A New Year’s New Mind

“Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship.

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
Romans 12:1–2

How are our minds renewed?

7The law of the LORD is perfect, restoring the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple.
8The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes.
9The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true;
they are righteous altogether.
10They are more desirable than gold, yes, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb.
11Moreover, by them Your servant is warned;
In keeping them there is great reward.
12Who can discern his errors? Acquit me of hidden faults.
13Also keep back Your servant from presumptuous sins;
Let them not rule over me;
Then I will be blameless,
And I shall be acquitted of great transgression.
14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer.”
Psalm 19:7-14

In 1981, Geoffrey Thomas wrote a pamphlet, Reading the Bible; it’s small is size, but great in help and wisdom.  In it he offers encouragement and guidance about Bible reading.  He opens with this quote from J. C. Ryle:

“He that desires to read his Bible with profit, must first ask the Lord Jesus to open the eyes of his understanding by the Holy Ghost. Human commentaries are useful in their way. The help of good and learned men is not to be despised. But there is no commentary to be compared with the teaching of Christ. A humble and prayerful spirit will find a thousand things in the Bible, which the proud, self-conceited student will utterly fail to discern.”
J. C. Ryle as quoted by Geoffrey Thomas

To profit from the Bible this is where we must begin; with a humble and prayerful spirit.  God told the prophet Isaiah:

Thus says the LORD,
“Heaven is My throne and the earth is My footstool
Where then is a house you could build for Me?
And where is a place that I may rest?
For My hand made all these things,
Thus all these things came into being, declares the LORD
But to this one I will look,
To him who is humble and contrite of spirit,
and who trembles at My word.”
Isaiah 66:1-2

Because it is God’s Word, the Bible speaks with authority to us; but Christians do not always come to the Word in humility and trembling.  When was the last time you heard anyone speak of awe regarding God’s Word and coming to it with hunger and eagerness to know what God has said?  When was the last time you heard anyone speak of contrition of their sin and turning to the Bible to learn God’s ways?  When was the last time you heard anyone echo the words of David in Psalm 19?

“Authority,” John Stott once eloquently stated, “…is a dirty word….dirty, disliked, even detested.”  And although the word detest may not be used, far too many Christians live as if they detest the authority of the Bible and remain spiritual infants, “…tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.”  They build their life on sand rather than the rock of God’s Word, and so they are unable to help others assaulted by adversity, because they have only flimsy answers themselves and spend their time shoring up their own house against the waves and wind while falling prey to every false teacher who promises comfort or love.

Christians today tend to be content to be conformed to the world rather than transformed by the renewing of their mind.   Having built their house on sand, beliefs and attitudes about God, life and relationships are absorbed like a sponge from any passing streams of opinion in our world.  Those who claim to believe the Bible is God’s Word too often by their practice treat it as if it were not, becoming as unbelievers as they pick, choose and discard those portions they don’t like or find to be hindrances to their lifestyle—by their actions indicating they don’t believe that God’s will is good and acceptable and perfect.  Even those who consider themselves to be doctrinally sound forget that truths professed must abide in our hearts and that the goal of our instruction is love, or they, as well as those untaught, will be hors de combat or “out of the fight.” I speak not just to you, but to myself.

In Reading the Bible, Geoffrey Thomas writes:

“Life is exceedingly complex: the prevailing climate in present-day Society is hostile to the Christian faith. Marx, Darwin and Freud have all contributed to the dominant philosophy of unbelief that prevails in the Western World. The mass media repeatedly attack the faith of the Bible. The breakdown of the family, promiscuity, divorce, abortion—these things present considerable ethical problems to Christians. We are beset with baffling questions and we need to know what is the right thing to think and to do….Answers to our complex contemporary questions are found in the Bible and our task is to equip ourselves with the knowledge of the Word so that all needed insight and strength will be ours. Laziness is our great temptation. Reliance on knowledge gained in the past is a great danger. We must be growing Christians. Our convictions, our conduct and our devotion must be rooted in the Word of God.”

