[NOTE: This is the final post in a series of entries intending to help readers learn how to study their Bible.]
For those following this series of posts, I have very briefly touched on 3 steps of effective Bible study: Preparation, Observation and Interpretation. Preparation puts me in line with God's Holy Spirit so that I can discern spiritual things. Observation is the discipline to "search out" the details in a text. Interpretation is the business of making sense of what I see. But, my study is complete only when I apply what I have learned.
Two key texts come to mind when I think about this principle of Application. In Luke 6:46, Jesus asks, "Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" His point, of course, is that submitting to Jesus as "Master" requires not just understanding what He teaches, but doing it. Similarly, James highlights the foolishness of observation and interpretation without application:
"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 a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does." [James 1:22-25]
The key word in this text is "do"--intentional application of what we learn. In fact, James explains, to read and study the Bible without applying truth is like looking at ourselves in the mirror and walking away without correcting our problem. Just as mirrors and designed for self-improvement, so the Bible is designed to change our lives.
Howard Hendricks, distinguished professor at Dallas Theological Seminary writes, "Interpretation without application is abortion of God's Word." He goes on to highlight 4 "substitutions" that we may be tempted to make:
1. We substitute interpretation for application.
Disciples feel that if they understand a passage, they have mastered its content.
2. We substitute superficial obedience for substantive life-change.
Disciples come to believe that if they begin to apply the scripture or demonstrate a life which may only hint at intended change, they have accomplished the intent of a text.
3. We substitute rationalization for repentance.
Namely, we explain away our sin, our complacency, our refusal to be more than mere hearers of the Word. We give excuses as to why a text doesn't exactly apply to us.
4. We substitute emotional experience for a volitional decision.
Our excitement about a text or our passion about its implication becomes the end result of our study. While we might be emotionally captivated by spiritual truth, we are nonetheless unchanged.
True application is a change in our lives: a change in what we believe, in what we feel or in how we live. The Bible is designed to transform our mind, our heart and our behavior. So, once we discover what a text means to the original audience, we must decide what implication it has for us personally. The following is a list of questions to ask as we work to apply God's Word:
1. Is there an example for me to follow?
2. Is there a sin to avoid?
3. Is there a promise to claim?
4. Is there a prayer to repeat?
5. Is there a condition to meet?
6. Is there a verse to memorize?
7. Is there an error to note?
8. Is there a challenge to face?
Today, you might print this list and tuck it inside your Bible as a reminder to not only be hearers of the Word, but doers as well. I pray that your study of the Scriptures yields great fruit for life transformation.