#12 God's Word (shortened)

(For full version of this Bible study "lesson," click here.)

            Okay, I am assuming here that we have all been Christians for a long time and that we all know the importance of God’s Word.  Now then, raise your hand if you live like the Bible is “extra-credit”?  Or do you live like you really believe the Bible is crucial to your day, your life, your walk with the Lord?  

            I fear that in our day and age of being too familiar and comfortable with God and His Word (in America), we have lost the sense of awe and fear of Him and His Word.  It’s too familiar, and we are too comfortable.  We have heard the Bible stories again and again.  We pick them apart as objects of study, to be looked at closely under a microscope.  It is educational and academic.  Or we pick them apart so that we can piece them back together again in a way we like better.  We twist them for our own ends.  Or we just shrug our shoulders and yawn and ignore it. 

            We have lost the ability to put ourselves into the stories.  To see God for who He really is.  To stand with the Israelites at the foot of the mountain when they trembled at the powerful voice of God.  We need to start seeing ourselves in the stories and in the people of the Bible if we are to learn from them, if we are to understand what God wants us to know through them and to let it change our lives and our hearts (instead of just educating our minds).  So many people can know the Bible forward and backward without ever meeting God there.

            Or there are those who don’t even feel the need to read the Bible more.  They have the sense that people in general should read their Bibles more, but they themselves don’t feel convicted strongly enough to care.  “Just enough of the Bible and of God to get by” is good enough for them.  How tragic! 

            I think that we, as Christians, are missing out on a vibrancy and a passion in our lives and our walks because we don’t take these two things seriously enough: prayer and God’s Word.  If we are only half-committed to meeting with God in prayer and in His Word, we will have only a partial relationship with Him.  We’ll get just enough of God to make us feel good, but we will miss out on “great” - on a vibrant, living relationship with Him.  And we can’t blame Him for that.  We are as close to Him as we work to be. 

            If we really thought about it, I bet we could figure out what our excuse is for not reading our Bibles.  And if we really thought about it, I bet we would begin to realize how pathetic these excuses are - excuses such as "I know the Bible so well that there's nothing new to learn" or "I'm already living what the Bible says and I know how to be a good Christian" and "I get enough Bible through music and sermons" and "My parents used to beat me over the head with the Bible, and I don't like it being forced on me" and "I'm just too busy ... or it's too hard to understand ... or it's full of discrepancies ... or I don't like the wrathful images of God ... or I want more dynamic, emotional experiences of God than just reading an ancient book," etc.

            Imagine standing before God Himself, giving an account for how we handled His Word.  Do you think any of our excuses would make Him go, "Oh, yeah, I see now.  That's a good reason not to read the Bible.  That's okay anyway, because it wasn't really that important.  Bible reading is just a good exercise, a formality."

            If you have any excuse for not reading the Bible, then you have a major obstacle in your relationship with the Lord, in your journey toward spiritual maturity, and in your knowledge of God!

            I think that if we are not passionate about God’s Word, it's because we are not passionate about God.  We haven’t yet seen Him for who He really is (as opposed to our own ideas of Him), we haven't yet seen ourselves for who we really are, and we haven’t yet fallen in love with Him out of thankfulness that He knows who we really are and loves us anyway.  Sure, we love Him, but we are not wholeheartedly consumed by Him.  Because when we are consumed with someone, we hang on to their every word.  We mine the depths of the letters they write to us.  We treasure every word and every morsel of Truth.       

            And the only way to get past this is to confess it to God, to ask the Holy Spirit for help in understanding God’s Word, and . . . to read it.  Read it as though God has something to say to you personally - about your life - through it.  Read it as though He is in the pages, waiting to meet with you and speak to you.   

            The Bible isn’t about ancient people’s sins from yesteryear; it’s about our sins today.  It’s not about an old-time God; it’s about the greatness, holiness, and love of the God who lives today.  Once we grasp this - once we read the Bible as relevant and alive - it becomes much more powerful and applicable to our lives.  It is so full of rich life lessons and so full of the power, glory, mercy, wrath, and love of God - the God who is the same today as He was then.  And it humbles us, like trembling children at His feet.  The fear of God!

            I can’t tell you how many times I hear something like this (I've even heard it from church leaders), “I know I should make time to read the Bible more, but . . .”

            But what?

            But I just don’t care?  It’s not that important to me?  I have better things to do?

            We make time for the things that really matter to us.  What does our use of time tell us about our relationship with God?

