It’s pretty much a favorite buzzword among Christians… and shouldn’t it be? Isn’t it our aim to apply the Bible to our lives?
Well… the short and obvious answer to that question is YES! However, throughout my years in ministry, I have found this to be one of the greatest struggles amongst believers when it comes to reading their Bible, listening to a sermon, or just discussing Scripture with other Christians. They know they should apply the Bible to their lives, but they simply don’t see how it does. Scripture feels distant, irrelevant, and disconnected from the everyday stuff of life, and all too often Christians are left asking, “Does the Bible really apply to me?”
I remember specifically struggling with this question the first time I tried to read the Bible from cover to cover. Genesis was fairly easy. I was already familiar with the stories… although there was a lot more sex than I recalled from the Sunday School versions. The first half of Exodus was also narrative, and I knew how to apply all these stories to my life. They worked like Aesop’s fables. I just found which characters to model myself after and drew lessons in morality from each passage. Easy-peasy.
Then came the law.
The second half of Exodus slowed me down and Leviticus threw the brakes on my reading goals entirely. It wasn’t just the repetitious laws or the difficult language that caused my fervor to languish… no… it was that I simply couldn’t see how what I was reading had anything to do with me!
What did an ancient-near-eastern people wandering around in the desert sacrificing animals in a special tent have to do with life? How was all of that supposed to apply to the conflicts I had with friends, to my relationship with my parents, to the internal depression I was beginning to feel?
I needed help in the here and now… not instructions on how to properly offer entrails, kidneys and the long lobe of the liver with their fat portions!
I was left asking, “Does the Bible really apply to me?”
I think the problem, for me and so many other Christians, is that we have been thinking about application incorrectly. In our modern-western, self-help-pop-psychology-loving-culture, we have come to equate application with action.
For the Bible to apply to my life means that it offers me some “action-steps” or immediate “takeaways” that I can implement to improve my life. Thus, when we read the Bible, hear a sermon, or discuss Scripture… we are trying to sift through all the historical and theological mumbo-jumbo to find the practical application nuggets. In reality, the stuff we are sifting through and tossing aside is precisely the “stuff” our soul needs!
Our soul needs Leviticus! Our mind needs 1 and 2 Chronicles! Our heart needs genealogies! Yeah… I said it… we NEED genealogies!
WHY?! How does any of that apply to our lives?
I think we the answer lies in shifting how we have come to think about application. We need to think about application the way the Bible itself “thinks” about application.
The Bible is not primarily aimed at action-oriented application. No. Scripture’s application is primarily aimed at your affections!
Scripture takes aim at the treasure of your heart!
Because as Luke 6:45 says, “The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil…”
Scripture takes aim at your affections because your actions flow out of your affections! Thus, God-centered actions only come out of a heart filled with God-centered affections.
If we have no affection for God, then our actions, no matter how “good” they may seem, are not truly God-centered! The Gospels display that reality again and again through Jesus’ interactions with the Pharisees. These were men who dedicated their lives to the pursuit of “right” actions according to Scripture, but their hearts were devoid of true affection for God!
Jesus’ estimation of such “application” of the Scriptures contain some the harshest words he ever spoke! He told these men they were whitewashed tombs! Their external actions looked good, but their internal affections were the equivalent of a rotting corpse! He called them snakes and vipers! Perhaps most damning of all, he said they were of their father the devil!
Our words and actions may maintain an appearance of Christ-centeredness, but truly are worthless without true affection for Christ (Matthew 7:21-23).
So what are we to DO? (feel the irony?)
Scripture answers that question clearly with the greatest commandment… the heart of all commandments… what Jesus pointed to as the sum of the entire law… “You shall LOVE the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:37–40
We are to love! We have affection for God that will overflow in affection for people. This is why the primary applicational aim of Scripture is your affections!
When you read the Word, hear it preached, or discuss it in Christian community… it is taking aim at your heart. The Bible is setting before you the glory of God… his beauty, his goodness, his greatness… so that you are captivated by him.
When you read Leviticus (yes Leviticus)… Scripture is showing you the unfathomable holiness of God! It is revealing the massiveness of sin and our hopelessness of ever being able to enter the presence of God. But… joy of all joys… Leviticus goes further, by pointing us to the all-surpassing, awe-inducing, gracious love of God as he provides us with a substitute sacrifice that we might come to him, be at peace with him, commune with him, and know him now and forever! As we read Leviticus, we see more of who God is and our hearts are overwhelmed… and our affection grows!
The same thing is true for all of Scripture… even genealogies! Don’t believe me! Listen to the sermon series from Advent 2017 at the church I have the honor and joy of pastoring. We walked through the genealogy in Matthew 1 and beheld amazing glories of God in Christ!
When we see that Scripture is primarily taking aim at our heart, then all of a sudden, ALL of Scripture applies to us! Yes! The Bible does apply to me! All of it!
I don’t come to the Bible for a couple of action steps or practical takeaways… I come to the Bible to be amazed… to be blown away by God!
None of what I have said means that Scripture isn’t interested in our actions! Oh, nothing could be further from the truth! Scripture is filled with commands that concern our actions… and not just the Old Testament. Jesus gives constantly gives commands that concern our actions, and he tells us in the great commission that a massive component of making disciples is teaching people to OBEY all that he has commanded us.
Scripture gives tons of application that is aimed at our actions!
HOWEVER… the actions Scripture calls for are ALWAYS meant to flow from affection. In fact, the kind of action Scripture calls for can ONLY flow from affection for God, because it calls for all our actions to be done for the glory of God!
Scripture is never aimed at mere behavior modification… it is always aimed at total heart transformation for Christ-centered actions flow from Christ-centered affections. Jesus said so in John 14:15, “If you LOVE me, you will keep my commandments.”
As your affections for Christ grow, your actions in Christ follow.
…when you read your Bible, hear a sermon, or have any kind of engagement with Scripture… know that your first and foremost applicational aim is to behold more of Jesus with the eyes of your heart. So pray, “Lord, let me see more of you so that my love for you grows.” All of Scripture is designed to apply to you in just that way.
So even if a particular passage seems irrelevant to your day to day… it’s not. It is aimed at stirring your affections for Jesus… which WILL affect all of your actions today, tomorrow, and for the rest of your life.
Let’s apply all of Scripture to our affections so that we live lives of truly God-glorifying actions!
Yes Christian… ALL of the Bible applies to YOU!
*This is the first part in a mini-series of blogs concerning application. Part 2 coming soon.