Growing Through the Gospel

By Erin Bird

The Princess Bride is a classic movie beloved by many. If you haven’t seen it, it is about a Spanish swordsman avenging the death of his father who was murdered by a government official who happened to have six fingers.
Now, if you HAVE seen the movie, you might be taking issue with my synopsis. “Yes,” you admit, “there is a story line of revenge against the six-fingered man, but that’s not everything the movie is about! You left out the love story of Wesley and Buttercup, and Prince Humperdink’s treachery, and the R.O.U.S.es, and Vizzini’s death to iocane powder, and The Machine, and what about the Impressive Clergyman?!?!?”

And you’d be right. There is so much more about The Princess Bride.

Many people do something similar with the Gospel. They tell people the gospel is what “saves” a person spiritually. And while that is very true, salvation isn’t the totality of the Gospel. The Gospel is so much more. It isn’t just what saves you, it is also what sanctifies you. As Tim Keller says in his article entitled “The Centrality of the Gospel,”

“We never ‘get beyond the gospel’ in our Christian life to something more ‘advanced.’ The gospel is not the first ‘step’ in a ‘stairway’ of truths, rather, it is more like the ‘hub’ in a ‘wheel’ of truth. The gospel is not just the A-B-C’s but the A-Z of Christianity. The gospel is not just the minimum required doctrine necessary to enter the kingdom, but the way we make progress in the kingdom.”

This is why the Apostle Paul said  to the Jesus-followers living in Colossae…

“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him.” (Colossians 2:6)

In other words: How does a person receive Christ Jesus the Lord? Through the Gospel. So how should a person “walk in him” (i.e. growing spiritually)? Through the Gospel.

This is SUCH an important facet of the Gospel. Throughout this series, we’ve seen how we are redeemed,  justified,  adopted,  ransomed, and so much more through Jesus’ life, death, & resurrection. But too many Christians accept these truths, but still try to live out their faith through their own power and strength, rather than let the Gospel be at the center of their spiritual growth.

But if you are going to become the person God calls you to be, it is going to come through your continual surrender to the Gospel. That surrender can be seen by surrendering:

  • your time to read the Scripture, to pray, and to serve others
  • your possessions to bless others
  • your activities to avoid the things that draw you away from Christ and invest in activies that draw you to Him.

But those activities alone don’t help you grow spiritually. They have to be paired with the gospel where they are motivated by the Spirit.

So may you, this week, seek to grow spiritually by surrendering your time, your possession, your activities, and your affections through the Gospel, so you might find the joy God offers to you through Christ.

Get the Details

by Erin Bird

We are continuing with our How to Study the Bible series where we are taking a glimpse of a different Bible Study method each week. (If you’ve missed any of our previous weeks, head over to the blog.) Last week, I encouraged you to “Get the Big Picture”by looking at the context of a passage. Well this week, I want to go the opposite direction. Rather than go wider to understand the text, I want you to go deeper. In other words, I want to teach you to “Get the Details.”

Word Study

But truth be told, this week’s study method is really just another form of “getting the big picture.” Rather than trying to understand the immediate, broader, and historical context of any given passage, I want to teach you how to do what many people call a “word study.” In other words, to gain a deeper understanding of the Scripture, sometimes you need to stop at just one word and see how all of the Bible defines that word.

For instance, in last week’s email, when I addressed the idea of looking at the broader context of a passage by looking at the entire book, I brought up the Apostle John’s use of the word “light” in 1 John. I pointed out that when you saw how he used the word “light” throughout his letter, it helped you understand a verse like 1 John 2:8better.

But this week, I want to encourage you to go even further by not just letting the context of one book (in this case 1 John) inform you, but to let ALL of Scripture inform your understanding.

So let’s continue with the word “light.”How does the rest of Scripture define and use this word?

Let’s Study Light

To do a word study, you will either need:

For our purposes right now, let’s use BLB. Here’s one way you might dig deeper into your understanding of “light.”

