Reality Reading

bible-reading

Reality Reading

 “Reality Reading” 

Richard Hollerman

I was shocked when I read the results of a survey of men and women in America. The study indicates that the typical man doesn’’t read even one book a year whereas the average woman does read a number of books— but those books are fictitious novels. This not only reveals the extent of the non-reading public but it also shows that many are exposed to large doses of fiction rather than true literature. Add to this the fiction found on television and computer games, and we are dismayed at the kind of information that is being consumed by Americans—both men and women.

What does this say about our reading of the Bible? The Scriptures refer to “the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation” that must be believed (Ephesians 1:13). Paul tells us that “truth is in Jesus” (4:21). He also writes of “the word of truth, the gospel” (Colossians 1:5). When praying to the Father before his betrayal, Jesus said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17).

Constantly, through the pages of Scripture, we are reminded of the fact that what we are reading is the truth. We acknowledge that there are many portions that are figurative or symbolic (e.g., portions of Daniel, Isaiah, Zechariah, and Revelation), but we must face these with confidence in the truthfulness of what is recorded even if we cannot take some portions as literal.

Scriptures such as the ones above on the truth of Scripture emphasize that God’s Word is truth. The God of truth inspired the Scriptures of truth by the Spirit of truth and this reveals the Son who is the personal word of truth (cf. 2 Timothy 3:15-17; John 14:6, 16-17). From the first verse of Genesis to the last verse of Revelation, God is revealing truth—not fiction.

When you pick up your Bible and open it to the place you wish to read, what do you expect to find? You may say, “I want to read a message of comfort and encouragement from the Psalms.” Or you may reply, “I want to discover practical instruction from the Proverbs or James.” You may also say you wish to learn something about Jesus, thus you read the Gospels. But my thought question to you would be: Do you really believe what you are reading—or is it a mere formality, a superficial reading that doesn’’t affect you and your heart with its profound truth?

Sometimes, when I have read God’s Word too late or when I was sleepy, I’ve gone through the form without being deeply touched by the message of Scripture. I may have read words but I got little out of my effort since my mind wasn’’t in it. My “spirit was willing” but “the flesh was weak” (Matthew 26:41). I wanted to read with understanding (cf. Matthew 13:19), but I was so tired or distracted that I failed to derive much benefit from my reading.

Furthermore, it may be that some of us are so saturated with fiction or fantasy that we don’t really grasp the gravity of what we read. The words on the page of Scripture are not fiction and are not merely man’s words. They are supernatural words! They convey a supernatural message to our heart. The Hebrew writer explains: “The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (4:12). The writer continues, “And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (v. 13).

Do we grasp the reality of what’s being said here? God’s word is not dead—it is alive! His word is not passive—but active! It is like a sword that pierces our heart, our soul, our very life. This reminds us of God’s word at Jeremiah 23:29: “’Is not My word like fire?’ declares the LORD, ‘and like a hammer which shatters a rock?’” God’s word is not passive, not dead, but like a fire and like a hammer that has a powerful effect!

This means that when you open your Bible, you confront the Living God. You not only read the Bible but the Bible reads you. (Hopefully you have an accurate and contemporary translation of the Scriptures you can understand.) The message conveyed by the words on the page leads you to faith and obedience. Paul says that he received “the things freely given to us by God” and he spoke them to others. These words were not merely human words and not words “taught by human wisdom,” but words “taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words” (1 Corinthians 2:12-13).

When you sit down to read God’s word, try to find a quiet and secluded place (a bedroom? A closet? An extra room? A basement?). Concentrate on the words you see on the page before you. See the words, phrases, clauses, sentences, and paragraphs. But these are not merely words written by Paul, Peter, John, or Matthew. Men “moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” and wrote from God (2 Peter 1:21). When you read these words, they are God’s words, conveyed by the Spirit through human penmen. As someone well said, the Bible is “the word of God, written in the words of men, in history.” Human authors wrote the Scriptures but what was written was just what God wanted.

Why do I use the term, “reality reading”? This emphasizes the fact that what we read is true and real.  It isn’t fiction or a figment of the writer’s overactive imagination. Your Bible contains truth. It is real. Thus, when you read the Bible, it is reality reading or reading reality.

