You’ve read about the importance of the Bible, its impact, history and authority. You understand the value of observing the text and learning to interpret what God is saying through it. But there’s one more crucial step to take: putting your knowledge of God’s Word into practice.
After washing His disciples’ feet, Jesus asked them, “Do you know what I have done to you?” (John 13:12). He wasn’t talking about the act itself, but the why behind it: “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14).
Application is where the rubber meets the road, where truth moves from the theoretical to the practical. A Bible opened for observation and interpretation without application is simply a decoration. As the Apostle Paul put it, “Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies” (1 Corinthians 8:1). I know plenty of Christians with full heads but empty hearts. In contrast, consider the reaction of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, as they realized Jesus Himself had been opening the Scriptures to them: “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road?” (Luke 24:32).
Their passionate response to the insight they had gained turned immediately to action, as they returned to Jerusalem to encourage their fellow believers. Jesus appeared in their midst, “opening their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45), but then sending them to preach in His name “to all nations” (Luke 24:47). In order to act, though, you have to understand both the prerequisites for applying the Bible and the practice of appropriating the Bible for your life.
The Prerequisites for Applying the Bible
It is both wonderful and necessary to respond to what you read in the Bible—to submit to its principles and focus on applying its transforming truth. But before you can begin to apply Scripture, you must meet three conditions of the heart.
You Must Be His
The first, and most obvious, necessity is that you must belong to Christ. Spiritual awakening precedes spiritual appetite. Without a personal relationship with God through His Son, Jesus, His Word remains closed to you. “The natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Corinthians 2:14). If you don’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior, receive Him right now: admit you’re a sinner and ask Him to forgive you—and then you’ll be ready to start fresh.
You Must Be Hungry
A healthy newborn has a strong appetite. Once you’re born again, you must develop an appetite for righteousness and truth. As Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matthew 5:6). God rewards those who diligently seek after Him, not those who casually snack after Him. To a hungry heart, the Bible becomes the ultimate feast—and the fuel to follow Christ for a lifetime.
You Must Be Humble
As your spiritual appetite grows, so must your willingness to obey it. A humble submission to the principles it yields is vital. Think of Samuel’s response to God’s call: “Speak, for Your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:10). Studying the Bible is energizing when you humbly apply its truth in obedience.
The Practice of Appropriating the Bible
God speaks, but you must listen—attentively. Then you must respond boldly. What could God do with you when you listen for His voice with determination and expectation? Consider this acronym as an aid in doing so: BOLD.
Believe God’s declarations of truth. God’s truth often flies in the face of worldly wisdom and cultural momentum. Rather than play lawyer and defend God, let His living Word speak for itself (Hebrews 4:12). All you have to do is believe it.
Obey His commandments. Look for the timeless core principles within God’s commandments, especially when they seem confined to a specific time and place. There is always something to learn, so look for it and then live by it.
Learn from examples in Scripture. The Bible features all aspects of human nature—the good, the bad and the ugly—and you need to learn from all of them. We are flawed vessels, but God is faithful and gracious to teach us what we need to know (1 Corinthians 10:11).
Declare God’s promises as your own. Some of God’s promises are unconditional—He will do all the work—and others are conditional—if you do what God says, He will bless you, but if you don’t, He won’t. To call them your own, you have to take God’s promises in context, and be willing to abide by His conditions.
With these principles in mind, here are some questions I ask myself as I study the Scriptures:
- How does this passage apply to my life?
- What changes must I make?
- How will I carry out these changes?
- What will be my personal prayer concerning this truth?
- Which verse(s) in this section should I memorize?
- What illustration or word picture will help me remember what I’ve read?
Applying God’s Word is the step that takes you from student to surgeon. And you have only one patient: yourself. Scripture is the scalpel in your search for sin and weakness in your heart, the cure you plant there to keep you from future sin, and the stitches and salve that close and heal sin’s wounds. Ask God as the Master Surgeon to direct your efforts through His Holy Spirit, and trust your concerns and repentance to the healing hand of the Great Physician. The burning heart of application is decisive action. Jesus summed it up: “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them” (John 13:17). D ©2017 Skip Heitzig
Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New King James Version.
Some content taken from How to Study the Bible and Enjoy It, by Skip Heitzig. ©1996, 2002. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.