March 12, 2014 Broadcast

Private Interpretation

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Some Christians try to avoid theological controversies by passing them off with the phrase, "Well, that's just your interpretation." But hidden in this seemingly innocuous phrase is the notion that all opinions about the Bible are equally valid—that truth is relative. In this lesson, Dr. Sproul confronts this dangerous idea.

From the series: Knowing Scripture

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. article

    The Gospel & Journaling

  2. article

    The Discipline of Learning

  3. devotional

    How to Study the Bible

The Gospel & Journaling

Donald Whitney

Many of the godliest, most influential Christians in the history of the church have made it a practice to keep a spiritual journal. Also known in older writings as a “diary,” a journal is a document where people record information that relates to their spiritual lives and reflect on it. The content may range from meditations on Scripture to musings on an event in life and how it relates to Scripture. So, on a given day, one might write his or her thoughts regarding Romans 8:28. Alternatively, he or she might describe something that occurred and ask, “Why did this thing happen to me?” and perhaps conclude without an answer but rest in the truth of Romans 8:28. A journal for others is a document where they write prayers, keep sermon and Bible study notes, record theological musings, or just preserve the memories of some of the happenings of the day and their spiritual significance.

Nowadays, a journal can be written by hand, typed into a computer document, or transcribed by voice recognition software. It might take the form of a simple spiral-bound notebook, an elegant leather-bound volume, or a collection of computer-generated printouts. A journal might be as public as a blog or as private as a digital file that never gets printed. Some pour out their thoughts in long torrents; others can be content with as little as a sentence sometimes. There’s just no such thing as “official” journaling.

Why Christians Keep Journals

There’s no biblical requirement for Christians to keep a spiritual journal, and it isn’t considered as direct an outgrowth of the gospel as, say, prayer. In light of that, why has journaling been such a common discipline among believers?

Keeping a spiritual journal has been a widespread practice among God’s people for millennia. As long as people have been able to write, it has been common for them to write about what is most important to them. Thus, the people of God have recorded their thoughts about the things of God, and they have done so in something akin to what is today referred to as a journal. King David poured out his soul to God in the scrolls of the Psalms. The prophet Jeremiah expressed the depth of his grief about the fall of Jerusalem in his Lamentations. The fourthcentury theologian Augustine opened his heart in the pages of his famous Confessions. Jonathan Edwards found the practice so useful for sharpening his thinking and deepening his devotion that he kept several different kinds of journals and notebooks (such a s hi s “Miscellanies” and “Notes on Scripture”) concurrently. Whether in something called a “journa l ,” “dia r y,” “commonplace book,” “notebook,” or something else, Christians have been irrepressible chroniclers of their spiritual lives.

In verses such as Psalm 1:3 and James 1:25, the Bible exhorts believers to meditate on Scripture. Countless Christians have utilized journaling as a way to help them focus on the biblical text and preserve their reflections. Their journals have been the means of preserving precious discoveries in God’s Word and insights on how it applies to life. How many wonderful insights has the Lord given to you as you were reading the Bible, but they are lost forever because you didn’t record them by means of a journal or similar method?

Journaling and Thinking

As opposed to the kind of daily experience with the Bible in which we pass our eyes for two seconds over each verse on the page, not remembering a thing we’ve read, journaling can help us to slow down for a few moments and actually think about and absorb the passage we’ve just read in the Bible. We sometimes lurch from one unexamined event in our day to another, but a journal can be a tool the Spirit uses to help us consider the significance of the things occurring in our lives.

The simple act of writing about a matter has a way of clarifying one’s thinking about it. Students may be convinced they understand a subject until they’re required to write an essay about it. In the same way, writing out one’s thoughts about biblical truths, such as the gospel, causes us to be more clear in our understanding of them. Journaling can thus deepen our thinking on the unfathomable riches of the gospel and enable us to enmesh those truths and thoughts further into the fiber of our lives.

So, if necessary, read a couple of minutes less, but use a journal to meditate more. See if it doesn’t help you become more thoughtful about what you’ve read and help you remember it better. Use it to enrich your thoughts about Jesus and the glorious truths of His gospel.

The Discipline of Learning

Donald Whitney

The Christian life begins with learning — learning the gospel. No one is made right with a God about whom He knows nothing. No one is made right with God unless he learns about Him and His message to the world, a message of good news called the gospel. To know God, people must learn that there is a God (Heb. 11:6), that they have broken His law, and that they need to be reconciled to Him. They must learn that God’s Son, Jesus, came to accomplish that reconciliation and that He did so by means of His sinless life and His death on the cross as a substitute for sinners. They must learn of His bodily resurrection and their need to repent of their sins and to believe in Jesus and what He has done. Apart from people learning these things, “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (Rom. 10:14).

