Saturday, January 13, 2007

Lessons in Biblical Application in Today's Culture (1)

Download MP3: Apply the Bible in Today's Culture - Dave Bish
We know the Bible applys to our life today – but the question is how... especially when we're often told that our Bible either teaches “love and tolerance” or “bigotry and intolerance” Meanwhile Richard Dawkins simply considers it a mess of contradiction, barely worth considering in the quest for God.

Classic evangelical application looks like this...
  • Reading the Bible – well yes, but that's what we're already doing... Some of the Bible tells us to read it – but that's not the usual application.
    It is possible that reading the Bible might make you less inclined to do it again. However, that is called having your heart hardened... and that's not exactly a desirable “transformational faith aim” for our study of the Bible...
  • Pray – yes, would be strange if we hear from God and don't want to reply..
  • Do evangelism – yes, again strange to hear from God about himself and not want to share that...
All of which are fine, but God didn't need to give us a vast book, written over two millenia in three continents with story and law, poetry and prophesy, letters and biography to tell us to do those three things. His way is different. It's bigger and better. And if we're not careful those classic applications of read the Bible, pray and do evangelism, could turn out to be idolatry.... but, more on that later...

There are 400,000 CCTV cameras in London. That basically means where-ever you go, someone can be watching you. When we come to the Bible we're being watched. We read it in the sight of God. But also within the sound of his voice. And that voice comes sometimes tenderly to encourage, sometimes to strengthen, sometimes to correct or rebuke. As we come to it He does the talking and we need to know what to do about that. Our conviction is that all scripture is God-breathed and useful. The question is how.

Principle 1: All Change
Our study of the Bible is to be:
“Transformational Faith-Filled Beholding of Jesus”
“And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” -- 2 Cor 3v18
(1) And we all, with unveiled face
Who? See 3v16 Christians! How are we unveiled? Ch4 – by a universe-creating miracle. What happens when we become Christians is nothing less than the creation of the world in it's magnificence and world-changing significance.

(2) Beholding
See, Savour, Gaze, Worship. This is heart affection stuff. Like burning hearts on the Emmaus Road as the risen Lord Jesus taught the gospel to his disciples. None of which is to say anything less than careful reading... but that we need to read with reverence. To let our hearts feel the weight of what we're reading... letting our minds weigh the majesty. Stopped in our tracks.

Apart from the Lord, our thinking will get us nowhere. We must handle the Bible prayerfully, asking the Author of Scripture to grant us understanding in everything. He must open our eyes to see clearly what he is saying. The psalmist realized this when he wrote Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law (Ps 119:18). Application begins on our knees.

(3) the glory of the Lord
The what? See 4v4,6 Jesus. The face of Christ. The Gospel that Jesus Christ is Lord. The Crucified Saviour. The resurrected Lord. Where? See 3v15 In Scripture. Paul makes a clever move from Moses being read to Israel to the same in our experience.

And of course – Jesus is the subject of all scripture: Jesus says so in Luke 24 and John 5. Colossians – let the word of Christ dwell in you richly. We come to Scripture not to learn knowledge, but to behold the glory of the Lord. To take God's word and “...Put it under your tongue like a lozenge and let the favour seep down your throat and into your heart...” (Piper paraphrased) This is not a brisk business. It's time-intensive and vitally important.

(4) Are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another.
What's the aim? Resulting in Transformation. But not just change for the sake of change. Too often we come to the Bible determined to find a change in us. Change is vital but a particular change is required. Transformation to what end? Changing us into the “same image” - the image of God – Christ. Renewing us to become fully human again.

(5) For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.
How? By The Holy Spirit. When we come to the Bible it is human author's words but these are also God's word – and we are hearing God speaking to us, about Jesus. And it is the Holy Spirit that enacts change here. But that work is the Spirit by the word. The word plainly taught and understood 4v2, not messed with. Simply applying grammar will help us when it comes to application! Though there is a bit more to it than that! Seeing Jesus is transformational. That means informational Bible study falls short. In fact it's idolatrous. If we see who Jesus is but fail to behold him – to worship rightly we're being idolatrous. It's evil.

Likewise if we take action to read the Bible, pray or do evangelism without that being based on our hearts being affected by the gospel then we may well be acting in self-righteous legalism... in sin. Dressed up to look like godliness but doing no more than parading ourselves, instead of responding to our Saviour!

The Bible is not a mirror to come and gaze upon our own beauty. It's the window through which we gaze upon God's glory. Pete Lowman of Wycliffe Baptist Church puts this helpfully in his book on Bible Study, Gateways to God:
“True spirituality isn't a passive consumption of stimulants. It sets out actively to interact with God: to discern the fuel for today's worship in what God has spoken, then to express a response worthy of him – being sure that, somewhere along the line, God himself will warm our hearts”
We can do worse than to ask: “what is worship God for here?” and then to make that prayerful response! And remember that beholding is part of the Holy Spirit working transformation in us! All transformation in the details of life begins with beholding Jesus. And we'll see that the motives and reasons for the changes that God requires of us are very important.

If our Bible reading is to have any impact upon our life in Today's Culture then it needs to become radically God-centred. Our Bible reading must start with who God is, with Jesus and his cross... with his big gospel story from Genesis to Revelation.... and from that our changed life derives. It is God's book of God. The book that reveals Jesus Christ to us in glory and grace, by the Holy Spirit....

In addition to expelling mere informationalism, this approach should also warn us against an individualism that searches scripture to find self. The Bible is God's book of God. Even on the one occasion I do appear in the Bible I'm found worshipping Jesus (in John's vision in the book of Revelation - itself titled "the revelation of Jesus Christ"). The Bible tells the story of many people but I'm no more Joshua or Jonah than I am Jesus. Their story is the story of God, The Father, Son and Holy Spirit - drawing our eyes to Jesus who is enthroned over all... calling us to behold him.