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The Bible is like no other book. It is alive. It is life. It gives us light. It strengthens us, encourages us and guides us. It transforms us. It shows us what we need to change in our life and gives us the power to change. It works in us, deeply and powerfully. It gives us peace, joy and assurance. And much more. It has done all this for me and for many others, and it can do it for all who will accept it on its own terms. It can do this because it is the revealed word of God. In order for it to do this, we must accept it as the word of God, submit ourselves to it, and treat it as authoritative.
SOME BASIC PRINCIPLES
Here are some of the things Scripture says about the power it has and the ways in which it can affect our lives. I have seen them confirmed over and over in my own life and that of many others. Hopefully they will suggest how much the Bible has meant to many and how much it can mean to anyone who approaches it with the right attitude.
God’s Word Is Alive
“For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12). Much could be said about this remarkable passage, but for the present I wish to emphasize simply that it says that God’s word, in Scripture, is alive and powerful; it cuts sharply; and it discloses and discerns our inner thoughts and intentions. I think everyone who has read and thought about Scripture, and applied it to their lives, will confirm this by his or her own experience. As we read and reflect on Scripture, there are passages that have a way of jumping out at us. They may bring a new revelation of who God is and what his ways are, or a new understanding of one’s self. They may say to us forcefully, “This is something you need to deal with, now.” The process is not always enjoyable, but the end result is always good. Perhaps one reason some do not like to read Scripture is that they do not wish to have the thoughts and intents of their heart discerned!
The prophet Jeremiah, about 600 years earlier, wrote something quite similar. “‘Is not My word like a fire?’ says the LORD, ‘And like a hammer that breaks the rock in pieces?’” (Jeremiah 23:29). God’s word is a hammer that can break down many of our emotional strongholds and preconceptions, if we will let it.
God’s word created the physical universe. “And God said” (Genesis 1:3, 6, 9, 14, 20, 24, 26 KJV). “For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm” (Psalm 33:9 NIV). “…he commanded and they were created” (Psalm 148:5 NIV). “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command…” (Hebrews 11:3 NIV). (Also see Romans 4:17.) If God’s word had the power to create the physical universe out of nothing, it should not surprise us that his word has power to change our lives.
It Gives Us Life
“Your word has given me life” (Psalm 119:50). “I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life” (Psalm 119:93). (Also see verses 25, 40, 88, 107, 149, 154, 156, and 159.) God’s word “quickens” us (KJV). It revives us. It gives us life.
It Transforms Us
Paul has told us, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). The transformation he is calling for is a radical one. We are to develop character that is more godly. (See Chapter 14.) It is Scripture, more than anything else, that is the agent for this transformation. It is through reading Scripture, studying Scripture, reflecting on Scripture, living Scripture, making Scripture a part of us, that we come to know God’s ways, his heart and his character, and can begin to bring ourselves into conformity with them. If Scripture does not transform us, it has done us little good.
God is at work in those who believe in him and his son Jesus Christ. “He who has begun a good work in you will complete it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Philippians 1:6). “It is God who works in you both to will and to do for his good pleasure” (Philippians 2:13). “…in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV). God is “able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us” (Ephesians 3:20). Paul said, “…I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:29 NIV). One of the principal ways God works in us is through his Scripture. Paul wrote that the gospel he preached is “the word of God, which also works effectively in you who believe” (1 Thessalonians 2:13).
The Christian life should be a life of spiritual growth. (See Chapter 10.) We are to grow “in the knowledge of God” (Colossians 1:10). We are to “…become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” and “…grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:13, 15 NIV). We are to add various qualities to our faith (2 Peter 1:5). Much of this growth is achieved through reading, study and application of the Bible. It is by Scripture that “the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:17).
This process of transformation does not come quickly. It continues throughout our life. Near the end of his life, Paul had not yet attained it. But, he wrote, “I press on, that I may take hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Philippians 3:12). Nor does the transformation come easily. The old self does not give up without a struggle. When Paul said we must go through “many tribulations” to enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22), he was speaking of physical things, but I think the statement applies also to the inner conflicts we often have to work through. Thanks be to God, we can prevail. “We are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Romans 8:37). Jesus never said it would be easy, but he said it would be worth the effort.