There is a basic qualification that you must meet if the Bible is to be real to you and applicable to you, personally. You need to be a child of God. And not just any child of God; you must be a true, genuine, submissive, faithful, and obedient son or daughter of God Almighty. The message of the Bible is not for you if you haven’t truly been saved from sin. It isn’t for you if you think you are saved but have deceived yourself. And it isn’t for you if you once were saved but have allowed sin and compromise to enter your life. You must be a sincere child of God who is walking in the light of God, filled with faith in Him and love for Him (cf. 1 John 1:7-2:6). Keep this in mind as we proceed.

In order to give you an idea of what I mean by “reality reading,” let’s turn to Philippians, chapter one. Look at verse 2: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” Do you believe this? Do you fully accept it? Grace is yours! Don’t just read over this verse haphazardly and immediately go to the next verse in order to fulfill your commitment to read a chapter or two chapters of the Bible a day. No, just look at the parts of this verse. If you are truly saved and walking in the light of God, this verse pertains to you, personally. You have received God’s grace. By it you have been saved (Ephesians 2:8-9) and in it you stand (Romans 5:2). Relish this thought. It is true; it is real! You are in God’s grace right now, as you read this verse! Don’t deny it but accept it as true. Thank God for it.

Continue with this same verse. You have also received “peace” from God the Father and Jesus Christ the Lord. Without God’s grace (in Christ), you could not experience His peace. Many Bible scholars think that the order is significant here. Whether this is true or not, it does seem true. Because God’s grace is yours, you can experience God’s peace. Peace follows or is based on the grace of God. Now delight in this peace that is God’s gift to you. Don’t deny it or pass over it but accept it as true—and rejoice.

As you continue to read this chapter, verse by verse, you will come to verse 6: “I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” What Paul writes here is something we can be confident or assured about. God began a good work in you when you were saved. And he will perfect or complete it one day when Christ returns. Of course, this doesn’’t deny that you can renounce Christ or allow sin to enter into your life and dominate you. This is not a verse that guarantees salvation unconditionally, for Paul many places emphasizes that salvation is conditional. But this verse can give us great confidence in life. God is not finished with you or me. He has a plan for us and seeks to finish this plan. Rejoice in this. Apply it to yourself and delight in it!

Now continue reading until you come to verse 9: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment.” God wants our love to “abound.” Is your love abounding? Is your love growing? This verse would say that it is God’s will that you grow in love and He will do all He can to promote this growth. As you read, you may even want to pause and thank God for this love and ask Him to help you fulfill this prayer for growth.

But notice that this love is expressed with real knowledge and all discernment. Don’t just pass this off as words that fill up space on the page. Apply this to yourself. It is real! You are to practice “reality reading”! Ask God to help you to have spiritual knowledge and true discernment as you grow in your love. Determine that this is an element of your life that needs to be implemented more fully in the future than in the past.

Paul continues, “. . . so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ.” As we practice knowledge and discernment, given by God, we will approve what is best in life. And the result will be that you—personally—will be sincere and blameless until Christ returns! What an amazing promise this is to you—if you are sincere in your commitment to the Lord.

Paul completes this prayer content by saying, “. . . having been filled with the fruit of righteousness which comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God” (v. 11). You can accept this also as true for you. God wants you to be “filled” with the “fruit” of righteousness. How does this spiritual fruit come? It comes through Jesus Christ. And what is the result of this spiritual fruit in our life? It will bring glory and praise to God.  When we please God and do His will and grow in His ways, God is the One who will receive the praise and glory both now and forever. We don’t seek transformation just for our own benefit (though there is great personal benefit in it), but our whole life is to bring glory to God Himself!

We could easily go to a hundred passages to show how we can read with the faith that what we read is true and real for ourselves and for others—if we are in God’s will and they are too.  Let’s turn to Romans 8 to practice this reality reading. In verse 1 we read, “Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” Is this true? Definitely it is!  If you are in Christ Jesus (living in faith and obedience in Him), you now are not under condemnation. We know that those out of Christ—those who are lost in sin—are under God’s condemnation and wrath and will eventually be condemned to hell (Romans 1:18; 3:23; 6:23). But if you are in Christ, this condemnation has been lifted from you! Apply this to yourself and rejoice! You are free of condemnation because of sin!

