If we’re being honest with ourselves, there is very little from our old textbooks that has stuck with us into adulthood. Funny posts are shared around Facebook and Twitter about how (sarcastically) glad we all are that we learned about parallelograms and that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell rather than how to cook a meal or fill out our taxes. While it’s not all useless information, there was certainly a large amount of information that we subconsciously leave behind due to its lack of practical use in our lives.

We became skilled at taking the books, memorizing what we needed to for testing, and then filtering out all but the most pressing information over time. Sadly, we end up applying that same approach to a lot of things in life, sometimes even including the Bible. It’s very easy to turn Biblical knowledge into an academic pursuit. Every now and then we hear about some prominent leader being caught up in a web of sin despite preaching, writing, and studying the Bible daily for years, and we wonder – how can that happen? The same way it can happen to any of us. The Bible becomes something to be studied and known only rather than understood and applied.

Our relationship with the Bible has to extend beyond being an academic exercise. Textbooks rarely change us, but the Bible must. It’s all too easy to resist or ignore its influence on us, though. A few examples:

  • Thousands of sermons are preached each year on Ephesians 5’s call for husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and wives to submit to their husbands. And yet thousands of Christian husbands and wives listen, go home, and live like they’ve already forgotten the answers that were just given for their struggling marriage.
  • Countless articles, sermons, and classes focus on our need to love our neighbors as ourselves and love our enemies. We all can recite or paraphrase the relevant Bible verses. But how many times do we catch ourselves complaining about those people in our lives, tearing them down in front of others, or treating them poorly?
  • Anybody who grew up attending Bible class regularly was probably asked to memorize the great commission verses in Matthew 28:18-20 and Mark 16:15-16. How easy is it to sweep those verses under the rug and pretend like we weren’t called to share the Gospel?
  • We read James 5’s call for us to confess our sins to one another… yet a large number of Christian men (and an increasingly large number of Christian women) struggle with pornography and don’t feel safe sharing their burden with others.
  • We gather and sing songs about longing for God “as the deer pants for the water,” and needing Him “every hour” before listening to a lesson on the importance of walking with God. Then surveys tell us that four out of five churchgoers don’t read the Bible daily.

To borrow an illustration from Francis Chan, imagine telling your child to clean his or her room, only to have them come back an hour later and say “I didn’t clean my room. But I memorized what you said. I can even say it in Greek.” What good would that do? Would that satisfy you? Of course not. But that’s exactly what we do when we treat the Bible as a textbook.

If there is no transformation, why are we doing any of this? Why wake up on Sunday mornings to drive to the church building? Why listen to (or even prepare and present) a lesson if we have no intention of letting it change us? If that’s how we’re going to approach Christianity, we might as well quit. But of course we shouldn’t quit. We should rededicate ourselves to submitting our lives to God’s shaping. In Ezekiel God describes this process as turning hearts of stone into hearts of flesh. Ephesians 2 describes us as being dead before being made alive with Christ. The Bible isn’t about a series of historical events and a list of commands. It is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16), profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It is literally all about transformation, changing the hopelessly sinful into the image of Christ.

So what do we do when we get stuck in the rut of viewing the Bible as a textbook? Give extra diligence to your study. Take notes from the sermon and/or Bible class, and take them home to study so you can meditate on the lessons from the text. Pray that God would soften our hearts and draw us near to Him. Find a Christian who is setting the example of what it looks like to walk with God and and ask them to help make you a disciple of Christ.

We all struggle with a lack of obedience (Romans 3:23) and know that none of us will ever be perfect, but we also know that God loves us anyway. However, our relationship with Him will greatly depend on how we view His word. If it’s become nothing more than a textbook that we can know and quote with no spiritual change and no relationship with Him, it’s time to reexamine our view of God and His Word.

By Jack Wilkie