What Is the Best Way to Read the Bible?

From Annie…

I’ve been reading through Ezekiel (alongside the commentary, which has been very helpful!). Some people really emphasize the interpretation of the prophets, as they can be confusing. Other people seek to read them devotionally. How important is it to figure out what a passage means before seeking to apply it? Can the major/minor prophets be read devotionally, without seeking to accurately interpret them?

Bible reading is an important foundation to the Christian life.

  • Our personal experience, our lived experience, is not the ultimate or greatest truth – God’s word is.
  • There is more to the Christian life than Bible study – the Bible tells us this!
  • There is a difference between devotional reading of the Bible and reading for real Bible study.
  • Devotional: looking for inspiration, for nuggets or gems, something to think about regarding who God is and how He works in our life.
  • Real Bible Study: Digging into the text, using resources, thinking it through carefully, applying it.
  • There is benefit in reading the Bible even when you don’t understand everything – and thinking through the parts you do understand.
  • Remember there is a spiritual operation to the word of God.

Both are good – here is my suggestion:

  • Read the Bible devotionally every day.
  • Set aside time for real Bible study. Many people don’t do this kind of study unless they are going to teach the Bible to someone else.
  • A great step for study: read through the Bible chapter by chapter, and write a one-sentence summary for every chapter.

If someone believes water baptism is required for salvation, are they preaching another gospel, and ultimately cursed (Galatians 1:8-9)?

Galatians 1:8-9 says that those who preach another gospel are cursed. Some believe that water baptism is required for salvation. Is that another gospel? Are those people cursed?

The answer to that question depends on how this principle of water baptism is preached. There is nothing wrong with somebody presenting the importance of water baptism. I wouldn’t say that water baptism is essential for salvation. But it is essential for obedience and for discipleship. You shouldn’t call yourself a true disciple of Jesus Christ, unless you’ve done what your Master, Jesus, has told you to do. If you are His disciple, He is your Master. If you believe on Him and have received His gift of salvation, then you should be baptized.

So much rests upon how the idea of the necessity of baptism for salvation is presented. It’s possible to present it in a way that’s so strong and exclusive that it would be regarded as another gospel. But it’s also possible to present it as something secondary, and not as prominent as other things. A lot of it would have to do with the presentation.

We must remember that there are always two dynamics at work with doctrine. There is correct doctrine, which is obviously very important. I hope anybody who knows me and knows the work that I do, in teaching and presenting Bible teaching, recognizes how important I think correct Bible doctrine is. But we must not only have concern for the doctrines themselves, but also for how those doctrines are held.

It’s possible for a person to hold a correct doctrine in an offensive way. It’s also possible for a person to hold doctrine, which isn’t completely correct, in a way that is consistent with the attitude Christians should have towards any particular doctrine. I would not jump to the conclusion that a person who teaches such about baptism is preaching another gospel; I would want to further investigate what that individual teaches.

Why did Jephthah make a vow to kill his daughter and why did he go through with it?

In the book of Judges, there was a judge named Jephthah. Before going into battle against Israel’s enemies, he said to the Lord, “Lord, if you grant me victory, then whatever comes out of my home to greet me when I return victoriously, I will sacrifice that unto you.” He probably assumed that it would be a sheep, a goat, or a bull that would come out to greet him. Maybe that had happened dozens of times before when he had returned home. Some affectionate animal came out to bleat its greeting to its master. Jephthah thought he was making a very noble vow to the Lord. When he came home after God granted the victory, it was not a sheep, a goat, or a bull that came out to greet him. It was his daughter. Jephthah was grieved, but it is said that he fulfilled the vow.

Many people jump to the conclusion (which I understand, but do not agree) that Jephthah performed a human sacrifice. They think he sacrificed his daughter on an altar. I don’t mean to sound gross, but I need to communicate what would be done. This would mean that he slit her throat, drained her blood through the jugular, cut her in pieces, and offered her on an altar as a burnt offering to the Lord.

I do not believe that Jephthah did that. I don’t believe so for a few reasons.

First, the text never specifically says that he carried out that human sacrifice.

Second, the tradition of a human sacrifice unto Yahweh, the Lord God, who had granted Jephthah and Israel the victory, was completely unknown. It just had not happened. In fact, the whole story of God stopping Abraham from killing his son Isaac, when Abraham intended to offer him, showed that God was saying loud and clear, “I don’t want human sacrifice.”

Third, to me, it’s unthinkable that such an act could have been carried out. It’s such a notable thing that could have been done that, if it had happened, would have been described specifically in the text.