            There are definitely times in our lives that are busier than others, times of crisis or severe stress that leave little room for quiet reflection and Bible reading.  (However, this is usually when we need it most.)  And it is possible during these times to have a spiritual walk that survives on the snatches of Scripture that we get from music, books, sermons, and other people.  But to live long-term with this practice, I believe, will threaten the strength and integrity of our spiritual walks and our faith. 

            I think God gave different revelations of Himself at different times.  First, there was the law and the commandments.  Then there was Jesus.  Now there is the Bible.  While they didn’t have the Bible back in the day as we know it, they did have commandments, Scriptures, and the law.  And they were encouraged to read and meditate on them often, to write them on the doorframes of their houses, to hide God’s word in their hearts, and to have quiet times where they interacted with God.  The Psalms speak a lot of this:

            Psalm 1:2:  “But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”

            Psalm 5:3:  “In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my request before you and wait in expectation.” 

            Psalm 119: 1-2, 7, 9-11, 15-16:  “Blessed are they whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.  Blessed are they who keep his statutes and seek him with all their heart. . . . I will praise you with an upright heart as I learn your righteous laws. . . How can a young man keep his way pure?  By living according to your word.  I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands.  I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. . . I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways.  I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”

            My guess is that people with this kind of devotion to, delight in, and respect for God’s words would hunger and thirst for the words of the Bible, if they had one back then.  They would probably hold the Bible in the highest regard and advocate searching it daily for His truth so that they could live more godly lives.  If they had a Bible back then. 

            They didn’t . . . but we do!

            I believe that we are all held accountable for what is revealed to us.  For cultures that do not have a Bible, they have the revelation of God through nature and the messages that He imprints on everyone’s heart.  But for us, we have the revealed, written Word of God.  And we will be held accountable for what we do with it and what we teach others to do with it. 

            While there is no Bible verse that says, “Thou shalt sit quietly with this Book for thirty minutes every morning,” it does show us by Christ’s example that quiet time is necessary.  Jesus gave us an example of getting away alone with the Father.  And He is God. 

            Mark 1: 35:  “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” 

            Luke 5:16:  “But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.”  

            Jesus is God in the flesh.  He gives us His example to model.  And Ephesians 5:1 teaches us “Be imitators of God . . .”  Jesus, who is God, needed to and often got away on His own, in solitude, to spend time with the Father.  And yet, somehow we think we can fare better without regular quiet time with the Lord, though even Jesus Himself felt it was important enough to do so regularly?   

            Jesus also stressed the importance of Scripture when He said this:  Matthew 4:4:  “It is written: Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.”  Every word from the mouth of God.  Scripture is God-breathed.  It is a whole book of God’s words.  Music and sermons are only pieces, retold by someone else.  Yes, they are wonderful and necessary, too.  But Scripture supersedes all messages spoken to us by others - in sermons, in songs, in other books. 

            Scripture is the measuring stick that we judge all other messages and “truths” by.  But you have to know it to be discerning.  And you have to read it for yourself to really know it.  (It is amazing to see the doctrinal errors going around out there in society right now, all because people don't really know what the Word says and they don't keep it in context.)  In this verse, being in the Word of God is compared to bread.  Bread is a daily thing, our daily bread.  We eat to sustain our lives.  And we must eat daily, or we get weak and malnourished.   

            Try as we might, we will never find the kind of Bible passage that many of us wish we could find.  A passage like this: 
            2 Bologna-ians 1:1-10: “Now, brothers, we know that God has written down His Word and that it’s available to us all.  But we tell you that it is not necessary to read it for yourselves.  Christ’s death is sufficient for salvation.  And salvation is sufficient for leading a godly, righteous life.
            So let’s not add to your daily schedule by claiming that you should read the Bible for yourself or that you must meet with God in private quiet times.  It is simply not necessary for you since you have Christian music and a pastor to teach you what God tells him in his quiet times.
            We don’t think that God actually meant His Word to be read by everyone, just by the teachers.  So if you want to be a “good enough Christian,” there is no need to read this long, hard-to-understand, and (let’s be honest) sometimes boring Book. (Trust us, we know.  We’ve read 1 Chronicles 1-9.) 
            But all you have to do is listen to your Christian music, go to church on Sunday, and listen to what your spouse tells you about the Bible.  That is so much easier anyway.  So let’s not complicate it.
            Besides, God knows that you are busy.  Therefore, let us, the teachers, do the reading of the Scriptures so that we can teach you what we think it says.  That way, you have more time to clean your kitchen, feed your family, update your Facebook page, read your newspaper, watch your television, and text all your friends. 
            As long as you listen to good, godly music and go to church on Sunday, you will never go astray.”

