It’s nothing new. In fact, it’s been happening for millennia. Paul wrote about it in his epistles (1 Timothy 4:1; 2 Timothy 4:9–10). John did too (1 John 2:19). Even among Jesus’s twelve disciples, there was one who succumbed. Lately, though, it seems to have become something of a trend—high-profile Christians walking away from the faith and exulting in their newfound “freedom” apart from God. Whether it’s described as a deconversion experience, a falling away, or an evolution, the tragic result is the same.
As I’ve listened to the testimonies of men and women who’ve lost their faith, I’ve been struck by the fact that the questions and doubts they raise are not actually insurmountable. Most are nothing new at all. In many cases, they’re the sorts of things apologists and Bible commentators have been writing about for centuries. In others, the presuppositions are faulty—built on claims the Bible never actually makes in the first place.
When we dig into God’s Word—especially when we dig deep—we’re prone to hit a rock or two. The experience is jarring, enough to make some people want to throw down their shovels and give up their digging efforts all together. But the Bible is not merely a human book, in which we might easily crack our blades on an impenetrable bottom. The “rocks” we sometimes hit are actually buried treasure, hidden caches that will enrich our study of God’s Word and draw us nearer to the Lord, if only we’ll keep digging.
How can we become disciples?
Somehow, along the way, we began to believe the lie that time in the Bible—reading it, soaking in it, studying it—can be optional for the people of God. It might be because we live in a homework-averse culture, or perhaps it’s because the idea of a spiritual discipline of focusing on the Word smacks the most sensitive among us as works-righteousness, a religious activity to show ourselves approved. But the truth is, Jesus isn’t recruiting fans; He’s calling disciples.
We throw the word discipleship around a lot when we speak about Christian growth, but it seems many of us have forgotten what it means. A disciple is simply someone who follows a teacher, who studies his teachings, and learns to imitate him, with the goal of becoming more and more like him as the years pass by. When we come to the Bible with our eyes, minds, and hearts open, we sit at the feet of Rabbi Jesus, hearing from Him and learning His ways. We can no longer call ourselves disciples, at least not in any meaningful sense, if we give up this essential practice. As to priorities, remember what Jesus said to Martha when she tried to pull her sister, Mary, up off the floor and away from Jesus’s feet: “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has made the right choice, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:41–42).
When we read and study the Bible daily, something happens to us. We don’t suddenly find we have all the answers to our questions, but we do, over time, grow confident in the truthfulness of God’s Word—and in the faithfulness of our God. Pieces begin to fit together; apparent discrepancies are understood to be masterful strokes from the Author’s pen, allowing more nuance and meaning than a supposedly tighter text would allow. In short, continually returning to the Bible moves us closer to God. And just as it is with any relationship, the greater the intimacy we share, the better we are able to navigate the turbulence of misunderstandings. The most important part is not giving up.
Reading the Bible is never over
Those of us who love the Bible are often quick to defend it from attack. But the Bible doesn’t actually need defending; it is quite capable of defending itself.
Take, for example, an encounter Jesus had with a group of Sadducees. Just a few days before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus was in the temple courts teaching. These Sadducees approached Him with a question designed to trip Him up. They pointed to a relatively obscure point in the Law of Moses about levirate marriage: If a man died without a son, his brother was to marry the man’s widow and raise up children in his name (see Deuteronomy 25:5–10). It sounds strange to us, but in the ancient world, it was a measure designed to keep everyone in the family secure. Dying without a son meant there was no one to carry on the family line and ensure property rights passed to the next generation.
But the Sadducees’ question wasn’t really about property rights. It was, oddly enough, about resurrection. They asked Jesus, hypothetically, if seven brothers all married the same woman, who would be married to her in the resurrection. They thought they were pointing out the absurdity of life after death, since they didn’t believe there was an afterlife or a future bodily resurrection. And here’s the thing. They were basing their belief on their reading of the Old Testament, which makes Jesus’s response all the more pointed: “You are mistaken, because you don’t know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29).
They didn’t know the Scriptures. The Sadducees were recognized religious leaders in Jerusalem, often connected with the priesthood and the Jewish ruling council, but Jesus said they were ignorant when it came to God’s Word. Jesus could have pointed to a passage like Daniel 12:2 or Isaiah 26:19 in support of the doctrine of resurrection, but He knew that the Sadducees limited their Bible to just the Five Books of Moses, so He stayed there: “Now concerning the resurrection of the dead, haven’t you read what was spoken to you by God: I am the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob? He is not the God of the dead, but of the living” (Matthew 22:31–32).
Jesus quoted Exodus 3:6, smack-dab in the middle of the Law of Moses, to show the Sadducees they weren’t reading the Scriptures well—not even the abridged version they held so dearly. They missed that when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush, He talked about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob not in the past tense, though they were long dead, but in the present tense, because they were very much alive. Every word of the Bible matters—every form, every tense, every nuance.
The Sadducees needed to keep digging—and so do we. The task of Bible reading and Bible study is never done. It’s a delight and privilege God gives us for our entire lives—all so that we might know Him and His heart better each and every day.
Photo credit: Unsplash/Debby Hudson
John Greco is the content director for She Reads Truth and He Reads Truth, and was part of the team that created the He Reads Truth Bible, a Bible designed for daily reading. The typeface and single-column setting combine to create pages that read like a novel, while the theological extras and book introductions help connect individual passages to the larger story the Bible is telling. And with daily reading plans for every day of the year and every book of the Bible, there is no shortage of ways to feast on God’s Word. You can find out more about the He Reads Truth Bible, as well as community reading plans, apps, and study books at SheReadsTruth.com and HeReadsTruth.com.