I was meeting with a group of good friends and fellow pastors recently and we were discussing church culture and the disconnect that is often seen in the lives of Christians who seem to know the Bible, but fail to put it into practice in their lives. The discussion got me thinking about the correlation between knowing Scripture and living Scripture. Is it possible to really know God’s word without living out God’s word? The statement that exploded this tension in my mind was made by the pastor sitting to my right:
“I’ve seen people many times who know the Bible. They can exegete Scripture after Scripture better than most of the pastors in this room, yet they don’t put it into practice in their lives. They have the knowledge of the Bible, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they live as Christians.”
“Can these people we’re talking about actually exegete Scripture though? If they really came face to face with it, would they not be changed by it?”
The body language and response of many in the room indicated that mine was not the majority opinion. As I thought about that discussion throughout the rest of the day I wondered if I even agreed with myself, myself. I started thinking about this dynamic of knowing vs. doing.
First of all, it is very apparent that we can hear the word of God without doing the word of God.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
This is talking about hearing and doing, not knowing and doing. Notice there is a differentiation in this text from simply hearing the word and “looking into” the word. If someone truly “exegetes” (taking “out of” the text its true meaning) God’s word, it won’t stop simply at the point of intellectual knowledge. Why? Because it’s alive. God’s word isn’t simply an ancient text that we can study and decipher meaning from at arm’s length distance. It’s alive.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 13 And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.
Here’s what I’m getting at: You cannot truly exegete Scripture without it exegeting you. You can’t truly discern its meaning and understand what it says without it discerning your thoughts and intentions and piercing through your soul. If you deconstruct it, it will deconstruct you. If you take its clear meaning and rightly divide it (2 Timothy 2:15), it will rightly divide you.
I think the reason this discussion I engaged in has been gnawing on me was that it seemed like we were trying to find solutions to people’s discipleship issues that would suffice better than teaching them God’s word. Since knowledge of the word and Christian discipleship seemed to be mutually exclusive in our conversations, it was as if we were trying to find practical ways to make Christians Christian beyond downloading the Bible into them. The problem with this is that God creates his people through his word. There is no pragmatic solution, service opportunity, or ministry plan that can make sinful human beings redeemed human beings. The only solution is Jesus Christ, and the gospel of Jesus Christ, and this comes to us from the grace of God, by the Holy Spirit, through the word of God.
1 Peter 1:23-25:
…you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; for
“All flesh is like grass
and all its glory like the flower of grass.
The grass withers,
and the flower falls,
but the word of the Lord remains forever.”
And this word is the good news that was preached to you.
I would contend from this that if someone “knows the Bible” but does not bear fruit of Christian discipleship, they don’t truly know the Bible. They may know references and quotations, they may know structure and format, they may know outlines and catch phrases, but if they knew God’s word they would be changed by it.
As pastors and leaders it all starts and ends with Scripture. Every other pragmatic solution and leadership technique will fade away and wither like the grass in a field. God’s word alone will stand forever, and it is through the preaching of his gospel that he saves sinners.