Thomas’ pamphlet can be read online here at Tony Capoccia’s Bible Bulletin Board.  I think the entire text is there except for the quote from J. C. Ryle, and Thomas’ table outlining a plan for reading through the Bible in a year.  Thomas challenges us and encourages us:

“The chief aim of studying the Scriptures is not the amount read or even the reading itself. The aim is to know God….

“In whatever ways we adapt the suggested plan to our own particular needs we must aim at reading two or three chapters at a sitting, or a whole book or epistle. There are many precious things we shall never see unless we read the Word of God in large chunks. We would never read fifteen lines of any other piece of literature and then set it aside, believing that we had thus satisfied the author’s original intentions. To see the whole massive movement of biblical thought, the Scriptures need to be read frequently and from Genesis to Revelation. The Christian must be content with nothing less. He will not understand the individual verses unless he has the framework of knowledge which a larger acquaintance with Scripture provides. The more he reads the more comprehensible the Bible becomes….”

I’ve looked online, and I’ve found various plans for reading the Bible through in a year.  Some begin in Genesis and go straight through, while others arrange the Bible in chronological order of events.  I like the plans that mix readings from different sections of the Bible.  This plan developed by Michael Coley divides Bible readings into Epistles, The Law, History, Psalms, Poetry, Prophecy and Gospels—one for each day of the week.  He has the chapters listed in a one-page pdf document you can print and carry in your Bible, and he also offers various formats for reading online and by email.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, a Scottish minister of the early 1800s, organized what is now a classic reading plan; you read through the New Testament and Psalms twice in a year and through the other books of the Old Testament once.  Ben Edgington has numerous helpful links.  This is M’Cheyne’s calendar with his introduction.  He also links to Dr. Donald Carson’s For the Love of God, a two-volume work containing M’Cheyne’s daily references with Carson’s own comments and reflections on the day’s readings:  Crossway Books and The Gospel Coalition have made a free online format of For the Love of God available for daily reading.  I was also able to find Carson’s Preface and Introduction (19 page pdf) online.

Please seriously consider a having Bible reading plan.  Keep a notebook to jot down your thoughts as you read.  Choose your translation with care—there are some politically correct translations out today that change the words in the original languages, while there are paraphrases that obliterate the text and meaning.  The New American Standard Bible is a translation I have used for years.

I recommend reading Geoffrey Thomas’ pamphlet and Don Carson’s Preface and Introduction to For the Love of God, and keeping them close at hand to encourage you.  I will make links available in the sidebar.  The aim of both men is not to tie you into legalistic knots, but to help you to read the Bible.  Thomas writes:

“The briefest regular perusal of Scripture has deep and largely unconscious effects upon us. So even if your achievements on certain days fall short of your desires, do not be discouraged, for ‘in due season we shall reap if we faint not’ [Galatians 6.9]….

“…The study of God’s Word is not an end in itself, neither is a correct understanding of its meaning to be the goal of our study. A man may understand all mysteries and all knowledge and yet be nothing. Eminent, well-qualified teachers of the Bible may yet be strangers to God. Does my knowledge of the Scriptures bring me with greater devotion to the Christ who is contained in every chapter? The prize in reading the Bible is to come to the Christ of the Bible [Philippians 3.14].

“…Let the Word break over your heart and mind again and again as the years go by, and imperceptibly there will come great changes in your attitude and outlook and conduct. You will probably be the last to recognize these. Often you will feel very, very small, because increasingly the God of the Bible will become to you wonderfully great. So go on reading it until you can read no longer, and then you will not need the Bible any more, because when your eyes close for the last time in death, and never again read the Word of God in Scripture you will open them to the Word of God in the flesh, that same Jesus of the Bible whom you have known for so long, standing before you to take you for ever to His eternal home.”

May the Lord be with you and bless you in 2011, and may you grow in faith, hope and love through the reading of His Word.

Stilleben: David Teniers d. J., Public Domain.
John Stott, Urbana 73. I attended this conference and heard this message.
Geoffrey Thomas, Reading the Bible.
Michael Coley, Bible Reading.
Ben Edgington, M’Cheyne Bible Readings.

Original content: Copyright ©2011 Iwana Carpenter

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