Fourth, in the book of Judges, Jephthah’s daughter had friends who mourned her passing. What they mourn is not her death; they mourn her unmarried state.

Here’s what I think Jephthah actually did. He did sacrifice his daughter, so to speak, but he did not sacrifice her on an altar by killing her. Jephthah sacrificed his daughter by presenting her as a servant, a handmaiden for the Tabernacle at that time. By the way, the practice of exchanging a human sacrifice for something else is well established in the Old Testament, as is the idea of presenting a child as a special servant unto the Tabernacle. That’s what happened with little Samuel when his mother, Hannah, dedicated him unto the Lord.

When the female friends of Jephthah’s daughter sang a song of lamentation, they did not lament her death; they lamented her unmarried state. I believe that Jephthah dedicated his daughter to the service of the Tabernacle, as something like a modern-day nun in the Roman Catholic Church. She would never be married. She would just be committed to the service of the Tabernacle.

Jephthah followed through on that aspect of the vow, but I do not find compelling evidence in the biblical text that Jephthah actually offered his daughter as a human sacrifice. I don’t know if my take on that passage from Judges is a popular take, or a minority take. But to me, that’s the best way to understand this text.

How do I know if I’m waiting on the Lord or if I’m procrastinating?

There are many things we do in the Christian life, or life in general, in which the outward action is the same, but what determines it to be right or wrong is whether or not our heart is right in it. Two people can be waiting upon God to move in a particular area. One of them may be doing it out of a motive of procrastination. The other one could be doing it out of a motive of truly wanting to wait on God and not get ahead of God’s will. There are many things that we do in the Christian life that can have the same outward action. But whether it’s sin or something honoring to the Lord is found in the hidden motive of the heart.

If we are refusing to move on something because we are indecisive, we’re not trusting that God will guide us in the decisions that we make. We just want to put off decisions indefinitely. These are not good motives, and this can be a sinful procrastination. But if we put off a decision and wait upon the Lord, because we are truly in a state of surrender and submission to God, and don’t want to do anything without Him giving the “green light,” that’s something honoring to God.

It’s going to depend on the hidden motive of the heart. It is possible to deceive others about the hidden motive of your heart, but God can never be deceived. Regarding the hidden motive of the heart, we should always remember that.

When it comes to waiting on the Lord, we tend to think of the term “waiting on the Lord” as being very passive. We think of that person like someone in the waiting room for the doctor or the dentist: they’re just sitting there, waiting, and waiting, and waiting, just wondering when they’re going to get in to see the doctor or the dentist. That’s usually what we associate with the idea of waiting on the Lord.

I want you to understand this. The biblical idea of waiting on the Lord is not of passivity, but of serving God, in the way that a waiter or a waitress would wait upon their customer at a restaurant. That person is serving, being attentive to their needs, doing whatever they can to please the one they’re waiting upon. Waiting on the Lord is not a passive, inactive thing. It’s a busy, God-honoring thing.

In the parable of the hidden treasure in Matthew 13:44, who does the treasure represent?

Matthew 13:44— Again, the kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and hid; and for joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field.

This is a parable that can be fulfilled in two ways. Both are true, and they don’t contradict each other. It is true that God sees us as extremely valuable, both to Him and to His purpose. There isn’t anything so wonderful about us, friends. If you think that the point of the Bible is that you’re so wonderful, look at all that God did to save you. I think you’re misunderstanding the whole tone of the Bible. That’s not the emphasis at all.

The emphasis is more like this: God is so wonderful. Look at all that He has done to save you. Do you see the difference between the two? The emphasis isn’t so much on how amazing we are. The emphasis in that parable is on what the purchaser was willing to do to gain the treasure.

God says that you are the treasure, and Jesus Christ gave everything to accomplish your salvation.

That is a valid way to understand that parable. But I’ll give you another valid way.

It’s also valid to see this through the lens of another thing Jesus said: the surpassing value and greatness of the kingdom of heaven. In other words, God’s kingdom is so valuable, that it’s worth any sacrifice on our part to reach it and to receive it.

Now, there’s nothing you need to do or can do to earn the salvation that’s already given to us in Jesus Christ. But you can’t receive that salvation with your hands full of other things. You have to let go. You have to stop valuing things above and beyond God Himself, and instead, simply receive what He has to give to you. That’s very important. It’s very difficult for some people to do. There are people who will not put their trust in Jesus Christ, because they don’t want to pay the price before their family, or in their community, or at their job. And Jesus says, “No- you have to see following Me as something that is of such surpassing greatness that you are truly willing to give up everything for the sake of following Jesus Christ.”

