by Tanner Fox
Reading the Bible is a different experience from reading any other book. I have heard it said that when we read scripture, it also reads us. Hebrews 4:12 says, “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” In other words, reading the Bible, specifically, causes something to shift within us each time we open it.
The more we interact with scripture, the more our own hearts and desires are revealed. Slowly, over time, by the power of the Spirit, God uses the Bible to reveal His truths and ours.
God is gracious enough to us to use the Bible to change us at a rate we can handle. It is kind of like the first time my wife showed me her super-powered face mirror. I had never been particularly interested in getting too close to my normal mirror. As long as things appeared to be okay from a distance, I was okay to leave the house and not think anything of it. Until one day I saw what I have now begun calling “the mirror of shame” sitting in our bathroom. On one side it is a normal mirror, but if you flip it around you will see things you have never seen before. It magnified every inch of my face to a size that I pray no one else ever has to see. Every blemish of my skin was laid bare.
In a sense, reading the Bible is like looking in a mirror, it magnifies the blemishes of our hearts.
In my own experience, as I have dug deeper and deeper into theological study and the work of personal sanctification (working hand in hand with the Spirit to look more like Jesus), the more humbled I am. I’m discovering a God who is way bigger, more complex, more beautiful, more awe-inspiring and more loving than I could have ever dreamed. And at the same time, seeing myself in contrast to Him, I am way worse than I thought. I may not be sinning outwardly as often as I once did, but the truth is, I have simply become better at hiding my sin. I struggle with lust every day of my life, not because I am looking at porn but because my mind is sinful enough not to need images on a screen. I struggle with pride every day of my life, not by boasting outwardly and blatantly to your face, but by inwardly expecting to be noticed for what I did for you. Thankfully, God reveals our blemished hearts at a tolerable rate and encourages us towards repentance and renewal!
Do you ever tell yourself, “I could stop sinning if I wanted to?” I know for a while I told myself that, but now I truly believe I want to be rid of my sins. Yet they remain a thorn in my side, like Paul describes. I grow to hate my sin, yet do it anyway. I strive to take my thoughts captive, and yet my reflexes seem to be tied to my sin.
Jesus’s death on the cross has taken away any condemnation that would have fallen on our shoulders. The penalty for sin has been paid, and yet the presence of sin still remains in our lives. I say all of this not to discourage you, but to remind you that if this is how you feel and how you struggle, you are not alone. The journey of knowing God and knowing ourselves is meant to be lifelong. We won’t “arrive” or feel complete this side of heaven, and that is okay! The deep longing to be rid of sin and to know God fully is a reminder that there is more to this world than what we are currently experiencing. Thankfully, there will come a day when sin is no more and we will see God face to face! In the meantime, we press on.
So this is my challenge for you in the new year: commit to spending this year looking into the mirror. Often I think we brush up on our spiritual discipline in hopes that God will bless us more for doing so. “God, did you see that? I prayed for 15 minutes and read a verse. Aren’t you proud of me?” Silly us. God has already proven his love and care for us by the giving of his son Jesus. The Bible does not exist so that we can prove our commitment and worthiness through the act or function of reading. Reading scripture is not a standardized reading assignment to see if we should pass on to the next level of Christian.
Scripture is unlike anything else on earth that can be read, for it reveals God, in his own words. As our church family begins The Year of the Book together, I’m inviting you to read the Bible, COMPLETELY with me this year. That’s a lot to ask, but that’s why we’re doing this together.
C.S. Lewis, in the Chronicles of Narnia series, describes the process of sanctification in a conversation between Lucy and Aslan.
“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”
“That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.
“Not because you are?”
“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”
- Prince Caspian, C.S. Lewis