Continue to read: “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death” (8:2). Here we first see the Holy Spirit mentioned in this chapter. If you are in Christ Jesus, this law of the Spirit of life has set you free from the law of sin and of death. If you will read Romans 6 and 7, you will see how pervasive and death-dealing it is to be held captive to the law of sin and of death! But if you are in Christ and have the Holy Spirit, this doesn’t describe you. Instead, you are free!

Now drop down to verse 6 and read it with the knowledge that it is speaking truth—it is speaking reality and not fiction! Paul says, “The mind set on the flesh is death, but the mind set on the Spirit is life and peace.” How marvelous!  Where is your mind? Is your mind set on the flesh—by being dominated by fleshly thoughts and participating in fleshly deeds (Galatians 5:16-21)?  Then the result of this is death—spiritual death that separates one from God. On the other hand, if your mind is set on the Spirit and all that the Spirit promotes, then you have spiritual life and spiritual peace in your heart. Don’t pass this off as a nice little verse that should be quickly passed over. It is the truth and it describes reality!  You have life and peace if, in fact, your mind is set on the Holy Spirit!

Continue reading to verse 13: “For if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” This is another verse that is filled with truth—and not fiction.  You can be living in one of two ways—first, according to the flesh and according to sinful thoughts and deeds. But second, on the other hand, you can put to death the deeds of the body or the misdeeds of the body that are sinful, wrong, and death-dealing.  What are the outcomes of both ways of life? If we are allowing the flesh to control our mind and body, we will die. This is spiritual death rather than physical death. But if we put to death, crucify, or say No to the sins of the body, what is the result? We will live—we will experience spiritual life now and forever. Again, we see that taking these verses as literally true is the way to make sense of them. And this will bring both warning and joy to our heart. We are warned not to sin but we are also given assurance of life, providing that we fulfill the words of the apostle Paul here.

Notice a beloved verse found later in the chapter, verse 28: “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” This is something we can “know” or be assured of. It is a promise of God we can depend on. What is it? God will cause all things to work together for good. Isn’’t this a wondrous promise to our heart!

But notice the conditions or stipulations that the apostle gives. This promise is for those who love God. Do you truly love God? If so, you can claim this promise for yourself. Further, those who love God are further described as those who are “called” according to God’s purpose. This is another way of saying the person is truly saved or called by the gospel to eternal life (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:13-14). We know that there are millions of people who claim to love God but not all are called of God to belong to Him. If we take this verse as it reads, we can see the kind of confidence and assurance it will bring to our heart! Let’s believe it and live according to its truth. You are not alone and you need not fret about the conditions of life that would trouble the average person. God will cause all things to work together for good for you!

Let’s go to a different kind of teaching, this time found in Galatians 6. In verse 1 we read, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted.” As you can see, this is very practice and also very seldom obeyed. First, notice that it is written to a child of God who sees a brother or sister who is caught in a sin.  Does this ever happen? Of course, it does. Surely Paul is not speaking about an unsaved person here for there is an entirely different procedure in reaching out to the unbeliever. Are you spiritual? You should be and if you have doubts, read Romans 8 again. The spiritual person is to “restore” the sinful person, something that shows clearly that this person has been saved in the past but has allowed some trespass to overcome him.

How is this reclamation to be accomplished? The spiritual person must have an attitude of gentleness. We can imagine that it would be possible to have a harsh or cruel attitude toward one who has sinned (perhaps sinned publicly), but Paul says this process is to be carried out with the spiritual fruit of gentleness. We know that there is a time and place for a strong and bold confrontation of error (cf. Titus 1:13), but not in this case. Further, if we confront error or sin of any kind in the brother or sister, we must be cautious that we not fall into the same wrong—thus we need to “look to ourselves” that we not be tempted to sin in like manner.

In the next verse (Galatians 6:2), Paul continues the train of thought: “Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” We can bear a brother or sister’s burdens when they need help in some distress or sickness or trouble that is not sinful. But here, perhaps the main point is that the sinful brother needs for us to bear a burden that he is carrying and perhaps has brought by his sinful response. When we do have this burden-bearing attitude, we will fulfill the law of Christ. This could refer to all of Christ’s teachings (cf. 1 Corinthians 9:21) or possibly here it especially refers to Christ’s special command to love a brother with His own kind of love (cf. John 13:34-35).