  1. Open a browser window on your computer and head over to BLB.
  2. In the search box at the top of the BLB website, type in the word “light” and select your preferred Bible translation.
  3. After clicking the search icon, you will see your search results. But you are far from done!
  4. Immediately to the right of the “Word Search” bar and chosen translation is a button that says “Adv. Search”. Click that:
  5. Just in case there were multiple words in ancient Greek that could be translated “light”, you want to make sure you are studying the correct word. So click on the drop-down menu for “Predetermined List” and select 1 John.
  6. Then click the blue arrow next to your preferred translation and you will see new search results appear.
  7. Each verse in 1 John that contains the word “light” is now in your browser window. To the left of each verse is a button that says “Tools.” Click on that.
  8. You now have some options.
    1. My first leaning would be to click on “cross-references” to see where else in Scripture the words has been used. But doing that doesn’t seem to yield me very good results.
    2. So the next thing I would try is “Interlinear.” (An Interlinear Bible parses out the original language and helps you see how the verse was translated into English.)
  9. If you’re still tracking with me, on this new search results page, you see each word/phrase parsed out into a list. Scroll down to “light.” Now, click on the Strong’s reference number. (It’s the middle column.) In this case, the number is “g5457“.
  10. As you scroll down the resulting page, you see
    1. that “light” refers to “light” just as you would imagine (light from the sun, stars, fire, etc.).
    2. But then you also see that the word is used metaphorically throughout the Bible, one of which is “truth and it’s knowledge.”

Personally, as I see this, it shows me why John and the other apostles were so passionate about telling others about Jesus. If Jesus is the “light of the world“, and that light was “the life of men,” you can understand why John wanted to “shine” the light of Jesus. Because to Him, the gospel was truth to be shared, and knowledge that could change lives. So of course he is going to refer to Jesus and his gospel as “light,” because by the light of the gospel, you see life differently and better than ever before.

Wrap-Up

To go deeper with the Bible, sometimes you need to go deep with just one word. So I encourage you, use tools like Blue Letter Bible or a cross-reference Bible and go deeper with words like love, patience, or Immanuel. Take time to get the details, not being content to just skim across the surface of the Scripture, but to plunge deep, letting the details of even one word illuminate your understanding of life and God’s love.

Get the Big Picture

by Erin Bird

We are continuing with our How to Study the Bible series where we are taking a glimpse of a different Bible Study method each week. (If you’ve missed any of our previous weeks, head here to catch up.) This week, we come to a study method I’m calling “The Big Picture.”

Context, Context, Context

If you’ve heard me teach on a Sunday at a Worship Gathering, you know I’m big on context. Keeping a Bible verse in context helps you avoid misinterpreting and misapplying it.

But there are different types of context. Here are a few:

Immediate Context

When studying a Bible verse, it’s good to ask, “what is said prior and after this verse?” Often the immediate context helps you understand the verse in question more clearly, but also helps you avoid errors.

For instance, many years ago, I heard a group of Christians pray that God would put a certain politician in the White House, and they used Matthew 18:19 to tell God He had to do it. After all, Matthew 18:19 says,

“Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.”

They clearly took this verse to mean that since they had more than two of them in agreement that a certain person should become President, God would make it happen.

However, by looking at the immediate context of this verse, you see Jesus is talking about church discipline. He is explaining how to confront, discipline, forgive, and restore someone who has been sinning and harming themselves and the church. So verse 19 isn’t about two people asking for whatever they want, it’s about God’s work in whatever agreement they come to in the restorative discipline of a fellow believer. Here’s how Tom Constable puts it in his “Notes on the Bible…”

“In the context, ‘anything’ refers to any judicial decision involving an erring disciple that the other disciples may make corporately. God has always stood behind His judicial representatives on earth when they carry out His will.”

Suddenly, when you realize the context, you don’t want to use this verse out of Matthew to demand God get your preferred candidate elected.

So as you study the Bible, seek to understand the immediate context around a verse to give you greater clarity and understanding of the text.

