The Scriptures as a "Second Language"
- Friday, August 27, 2010
In 1929, at the age of 18, my dad came to this country from Germany. By the time I was born, he had lived here more than half his life and had easily transitioned from speaking German to English—so much so that he scarcely had any accent left at all. Few people knew that German had been his first language.
Not long after World War II, however, Dad brought what was left of his family—parents, one brother and one sister and their families—to America. I was a pre-schooler then and unused to hearing my father converse in anything but English. As I was introduced to my German relatives, I quickly became accustomed to hearing Dad switch from English to German, and back again. By the time I was ready to start kindergarten, I had learned a smattering of German, but certainly not enough to carry on a conversation.
When I hit the "big time"—junior high—and discovered I could choose between certain classes, I decided I wanted to learn to speak Spanish. I took three years of it, got good grades, and began to think I was nearly fluent in my second language. Living in Southern California, however, it didn't take long for a series of reality checks to convince me otherwise. Insert me into a group of people for whom Spanish was their first language, and I was in trouble!
I soon realized that I would never be truly fluent in Spanish—or any language other than English, for that matter—until I knew it well enough that I no longer had to translate my thoughts from English before speaking. If the day ever came when I began to think in Spanish rather than English, then I could honestly say I was fluent in that language.
At 26 I became a Christian, and it was a radical experience for me. Almost immediately I realized that everything I had previously known or believed was wrong—and I had to completely relearn it. I hadn't yet read the Bible, so I was unfamiliar with Romans 12:2, which explains how to do that: "Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God" (NKJV, emphasis mine). I may never have heard that verse, but that was exactly what I set out to do.
Having always been an avid reader, it was an easy transition for me to dive into the Scriptures, reading them daily, without fail, time and again, until they became as familiar and natural to me as breathing. As a result, I was being "transformed;" my mind was in the process of being changed as it was renewed by God's Word and instruction. Each time I came across something that contradicted what I had believed before receiving Christ, I had to make a choice to reject my former teachings or experiences and replace them with what God said about the situation or circumstance. Of course, that also required that I change my behavior to line up with my newly changed mind.
I soon found myself responding to questions or statements from others with quotes from the Bible. I was no longer simply expressing my opinion on a matter; I was declaring what God said about it. The listener could then accept or reject it.
In the beginning I often had to scramble to remember or locate what I'd read in the Scriptures, but as time progressed, I found those quotes rising to the surface more quickly and naturally. It was as if the language I'd learned before I became a Christian—my "first language"—was being replaced by the language of the Bible. I was even beginning to think that way automatically, without having to scurry to find it or translate from the old way of thinking to the new.
Isn't that what Romans 12:2 is all about? Renewing our minds is a lifelong process, one we will never complete or perfect while here on this earth, but we can certainly improve in our "second language" skills until our first language has nearly faded from our memory and our thoughts are aligned with God's. How can we know what is "that good and acceptable and perfect will of God"? By reading and studying and grappling with what God has to say on every subject under the sun—and by recognizing that when we are at odds with God's point of view, it is we who are wrong and in need of more "renewing" or changing of our minds.
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