            Honestly, I think that many of us are secretly hoping to find a passage like that.  Then we could feel a lot better about our busy lives and our lazy disciplines.  

            But, I’m sorry to say, it’s not in there.  (Trust me, I’ve read straight through the Bible four or five times now, and it’s not there.)   

            Instead, I find this example in Acts 17:11:  “Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” 

            They received the message from their teacher, the famous and godly Paul.  And yet, they examined the Scriptures . . . for themselves . . . every day . . . to see if Paul’s message was on track.  And they were called “noble.”

            While Bible reading and quiet time are not necessary for salvation or to be a “good Christian,” I firmly believe that it does have a tremendous effect on our understanding of Him, our level of “righteousness,” our ability to be discerning, and the level of effectiveness that we have for God’s kingdom work. 

            How much we immerse ourselves in the Word (and spend time praying and listening to God) should have a huge impact on how we live as Christians and if we are on target with God’s truth.  Training in righteousness, discernment, correction, wisdom, spiritual maturity (among others) are all things that come with immersing ourselves in the Word.  Guidance, peace, learning to discern God’s whispering voice (among others) all come with spending quiet time with God.  

            What will happen to the level of commitment and the Christian character of generations of believers brought up on the idea that “Bible operator” is good enough, that accepting secondhand Scriptural truths (without searching it for ourselves) is perfectly acceptable?

            2 Timothy 4: 3-4:  “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.” 

            It is only by knowing and training ourselves in the Word, as God reveals it in His Bible, that we can correctly discern spiritual myths.  To feed on what others tell us about Scripture (instead of having the disciplined, mature habit of maintaining personal time in the Word and in prayer with the Lord) is a sure way to make us susceptible to being misled by teachers who will say things that we like to hear, things that sound good and right, but that might not be biblically accurate. 

            But how will we know? 

            We won’t be able to discern inaccuracy unless we are immersed in the Truth for ourselves.  These myths are not always blatantly obvious.  Satan’s best schemes are the super subtle ones that have an air of godliness.  By these, we end up nibbling our way lost because it “sounds good” to us.  And it’s what we wanted to hear anyway.  So we won’t seek any other truth.  But it takes careful studying and reading and discipline in the Word - in the God-breathed Word - to keep on track.

            Hebrews 5:12-14:  “In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again.  You need milk, not solid food!  Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness.  But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.” 

            How do we get mature in this Christian walk?  Constant use of what teaches us to distinguish good from evil? 

            Constant use of Scripture leads to the spiritual maturity necessary to distinguish truth from falsehood.  Is our level of spiritual maturity something that we want to take casually? 

Common Heresies            

            I think one of the greatest threats to the Church and the Christian faith today is the complete lack of first-hand knowledge about what the Bible really says.  So many people are being led away from Truth by things that sound good, things they want to hear.  But they do not know the Word well-enough to be discerning about how wrong those messages are.

            So ... What kind of doctrinal errors might we be swayed into believing if we don't have a good, solid, first-hand knowledge of Scripture?  How about things like these, some of the most common heresies I hear from "Bible-believing," "Christian" churches (taken from the Atheism and World Religion post coming up later, #20):

          1.  “There was no virgin birth.  ‘Virgin’ meant she was a young woman or that she got pregnant the first time she had intercourse.  So Jesus wasn’t really God.”

            If they can destroy the idea of the virgin birth, they can deny the deity of Jesus Christ.  They can make Him into just a man, just another good teacher you can choose to follow if you want to.

            But what about Matthew 1:18, which says that Mary and Joseph hadn’t “come together” yet?  They didn’t have intercourse, and yet she was found to be with child.  But if it wasn’t through intercourse with Joseph and it wasn’t supernatural, then you would have to conclude that she had an affair.  Are “Christians” who want to deny the “virgin birth” ready to claim that?    

            And what about the fact that the angel told Joseph (in Matt 1:20) that the child conceived in Mary was from the Holy Spirit?  (Also see Luke 1:35) 

            And that John 1:14 and 1 Timothy 3:16 refer to the fact that God the Son came down to earth and put on human flesh?

            And then there’s John 1:18, which says “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only [a reference to Jesus], who is at the Father’s side, has made him known.”      

            Colossians 2:9 tells us that all the fullness of God lives in bodily form in Christ.  Philippians 2:5-6 tells us that Jesus had the very nature of God. 