Sometimes I speak with people and tell them about the good news of Jesus Christ and all that Jesus has done for them. And sometimes people have an attitude like, “I’m kind of interested in being a Christian. But can I still be a Christian and smoke weed? Can I still be a Christian and sleep with my girlfriend? Can I still be a Christian and get drunk with my friends?”

Now, there’s a theological answer to that question. But it’s not fundamentally a theological question. It’s a heart question. It’s a question that basically says this: “How little can I do to squeak by and receive God’s salvation and make it to heaven? Tell me the bare minimum, because I don’t want to give to God one single bit more than I need to give to Him.”

And Jesus, with these parables, wipes that mindset completely off the table. What do you have to give to God? Everything! I’m not trying to say that we earn our salvation through our morality in any way whatsoever. No, that’s not the idea. The idea is that there can be nothing which we honor or serve more than the Lord God, who is revealed to us in the person and work of Jesus Christ.

I really do believe there are two valid ways to understand this parable. I don’t think we should assume a parable has only one real application. There can be many ways to rightly apply a particular passage of scripture.

Will believers have to give account before God for every word we speak?

The Bible says that we will give an account to God for every word that we speak. How is that, since we’ve been forgiven of every sin, and God doesn’t remember them anymore?

It’s important to remember that the accounting every believer gives to God isn’t about salvation, and whether a person goes to heaven or hell. It’s about reward. The Bible speaks about two very specific judgments. There’s the judgment known as the Great White Throne Judgment. That’s a severe judgment, which happens at the end of the age. There is another judgment which comes for believers, once they have appeared before the Lord and received the resurrection.

This second type of judgment happens at the judgment seat of Christ, described in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians. It is a judgment for reward. Salvation is no longer in the balance, in any way. Instead, a person’s reward is in the balance. God might particularly say to a believer, “I am taking account of every word that you speak, and it will be held to account- not for the sake of salvation, but for the sake of reward.” As Paul says, we as believers will all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.

Do you believe that “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien is in heaven?

Do you believe that the “Lord of the Rings” author J.R.R. Tolkien is in heaven? He was a Catholic and Catholics often pray to saints instead of God, but Lord of the Rings has biblical themes.

I would not say that I can give a convincing answer about the eternal destiny of J.R.R. Tolkien. I am not qualified to speak on that for a few reasons. Firstly, I don’t know all that much about his life. I know that he was an associate of C.S. Lewis. I know that he wrote these wonderful books that people enjoy greatly. I know that he had a generally Christian perspective on life and way he saw the world. Whether or not he’s in heaven really depends on his own personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

This is very important: Heaven is not determined by what group you belong to. There’s nobody going to get to heaven because of their church affiliation, or which club they belong to, or which ministry they support, or which denominational background they have, and so on. That is not the pathway to heaven.

Getting to heaven is not a matter of belonging to the right group. It’s putting your trust for your salvation in the right person: the person and work of Jesus Christ.

I would say the same thing about hell: going to hell is not dependent on belonging to the wrong group. We never want to give anybody the impression that if you belong to this group, you’re automatically going to heaven, and if you belong to that group, you’re automatically going to hell.

Now, it is true that, if you believe in the official doctrines of some groups, it’s doubtful that you’re going to go to heaven. We would say this about groups such as the Jehovah’s Witnesses, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, commonly called the Mormons, as well as the Israelites who rejected the person and work of Jesus Christ and what He did on the cross.

There are groups where if a person believes everything that group teaches, they’re not going to go to heaven. But not everybody who belongs to a group believes everything that group teaches. So how does it come down to the Roman Catholics? What really matters is the individual relationship that J.R.R. Tolkien had with Jesus Christ – with who He is and what He came to do. I would lean towards the side of saying that I think we will see Tolkien in heaven. But, having only read one biography about Tolkien, and not knowing his life very well beyond that, I couldn’t really say.

Will God hold us accountable for the souls we didn’t share the gospel with?

Regarding Ezekiel 3:16-19 — if we as Christians don’t tell someone about Jesus or share the gospel with them, and they die without being born again, will God hold us accountable for their blood?

This is the passage where God speaks to Ezekiel about his responsibility as a watchman over Israel. Let’s understand a watchman’s responsibility. A watchman in ancient Israel really did not preach salvation to the nation; he warned of coming judgment. Please make that distinction. There’s a watchman on the walls of ancient Jerusalem. The watchman is not speaking to the people about salvation. The watchman has his eyes on the horizon, looking for an advancing army. In this case, it would be an army of judgment coming against Jerusalem and Judah. The watchman has his eyes on coming judgment.

