Lesson 9: The Bible Is Unique In How You Study It--Foundations For Understanding ScriptureRelated Media
When constructing a building, builders start by securing a strong foundation. If the foundation is off, the building will have problems and possibly be unsafe. Likewise, when developing a life of studying and understanding Scripture, great attention must be given to the foundation. A faulty foundation will seriously compromise one’s study—possibly leading to spiritually injuring oneself and others. Many in the body of Christ have been hurt by a faulty foundation and some have even fallen away from the faith. In this lesson, we will consider six foundations for understanding Scripture.
Foundation 1: We Must Be Born Again To Understand Scripture
The first foundation for understanding the Bible is the necessity of the new nature, which we receive at spiritual birth. Consider what the Bible says about the state of every person before salvation: In 1 Corinthians 2:14, Paul said: “The unbeliever does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him. And he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” Similarly, in Romans 8:7 (NIV), he said, “The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.”
Paul taught something called human inability. When sin came into the world, it affected people in such a way that, apart from God’s grace in salvation, they cannot accept God’s Word. Scripture is foolishness to them, and they can’t understand it. Apart from saving grace, the world scoffs at a God who created the earth by his Word. They scoff at a God who judged the earth through a world-wide flood. They scoff at God’s Son becoming a man, being born of a virgin, dying for the sins of the world, and then being resurrected. Only God’s Spirit can give someone grace to accept the things of God. Therefore, people need to be born again to properly interpret Scripture.
How can a person be born again? John said this:
But to all who have received him—those who believe in his name—he has given the right to become God’s children—children not born by human parents or by human desire or a husband’s decision, but by God.
When a person receives Christ—believing that Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead for people’s sins and commits to following him as Lord and Savior—he or she is spiritually born again. God gives that person the Holy Spirit and a new nature with a desire to study Scripture and a capacity to understand and obey it.
With that said, it should be understood that a lot of false doctrine comes from those within the church who are not truly born again and therefore cannot properly understand Scripture. Consider what Peter said about Paul’s scriptural writings:
Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation, just as our dear brother Paul also wrote you with the wisdom that God gave him. He writes the same way in all his letters, speaking in them of these matters. His letters contain some things that are hard to understand, which ignorant and unstable people distort, as they do the other Scriptures, to their own destruction. Therefore, dear friends, since you have been forewarned, be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless and fall from your secure position.
2 Peter 3:15-17 (NIV)
Peter said that some of Paul’s writings were hard to understand and that ignorant and unstable people distorted them, as they did with other Scriptures, to their own destruction. He also said these people were lawless—meaning disobedient to God. In fact, Peter’s entire letter is a warning against false teachers. It seems evident that those twisting Scripture “to their own destruction” were not true believers (v. 16).
Christ taught something similar in the Parable of the Weeds and the Wheat (Matt 13:36-43). The parable teaches that in the kingdom there are weeds—false believers—planted by the evil one, and wheat—true believers—planted by God. The apostle John taught something similar when describing the false believers and teachers who left the church of Ephesus. In 1 John 2:19-20, he said:
They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us, because if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us. But they went out from us to demonstrate that all of them do not belong to us. Nevertheless you have an anointing from the Holy One, and you all know. I have not written to you that you do not know the truth, but that you do know it, and that no lie is of the truth.
John said those who left the church because of accepting heretical doctrine were not saved. He said, “they went out from us, but they did not really belong to us.” They were never truly born again. Then John said to the church, “but you have an anointing from the Holy One and you all know” (v. 20). John believed that the true believers in Ephesus were not led astray into heretical teaching because they had an “anointing” from God. This refers to the Holy Spirit. In the Old Testament, the term “anointing” was used for the prophets, priests, and kings who were anointed with oil, conferring upon them the recognition and resources needed for their ministries. When they were anointed, the Spirit came on them to empower them for their work. The work that John referred to is that of interpreting Scripture. True believers have an anointing which teaches them “truth” (v. 20-21) which will keep them from heretical error. Similarly, in John 10, Christ taught that his sheep hear his voice and will not follow the voice of others.
False conversion—not being truly born again—partly explains some of the great heresies infiltrating the church, such as Christ not being God or human, all people will go to heaven, salvation by works, to name a few. Being truly born again is the foundation of understanding Scripture. The person without the Spirit cannot understand or accept the things that come from the Spirit.
This does not mean true Christians will not have different understandings of Scripture, especially on minor doctrines; but in a supernatural way because of their anointing, they will be kept from heretical error which misinterprets the gospel and essential aspects of it.
