For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Romans 15:4)
Thinking biblically implies knowledge. Paul praises God for “the riches of [his] wisdom and knowledge” in Romans 11. Therefore, if you are to think biblically, you must know your Bible. You ought to know more than “Jesus loves me,” and the dozen or so other most-common verses and shibboleths. You should immerse yourself in the rich treasury of human history that the Old Testament provides; you should savor the deep teachings of Paul’s church letters; and you should pray and ask God to imprint on you the truths that Jesus taught so ably about the practical issues of life. If you have never read the entire Bible and attempted to apply its teaching to your everyday life, then you are deceived in telling yourself you are thinking biblically.
Centering on God’s Word
Thinking biblically means more than just you are in your Bible as a casual affair. The Bible must be in you. Its teaching should exude from the pores of your everyday existence into the life you are leading in a pagan culture. Your speech should be sprinkled with biblical thoughts and ideas, so much so that you cannot help but radiate the warmth and life-giving richness of the Bible’s wisdom. Your ethics will then be governed by what you know to be true. To finish strong means that your life has been built on the solid biblical beliefs of the Kingdom.
Are you willing to study your Bible? I am not talking about a five-minute tapioca or pablum devotional in the morning with a dandy-sounding little ditty at the end. I am not talking about any effort that culminates only in a check in the box for the day that says, “My Bible Study Duty is Done.” Instead, what is needed is an intentional, serious, commitment to thought and study with the hope that God will transform your heart and thinking.
Paul instructed Timothy in this way: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2: 15). Paul implied that there is a right way to handle God’s Word and a wrong way. To learn the right way is work, approved work, necessary work. But it is work nonetheless. One of the elements of that work is for you to search for and understand the context of each passage. In real estate, the key phrase is “Location! Location! Location!” In Bible study, a key phrase is “Context! Context! Context!” Get the context wrong and often the interpretation and application will also be wrong.
A Text out of Context is a Pretext
An article in World Magazine illustrated what can happen if context is not considered. The article was about Christians who had lost their faith after being raised in Christian homes, and sometimes employed in Christian ministry. By implication, these people were presented as well-taught and knowledgeable. One individual example cited by the author said he had read Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount, “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” He took those words out of their context, both as they were presented in the sermon and in the message of the entire Bible, and believed that he was being called to live a perfect, sinless life. Of course, he experienced failure after failure, until he became so disillusioned that he abandoned his faith.
The context of Jesus’ words was completely missed. The perfection needed for this young man (and for all of us) can only come from the substitution of Jesus’ righteousness, not our own. None of us can possibly ever be perfect even for one day or one hour. Because he did not consider context, this man could not think biblically, and he threw himself a serious curve ball.
Thinking biblically was constantly on Paul’s mind. He told the church in Rome that their spiritual act of worship was to be transformed by the renewal of their minds. Biblical thinking was what Paul was after for the Roman church. How does that happen? It happens by asking God for a biblical hunger, for biblical thinking, and a biblical mindset! There are not three easy steps to accomplish this. There are not any shortcuts. There are, however, the glorious, gold-filled pages of wisdom that await the soul who pledges to take this life’s journey— a journey whose end is a transformed mind and a changed life, leading to a strong finish.
Excerpted from Endure: A Christian Man’s Guide to Finishing Strong by Bill Newton, now available from Shepherd Press.