It is often hard to be aware of this process of transformation while it is going on. I have been told by others that I have changed significantly in recent years. I think I can begin to see it and believe it. And I know that the changes have been for the good. God’s word does change us, if we will allow it to. The big problem is that we are often stubborn—“stiff-necked,” as Scripture would say—and resist the change.
It Cleanses Us
Part of this transformation is a cleansing. Scripture tells us to “…throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles…” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV). Living by Scripture enables us to do this. The Psalmist wrote, “Your word have I hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against You” (Psalm 119:11). (Also see verse 9.) Jesus prayed, “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your word is truth” (John 17:17). Peter said, “It is written: ‘Be holy, for I am holy’” (1 Peter 1:16).
When Jesus was tempted in the desert, he resisted the temptation by standing on Scripture. Three times he said, “it is written,” and then the devil left him (Matthew 4:1-11).
It Is Able to Save Us
“Receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). We need to have the word of God planted in us, firmly established in us, so that it is a very part of us. Paul speaks of “the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15).
It Is Our Source of Truth
God’s word is truth (John 17:17; Ephesians 1:13; Psalm 119:160). Jesus told his disciples, “If you abide [dwell] in my Word… you shall know the truth” (John 8:31-32). Jesus told the Sadducees, “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). Scripture commends the Bereans because, after Paul had taught them, they “…examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11 NIV).
It is against Scripture that we measure our own thoughts and what we hear from others. Scripture is the touchstone by which we know what is true. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105). “Direct my steps by Your word” (Psalm 119:133). “The entrance of Your words gives light; it gives understanding unto the simple” (Psalm 119:130). “Give me understanding according to Your word” (Psalm 119:169).
Scripture tells us to bring “every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). One of the best ways to do this is to compare our thoughts with Scripture. We identify every thought that is not Scriptural and replace it with the truth of Scripture.
It Is Our Spiritual Food
Jesus, quoting Deuteronomy 8:3, said, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4). In Deuteronomy 8:3, God’s word is compared to the manna, which was given daily as physical food. The implication is that we need the spiritual food of God’s word daily. (The same comparison is suggested in John 6:47-51.) I believe that when Jesus prayed, “give us this day our daily bread,” he was speaking, not only of physical nourishment, but also of spiritual nourishment from the word of God. Hebrews 5:12 says, “you need someone to teach you again the first principles of the oracles of God; and you have come to need milk and not solid food.” (Also see 1 Corinthians 3:2.) Again we see the comparison between God’s word and physical food. God’s word is our spiritual food that we need daily.
It Teaches, Encourages
All Scripture is “…useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV). “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope” (Romans 15:4 NIV).
In order for it to do this, we must be willing to accept it. We must be willing to learn. We must be willing to accept rebuke and correction. We must be willing to be trained. We must be willing to be encouraged. We must, as James says, receive the word of God with meekness and humility, and then allow it to do in us whatever it needs to do.
It Sets Us Free
Jesus said, “If you abide in My Word, you are my disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31-32). Free from what? I would suggest that reading Scripture, living by Scripture, continuing in Scripture, can free us from addictions, mindsets, emotional and spiritual strongholds, bitterness, unforgiveness, and much else. It can enable us to “…throw off everything that hinders…” (Hebrews 12:1 NIV).
The Christian life is not a life of constraints and limitations—of “don’ts”—as many seem to believe. It is a life of freedom. We are free because we can function as we were designed to function.
It Enables Us to Succeed
God told Joshua, just before he began the conquest of Canaan, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful” (Joshua 1:8 NIV). The Psalmist wrote of the man whose “delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night”; he said, that man “shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season; whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper” (Psalm 1:2-3). Jesus taught, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash” (Matthew 7:24-27 NIV).
In his explanation of the parable of the sower, Jesus said that when “the word of God” is sown, it can fall on different kinds of soil. It can be stolen, or wither away, or be choked out. “But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop” (Luke 8:15 NIV). It is those who receive the word of God, retain it and persevere who bear good fruit.