Now let’s have you turn to Matthew 5:1-12. Here we have Christ’s so-called Sermon on the Mount, particularly the beatitudes (the “blessings”). Read over this verse by verse, actually word for word.  Take note of the nouns and the verbs. Take note of what Jesus is saying. Notice each of the “blessings” and to whom each is directed and the connection to the blessing in each case.  If you are a faithful follower of Christ, living in God’s light, realize that these words are directed to you, personally. You are the poor in spirit, the one who mourns, the one who is gentle, and the one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness. And you are the one who will receive the kingdom of heaven, will be comforted, will inherit the earth, and will be satisfied, and so forth.

Toward the end of this section, you are the one who is blessed when people insult you and persecute you. In your mind, you might actually imagine how people have insulted you because of your faith in Christ and how you have had to endure persecution for the sake of righteousness. These are not mere words on the page but they are actually words of the Living Christ to you as His devoted follower. All of the blessings he pronounces on the people he describes are meant for you. This is what I mean by “reality reading” and I think you can see that this brings the message of Christ and the words of the Bible to you personally and directly. This illustrates how the word of God is “living and powerful” and able to discern your heart and mind.

Can you see how this way of reading Scripture makes the reading exciting and relevant to your own life.  It is not merely an intellectual exercise (though it is that), but it is a spiritual experience. You are actually “listening” to and “reading” God’s powerful words of truth. And you are claiming those words for yourself. You are not only exposed to the words, but you are applying them for yourself and determining to believe them and walk in them, moment by moment, and day by day as a lifestyle.

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Reality Reading

A Few More Suggestions 

What we’’ve said so far is the main thrust of this article but to be more complete we might add a few more thoughts.

We have stressed the matter of looking at Scripture with the realization that God is speaking truth in what we read. We have emphasized verses that speak to our heart and experience and life. But we must realize that there are many other types of literature and statements in the Bible as well. We need to realize that these also speak truth and are meant to be taken seriously.

Consider a passage that recounts certain facts about John the baptizer (John the immerser): “John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Mark 1:4). This is not an imaginary character, but an actual man who lived about 2,000 years ago, born about 6 months before Jesus our Lord.  He began his preaching in the wilderness of Judea. We could go to a Bible dictionary and learn about the Judean wilderness to learn something of John’s early home. What was he doing? He was preaching a baptism of repentance.” Of course, this meant that anyone he would baptize was required to repent of their sins before he would agree to baptize them. And what was the purpose of this baptism that John preached? It was for the forgiveness of their sins.

The next verse continues: “And all the country of Judea was going out to him, and all the people of Jerusalem; and they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River, confessing their sins” (Mark 1:5). Here also we confront the truth about John, not merely story-telling on Mark’s part. There was a large response to John’s preaching and this included people from Judea and Jerusalem (the leading city in Judea). What did these people do? They were baptized by John. Where was this? In the Jordan River (not near the River, or by the River, or beside the River, but “in” the River).  What did they do as they came for this baptism of repentance? They were “confessing” their sins or confessing that they were sinners in need of forgiveness.

We could continue verse after verse, looking at the words and phrases that make up this portion. We are reading truth here and not fiction. We can allow our imagination to go along with this description so that we are standing there with John along the Jordan River and seeing the people come for his baptism.

Much of the Gospels convey truth to us by giving us a narrative of what Jesus said and did, the teachings that he gave and the miracles he performed and the places he visited. As you read through these portions, be very conscious of the fact that you are reading the truth and not someone’s imagination. Be very aware that God is speaking here, through the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. As you read through the history recorded in the Acts, remember that these are true incidents and true words and actual people. This is all part of our practice of “reality reading”!

Let this be a beginning—the beginning of looking at Scripture in multiple ways. Yes, you will read for information. You will be interested in the geography, the history, the culture, and the facts of what you read. But go beyond this. Go to the heart of the matter. Realize not just that Paul is writing to Christians in Thessalonica, or that Peter is writing to people in Bythinia, or that John is not just writing to saints in Ephesus. God, through human writers, is actually writing to you—personally—and He expects you to respond to these life-giving words with genuine faith and humble submission. Your reading of Scripture each day will then be reality reading!

 

 

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