If a person is serious about fulfilling the watchman role of Ezekiel 3, what they’re really going to be doing is warning of coming judgment. And they need to be reliable in warning of coming judgment.

Notice as well that not every person in ancient Judah had this responsibility of being a watchman. This was a specific responsibility that God gave to his Ezekiel.

So, no, I would not apply this by saying that if you fail in your responsibility to tell a family member about Jesus, you are going to be judged by God. Not at all. To me, this speaks to people like Ezekiel, who are fulfilling a role like Ezekiel fulfilled. The role that Ezekiel fulfilled was to be someone who proclaimed the Word of God, and especially the warnings that were found in God’s message to him and through him. That’s a big difference, isn’t it?

Those who are entrusted with the responsibility of bringing God’s word before other people must be faithful in delivering a warning, when God says it’s time to deliver a warning. This isn’t an obligation that God puts upon every believer. This responsibility was given to Ezekiel, and not to every person in the kingdom of Judah. But this is a solemn reminder to those who are preachers of God’s Word.

Is Romans 9 about corporate or individual election?

What is your interpretation of Romans 9? Is it talking about corporate election and judicial hardening of the rebellious Jews, or is it talking about the individual election of TULIP: total depravity, unconditional election, limited atonement, irresistible grace, and perseverance of the saints?

I think that the emphasis of Romans 9 is on corporate election. Paul is writing from the perspective of a first century Jew or Christian who understands Judaism. In Romans 9-11, he is answering this question: “Why does it seem that God has abandoned the Jewish people?” Throughout those three chapters, he essentially gives two answers to that question.

The first answer he gives is this. It seems like God has abandoned the Jews because it’s all part of His sovereign plan. God knows what He’s doing. Don’t worry about it. Then in the middle of chapter 10, Paul abruptly changes gears and answers the question from a different angle. Why does it seem that God has abandoned the Jews? Because the Jewish people brought it upon themselves in the first century, and they are awaiting their restoration that God has promised.

I see a brilliant development in Romans chapters 9,10, and 11 of the twin themes of God’s wonderful sovereign work on the one side, and the development of human responsibility on the other side. Here’s my paraphrase of Paul’s full answer to this question. If we would ask Paul, “Why does it seem like the Jewish people in your day were forsaken by God?” Paul would say, “Well, it’s all part of God’s plan. And furthermore, let me explain to you why the Jewish people seem forsaken today. It’s because of their own disobedience and rebellion against God.”

If we were to ask Paul, “Well, which one is it?” Paul would say, “Yes; it’s both.” The sovereignty of God and the responsibility of man are working in concert together. God has an ordained plan which He’s working throughout the ages, yet human initiative and human choice has a real and enduring place within God’s plan.

I believe that the emphasis here in Romans 9 is on corporate election. I won’t say that it completely disavows the idea of individual election. But I don’t think that Romans 9 proves what the Calvinist or reformed theologian usually thinks that it proves.

What does the Bible say about nightmares?

What does the Bible say about nightmares? Why do we get terrible nightmares, yet we pray for good dreams?

First, I’m sorry to hear about this. I’m going to assume that it’s you or somebody very dear to you who’s afflicted by bad dreams. If that’s the case, then I’m sorry. I have only experienced bad dreams very rarely, and never to a severe degree, like I’ve heard some people suffer.

I don’t think the Bible sheds a lot of light for us on the source of nightmares. We can’t give answers specifically on a biblical basis, but more on an experiential basis. And that means it’s something that we would want to hold with a loose hand, not a tight hand.

It’s possible for there to be demonic prompting for somebody to have bad dreams. Again, I feel a little hesitant talking about that, because we are slow to step out in areas where the Bible doesn’t give us much clarity. To be honest, the Bible does not give us much clarity about this. But it seems that there may be some type of demonic involvement or challenge during difficult dreams that people have.

If a person is very much troubled by such nightmares, the right thing to do first is pray. Let’s commit it to prayer. Let’s remember that great line from the Psalms: “He gives His beloved sleep.” That’s a promise to just really rest in and cling to in those times. But we can go beyond that.

If a person feels continually harassed, ask a trusted brother or sister, someone who really knows something about contending with the realm of the demonic, to help you stand against the devil, to see him flee. They can help you continually commit this to the Lord.

I’m sorry I don’t have a better answer for you on this. The Bible really doesn’t tell us much about this area. We understand that people have been troubled and bothered by such things, but we really don’t know much from a biblical answer.

