This is not a post about connecting the interpretation of a Bible passage to Jesus. I won’t dwell on considering the work of Christ when applying the truth of Scripture. By God’s grace, you should do both of these things. Today I want to stress the importance of the gospel as it relates to the Bible study process.
Success and Failure
At Knowable Word, we’re big fans of the Observation-Interpretation-Application (OIA) Bible study method. It is our goal to help ordinary people learn to study the Bible. We advocate for steps that help you find the author’s main point, connect it to Jesus, and apply that truth to all the musty crawlspaces of your life. Our suggestions are not perfect, but we believe these are sound principles that help us to know God better through his son Jesus.
But what if you forget? How do you react if you jump too quickly to interpretation and don’t spend enough time in careful observation? What happens when you get excited about a pet application and miss the main point? What should you do when you mishandle God’s word?
On the other hand, suppose you follow all of our suggestions to the letter. How do you feel about your personal Bible study then? How does God think about it? Or maybe the Bible study group you are leading had a wonderful meeting—do you carry yourself as though you got a heavenly promotion?
We Always Need the Gospel
The good news of Jesus Christ is not just information that brings us into a relationship with God; we need to know and act on this news in every moment of our Christian lives. Neither is the gospel merely the dessert cart wheeled out at the conclusion of the Bible study meal. We need the gospel from soup to nuts and back into the kitchen.
We tend to hear this exhortation about remembering the gospel and think immediately of our moral behaviors—our successes or failures in the realms of pride, anger, lust, jealousy, and the like. But we need reminders about God’s love, Jesus’s work, and our new identities throughout our lives, and we need to connect these truths to our every endeavor, including studying the Bible.
So as you study the Bible yourself or with a group of other people, here are some ways to remember the gospel.
- Our successes do not take us closer to God — If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, God’s love for you is full. You cannot do anything, including following sound Bible study principles, to make God prize you any more. All the proper method, careful listening, and prayerful application in the world will not draw God any closer to you. In your place, Jesus has offered to God all of the obedience you will ever need to be accepted. Interpreting the Bible accurately and applying it thoroughly will lead you into further obedience and greater joy, but God cannot be on your side more than he already is.
Our failures do not cast us away from God — In the same way that God does not love you any more for your successes, he loves you no less for your failures. Whether your errors in Bible study are small or large, you cannot drive God away from you, not even a little. If you have spotted a mistake, you should repent and make efforts to set things right. But God is not distant from you in the meantime; indeed it is his grace that leads you to repentance (Rom 2:4).
I need this exhortation most as a small group leader. Hours after a study ends I will think of several ways I failed my group. I didn’t connect our interpretation to Jesus; I didn’t make time for specific applications; I talked too much and didn’t ask enough questions. It’s easy for me to be overcome with regret.
But I need to remember the gospel at these moments. Instead of dwelling on my shortcomings, I try to focus on Jesus. God doesn’t look at me as subpar and inadequate because of my performance; he sees Jesus’s perfect record instead of mine and is completely satisfied. God’s grace is lavish and powerful—strong enough to lift my chin and help me trust him even when my flesh tugs me toward despair.
- We are free to offer the grace we’ve been given — Have you ever caught someone yawning or nodding off during your Bible study meeting? Are you frustrated to see your friend fighting the same battles against sin he fought a year ago? Does one member of your small group seem clueless despite your efforts to teach the Bible? Because God has loved you deeply, you are free to pass along love in the same manner. In his love God is patient, long-suffering, and full of forgiveness. Despite your flesh’s desire to complain or lash out in anger or frustration, remembering the gospel will help you to be patient with others in their sanctification even as God is patient with you.