            Even Jesus Himself said, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” (John 14:9) because He and the Father “are one.”  (John 10:30).  In John 10:33, the Jews were going to stone Him because He was calling Himself God.  Jesus Himself acknowledged His Godhood.  The question is, “Do you believe Him?”

          2.  “God is pure love!  And because He loves me so much, He just wants me to be happy.” 

            This one makes me crazy because it’s being used to excuse everything, acting like what matters most to God is that we are happy and enjoying our lives, whether we find that happiness in homosexual relationships or pre-marital ones or even ones where we leave our spouses for something that makes us happier.  After all, “It’s all about the love.  And a loving God would never judge us or punish us or deny us anything that makes us happy.” 

            It’s not said in this way, but this is the belief going around out there. 

            Yes, God is love.  And it’s critical to know His love, and to share His love and grace and forgiveness with others.  But what people are forgetting is that God is also just and holy, as much as He is love.  And He demands holiness and righteousness from people.  He has rules and guidelines, and He expects them to be followed, and there are consequences for when we break His rules and stray outside of His guidelines. 

            You can only get a clear, accurate picture of God and a proper fear of Him when you keep His love and His holiness/justness in proper balance. 

            I fear that this “God is all about the love” teaching is going to be what causes more people to stray from the Truth than anything.  Because they think they are honoring God, yet they still get to live life the way they want.  It probably seems like the perfect blend to them, the perfect teaching to tickle their ears, telling them what they want to hear so they can continue to live whatever way they want while feeling good about their “faith.”

            But Scripture paints a different picture of God.  It is very clear about His holy and just side, about His wrath, and about our need to fear the Lord and seek righteousness:

            Psalm 33:5:  “The Lord loves righteousness and justice…”

            1 Peter 1:15-16:  “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written:  ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’”

            2 Corinthians 7:1:  “… let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”

            Hebrew 12:14:  “Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.”

            Ephesians 5:3-6:  “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. . . . For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person – such a man is an idolater – has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.  Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient.”

            Ezekiel 38:22-23:  “I will execute judgment upon him with plague and bloodshed; I will pour down torrents of rain, hailstones and burning sulfur on him and on his troops and on the many nations with him.  And so I will show my greatness and my holiness, and I will make myself known in the sight of many nations.  Then they will know that I am the Lord.”

            Ezekiel 39:7:  “I will make known my holy name among my people Israel.  I will no longer let my holy name be profaned. . .”

            Rev. 14:6:  “… ‘Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come.…”

            Deut. 5:29:  “Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever.”

            Proverbs 8:13:  “To fear the Lord is to hate evil…”

            Romans 1:18:  “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness.”

            Romans 2:5:  “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.”

            John 3:36:  “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.”

            Romans 6:23:  “For the wages of sin is death. . . .”

            Matthew 10:28:  “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”

            Hebrews 10:31:  “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”  

            2 Thess. 1:8:  “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”  

            Matthew 7:21-23:  “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!”  

            Matthew 25:41, 46:  “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ . . . Then they will go to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” 

          And this is just a small tiny bit.  And it’s far different from the popular teaching of “God is love and He just wants you to be happy, so go ahead and do whatever you want because He won’t say anything against you.”  Far, far different.

          3.  God promises Christians health and wealth.

          I already covered this one in the first lesson, “A Full, Abundant Life.”  So all I will say here is that Scripture never promises us health and wealth.  In fact, Christians are promised that we will be persecuted and face hardships and trials.  We might even end up being killed for our faith.  The world will hate us because it hates Jesus. 

            And while we are promised that all things will be healed and made right again in eternity, it is not guaranteed to happen in this lifetime.  We will face just as much poverty and illness and heartbreak as everyone else.  Because that’s life.  But thankfully, we will have the Lord’s help in getting through it, and we can trust that He will turn it into something good. 

            If your church is teaching you that God wants you to have an abundance of stuff and that He wants to give you everything you ask for and that He wants to shower you with the pleasures of this world, they are lying.  Get out of there fast and find a church that teaches you the truth.  We are not to store up our treasures on earth, but to store them in heaven.      

          4.  “We are all God’s children.  And so He wouldn’t condemn any of us.”

            “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God . . .”  (John 1:12) 

            We are all God’s creation.  But we are not all His children.  His children are those who believe in Jesus, who call Him Lord and Savior.

            Besides, it's not that God condemns us.  He actually offers to save us from our sins, through Jesus's death on our behalf.  It's that we condemn ourselves by refusing to accept His offer of forgiveness and salvation.  We choose to pay for our own sins ... in hell.