Peter wrote, “His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Peter 1:3-4 NIV). It is primarily through Scripture that we gain our knowledge of God, and it is in Scripture that God’s promises are recorded.
I sometimes like to compare Scripture to an owner’s manual, in which the manufacturer of a product tells us how his product is intended to operate and how it needs to be cared for and maintained. If we don’t follow the owner’s manual for our car—if we don’t change the oil and replace it with the right kind of oil, or keep the tires properly inflated, etc.—the car will not function as it should and may break down. In the Bible, God, who created us, tells us how we are expected to function. If we understand and follow his instructions, we will be successful. If we do not follow them, we can expect to have a lot of trouble.
To avoid misunderstanding, I need to point out that God’s idea of succeeding and prospering is usually different from ours. We tend to use material wealth as the measure of success. These passages of Scripture are talking about succeeding and prospering in the sense of doing what you set out to do, accomplishing the task that God has given you. I am not saying that reading the Bible will make you wealthy or give you a position of prestige or power. I am saying that if you allow the Bible to work in your life and change you, you are much more apt to lead a life that is truly satisfying and fulfilling.
A PERSONAL EXPERIENCE
Let me illustrate some of what I have been saying by a personal experience that I have been going through as I work on this book.
In October, 2002 I found that I had a cancerous tumor in my colon. It was removed, and we thought we had gotten all of it. I went through a course of chemotherapy to make sure. In July, 2003 we learned that the cancer had spread to my liver and lungs. The prognosis in such cases is not good. My doctor, when I pressed him, said that I might have one to three years to live. He added that sometimes patients survive who were not expected to, and the doctors don’t understand why. (Almighty God is not bound by medical statistics.) We went on a new course of chemotherapy, but the cancer grew. We changed the chemotherapy, and the cancer remained about the same. Just recently (October 2004), we found that it has begun to grow again. We are changing to a new regime of chemotherapy.
My family and I are praying that I will be totally healed. We have been praying a lot, and have been receiving a lot of prayer from my church, my family and friends, and many others. I have been doing far better than my doctor expected, and I believe this is primarily the result of prayer.
We have also been spending a lot of time in Scripture. Since we learned that the cancer had spread, my wife, my daughter and I have read aloud, and discussed, most of the New Testament, and quite a bit in Psalms, Isaiah, Deuteronomy and other parts of the Old Testament.
How has this helped? Let me give some of the ways. Please read this entire section before coming to any conclusions. The first part of it is balanced by other Scriptural principles that I discuss later. I try to follow the whole counsel of Scripture in everything I write.
We read about the healings which God did through Elijah, Elisha, Jesus and the disciples, and about the fact that nothing is too difficult for God, and this strengthens our faith that God is much bigger than this illness and he can heal it totally. He “heals all your diseases” (Psalm 103:3). We will not be afraid of “the pestilence that walketh in darkness, nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday” (Psalm 91:6). He “shall give his angels charge over you to keep you in all your ways” (Psalm 91:11). “By his stripes [the wounds from the whipping that Jesus endured] we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5). We can say, as the prophet did to King Jehoshaphat of Judah, “…Do not be afraid or discouraged because of this vast army. For the battle is not yours, but God’s” (2 Chronicles 20:15 NIV). We can say, as Jesus did to Jairus after he was told that his daughter had died, “Do not be afraid; only believe” (Mark 5:36). All of this strengthens our faith that God can heal me totally.
We read about the father who prayed, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:23) just before Jesus healed his son. We have prayed that prayer often. I have spent a good deal of time asking God to show me what it is that causes me sometimes to doubt. As I became aware of something, I would try to deal with it. This is part of the process of taking your thoughts captive to obey Jesus Christ. (See 2 Corinthians 10:5.) It can involve identifying a thought we have been having that is not in conformity with Scripture, and consciously replacing it with one that is Scriptural. For example, some of us tend to think, “I am not worthy to receive healing, or blessing, or whatever.” The answer, based on what God tells us in his word, is, “Of course. No one is worthy. It doesn’t depend on your worthiness. Jesus suffered and died for those who were unworthy. It depends on God’s compassion and his plan for your life.” Once we start this process, it is surprising how many kinds of thoughts will come up that we now realize we need to take captive to obey Jesus Christ. Once we have identified and rejected them, these thoughts will come to our mind again, and we need to keep telling them, “Get out. You don’t belong here. I repudiate you.” And then we replace them with the truth of God’s word.
