Jesus? When it becomes a self-help manual instead of a platform to showcase your Redeemer. When the Bible produces to-do lists and not worship. When your Bible reading is devoid of prayer.
Those to-do lists may keep ungodly desires under lock and key in the basement of our hearts for a while, but they will eventually escape. However, when we approach the Word of God rightly, it will always first expose us. What our to-do lists attempt to hide, the Scriptures intend to lay bare, revealing that what we perceived to be under our control is actually enslaving us. It uncovers our helpless imprisonment and then offers us a Savior.
But the Scripture imprisoned everything under sin, so that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe (Gal. 3:22).
Willing to See the Ugly
Proper Bible reading first exposes sin, then offers a Savior. The Bible is a witness to the need for a Savior and the presentation of Jesus as that Savior. It leads us by the hand to helpless cries for mercy and ushers us on our knees to repentance.
So why do we resist this pattern? Because we don’t like to feel needy; we don’t like being exposed. We’re okay with the Savior-offered part, but who really wants to see the ugliness of their sin? It’s easier to just lock it up with a behavior-modifying to-do list and look the other way. But we must learn to be honest with ourselves, lest we find that like the Pharisees we have settled only for the truth about the Savior.
Like the Pharisees, I am pretty good at keeping my life externally clean. But the more I read the Bible, the clearer I see the hidden wickedness lurking in the shadows of my soul. It’s difficult to admit that I have a desire to be the most-followed Christian blogger or that I’m unwilling to be average if that’s what God wanted for me. It’s slightly terrifying to divulge my ambition to be the most spiritual—let’s be honest, most awesome-woman in my church or my hope that I can keep my gluttonous eating habits secret so I don’t have to change. Seeing my sin in the light confirms my deepest fears: I am nothing more than a needy sinner.
Recognizing the hopelessness of my condition is an important part of this process. Without being exposed, I often feel like I’m doing pretty good. I don’t wake up looking for a Savior; I wake up eager to try harder. I must be willing to see the ugly so I stop living in the fairy tale that I can handle my sin myself. As I often tell my daughters, “Sin will kill you” (Rom 6:23).
Are you willing to see it in yourself? God’s goal is not to tame your sin, but to kill it. God knows the secrets of the heart and urges you to bring them to the light so that He can slay them (Ps. 44:21,69:5; 1 John 1:5-10). Go to Him honestly in prayer.
Take heart, you are not alone. There’s no such thing as a “good” Christian. By definition, a Christian is one who recognizes her terminal sin-cancer as well as her inability to heal herself, looking instead to Christ as the antidote.
But this healing is not a one-time event for those who follow Jesus; it is the daily experience. We have been saved and are being saved. This is the way we mature as believers: looking to Jesus daily to save us from exposed sin. Repentance, not performance, is the posture of the Christian.
Resist the urge to use the Bible as a self-help guide, a to-do list for caging up your sin. The Word of God is not an end. It is a means to an end. It is a signpost, pointing to a Savior who is ready and willing to save us from our selfish bents and hidden addictions. Let it expose you and lead you to Him today.
What resistance do you have to approaching the Bible this way? How have you avoided needing Jesus as Savior? Who is one trusted friend to whom you can confess your caged-up desires?