          5.  “The most important commandment is ‘Love others’ and as long as we are loving others, we are doing all that God requires.”

            “ ‘Of all the commandments, which is the most important?’

            ‘The most important one,’ answered Jesus, ‘is this . . . ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’  The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ ”  (Mark 12:28-31)

            It is a very common teaching nowadays that “Love others” is the greatest commandment, the best way to show that we are following God.  And loving others is crucial.  It’s great.  But what we seem to forget is that “love God” comes before “love others.”  And when we put “love others” over “love God,” we base our view of God and His truths on how we want to show love to others.  And this is wrong!  We should be letting our love for God and His truth dictate how we love others.  Not the other way around.

            Many people believe that it’s not loving to call anything “sin,” and so they excuse everyone’s choices because it’s “loving” to be accepting and supportive and open-minded.  They believe it’s not loving to hold up the Bible as The Truth or Jesus as the only way to heaven.  To them, it’s much more loving to tell everyone that they are all going to heaven.

            But the most important command is not “Love others.”  It’s “Love God.”  And we cannot define who God is and what His Truth is by the ways we want to show love to others.  Our love for others needs to be based on the Word, on the Truth.  Not the other way around.

            And if I may point out one huge misunderstanding:  Loving God does not mean having warm feelings toward Him.  It does not mean simply acknowledging that there is a God.  Loving God means obeying Him, living your life the way He wants you to.

            1 John 5:3:  “This is love for God: to obey his commands. . . .” 

            John 15:10:  “If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”

            John 14:15, 23,24:  “If you love me, you will obey what I command . . . If anyone loves me, he will obey my teaching. . . . He who does not love me will not obey my teaching.”

            Acts 5:32:  “We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”  (Who has been given the Spirit?  Those who obey Him!)

            Oh, the things that people try to get away with by claiming that “God is love” and that all God requires of us is to “love others”!  [A recent post I wrote on this:  "Love others" or "Love God"?]

          6.  “All faiths lead to the same place, to heaven.”  Or “God is the same God, no matter what your faith is.”  Or “all good people go to heaven.” 

            “If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in him and he in God.”  (1 John 4:15)

          “Who is the liar?  It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ.”  (1 John 2:22)

            “But he who disowns me [Jesus] before men will be disowned before the angels of God.”  (Luke 12:9)

            “This is how you can recognize the spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.”  (1 John 4:2-3)  (Notice that you have to acknowledge Jesus Christ, that Jesus is the Christ, not just that Jesus was a real person.)

            “The god of this age [Satan] has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.”  (1 Corinthians 4:4)

            “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”  (2 Thess. 1:8)

            “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!”  (Matthew 7:21-23)

            “ ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’  They replied, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved . . .’”  (Acts 16:30-31)  Believe in who?  Buddha?  Allah?  Krishna?  Mother Earth?  The Force?  No!  Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.  Scripture is so clear on this.  Couldn’t be clearer!

            “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.’”  (John 14:6)

            “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.”  (Acts 4:12)

            I just don’t see how there is room for misunderstanding here!

          7.  “There is no literal hell.”  Or “A loving God would never condemn people to hell.”  Or “In eternity, there will be enough time for everyone to eventually accept Jesus as Lord and Savior and to make it into heaven.”

            I don’t know how anyone can conclude that there is no hell, no eternal separation from God.  If they do, they are ignoring clear biblical teaching.  In fact, the New Testament says more about hell than about heaven.  And it clearly says how we end up there.

            “. . . They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.”  (2 Thess. 2:10)  They didn’t perish because God didn’t love them.  They perished because they refused to believe in the truth, because they rejected Him, His love, His forgiveness, and the salvation He offers through Jesus.  And according to the concordance, “perish” means exactly what you think it would mean.  It means that something is utterly destroyed or ruined, but not as in “annihilation or ceasing to exist.”  It’s about a conscious and eternal loss of well-being.  It's eternal spiritual ruin.

            “. . . They were broken off because of unbelief . . . And if they do not persist in unbelief, they will be grafted in . . .”  (Romans 11:20, 23)  Once again, the people ended up in hell by their own refusal to believe.  Not because God didn’t love them.  In His love, He made a way to save us.  But it’s our own resistance to His ways that lands us in hell.

            “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself . . .”  (Romans 2:5)  And again, it’s we who bring hell on ourselves.