Broader Context

Not only is it helpful to know the immediate context, it’s just as helpful to know the broader context. By “broader context,” I primarily mean the entire chapter (which contains the verse) as well as the entire book.

For instance, last fall, we studied the book of 1 John as a church family. We saw that the Apostle John used the word “light” several times throughout his letter. If you saw 1 John 2:8 isolated, you might make the mistake of thinking he was talking about the sunrise. But when you realize that throughout the whole letter, light refers to Jesus and the gospel, you see 1 John 2:8 in a different “light” (yes, pun intended!).

With that said, let me point out that while “broader context” can be an entire chapter or book, it could also be:

  • all of one author’s works
    • for instance, all of Paul’s letters
  • timeline
    • for instance, to understand the context of the book of Philippians, look at the start of the Philippian church in Acts 16
  • the entire Old or New Testament
    • if all of Scripture is “God-breathed” (1 Timothy 3:16), then you can expect a level consistency throughout the entire canon.

Historical Context

The last type of context I want to bring up is Historical Context. What was happening historically when a book or letter was written?

Understanding the historical context is incredibly helpful, giving you a better understanding of a book or letter, almost like a “behind the scenes” perspective. For instance, knowing the prophet Amos was a shepherd and a forester by trade gives you a greater understanding of why he used a fair amount of imagery from nature in his prophecies.

But you are probably not going to gain Historical Context merely from reading the Bible itself. Usually, you need to use reliable outside sources. My personal online favorite (which I’ve shared before) is the NetBible’s online study environment. I know many people who prefer to use the Blue Letter Bible because it has more tools than the NetBible. Or you can go big and purchase something like Logos Bible Software or Accordance.

Do you have a favorite Bible study tool that has helped you understand the context of the Scripture? Please share it on our Facebook page!

Reread the Bible

by Erin Bird

We are in a series here on the blog on various Bible study methods. So far we’ve looked at the S.O.A.P. method and the “writing” method. This week, I am going to encourage you to do something that, at first thought, you are going to probably balk at. But please give considerable thought to these week’s study method – repetitive reading.

Read It Again

In a recent sermon, I shared how a guy’s accountability group I was a part of many years ago chose to read 25-30 chapters of Scripture each week, and if just one member of the group didn’t complete the “assignment,” we all had to read the same 25-30 chapters again. Initially, I hated this reading plan. I was arrogant enough to think that if I had read the book of Philippians 21 times in the previous 21 days, I knew everything in it. Yet, to my shock and surprise, I saw new things on the 22nd time.

And that’s when I learned the value of repetitively reading Scripture.

So here’s what repetitive reading can look like:

  • Pick a short section of Scripture (something like Matthew 5:13-16) and read it 3-5 times in one sitting. TIPS:
    • During at least one of those readings, read slowly.
    • Consider reading it once out loud.
    • If you are using your phone or have access to other Bibles, read the passage from a different translation at least once.
  • Choose an entire chapter of the Bible (like Romans 12 which we studied this past week) and read it every day. TIPS:
    • Don’t start the repetitive method with a chapter of genealogy.
    • Stick with one Bible translation for the first three or four days before trying a different translation.
    • Read with a notebook, highlighting the things that jump out. Look for new things to write each day.
  • Select one or two verses (like Galatians 2:20) and read repetitively with a goal to have it memorized. TIPS:
    • Write the verse(s) down on a 3×5 card and post the card on the bathroom mirror, in a ziplock bag in the shower, on the dash of your car, or on the door to the refrigerator.
    • Download an app to your phone that can help you memorize the verse(s).
    • Choose a verse with a friend and memorize it together.

Let Your Inner Child Out

In case you haven’t noticed, little kids LOVE repetition. They rarely complain about hearing the same song, watching the same show, or playing the same game yet again. It is part of how they learn and process life.

For you to learn the ways of Jesus and process how God calls you to live life, you need more than just a one-time cursory read-through of a Bible passage. So try reading the Bible repetitively and see if God’s Spirit doesn’t begin to help you understand His Word in new ways.

Like Riverwood on Facebook