I love making New Year’s resolutions. At any moment, off the top of my head I can immediately think of several ways my life needs improving. Being more disciplined about exercise. Eating more healthily. Reading the Bible more. Praying more. And so it is no hardship to imagine a future, better me – Sam 2.0 – taking 2017 by storm. It makes for a pleasant daydream. But the more I might fantasize about unleashing a new and improved me on the world next year I need to exercise some caution.
Take one example: the perennial need to be more disciplined about reading my Bible. No question that this is a genuine need. No question that it is a godly aspiration to be spending more time in God’s word this coming year. No question that it would be life giving in incalculable ways to be better at this. But there is a great danger in hastily making a resolution to do so.
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Once Bible-reading becomes a resolution it easily (with me, at least) degenerates into an exercise in hitting targets. I’ve got to read this many Bible verses today, have covered this many chapters this month. It becomes no more than making myself spend a bit of extra time on the spiritual treadmill. Assuming I succeed at it (a big assumption) I can pat myself on the back and revel in a job well done. And that’s the problem. It isn’t a job; it’s a relationship. Resolution-minded me quickly turns Bible reading into something mechanical. It becomes about advancing the bookmark an allotted number of pages in my Bible; not about getting to know my God better or letting his voice captivate my heart.
We see something of this danger reflected in what Jesus said to a group of Pharisees.
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“You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.” (John 5 v 39-40)
Notice the Pharisees have a very high view of Scripture (believing the Scriptures are key to having eternal life) and a disciplined approach to reading them (they study them diligently). And yet they manage to have both of these things without coming to Jesus. This is truly frightening: it is possible for us to hold to the authority of God’s word, and to never miss a day of carefully reading our Bible, and yet be all the while neglecting to come to Jesus. There is a way to be biblical but not relational. But it makes us into a Pharisee, not a disciple. Biblical it may be, in one sense, but in a way that is profoundly unbiblical.
That is not to say we shouldn’t be making resolutions about reading the Bible; it is just to say that doing so isn’t nearly enough. To be sure, it is better to be studying the Bible rather than not studying it. But it is even better to be loving the Bible rather than merely studying it. And loving it means loving the one who stands behind it. We will love Scripture when we love God, and when we love God we will certainly read Scripture. And with that attitude, we will find we increasingly love God because we read Scripture. It becomes a virtuous circle.
But what matters most is love for God. So I say to myself and to you: read the Bible in 2017. Read it, not to “conquer” books of the Bible or to “get them under your belt” (scare-quotes entirely necessary). Read it to kindle a fire for the Lord. Read it to prove his love for you, not to prove your self-discipline to him or to others.
Enjoy 90 days of open-Bible devotionals by Sam Allberry and Tim Keller in 90 Days in John 14 – 17, Romans and James: Explore by the Book, available to order now. Or get started straight away by signing up for a FREE five-day taster.
This article originally appeared on TheGoodBook.com. Used with permission.
Sam Allberry studied theology at Wycliffe Hall in Oxford and has served on staff at St Ebbe's Church, Oxford, and St Mary's, Maidenhead. He is now part of the team at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and also works as UK Editor for The Gospel Coalition. A popular conference speaker, Sam has written several books, including James For You, Is God Anti-Gay, and Lifted. Hobbies include reading, watching The West Wing and anything to do with South-East Asia.
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Publication date: January 6, 2017