For one of my college classes, I had to read Cold Case Christianity by Jim Wallace. The book describes his journey from a cynical atheist to a believer in the Gospel, but in it he points out a very profound concept:
“Like other unbelievers in our world today, I used to think of faith as the opposite of reason. In this characterization of the dichotomy, I believed that atheists were reasonable free-thinkers and that believers were simple, mindless drones who blindly followed the unreasonable teaching of their leadership. But if you think about it, faith is really the opposite of unbelief, not reason” (Wallace 50).
This statement is absolutely true: Faith is not the opposite of reason. We do not determine truth by our own thinking, but we are rational creatures made by the rational God. The point? Well, to be frank, so many times Christians tend to fall into the category of non-thinkers when it comes to the faith and the Word of God. We go to our particular churches because our parents and grandparents went there, because we like the music, because of the fellowship, the list goes on. We read the Bible some, but often believers simply opt for a Verse-Of-The-Day app and mark it off their spiritual checklist. We know the basics, but we don’t usually stop and consider what we should believe and why we should believe it.
But is this the attitude God wants from us? Expects from us? This quote from Wallace came right on the heels of the Lord showing me several passages in the Bible where Jesus expected people to know concepts and truths because of diligent study of God’s Word.
The first one that came to mind was Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32:24-30. Since no man can see God the Father’s face and live, we know that this was Jesus before He took on flesh (John 1:18; 1 Timothy 6:15, 16). In this passage, Jacob is on his way back to meet Esau, and he is trying desperately to think of a plan to keep himself from being killed (he had fled years earlier after Esau vowed to slay him). Jesus came and wrestled with him, demonstrating His power and deity by dislocating Jacob’s hip with a mere touch, saying that Jacob had “striven with God and with men” (Genesis 32:25, 28). By logical deduction, Jacob should have understood that the One he was “striving with” at that moment was God Himself. Yet for whatever reason, Jacob didn’t seem to make the connection and asks, “Please tell me your name” (Genesis 32:29). He should have known who he was talking with, since the two other men he had struggled with (Esau and Laban) were definitely not God. By simple elimination, he should have recognized that he was speaking with God Himself.
The Lord does not answer Jacob’s question directly, but returns with one of His own: “Why is it that you ask My name?” (Genesis 32:29). It should have been obvious to Jacob, even if it did take some thinking to come to that conclusion.
The prophet Zachariah experienced a similar situation centuries later after the return of the Jewish exiles from the Babylonian captivity (Zachariah is a wonderful book full of Messianic prophecies). Zachariah is being given visions and prophecies he is to preach to Israel from the Angel of the Lord (Zachariah 1:7-13). This Angel (who was Christ) shows Zachariah a particular vision of a golden lampstand with seven bowls and two olive trees beside it (Zachariah 4:2, 3).
This vision confused Zachariah and he asked the Angel of the Lord what these things were (Zachariah 4:4, 11, 12). He had done this with earlier visions and the Angel answered him, yet here in chapter four, the Angel responds, “Do you not know what these are?” (Zachariah 4:5, 13). It is as if he was saying, “Zachariah, after all I have shown you, can’t you understand this vision?” The Lord does go on to reveal its message and symbolism, but there seemed to be a level of expectation that the prophet would have considered and realized the vision’s meaning.
We see this similar level of expectancy in Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and a member of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of the Jews (John 3:1). He would have devoted himself to studying the Old Testament, and when he met Jesus, he recognized Him as coming from god the father (John 3:2). However, he did not understand that Jesus was the Messiah. Jesus knew this and confronts him with the simple statement, “You must be born again” (John 3:7).
This was entirely beyond Nicodemus, and so he asks Him what He meant. Jesus had previously explained that He was speaking of a spiritual birth, but indicates that he should have already understood this because of his time studying the Old Testament. Jesus says, “Are you the teacher of Israel and do not understand these things?” (John 3:10). The implication is that Nicodemus would have understood and grasped the concept of salvation if he had sought to diligently study the Word of God and be led by the Spirit.
There are other examples where Jesus acted as if people should have already understood what He was saying, but these were the three that mainly stood out to me. All of these men had previous knowledge of God and His Word (spoken or written), yet they failed to study it with their mind, and not just their eyes and ears.
For we can read the bible all day long, but our minds can be in a thousand different places. We can read the words, but not stop and consider what they actually mean, and I have been guilty of this far more than I want to admit. God wants us to really dig deep into the Scriptures, comparing passages with one another, and meditating on it throughout the day. The Bereans did that to make sure Paul’s words were true (Acts 17:11). Paul commanded Timothy to “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 timothy 2:15). He also wrote to the Church in Corinth and commanded, “In evil be infants, but in your thinking be mature” (1 Corinthians 14:20).
It is so easy to slip into the trap of believing that simply reading a few verses and listening to a sermon each week will give us all the spiritual understanding we need of the Bible, yet we have the responsibility to do more. In cultures where the scriptures are not accessible to all, that is one thing, but here in America, we do not have that excuse. The Lord has only spoken to us through His Word, and reading it is how we get to know more about Him and how He expects us to live.
Yes, studying the Bible takes work, and it can often seem like a daunting task, but it doesn’t have to be. It can be as simple as reading larger portions of Scripture in one sitting (like an epistle). I know from personal experience that I have gained a fuller understanding of a particular verse by reading it in its context. Make notes in the margins about parallel passages you have found in the Bible, then refer to these in the future. The Lord has given us rational minds for a reason. Not that we rationalize “truth” or find any new, hidden meaning to a passage, but we are to use our minds in serving the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:15).
The Lord has called pastors to devote their time to the Word and to prayer, but He also calls us to study the Bible ourselves on a regular basis (Acts 6:4). We may only be able to do a little bit each day, but like Timothy, we are called to “diligently” study and work to be able to “accurately handle the Word of Truth” (2 Timothy 2:16). We are on a journey, and we will only grow in Christ by thoughtfully studying His Word.
(As a side note, I will explain why I said the Angel of the Lord was Christ in my next post)
Wallace, J. Warner. Cold Case Christianity, Kindle Edition, David C. Cook, 2014.