Why is it that people can go through genuine conversion experiences and really believe in Jesus, yet still be jerks? It confounded me for years. I’ve seen selfish, cheap, bigoted, mean, even abusive Christians, make it much harder for those around them to have faith in God.
Gradually I’ve realized; the invitation to grow in knowledge and goodness is as unforced by God as the first invitation to come to faith. If we don’t do anything different to change what’s in our minds, our behavior won’t change either.
The way our minds get changed is by studying the Bible. Until we do this, we’re victims of the families and cultures we were raised in. The Bible is the playbook for being in God’s community, across all time and cultures. One verse in Romans, a letter in the New Testament, says, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
Mental transformation takes place when we’re exposed to new information, when we lay aside opinions to observe, analyze, question and act on it. A good process for Bible study allows all this to happen.
Here’s a suggested format, with much of the material based on appendices from “The Bible Study Handbook,” by Lindsay Olesberg:
- Pick a book of the Bible. Maybe start with the gospel of Mark, a short record of Jesus’ life.
- Find some background on when the book was written, to whom, and what was going on historically with those people. You don’t have to become a scholar, but a some context is needed, from a site like Dr. Craig Keener’s , or a book like, “What the Bible is All About,” by Henrietta Mears. Once you have some context, don’t keep flipping to other sources for interpretation. Just dig into the passage.
- Select a short section at a time. Mark 1:1-20 is plenty to start with. Read the passage.
- Read it again, looking for the facts – who, when, where, what happened, how.
- Look for connections in the writing, such as repetition, patterns, contrasts, cause and effect, images, metaphors. Pay attention to words like ‘therefore’ or ‘because.’
- Write down any questions you have, to research later or ask people you know.
- Sum up what you think the main themes of that passage are.
- Ask yourself how the passage applies to your life.
- What can you do to act on something you’ve learned?
A few things to keep in mind:
- Lots of us tend to jump from reading to application. Don’t. Take plenty of time for steps 4 through 8.
- Remember that we haven’t understood the Bible till we know what the author was communicating to his original audience. That’s why you need some context from history and culture, and to scan what passages come before and after.
- Expect that you will encounter God as you study. Try to be humble and open to what God wants you to see.
- Studying in groups can be really rich; there is the combined observation and interpretation of many different personalities. But realize that if the leader is talking a lot, it’s not study, it’s a lecture. Try to find a group where everyone is given responsibility to explore the text.
Some people find a little time to study every day, some take a chunk of time on the weekend, or even go on study retreats. You may not notice anything different at first, but a year or two of regular Bible study changes our lives in profound ways.