Is It Better to Read the Bible or to Listen to the Bible Being Read?

It’s important for us to be a Bible reading, Bible receiving people. We all have our ideas and experiences about God, but the Bible – the Word of God – is above all our ideas and experiences.

Psalm 119:89: Forever, O Lord, Your word is settled in heaven.

How is it best to take in the Bible? That is something of an individual question. Some are better at reading – they take in information better that way.
Some are better at hearing – they take in information better that way.

Listening is a fine way to take in the word of God; just make sure that it is an active listening. Make sure it’s not just background noise (the same is true when you read the Bible).

Romans 10:17: So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.

In the ancient world – it is said – that the normal practice was to read out loud. That’s just how they did it – they said the words as they read them. That’s a great practice.

In one way, the best Bible plan is the one you will use.

If you say, “I learn the best by reading” – but you don’t actually read the Bible – what good is that?

If you say, “I learn the best by listening” – but you don’t actually listen to the Bible – what good is that?

The same goes for Bible translations. In some ways, the best Bible translation is the one you will actually read.

Are there any other places in the afterlife besides Heaven and Hell? 

Are Heaven and Hell the only two places existing for the afterlife? Or is there any middle ground between them where people go who are not good enough for heaven, but still not evil enough for hell?

Ultimately, Heaven and Hell are the only destinations. In the book of Revelation, Heaven is described as the New Jerusalem which descends to the new earth. In that sense, heaven and earth become one. I’ve heard some people who really want to argue the point, and claim that heaven isn’t the ultimate, since the Bible talks about a new earth. But there’s a sense in which, at the end of the book of Revelation, in the New Jerusalem, heaven and the new earth are joined.

In the end, ultimately, there are two destinations: heaven or hell. Purgatory doesn’t exist, and neither does Limbo. Let me describe what these places are. Purgatory is a place, according to Roman Catholic and some Anglican doctrine, where believers go after they die, but before they get to heaven; in purgatory, they are purged of their sins and made clean and holy enough for heaven. The Bible speaks of no such place. It’s not a biblical description at all.

Instead, the Bible says, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). The Bible really does not give us an idea that there’s an intermediate place to go, where believers are cleaned up by fires of torture and purging, which refine the believer as a metal is refined, before they can make it to heaven. That’s just not a Bible idea. That place doesn’t exist.

There is also the vaguer concept of Limbo, a place where the souls of unbaptized babies go. But the Roman Catholic doctrine and tradition isn’t nearly as firm or clear on that. It’s just another idea that’s out there.

So ultimately, there are only two destinations. There’s Heaven, which encompasses the New Jerusalem and the new earth, and the Lake of Fire, which is Hell. That’s it. That’s what the Bible describes as the two ultimate destinations of humanity.

Did Isaiah see Jesus in Isaiah 6?

Who did Isaiah see in Isaiah 6? Was it the Godhead represented as One sitting on a throne, or could it have been Jesus, since John 12:41 says that Isaiah saw His glory?

I think Isaiah saw Jesus enthroned in heaven. We can say that very confidently, because of what it says in John 12:41– These things Isaiah said when he saw His glory and spoke of Him.

In Isaiah 6, there’s a marvelous vision where Isaiah sees the Lord, Yahweh. “I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up, and the train of His robe filled the temple.” (Isaiah 6:1)

The surrounding angels all cry, “Holy!” unto the Lord. The Gospel of John clears up all dispute about who it is that Isaiah saw seated on the throne. John 12:41 very plainly says that Isaiah saw Jesus in His glory. Where else would it have been that Isaiah saw such a glorious manifestation of Jesus Christ? I think it is true that he saw Jesus.

When people saw a physical manifestation of God in the Old Testament, they referred to Him as Yahweh or Jehovah, which means the Triune God. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit all lay claim to being Yahweh.

What does “knowing good and evil” mean in Genesis 3:22? If mankind ate from the tree of life, would he be exempt from literal death?

When God said in Genesis 3:22 that human beings have become like Us, knowing good and evil, what exactly did it mean? And is it true, that if man ate from the tree of life, that he wouldn’t die literally?

God understands good and evil in a way that humanity, apart from God, does not know. In other words, God knows of good and evil, that innocent man in the garden did not know. That’s part of what it means when it says that they would “become like Us, knowing good and evil,” because by experience, they did not know evil. God does not know evil by experience, or by committing evil. But He knows of evil in a way that mankind did not know of, until sin was committed, and the Fall happened.

This is talking about a non-experiential knowledge of evil, that mankind did not have until after the fall, that they shared with God. Of course, mankind also had an experiential knowledge of evil after the fall. It doesn’t mean that God had also sinned, and now mankind was like Him in that regard. God, in His omniscience, knew about evil in a non-experiential way.