            “For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die.”  (Romans 8:13)

            Also, according to Hebrews 9:27, man is destined to die once and then “after that to face the judgment.”  And according to the next verse, Jesus will return to bring salvation . . . to everyone?  No!  He returns to bring salvation to “those who are waiting for him.”  This doesn’t sound to me like there are multiple judgments or opportunities throughout eternity to make Jesus your Lord and Savior.  It sounds like you are judged for the decision you made in this lifetime at the judgment that we face after we die.

            After He returns, we face judgment for the decisions we made in this life.  And He will separate the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the weeds.  (Matthew 13:30, Matthew 25:31-46)

            “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ . . . Then they will go to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”  (Matthew 25:41, 46)  Hmm?  Eternal fire.  Eternal punishment.  Eternal life.  At the final judgment.  Sounds pretty final to me.  Not temporary at all.  (And remember that hell wasn’t made for man.  It was made for the devil and his angels.  But we end up there when we choose to reject Jesus and the offer of salvation that God made available through Jesus’ sacrificial death.)

            And this “eternal fire”? 

            “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”  (Rev 20:15)

            “But the cowardly [those who turned their back on their faith], the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars – their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur.  This is the second death.”  (Rev 21:8)  The second death?  Once again, it sounds pretty final to me.  And you don’t have to be evil or immoral to end up in hell.  You simply have to not believe in Jesus as Lord and Savior.  “Being good” is not the path to heaven.  Believing in the Lord Jesus is.

            I see nothing in the Bible to indicate that this is a temporary separation or that there will be future, ongoing judgments as each person finally reaches a decision to choose Jesus as Lord.  I see that our decision is made in this lifetime, and it’s made final at the time of our death, and then there is judgment which leads to either eternal life or the second death.  Permanently.

            “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.  They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day that he [returns].”  (2 Thess. 1:9-10) 

          8.  Doctrine doesn’t really matter.  It’s not what you believe that’s important; it’s how you live that really matters.

            I think just reading the above heretical views shows how dangerous it is to have false views.  Your views of things like Jesus, the authority of Scripture, if heaven and hell really exist, if God is only "love" or is He has a just and holy side, too, etc. will greatly affect your faith and the way you live and what you teach others.  And we will be held accountable for it.

             “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine.  Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.  They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”  (2 Timothy 4: 3-4)

            "Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.  This is how you can recognize the spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God."  (1 John 4:1-3)

            If someone does not acknowledge that Jesus was the Christ, that He was God in the flesh and that He is the way to salvation, then they are not speaking truth.  These are the people who claim that He wasn't born of a virgin, didn't really die on the cross or rise again, that we can work our way to heaven by being good or simply loving others, that any of the other faiths are just as good, etc.  And these kinds of falsehoods are coming from "Christian" churches, too.  Scary!    

            Doctrine matters.  Truth matters.  Many Christians (or I should say “Christians”) are changing Scripture nowadays to fit what they want to hear, to be popular and to fit in with society.  But while we can deny Scripture or refuse to accept what it says or ignore it, we cannot change it.  It is God’s Word, God’s truth.  And we will all be judged by it in the end.

            We cannot let our feelings determine our faith.  This is what is happening all over the place.  And it’s causing chaos and confusion about what the Truth really is.  Truth is not determined by what you feel or by what you wish were true.  Truth is truth, whether you agree with it or not.

            In this day and age, it’s critical to get back to the basics about what the Bible says, to really get to know it.  Because far too many people are changing the truth based on their feelings.  And far too many are presenting half-truths which lead people astray, such as “God is love!”  Yes, God is love, but that’s a half-truth.  The other half is that He is just and holy, too. 

            It’s the same trick the serpent played in the Garden of Eden.  He led them astray with a half-truth, telling them that they will gain the knowledge of good and evil if they eat the fruit.  But the half he didn’t tell them was that it’s horrible to know about evil and they'll wish they never did.

            So how important is Scripture and quiet time really?  I think that the Word of God itself has a lot to say about that, and we would be wise to take it to heart and let it convict us.

            2 Timothy 2: 15:  “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.”  We are responsible for how we handle the “word of truth.”  Is correctly handling the Word leaving it on the shelf for extended periods of time?    

            2 Timothy 3:16:  “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”  This says “all Scripture,” not just the few passages that we learn about through other people and through music.  Think about how many messages and lessons we would miss out on if we felt that it was “good enough” to just listen to the Sunday sermon or Christian music. 

            [I think it’s interesting to note that James 5:16 says “. . . The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.”  And we just saw that Scripture is useful for training in righteousness.  I think that there is a link between abiding in the Word, seeking righteousness, and the power of our prayers. 