Intentional learning is implied in Jesus’ offer in Luke 9:23: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” So from the very start of discipleship, to follow Jesus implied learning from Him, for as did Peter, John, and the others, anyone would certainly learn from Jesus if they would follow Him. But Jesus is even more specific about learning from Him in Matthew 11:29: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” To accept the yoke of a disciple of Jesus means to commit to a lifetime of learning about Jesus and from Jesus.

To emphasize learning as essential to following Jesus is not advocacy for egghead Christianity. Like Jesus, we want both a heart for God and a head for God. Remember that the Great Commandment emphasizes loving God both with all the heart and with all the mind, as well (Mark 12:29–30). As R.C. Sproul once wrote, “Burning hearts are not nourished by empty heads.” God’s truth — which must be learned — is the fuel for the spiritual fire that flames in the Christian heart.

Lifelong Learning

The Christian life not only begins with learning, it proceeds through a process of lifelong learning. This includes deeper discoveries of intimacy with God, an ever-growing grasp of the Bible and its doctrines, a greater awareness of our sin, an increased knowledge of the person and work of Christ, further implications of what it means to follow Him, and more. A mature understanding of these things does not come quickly or without effort. Simply put, it is impo s s i bl e t o g row i nt o a Christlikeness one knows nothing about. By the Spirit’s power, we must learn what Christlikeness means and how Jesus wants us to follow Him. We learn this through the Bible, of course, but it involves learning nonetheless.

Those whom the Bible considers wise and intelligent understand this. According to Scripture, “The wise lay up knowledge” and “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge” (Prov. 10:14; 18:15). So the primary measurement of wisdom and intelligence is not your IQ or GPA but whether you pursue knowledge, that is, whether you discipline yourself to continue learning the things of God throughout your life.

Intentional Learning

A hunger to learn the Word of God, the ways of God, and the will of God expresses a hunger for God Himself. Those who love God long to be taught about Him and from Him. That doesn’t mean all Christians are to manifest an affinity for learning exactly the same things and in identical ways. But it is true that apathy toward learning the things of God is a mark of those who do not know God.

We are blessed to live in a time when the means of and opportunities for expressing a love for God through learning greatly exceed our ability to take advantage of them. But all these profit little if a person doesn’t pursue them. This is why learning must always be a discipl ine, for a person can be surrounded by wisdom and knowledge yet live without their riches if he or she does not possess the discipline to learn them.

Thus, learning is indeed a gospeldriven spiritual discipline; those who are not exerting themselves to learn the things of God will gain spiritual and biblical knowledge only by accident or mere convenience. By contrast, intentional learners will seek to learn the things of God and will do so individually as well as with the church, disciplining themselves to learn from those who are gifted by God and recognized by the church as teachers.

How to Study the Bible

Maturing in Christ is not actually a complicated process. It does not require an extraordinary amount of skill or knowledge. Although many people want to prescribe elaborate rituals and other techniques, it is the regular use of the means of grace, such as prayer, that helps us become more like Jesus. Another important means of grace, of course, is the study of Scripture.

We recognize our level of Christian maturity by the degree to which we know and imitate our Father's holiness. Our chief aim is to "be imitators of God, as beloved children" (Eph. 5:1), but we cannot imitate Him properly if we have a faulty understanding of who He is and what He loves. The only inerrant and infallible guide that tells us about God's character and the things that please Him is Scripture, the revelation breathed out by the Holy Spirit for our edification (2 Tim. 3:16–17).

Making the most of this revelation depends upon reading the Word of God properly. In today's passage, we find one of the basic principles to help us read and interpret Scripture rightly. It involves understanding Scripture as the font of true wisdom. After all, Paul explains that Scripture is the tool God uses to make us "wise for salvation" (2 Tim. 3:14–15). If we do not recognize that the Bible is the final arbiter of wisdom, then we will be led off into all manner of errors and misunderstandings. In short, we must sit under God's Word and not stand in judgment over it. Scripture judges us, and we live out that reality insofar as we recognize the fear of the Lord and His Word as the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7).

We must read the Bible reverently, asking the Spirit to apply it to our lives. Yet, we are not to be passive in our study. Paul also tells us that we are to study in order that we might be reckoned as those who have God's approval to handle and communicate His revelation (2 Tim. 2:15). We must work to understand God's Word, meditating on it and thinking carefully about what it means and how we are to live out its commands. Private study is key, of course, but we are not to examine the Bible exclusively by ourselves. We must study with the church of God, examining the insights of past thinkers and regularly sitting under the preaching and teaching of our local churches.

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