Concerning your other question: Would man literally die if he ate from the tree of life? We’re not told as much about the tree of life as we would like to know, so our conclusion is: Maybe. Let’s remind ourselves that the fruit of the tree of life was different than the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Maybe there was something inherent that God placed within the fruit of the tree of life which promoted or allowed or was used by God to bring forth eternal life for somebody. Maybe that’s why God said that. Interestingly, the tree of life is mentioned in the book of Revelation, where it seems that glorified humanity will partake of the tree of life in heaven. Obviously, that’s not a surprise. There is a mention of the tree of life in heaven, and its leaves are for the healing of the nations.

How were women part of the Abrahamic covenant, not being circumcised?

The Old and New Testaments both say that circumcision was the sign of the covenant. It was not the covenant itself. A person can belong to something without having the sign being directly given to them. The sign of the covenant circumcision was given only to men, obviously, because it had to do with the male reproductive organs. Women were certainly part of the covenant, because they were part of the covenant community, but the sign of the covenant was only for men.

Notice, God made the covenant with Abraham and his descendants through Isaac, which is important. He didn’t just say, “Your male descendants.” Now, only the male descendants received the sign of the covenant. But the covenant itself was received even by those who did not receive the sign of the covenant, because they were part of that covenantal family. Women were included in that.

I think that’s the important part of it. Certainly, women would be aware of their part in the covenant, through the phenomenon of marital intimacy, and through the culture as a whole. They would understand this.

We need to remember that circumcision was not the covenant itself; it was the sign of the covenant. The covenant was received by all of Abraham’s covenant descendants, through Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. That is the covenant which God made with Abraham and his genetic descendants. The Bible also reveals the concept that there are spiritual descendants of Abraham. Those are people who share in the faith of God. They have faith in God and in His Messiah, Jesus Christ—the faith that makes us righteous before him.

How do I share the gospel with non-believers in a positive way?

That’s a wonderful question. I am so happy that you are concerned with sharing the gospel with those who do not yet believe, and that you want to do so in a positive way. All too many of us don’t have a concern to do that. I’m very happy to see to hear that you do.

First, you can point to the great hope that there is in Jesus Christ. When we look around us, hope is a valuable and diminishing thing in the world today. It seems to me like there’s less hope in this world today than there was five or 10 or 20 years ago. Jesus Christ has hope. The good news of Jesus Christ brings hope.

Now, there’s a sense in which the good news of Jesus Christ must be understood in context of bad news. The bad news is that we are guilty and lost and dead and lame and blind. We are all those things before God. That’s the bad news. But it’s good to be real about that standing, and to go forward and receive the good news of rescue and salvation in Jesus Christ.

So, the first thing is to emphasize the great hope that there is in Jesus. But let me give you a second way. This is not original to me; I heard another pastor share this. I thought that it was really good, and really wise. We often make a mistake in our communication with those who do not yet believe. The mistake is that we just don’t talk to them about our spiritual life. We act as if they’re not interested, or think they’ll never care, since they’re not believers. But instead, this person recommended that we speak to those people who do not yet believe in a very natural, engaging way about our own spiritual life. We tell them about what great things God spoke to us at church last Sunday. We tell them about that amazing answer to prayer. We tell them about how God is moving in our life and in the life of our family. We just include them in the conversation with the assumption that they would know and that they would care.

A lot of people think that unbelievers would never know or care, and not want to listen, but you’d be surprised about how many people would really be interested in your spiritual life, walking as a believer in your God.

Oftentimes, we have one set of topics and one vocabulary that we speak about with our brothers and sisters in Christ, and an entirely different set of topics or vocabulary that we speak about with those who don’t know the Lord. Maybe the thing for us to do is speak to more unbelievers, or those who do not yet believe, as if they were believers. You’ll be surprised at the effectiveness of that. God bless you for your desire to do that.

Why didn’t Jesus know the fig tree was out of season? Couldn’t He have known there was no fruit, even without looking at it?

Part of what you’re asking has to do with the whole nature of the Incarnation in itself. We sometimes ask questions like, “Why didn’t Jesus know everything all the time? Why did Jesus ever ask a question? Didn’t He already know the answer?” Though He remained truly God and truly man, Jesus decided not to draw upon His divine resources in many situations. For the most part, whenever Jesus asked a question, or said He didn’t know something, it was because He was choosing not to draw upon His divine resources. He chose instead to live as a man who was filled with the Holy Spirit, in obedience to His God and Father. Jesus could have supernaturally accessed the information if there were figs on that tree or not, but He didn’t. He waited till He could go up to the tree and inspect it.