I will share one story with you. There’s a story about Martin Luther. We don’t know if the stories we hear about great men or women of God are precisely true, but they’re great stories regardless. One night, Martin Luther was sleeping in his bed, and he woke up with a strong sense of the presence of the devil in his room. He sat up in bed, looked down at the end of the bed, and there, opposite his bed, was the devil himself — smelly, nasty, threatening, dark, frightening. And this is how the story goes: Luther looked at the devil at the foot of his bed, and said, “Oh, it’s you.” And then he laid back down and rolled over and went to sleep.

There’s something about that story which I absolutely love. I love the attitude Martin Luther had. He basically said, “I don’t have anything to fear from the devil. He’s attacked me before. No doubt he’ll attack me again. But the victory in Jesus Christ is great. And I want that influence to grow greater and greater in my life: the influence of the victory of Jesus Christ.”

Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t important and even strategic times in a believer’s life when they can and shouldbring other trusted, mature believers around them and say, “Hey, would you help me resist the devil right here?” Because we want to claim this promise together from the book of James, resist the devil and he will flee from you.

When Jesus said “It is finished” on the cross, what specifically was finished?

When Jesus was on the cross, his final words were, “It is finished.” What actually was finished, if the enemy was still out there like a roaring lion?

That’s a great question. I don’t know that “It is finished” were the last words of Jesus on the cross. There’s a book called “The Seven Last Sayings of Jesus on the Cross.” I think it’s likely that the last words of Jesus on the cross were actually, “Father, into Your hands I commend My spirit,” which is very different than saying, “Tetelestai (It is finished).”

Jesus spoke seven specific things from the cross, but His word, “It is finished” is very important. The idea behind that word, which we translate as “it is finished,” has the idea of something being paid in full, completely paid. The price is paid, the sacrifice is made, the ledger is clear. What was finished was a perfect payment for sins. That was finished by the perfect work of Jesus Christ at the cross. His work was completely finished.

It didn’t mean there would be no more attacks or difficulty from the devil. We still see this happen all the time, after the finished work of Jesus. But it means, for all intents and purposes, the devil can now be approached as an already defeated foe. He’s still a dangerous foe, but he is ultimately already defeated by who Jesus is and what Jesus came to do for us. When Jesus said, “It is finished, Tetelestai, paid in full,” what was finished was the work of Jesus in paying for our sins in every dimension. That was finished and paid in full.

My husband says he is tired of going to church. How can I encourage him?

My husband says he is tired of going to church. How can I encourage him? I am unable to attend church with him now.

I’m sorry to hear that your husband is tired of going to church. I think some of us who have been church goers for a long time can maybe relate. I know how it feels to be tired of going to church. Thankfully, we don’t always know this feeling. We don’t feel it all the time. But it’s not unusual for somebody to feel that way from time to time.

How can you encourage him? I don’t know if you are the best person to deliver this encouragement. But if I could speak to your husband, I would say this. “Friend, brother, I understand that you may be tired of going to church, and I get that. But maybe you need to start going to church, not only to receive, but to give unto others. I think that one of the most exciting things we can do in the Christian life is go to church, as just regular everyday believers. Not with any kind of real position at a church, but just as regular everyday believers.

We can go to church with an attitude that says, “I’m going to church not just to receive but to give.” Now, I do believe that it is important for us to go to church to receive, and primarily from the Lord. When you go to the house of God, He wants you to receive, and to primarily receive from Him. There’s nothing wrong with going to God’s house to receive, but there is something wrong with going to God’s house to only receive. And that’s what we should work very strongly against.

A good friend of mine, Pastor Ricky Ryan, who now lives in Hawaii, likes to say that we need to think in terms of “15 and 30.” In other words, our ministry time is for 15 minutes before the service starts, and 30 minutes after the service ends. That’s when we very seriously take our responsibility to minister one to another, and to serve one another in the name of Jesus. You and I know that some of the most important and effective work of ministry among believers doesn’t happen through a pastor or worship leader; it happens one-on-one through the body of Christ.

My main encouragement for your husband would be to look for a way to go to church not only to receive, which is good, but also to go with a deliberate ministry purpose. That attitude can really reinvigorate our own time at church.

Was Ezekiel taken during the second invasion? Did he prophesy to other captives?

Was Ezekiel taken during the second invasion, and when he was carrying out the scenarios God told him to act out, was he doing this for the other captives?

The Babylonians invaded Jerusalem in three waves. In the first wave, Daniel was taken to Babylon. In the second wave Ezekiel was taken to Babylon. In the third wave, Jeremiah was cast out of the land and taken to Babylon. So yes, there were three waves and Ezekiel was taken in the second wave. Much of Ezekiel’s prophecy was done for the sake of those captive Jews in Babylon, and much of his prophetic work was done among them.