            Now, it’s not our righteous acts that make our prayers powerful and effective.  It is His righteousness working through us as we humbly submit our lives completely to Him - for His glory!  And since we will always sin, we need to remain sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s convictions and to return wholeheartedly to God in genuine repentance whenever sin has broken fellowship.]    

            Hebrews 4:12:  “For the word of God is living and active.  Sharper than any two-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit; it judges the thoughts and the attitudes of the heart.”  Scripture is living and active, and God leads us by it and speaks to our hearts.  But by not constantly using it, we are opening ourselves up to being misled, spiritually immature, ignorant, self-focused, and self-serving. 

            And we miss out on what God would teach us through it today.  We miss out on seeing the messages that fit our needs each day, each moment we seek His guidance through it.  This is the living and active part of it: it interacts with us each day as though God were speaking right through it to our needs or blind spots.  It guides and convicts and brings us up in wisdom, as we use it (and need it) daily.  

            “My son, if you accept my words and store up my commands within you, turning your ear to wisdom and applying your heart to understanding, and if you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.  For the Lord gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding.”  (Proverbs 2:1-5)

            My fear is that we are growing into a community of ignorant, stagnant, weak, lukewarm, malnourished, easily-deceived, less-effective Christians.  We have filled out days with too much activity and technology to really dwell on God anymore.  We are just too busy and too self-focused.  We don’t want to be convicted of our shortcomings.  So not reading the Bible suits us just fine.  And we welcome any excuse that gives us permission to put spiritual disciplines on the back burner. 

            And yet, we are offended by anyone that implies that we are not disciplined enough in our Christian walks.  And we look at those who diligently maintain quiet-time with the Lord as super-spiritual giants.  They are in a special class of believers that we can never be a part of because we live in “The Real World.” 

            But the truth is that we just don’t make the effort or time to draw that close to God (or we are actively or unconsciously avoiding Him for some reason).  We want permission to focus on our lives, while neglecting a serious study of the Word and quiet time with the Lord.  And yet, we still want to be patted on the back and hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” 

            I have been there a lot during my life, wanting to believe that I was doing good enough with my music, my inspirational books, and my Sunday sermons.  I was a good Christian, and I loved the Lord, and I was growing in my walk.  But I was “so busy” with life that I convinced myself that these other things were enough.  Scripture was extra.  Beneficial, but not as inspiring as music and inspirational books.  And honestly, it was so familiar that it was boring and just not doing it for me anymore. 

            I wanted permission to remain slack in my spiritual disciplines.  But what I needed more was gentle encouragement to persevere, to make devotional time a priority in the midst of the busyness.  I needed to understand that my life, my faith, my trust in God, evidence of the “fruit of the Spirit,” my level of righteousness, and my effect on the kingdom of God are all greatly affected by the quality of my devotional life and the priority that I put on meeting God in prayer and in His Word. 

            For so long, I didn’t know what it was like to passionately pursue Him, to meet Him in the pages of the Bible, and to know the living and active nature of Scripture . . . until these past “furnace” years.  Through these many trials, God has broken me of my lazy, stagnating attitude.  He has shown me the vibrancy that comes with deep times in prayer and Scripture.  I always knew it was good and important, and I always valued it immensely.  But I didn’t know what it was like to drink deeply from it, to hunger and thirst for it.  Until now. 

            And now, I have become incredibly jealous for it, for wanting to see God’s Word honored and valued above all.  God has moved me from seeing Bible-reading and prayer as the icing on the cake, to seeing it as the whole cake itself.  It has become so precious to me - a cherished lighthouse of truth - that I want others to know the joy and peace and vibrant life that come with hungering and thirsting for the Word also.  

            It breaks my heart to hear, “I know I should read the Bible and pray more, but . . .” 

            And I’m sure it breaks God’s heart, too.    

            The God of the universe - the God who is available to us and waiting to meet with us in His Word and to help us have the fullest life possible - has written His message to us in the Bible.  He has poured out His love and His heart and His Truth to us in that precious book.  And we’d rather watch a mind-numbing television show. 

            How is it that we have enough time for TV, newspapers, the mundane and unglorifying television shows, a leisurely cup of coffee, the ridiculous amount of texting, emails, web-surfing, etc., but we can’t carve out thirty minutes a day to see what the God of the universe has to tell us?  If we are really “that busy” then we should get our affairs in order because we need to be prepared to die of a heart-attack in the near future.     