We read in Scripture about the need for perseverance. (See, for example, Luke 18:1; James 1:4.) And so we keep on praying even when we see no visible results.
We get a medical test result that seems somewhat discouraging, and then we remind ourselves that “we walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7) and that we “do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18).
I have had times when I say, “Lord, am I doing something to hold this healing back? Do I hold bitterness or unforgiveness against anyone? Do I give in to self-pity, which I know is very destructive? Are there other kinds of thoughts I allow myself that I need to get rid of?” This kind of process is not enjoyable, but when your life is at stake you become willing to go through it.
Scripture says, “…we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV). It tells us to rejoice in testing and trials because we learn and grow from them (James 1:2). So I have asked, “Lord, are you teaching me something by this?” Then I came upon 1 Peter 1:7 (NIV), which speaks of trials that “…have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.” Is God using all of this to build in me, and my family, a much stronger faith than we have had before? I think so.
We have begun to see that God is using this illness to strengthen my faith and that of my family, to cleanse me of thought patterns that have hindered me from growing, to strengthen my prayer life and my commitment to him, and to do other needful things. As a result, we have even come to the point of saying, “Lord, it is a good thing that this has happened. You really do work all things for good for those who love you and are called according to your purposes.” We can identify with the Psalmist who said, “It is good for me that I have been afflicted, that I may learn your statutes” (Psalm 119:71). (Also see verse 67.)
You don’t have to go through this process alone. I have shared much of the process with my family, and also, as seemed appropriate, with other mature Christians who are well grounded in Scripture. We need this kind of support (and sometimes correction) from each other.
I want to make one thing clear. In our prayers, and in what I have written above, I have emphasized the affirmative promises of Scripture, because they were what I needed at that point. I am quite aware that God does not always answer our prayers in the way we expect him to or want him to. I am quite aware that, in today’s imperfect world, not everyone is healed. God is sovereign. He will do, or allow, what he sees best, and he doesn’t owe us any explanations or apologies. At Gethsemane, Jesus prayed three times not to have to go through the Crucifixion, and God denied that prayer. We need to put our trust in God, and commit ourselves to God, no matter how he answers our prayers.
I call this principle the “but even if not” principle. When King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon threatened to throw the three young Hebrew men into a fiery furnace, they replied, “If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18 NIV). Their faith was in God as a person, and they kept that faith regardless of whether God did what they hoped and expected him to do. That is where my family and I are. We expect God to heal me fully. But even if he does not, we will still worship him and serve him. And it will be OK.
Indeed, I see my situation as a “win, win” situation. If I should die soon, I will go to be with God in heaven. That’s a very good place to be! And I am sure that God will watch over and provide for my family. If I live quite a bit longer, perhaps I can do more to serve God, and also I can learn more and grow more. That’s also a good place to be. Either alternative is good.
I could go on, but I hope I have said enough to suggest how very helpful Scripture can be in the face of a pretty severe test. It is remarkable how much there is in Scripture, if you will look for it, that applies directly and specifically to almost any situation we may encounter. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have to deal with something like this without the resources of Scripture.
Psalm 119:92 says, “If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.” I think I can say, in all truth, that if I had not had the word of Scripture to encourage and strengthen me time and again—to lean on, to rely on, and to delight in—I would have perished in my present affliction.
Let me sum this up with a poem by my wife.
I have tried to give you some of what Scripture says, and what my own experience confirms, about the power of God’s word to change our lives. Much of the rest of this book is a demonstration of the power of God’s word in various situations we may encounter in our lives.
I encourage you to try it. If you are willing to submit yourselves to God’s word, to accept it as true and authoritative, and to live by it, I believe you will find that it will transform your life. The process is neither quick nor easy. Few things are that are worth doing. But it does work. Why don’t you give it a try?