Have you been born again? Do you have the Holy Spirit’s anointing to understand Scripture? With this anointing, one will have a desire to study God’s Word and the ability to understand and obey it (cf. 1 Pet 1:2, Rom 8:7, 1 Cor 2:14-15). This is a proof that one is born again by the Spirit of God, and it is crucial for studying and understanding Scripture.
Foundation 2: We Must Depend On God To Understand Scripture
This corresponds with the first point. In salvation, God enlightens our minds to understand the gospel; however, we must daily learn to live in dependence upon God to continually understand Scripture. In fact, consider what Christ said to the disciples about the Holy Spirit’s work in their lives:
But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. For he will not speak on his own authority, but will speak whatever he hears, and will tell you what is to come. He will glorify me, because he will receive from me what is mine and will tell it to you.
The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth, and his job is to guide us into truth. In 1 Corinthians 2:12, Paul said: “Now we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things that are freely given to us by God.”
Example Of The Disciples
We get a good picture of our need to depend on God to correctly study Scripture from the story of Christ talking with his disciples on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24. After Christ’s death, the disciples were confused about Jesus. Was he truly God? Why, then, did he die? While they were walking, Christ appeared to them (although they did not recognize him). He began to teach from Scripture, explaining that the messiah had to die and be resurrected. As Christ was teaching, Luke, the narrator, added something special to the story:
Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the law of Moses and the prophets and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds so they could understand the scriptures, and said to them, “Thus it stands written that the Christ would suffer and would rise from the dead on the third day
Luke said that Christ “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” Though they were saved, Christ still needed to enlighten them so they could understand Scripture. This is just as much a need for us today as it was for Christ’s disciples then. How can we depend on God so we can properly interpret Scripture?
1. To depend on God, we must approach Scripture humbly.
James 4:6 says, “God opposes the proud, but he gives grace to the humble.” If we approach Scripture confidently because of our educational achievements or spiritual background, we close the door to true understanding. God fights against the proud but gives grace to the humble. A great example of humility is Moses. In Numbers 12:3, it says Moses was the humblest man on the earth; soon after, it says that God spoke to him face to face, unlike with other prophets, to whom God spoke in dreams and visions (v. 6-8). No doubt, Moses’ understanding of God’s mysteries was connected to his great humility. When we are proud, we depend on ourselves. When we are humble, we depend on God (and others). Therefore, we must confess our pride and confidence and recognize our inability apart from God to understand Scripture.
Are you approaching Scripture humbly or pridefully? Sometimes, the more we learn about God’s Word, the more prone we are to pride—hindering our ability to receive. First Corinthians 8:1 says “knowledge puffs up.” Therefore, being humble is a discipline we must continually practice by the power of God’s Spirit (cf. Gal 5:22-23), especially as we grow in the knowledge of Scripture.
2. We must approach Scripture prayerfully, demonstrating our dependence on God.
Unfortunately, many Christians don’t pray when reading Scripture or listening to a sermon, which often robs them of understanding and application. We must ask God to open our minds to his Word and remove any hindrances to understanding and obedience. Consider how David prayed in Psalm 119:
Open my eyes so I can truly see the marvelous things in your law!
Help me to understand what your precepts mean! Then I can meditate on your marvelous teachings.
Give me a desire for your rules, rather than for wealth gained unjustly.
In order to understand Scripture, we must depend totally on God—approaching Scripture humbly and prayerfully. The prideful are blocked from the riches of God’s Word—only the humble receive keys to God’s rich truths.
Foundation 3: We Must Depend On Mature Believers To Understand Scripture
To understand Scripture deeply, we must not only depend on God but also seek the insight and counsel of mature believers. This is God’s ordained method for believers to study and understand Scripture. In Ephesians 4:8, 11-13, Paul said this:
Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he captured captives; he gave gifts to men.” … It was he who gave some as apostles, some as prophets, some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, that is, to build up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God—a mature person, attaining to the measure of Christ’s full stature.
This passage describes Christ’s ascension to heaven and his bestowing gifts upon people. However, it does not itemize a list of gifts. Instead, it lists gifted people: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. By God’s providence, these gifted people are God’s blessings to his church to help her mature and grow in serving others.
If believers are going to grow in their understanding of God’s Word, they must avail themselves of these gifts. They do this by being involved in a good church where the Bible is clearly preached each week, by participating in church small groups where the Bible is discussed, and by reading good Christian books. By doing this, mature believers help other believers better understand God’s Word.
