The first stop on our “multi-point” check of our spiritual lives is the Bible, the Word of God. For those of us from evangelical Christian traditions, the Scriptures are central to understanding God, His work in our world, and His ways of life. We see the discipline of getting the Word of God (both the Scriptures and Jesus Christ – who is also the “Word of God,” John 1:1-14) into us through the church (sermons, Bible classes, and small groups) and through our personal devotionals (Bible reading programs, Daily Office, blogs, Scripture memorization etc.)
So the crucial question I want to ask today is not whether we are getting God’s Word into our lives (although I constantly feel like I never invest enough time in it), but why do we get the Scriptures into us in the first place?
Sometimes I feel like the (unspoken) objective is: to get the most Bible knowledge. Like “he or she with the most Bible knowledge, wins!” You can tell who these people are: they are the ones preen around like peacocks and look for opportunities to show other people how well they know the Bible and Christian theology. I know I wrestle with this form of spiritual pride all too often. Besides trying to be the “Bible Answer man” all the time, I also like to subtly mention that I teach seminary and that I have a doctorate in spiritual formation (like I just did – shucks!) The Apostle Paul was spot-on when he told the Corinthian church that knowledge, without love, “puffs up” (1 Cor 8:1).
No, the indicator of spiritual progress is not Biblical knowledge, but Biblical growth. While it is important to know and understand the Scriptures, it is more important that we follow the Scriptures through obedience and action. Many times, Jesus affirms the person who hears His words and does them as being wise (Matt 7:24, Luke 6:47-48, Luke 11:28). But those who hear His words but do not obey them are foolish. So it is not the amount of Scripture that we know that counts, but whether we apply the Word into our lives. True spiritual growth is seen in how the Word of God transforms our character and multiplies fruitfulness in our lives, not how it enlargens our brain or massages our egos.
So how can we tell if we are experiencing Biblical growth? Here are two things that come to my mind:
1. People will tell you. If the Word of God is transforming your actions and attitudes, people will notice. They will come up and tell you. That is why it is so important to be in “loving and honest community.” My true spiritual friends will tell me, in a loving way, when I act like a jerk or an idiot (usually in nicer terms than that, but sometimes not). But they will also tell me when I’ve changed for the better. And I notice when they do: God is doing something in my life! Now it’s important to not try to “act” godly in order to impress people. That’s a “dead end.” But, chances are, your really good friends will know when you’re “posing” and when God’s transforming you into the real deal.
2. Your love for others (and God) will expand. Some of you might be scratching your heads, saying “Huh? What does love have to do with Biblical growth?” Well, love has everything to do with Biblical growth. According to Paul, if Biblical knowledge does not lead to love, then it is a total waste – you have nothing (1 Cor 13:3). True understanding of Scripture leads us to the generous, loving heart of God. If we’re reading the Bible right, we cannot help but fall in love with God. That knowledge of God’s love inspires us, fills us, and expands us to love others in the same manner. If we find that our love for others is not growing (that we’re still angry, bitter, prejudiced, or judgmental), then either we’re not reading the Bible or we’re reading into the Bible with self-centered eyes and heart.
In Paul’s definition of Whole Life Worship in Romans 12:1-2, the key to transformation is the “renewing of the mind.” True Biblical growth takes place when we start to think differently, when we start looking at the world differently, and when we start acting differently. We begin to see things like Jesus sees and we begin to do things that Jesus does because we believe in what the Word of God (Scripture) affirms, and follow what the Word of God (Christ) exemplifies.