How to Study the Bible, Part 3
After discerning the meaning that was originally intended by the author, it is time to ask the question: how is this relevant to me? How do I respond to this today, in my context?
This is what the last step of Bible study is all about: application!
Without application all the effort you put into observation and interpretation is just vapor that will dissipate as soon as you close your Bible and notebook. The Word of God, written for you thousands of years ago, will fall flat if your mind and heart and practical life are not transformed by it. Think about it – the Word of God falling flat!
In 2 Tim. 3:6-7, the Apostle Paul warns about people who are always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. In other words, it is possible to take in all the teaching and enjoy the intellectual exercise but do so in an empty way: with one’s life still marked by sin and various passions (2 Tim. 3:6).
So how do we “arrive at a knowledge of the truth”?
As we seek to apply a certain passage, we need to remember an important principle: the way we respond to a passage must be shaped by the main idea of the passage.
There are usually many ways to apply a given passage. And the specific ways one will apply a passage will vary depending on his or her age, background, and place in life. Even so, a legitimate application will always have something to do with what the author actually meant for us to come away with.
Thankfully, there is not a situation in my life that the Bible doesn’t address in some way! But as I seek to apply the Bible to various situations, I have to consider what the author was driving at.
In the last post, we determined that the main idea of Hebrews 3:12-14 can be said like this:
Because of the real and present danger that unbelief poses to Christians, the writer of Hebrews urges Christians to exhort one another every day in order to help each other continue holding on to our original confidence, and thereby show that we have truly shared in Christ.
How do we apply this? When we think “application”, it may be helpful to think about three areas: 1) the head, 2) the heart, and 3) one’s practical life. Let’s walk through those three areas.
Respond at the Head Level
What are some truths in the passage that I am to believe? What are some lies that this passage brings to light? What truths about God expressed here am I finding difficult to believe? Believing means more than simply affirming a set of statements. It means embracing them as true.
In our passage, some truths are made clear. For example, the sin of unbelief is deceitful, and it has a heart-hardening effect. Do I really believe that?
What is the original confidence that I am to hold onto? Surely, this refers to the gospel – the very foundation on which my new life with God began. Have I added something to that along the way? What I am hearing around me or in my culture that undermines that original confidence?
Respond at the Heart Level
How does the meaning of the text affect my affections and attitudes of my heart?
Do I feel the weight of the warning, and the urgency in this passage; the danger of not holding on to my original confidence firm to the end? Do I sense that danger for myself, and for those around me?
I need to think of the Christian faith as a marathon, not a sprint. A famous Bible teacher once said: “Don’t make 5-year long plans. Rather, think of yourself in 60 years: where will you be?” That is in line with this passage – will my original faith be deep and strong and shareable in 60 years from now?
What things must I do today for that to happen?
Respond at the Practical Level
How will this passage shape my personal life? How will this shape the way I relate to my friends or family or with the people I disciple?
And since all sin is rooted in unbelief, a clear way to apply this passage is to fight sin! So, I will fight that unbelief by saturating myself with the Word of God and surrounding myself with people who can discern in me a hardening of heart and exhort me to grow in my faith.
Hear the imperative in this passage: “Take care and exhort one another” (v. 12,13). Do I love my brothers and sisters enough to warn them against a hardened heart? Do I love God’s people to the point that I don’t miss opportunities in friendships and relationships, but instead use every opportunity to build others up?
Application: the Final Step
Application is the final step in Bible study. And, like the rest of Bible study, application has to be done correctly. And without this crucial step, the entire process of Bible study will fall flat. So let me exhort you today to apply the Word of God! 😊