Some Christians may say, “We don’t need to depend on other believers to understand God’s Word because we have the Holy Spirit!” However, the Holy Spirit is the ultimate author of Ephesians 4, which teaches that God’s ordained method to train his church is through the teachings of mature believers. The Holy Spirit empowers this process because God has ordained it; therefore, we must take advantage of it, both to learn God’s Word and to help others learn as we teach God’s Word to others.
Foundation 4: We Must Develop An Obedient Heart To Understand Scripture
In John 7:16-17, Christ said: “…My teaching is not from me, but from the one who sent me. If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know about my teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak from my own authority.”
In this text, the Jews and the Pharisees were testing Jesus. Essentially, they were asking, “Are Jesus’ teachings from God or not?” In response, Christ said the only way they could discern if his teachings were authentic was to choose to do God’s will. Negatively speaking, if they continued to have a disobedient heart, God would not give them understanding of Christ’s teachings.
This principle is true for us as well. Apart from a willingness to obey God’s Word, God will not give us understanding. This is especially noteworthy because often we come to Scripture with our own presuppositions and ideas. We are looking to support what we already believe or want to do, which only hinders true understanding. Sometimes, people even approach Scripture like the Pharisees did with Christ—already antagonistic towards what they perceive God is saying through the text. They don’t like what Scripture says about this topic or that topic. Sometimes, they even force their presuppositions into the text—making the text say something it doesn’t say. An obedient heart is crucial to properly grasp Scripture. Without it, God will not give us understanding.
Disobedience Leads To Deception
In fact, a disobedient or antagonistic heart will often lead to deception. In 1 Timothy 4:1-2 (NIV), Paul described the influx of false teachers in the end times and how they originated. He said:
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
Paul taught that demons would deceive people who apparently were already living hypocritically, and these same people would espouse demonic lies. Because these people professed Christ but lived in unrepentant sin, their consciences stopped working and they became vulnerable to deception.
The conscience is a natural warning system from God in all people. It is not perfect, as it has been tainted by sin, but it does provide guard rails to our thinking and actions, indicating approval when we do well and disapproval when we do wrong. If we continue to sin, over time the conscience becomes hardened and stops working as it should.
Without the warning system which cautioned that practicing sexual immorality is wrong, lying is wrong, cheating is wrong, abusing people is wrong, these professed believers practiced these sins—making themselves more vulnerable to demonic deceptions. Eventually, they themselves championed and taught various demonic doctrines. A hardened conscience can lead to all types of wrong views and sins.
In the same way that an obedient heart allows the Holy Spirit to bring understanding, a disobedient heart allows demons to bring deception—even leading some to become false prophets and teachers. Satan uses people with twisted consciences to twist God’s Word. This is what the Pharisees did—they twisted God’s Word to their own benefit and others’ demise. Obedience is a critical foundation to knowing God’s Word.
What are some applications we can take from our need to have an obedient heart to understand God’s Word?
1. We should consider the need for an obedient heart as an encouragement and promise to those who truly want to understand Scripture.
Christ said, “If anyone wants to do God’s will, he will know about my teaching, whether it is from God or whether I speak from my own authority” (John 7:17). There are many difficult doctrines in Scripture and various views about them; however, if we truly want to obey God’s will, God promises to give us understanding. We should bring this promise before God as we seek to understand his Word.
2. We should consider the need for an obedient heart as a warning to the disobedient.
The more we disobey Scripture, the more prone we are to compromise what it says and lead others astray. This should be sobering for every Bible student. Many cult leaders and followers started out in the church and so did many atheists.
In 1 Timothy 4:16, Paul said, “Be conscientious about how you live and what you teach. Persevere in this, because by doing so you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.” Our life and doctrine are inseparable. They affect one another. An ungodly life negatively affects our doctrine, and false doctrine negatively affects our lives. Therefore, we must protect both.
Foundation 5: We Must Develop A Diligent Spirit To Understand Scripture
In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul said, “Make every effort to present yourself before God as a proven worker who does not need to be ashamed, teaching the message of truth accurately.” “Make every effort” can also be translated “be diligent” or “do your best.” One of the reasons there is a lot of misinterpretation of Scripture is simply due to laziness. Many come to Scripture apathetically—unwilling to work hard or give their best efforts to understand it—which often results in misinterpretation. This was especially important for Timothy because he was a teacher and his interpretations affected others—both positively and negatively. However, even without being a teacher, our misinterpretations give the devil an open door into our lives and others.
Again, consider the story of the Bereans in Acts 17:11, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” The Bereans are memorialized in Scripture because when taught by Paul, they examined Scripture with “great eagerness” every day to discern what was true. Unfortunately, there are very few noble Christians. Most simply accept what they were taught by parents, friends, pastors, and teachers. Even our best teachers make mistakes and, therefore, must be tested.