The Bible text concerning this story says that the fig tree was not in season, but not that Jesus was ignorant of that fact. Here’s the point. The problem with the fig tree which Jesus condemned was not that it lacked fruit, but that it had leaves, but did not have fruit.

I’ve been in Israel, and I’ve talked to an Israeli tour guide about these kinds of fig trees. I asked him, “Is it true that on these particular fig trees, the fruit begins to appear before the leaves do?” And he said, “Absolutely, that’s true.”

You see, the problem with that fig tree was not so much that it didn’t have fruit, but that it had leaves and no fruit. The whole idea is simply this: it was false advertising. It gave the impression that it had fruit because it showed forth leaves, but it did not actually have fruit. I think Jesus was using this as an illustration of many of the religious leaders in His own day, who displayed or “advertised” a spirituality which they did not actually have.

How can I establish my business on biblical principles?

I have my own business, and I really want it to be founded on the principles of God. What advice would you give?

I respect the independence of people who want to have their own business. It’s certainly not for everybody, but it’s a great thing. God bless you in that, and God bless you for wanting to have your business founded on biblical principles.
Here are some basic biblical principles about having a business: Be honest. Don’t promise things that you can’t deliver. Don’t lie to your customers. Work hard for them. Provide a valuable service to them. Don’t deceive them in any way. Those are just very basic things. And those things should be true of Christian businessmen. At times and in some places, Christian businessmen have not lived up to their reputation. I remember speaking with a dear saint once who said that, when they searched for businesses to hire, they avoided any companies that had Christian symbols in their ads, because they had had such bad experiences with Christian businesses. That’s terrible. It should never be like that. Christians should be the most honest, the most hardworking, the most dedicated to providing true value to their customers. Don’t ever overlook those very basic, but powerful things that make up a good Christian business.

The second thing I would say is: see your business as a true stewardship from God. In other words, you should regard God as your senior partner: it’s really His business, and you are a steward. You want to do things in a way that gives God glory, gives Him honor, and you should seek to honor Him with the profits of your business. If your business belongs to Him, then you should search for ways to honor God with the profits that you would make from your business.

Finally, since you are a believer, and you want to found your business upon Christian principles, don’t be surprised if from time to time God will ask you to take a step of faith. Now, in doing a business, you want to count the cost, be wise, and be a good steward. But that will not eliminate the place of faith in what you do as a business, because you are a believer. Remember what it says in the Scriptures: “The just, God’s righteous ones, will walk by faith.” That’s how God’s righteous ones live. That’s how they walk by faith. Your business, surrendered under God, is going to be something that will be a walk of faith. Be honest, work hard, give value to your customers, surrender to the Lord, honor Him with the profits from your business, and realize it’s going to be a walk of faith.

Why do some people have issues with the sinner’s prayer? Primarily, a lot of those in the reformed camp?

I do believe that there is a lot of unjustified criticism of what is often called “the sinner’s prayer.” The Bible says that if somebody will repent, and call upon the Lord, and declare Jesus Christ as Lord, they’re saved, and they pass from darkness to light. There’s nothing wrong with guiding a person how to do that in prayer. We don’t want to be those who say, “You want to give your life to Jesus Christ, you want to repent of your sins and believe upon Him? All right, figure it out; you’re on your own.” There’s nothing wrong with us leading a person through that process.

Now, can it be done in a wrong way? Of course it can. People can be led to believe that the sinner’s prayer is something like a magic formula. They might think it’s magic words that somebody prays and God will give you what you want. No, that that’s not the idea and it should never be presented that way.

Sometimes the sinner’s prayer is presented in a way that doesn’t need to be said with real faith and heartfelt agreement all the way, as someone who truly identifies. Sometimes a sinner’s prayer is presented badly, eliminating any sense of repentance in the sinner. It can be done badly, just like anything can be done badly. But sometimes I think those in the reformed camp disagree with the idea of a sinner’s prayer, because they think it’s something that somebody does to earn their salvation.

I would disagree with that strongly. No, it’s something that somebody does to call upon the Lord, and to receive the salvation that God brings to them. That’s all it is. The answer to bad uses of the sinner’s prayer is not to eliminate the sinner’s prayer. The answer is to do the sinner’s prayer better.

Why did the Archangel Michael contend with the devil for Moses’ body? God buried Moses; how did Satan know the exact place?

I don’t know how Satan knew the exact place. If God buried the body of Moses some place on Earth, Satan could have observed it. Satan has the power of observation.

