Bible study is perfect for people like me who fear exposure. We who love to mince words and divert attention feel right at home in some churches because it’s easy to deceive spiritual people with high-minded platitudes.
“How are you today?” “I’m too blessed to be stressed.”
“What did you think of the sermon?” “It was pretty good. I like the pastor. He’s easy to listen to.”
“How would you like to grow this year?” “I don’t pray enough. I need to pray more.”
“I need to love my family.”
“I’d like to be a witness to my coworkers.”
And on and on and on.
We hear God’s Word all the time, but we often respond so generally that we rarely change. But God wants to change specific people in specific ways. So we must be specific in our application.
The Apostle John wrote a letter to churches infiltrated by false teachers. These teachers were slick. They were full of vague platitudes like “We know God” and “We love God’s people,” but something was seriously wrong beneath the surface. True believers were second-guessing themselves and their assurance of eternal life because these teachers claimed to have critical inside knowledge unavailable to the masses.
John tackles the issue head-on at the beginning of the letter:
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us (1 John 1:8, ESV).
In other words, anyone who refuses to acknowledge that he is a sinner is utterly deceived. There is no fast-track with God that can eliminate sin this side of glory. Anyone who claims otherwise does not live in reality.
But notice which error John exposes next:
If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us (1 John 1:10).
In other words, when confronted with a specific sin, anyone who covers it up, shifts the blame, or denies it calls God a liar. This person does not understand God’s Word.
What is the point?
John says that those who understand God’s Knowable Word will acknowledge two things:
- They have sin (as a general fact)
- They have sinned (in specific instances)
It’s not enough to trust in Christ to forgive your sin, if you are not willing to ‘fess up to the details.
This means that our application of Scripture must be specific. Platitudes aren’t enough. General principles will go only so far.
- Point your finger at yourself before you point it at anybody else. You’re not qualified to help others grow in Christ unless you are growing in Christ yourself.
- Focus on your heart more than on your behavior. Don’t apply the Bible shallowly. Figure out what you desire or believe, and work to change those desires and beliefs. Don’t worry, your behavior will follow.
- Know your next steps. Don’t be satisfied with your application until you’ve identified specific steps you can take to address the issue. When you close the Bible and walk away, what will you do to put the application into practice? How will you remember these lessons in the midst of temptation?
- Make progress measurable. How will you know if you did the application or not? “Pray more” is not measurable. Next week, can I ask you if you prayed more? Prayed more than what? How? When?
- Put off and put on. Think of application as a process of stopping certain things and starting other things. Put off the old self and put on the new self. Don’t focus on stopping sin without actually replacing it with godliness.
- Don’t be lame. It’s easy for application to become mechanical or to miss the point (“tomorrow I’ll set my alarm 10 minutes early and pray…”). Ask others who know you, “what do you think I most need to grow in?” Target those areas. Don’t miss the point of what God wants to do in your life by focusing on irrelevant minutiae.
God’s Knowable Word is a piercing Word. It rips us apart and puts us back together. It identifies exactly what is wrong with the world: me and you. It shows us the solution: Jesus. It gives us hope that we can break the patterns of brokenness and replace them with more life-giving options. Let it speak to the details of your life (Heb 4:12-13).