It’s especially important to be diligent in our study of Scripture because some doctrines are hard to understand (cf. 2 Peter 3:15-16). What is the Trinity? How do we reconcile God’s sovereignty and human responsibility? How could Christ be fully God and yet fully human? Though some doctrines are hard to understand, they are still indispensable—bearing blessings for proper interpretation and consequences for misinterpretation. Difficulty in understanding a text or doctrine does not excuse us from diligent pursuit of proper interpretation and application. God even promised special blessings to those who read, heard, and obeyed the words of Revelation, which is probably the most difficult book in the Bible to understand (Rev 1:3).
Working hard to understand Scripture is not only necessary because some teachings are hard to understand, but also because of how pervasive false teaching is in the church. In Matthew 7:13-20, Christ described how hard it was to enter the kingdom of God, and one of the reasons was because there were so many false teachers. There are many on the wide road that leads to destruction instead of the narrow road, in part, because of rampant false teaching. Without working hard to understand God’s Word, we are prone to be led astray—even unto damnation.
How can we practice diligence in our study of the Bible, like the Bereans?
- To be diligent in our study of Scripture, we must set aside time to study. It takes time to mine Scripture for its riches. Many can’t understand various deep doctrines in Scripture simply because they are not willing to set aside time to do so. What time in your schedule can you dedicate to studying more of God’s Word?
- To be diligent in our study of Scripture, we must make sacrifices. Sacrifice implies cost—giving up something we enjoy to prioritize studying God’s Word. The cost could be time watching TV, playing video games, time spent on social media, time with friends, or even sleeping. Are you willing to sacrifice to reap the benefits of studying Scripture?
- To be diligent in our study of Scripture, we must become zealous. Zeal is the emotional component of working hard. There is a difference between someone who just shows up to work and someone who shows up and works hard, and part of that difference is zeal. Jeremiah 29:13 (NIV) says, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.” If we don’t seek God in his Word with all our heart, we will often miss the riches he desires to give us, in particular, his presence. Are you zealous to understand God’s Word? If not, why not?
Foundation 6: We Must Teach Others To Understand Scripture
It has been well-attested that the best way to learn is to teach. We remember 10% of what we hear, 20% of what we read, 70% of what we discuss, and 95% of what we teach. And throughout Scripture, it is clear that God desires every believer to teach in some capacity. In fact, in Hebrews 5:11-12, the author said:
On this topic we have much to say and it is difficult to explain, since you have become sluggish in hearing. For though you should in fact be teachers by this time, you need someone to teach you the beginning elements of God’s utterances. You have gone back to needing milk, not solid food.
The author said that the Jewish Christians should have been teaching others, but they needed to be retaught the basics and couldn’t learn deeper theology because of that. That’s how many people are in the church today. They have to be continually retaught because they don’t retain what they learn.
All believers are called to teach God’s Word. Parents should teach their children (Eph 6:4). Older women should teach younger women (Titus 2:3-4). Believers should teach one another in all wisdom (Col 3:16), and they should also teach unbelievers (Matt 28:19-20). If one struggles with identifying whom to teach, he or she should simply find somebody who knows less and teach that person—even if it is a child or an unbeliever. This is the best way to retain what one has learned and learn more.
In this study, we considered six foundations for understanding Scripture. Apart from them, there will be cracks in our foundation which will hinder our ability to understand Scripture, grow in spiritual maturity, and help others. In fact, bad foundations can hurt us and others.
Foundation 1: We Must Be Born Again to Understand Scripture
Foundation 2: We Must Depend on God to Understand Scripture
Foundation 3: We Must Depend on Mature Believers to Understand Scripture
Foundation 4: We Must Develop an Obedient Heart to Understand Scripture
Foundation 5: We Must Develop a Diligent Spirit to Understand Scripture
Foundation 6: We Must Teach Others to Understand Scripture
- In the reading, what foundation stood out most to you and why?
- Why is being born again so important for properly understanding Scripture?
- In what ways have you seen or experienced how an obedient heart leads to understanding Scripture and how a disobedient heart hinders understanding and can even lead to deception?
- Why is it so important to be diligent and work hard in our study of Scripture? How is God calling you to grow in this area?
- How have you experienced the benefits of teaching others what you learned from the Bible? Who do you feel God is calling you to, specifically, teach in this season?
- What other questions or applications do you have from the reading?
Copyright © 2020 Gregory Brown
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