But why did the Archangel Michael contend with the devil for the body of Moses? What I’m saying about this might really be startling to some people. The Bible describes Michael contending with Satan over the body of Moses, in the little book of Jude. I suppose that most people listening to me right now are aware of the book of Revelation. It’s a controversial and popular book of the Bible. It’s at the very end of the Bible. Right before the book of Revelation is the book of Jude.

Jude has this line in it about Michael the Archangel contending with Satan over the body of Moses. We say, “What’s that about?” We’re not told what it’s about, but I want you to consider this. It may be that God had a special purpose for the body of Moses. Moses was going to later appear on Earth with Elijah, together with Jesus, on the Mount of Transfiguration. It’s recorded in the Gospels what Jesus did on the Mount of Transfiguration, which was somewhere in the region of Galilee. Jesus appeared glorious and radiant, together with the actual persons of Moses and Elijah. That’s amazing, isn’t it? Jesus literally appeared with Moses and Elijah here on Planet Earth.

The Scriptures don’t specify, so I can’t be firm on this, but here is my best guess. God, knowing that Moses would be used in this way a few thousand years later, deliberately preserved the body of Moses, because he had a special plan for the body of Moses. That plan included the coming Transfiguration. To me, that’s exciting to think about. The other person in the Transfiguration, of course, was Elijah, and God also had a special plan for the body of Elijah. Elijah did not die so he was not buried on earth. Elijah was carried in a whirlwind, in something like a chariot, up into heaven. Elijah was bodily taken up to heaven before he ever physically died on earth. So, God had a special plan for the body of Elijah, and God had a special plan for the body of Moses, probably connected to the Transfiguration as it’s described in the Gospels.

I find it so fascinating that Elijah was one of the men in the Bible who never died. Enoch was another person who never died. There were not many people in the Bible who never died. What was unique about Elijah? Well, one of the things about Elijah was that there came a point in his life in which Elijah was so discouraged, so depressed, that he asked God to take his life. “Take my life, Lord; I’m no better than my fathers. My work is nothing. It’s hopeless. There’s nothing to do. There’s nothing to say. Take my life, Lord.” I find it interesting, and kind of funny, that to one of the people in the Bible who prayed that he would die, God says, “Not only am I not going to answer your prayer; but now you’re never going to die!” That’s great.

How can I be consistent with Bible reading and Bible study? What are the steps for spiritual growth?

The steps for spiritual growth are really growing in the discipline of the spiritual basics. Some people want tell people to do ornate things to grow spiritually. But I would say that the keys to spiritual growth are consistent practice of the real disciplines that God gives us, beginning with the very basics: Reading our Bible, prayer, worship, community with other Christians, telling other people about Jesus. These are very basic things. But it’s through these things that God really grows us as disciples of Jesus Christ.

In a sense, you’re really asking, “How can I have more discipline in these things?” Discipline is a gift that God has given to humanity that can be developed. Now, I don’t doubt for a moment that there are some people who are born more spiritually disciplined than other people. But every one of us can become more disciplined than we are. From what I understand, one of the very basic techniques about becoming a more disciplined person is to give yourself small challenges, and repeat them every day, or five days a week, etc. Be consistent with building small successes every day. Through these things, God will train you how to be more consistent.

Set an alarm, make a routine, get up earlier, whatever it takes. Plan to spend, let’s just say, 10 minutes in the Bible every day. That’s a small step. It’s a glorious step, but it’s a small step. You build that small step, and you will be astounded at what God builds beyond that. So, as the Bible says, “Don’t despise the day of small things.” Don’t despise that at all. God sees. He honors it. He’ll glorify Himself through the small things that we can build ourselves up in. Start small, keep building and don’t despise the day of small things. You are a human being made in God’s image. God has built in you the capability to grow in discipline, self-discipline, and self-governance. As you continue to trust in the Lord, you will grow in that and God will develop that in you.

This Live Q&A was filmed at Forest Home, CA.

This is a place which has an amazing spiritual heritage. Part of that spiritual heritage is a landmark experience which Billy Graham had in his life, right here at Forest Home. Not far from where I’m speaking to you right now, God spoke to Billy Graham. He put his Bible on a tree stump, got down on his knees, and he prayed to God for clarification whether or not God’s Word could really be true, and presented in a simple, clear manner. He came forward from that moment more assured in his ministry than ever before. That was the spiritual impetus which launched him in the great Los Angeles crusade of 1949, which happened just a few weeks after that landmark experience of Forest Home. It’s one of the reasons why I like being here.

In light of that story, here’s a link to a video we produced, which tells the story: “Billy Graham’s Landmark Moment: The Untold Story of Billy & J. Edwin Orr.