            If we are not in the Word regularly, we are nibbling our way lost and opening ourselves up to being easily deceived.  By the enemy and by ourselves.  And we are missing out on the kind of life that God wants us to have, that He wishes we would have - for our best and for His glory.  (And if your church isn’t preaching straight from the Word - if it’s editing His Word to fit what they want to say or what others want to hear - get out of there fast and find a church that preaches God’s Word as God revealed it.)   

            And, sadly, we are missing out on the kind of relationship with God that we were meant to have.  If we are not learning what God says about Himself and about us in the Word then we are living out of our own misconceptions.  Misconceptions about who God is, what He wants from us, who we are, what we are capable of, how we are to live, etc.  And we will never be able to rest in Him and His love because we won’t really know Him.  And I speak from experience.

            Or maybe we have learned to rest in Him when we shouldn’t be.  Maybe we’ve gotten “comfortable” in life because we are not in His Word.  We are not reading what He requires of us, discovering areas we need to be convicted in, learning what He says we should be striving towards and focusing on, and seeing just how much we miss the mark.  And I speak from experience.  If this is the case, we need to get back in the Word, or life will be lackluster and full of self-deception.  And we will wonder where He is and why life is so blah.   

            The Word is Truth.  And only Truth and humility will break down our walls, will break through the lies that we let ourselves believe . . . lies that make us too big and Him too little. 

            I want to say this one more time . . . and I want to say it LOUD:  The Bible is not extra-credit reading.  It is not “Gee, it’s sure nice to pick it up now and then for a little burst of God” reading. 

            And it’s not just history. 

            It is the living Word, active and completely applicable to our lives today.  It is God as He reveals Himself.  It is our map for how to live and think and act.  And it is up to us to mine it for its riches.  So many of us don’t even know what we are missing.     

            I highly value godly music and Sunday sermons and any bits of wisdom and truth I glean from others (because God is the author of all truth, wherever we find it).  They are good and should be part of our lives.  But I hold the Bible up in a category of its own.  Those other things should not replace the daily reading of Scripture and daily, quiet time.  That would be like living on the bread crust that we pull off of someone else’s bread, rather than taking the time to sit down and eat the whole glorious meal prepared by the Chef. 

            Well, I’m here to say, pull up a chair, grab a fork, and put on a bib.  Dig in deep and get messy.  And watch as it changes your heart and your life.  Watch yourself get more and more hungry for the Word, the more you devour it.  Don’t settle for second-hand lessons, but dig deeply into the living Word where God is waiting to meet you.  Hunger for hearing His whisper in the quiet times, to see what the God of the universe, our Loving Father, wants to tell you.  Don’t look at it as a “To Do” item, but as a chance to meet with the God who made you and loves you.  If you look at it that way, you can see why I say we need to do it every day.  It will change your life!    


3.  Finish this sentence:  “To me, the Bible is . . .” 

4.  Do you read it because you have to or because you hunger for it?  What do you get out of reading it?

8.  What are some other problems that people (Christians and non-Christians) have with the Bible?  What kinds of problems have you had with the Bible before?  Any that you currently have?

9.  Do you think that how much we read and absorb the Word of God has a great impact on our lives?  How so?  How can we move from “just reading words on a page” to “absorbing it into our hearts and minds”?

10.  What happens when we don’t read the Bible regularly?  To us, our families, churches, and culture?

12.  What do you think it means to be a “workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth”?  What might cause us to be ashamed?  How can we correctly handle the Word?

14.  What does it mean that the Bible is a “double-edged sword . . . it judges the thoughts and the attitudes of the heart”? 

19.  As I referred to earlier, I once read about a wife who believed that because we wives and mothers are so busy, we do not need to be in the Word regularly.  And God understands because we are busy working for Him.  And so we should get our Scripture through sermons and music and our godly husbands.  She even basically said that this is more important than reading it for ourselves.  How would you respond to this?  Do you think this is a common attitude today? 

20.  If we all adopted that attitude (#19), how do you think that would affect the Church and future generations of Christians and their witness in the world?

21.    Many people believe it’s possible to live moral lives without the Word of God.  Do you agree?  What about cultures that don’t have the Word?

23.  Do you think a lot of Christians settle for being “good enough” Christians?  Why?  And how is this different from how God wants us to live?

24.  What kinds of things might snap us out of our lukewarm-ness and spiritual apathy?

25.  How might we live differently if we really believed that reading God’s Word is not just a way to fill our head with knowledge but to meet with Him in a very personal way?  

The posts in this Bible study:
(And I didn't repost the last "lesson" because it's not really a lesson.  It's meant to be a conversation-starter if you are doing this Bible study with others: 22.  Gray Areas

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