Here’s a question for you: how many Bible verses do you know by-heart? I’m talking about the word-for-word, I-could-type-out-a-Bible-all-by-myself-if-I-wanted-to kind of by-heart? Think about it. Got a number? If that’s too low, you can go with the number of verses you know with a 97% accuracy. I’m very flexible like that. Okay. Now, follow-up question: how many dialogues from movies/TV shows can you recite by-heart? Yeah, I went there. Or maybe movies isn’t your thing. How about the latest song lyrics, or the backstories of the distant relatives of the poor underappreciated but highly talented bass guitarist in that obscure band from 1994? Or perhaps the current performance statistics of the top scorers in cricket, or football, or, I don’t know, squash? (the sport, not the juice-thing) Along with each of their eye-colours, and their favourite flavour of, I don’t know, squash? (the juice-thing, not the fruit. Wait, what?) Okay, so, before you get the wrong idea, I must squash any misunderstandings. (Enough with the squash? Got it.)
This is something I noticed about myself a while back – and I was heartbroken the first time I noticed it – that I could barely hold on to a handful of Bible verses, but found it so easy to evaluate a real life scenario unfold in front of me and, in the spur of the moment, come up with the perfect reference from the TV series FRIENDS, and, with questionable comedic timing, exclaim, “This is like that scene in that episode where…” One was excruciatingly difficult, and the other was almost effortless. Sigh. I am aware of the probability that most of the people who read these articles are usually a lot more well-versed in the Scriptures than I was at that point in my life, but I want to take the issue a little deeper, if that wasn’t already obvious from the title. I mean, no matter what our level of expertise in memory verse competitions, we all seem to have a common difficulty in the process of reading the Bible and remembering what we read. But we don’t really ignore the Bible at all, do we? In fact, we give it great importance, and we pay attention to its teachings. If memory serves, I had actually completed reading the entire Bible (well, maybe 97% of it) twice by the time I was 20. Moment of silence on account of the fact that I have to say, “if memory serves…”, for something that happened when I was 20. This reminds me of that episode of FRIENDS where Joey turns 30 and he… Dang it.
Why, then? If we understand that the Bible is important and beneficial and true, why do its verses fail to embed themselves in our memory? Or worse yet, why does it slip some of our minds to even read the Bible at all on certain “busy” days? Well, I will suggest that we can start thinking about it in the conventional place. One common argument I’ve heard from people trying to drive in the point that a Christian ought not take the Word of God for granted is simply, “do you know how many people died in order for you to have that book that you are now taking for granted?” And it’s quite effective too. No smart comebacks for that question, are there? Just a quick trip to guilt city. It is a sobering thought. People actually died, actually gave their lives, for you to have the opportunity to read the words in this remarkable book. How does that make you feel? Hold on to that feeling – you might want to revisit that in a little bit.
I’m writing this on 31st October, the “Reformation Day”. I wonder how familiar people are with the details of that particular piece of church history. If you haven’t heard of it, it’s a good point in history to explore, especially in connection to what we’re talking about here. You can see for yourself what happens when the Bible isn’t accessible, and what exactly is at stake here. There are lots of videos online about the reformation. In fact, you can find our own little video on the topic here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JCSIKBrBMpc. The short version is this: there was a time in history, over 500 years ago, when the only access to the Word of God was through what was spoken about it by a priest at your local church. This “controlled access” to the Bible, coupled with the corruption of sinful man, led to a period of great darkness for Christianity, where many kinds of heresies were introduced by people who were trying to make money and become “powerful” in the society. The church, and its leaders, became the infallible and authoritative source of truth, taking the place of the Bible.
A few people stood up to the malpractices of the church – these were the reformers, most famous among whom is probably Martin Luther. The Reformation Day marks the day when Martin Luther took his first major stand against these heresies, an incident that God then used to begin the Protestant Reformation movement like a small seed of a squa- ahem, apple, that grows into a huge tree. From that day, Luther, and many others after him, fought to do two things: first, to restore the Word of God to its rightful place of authority in Christianity, and second, to make the Bible accessible to the common man. And it was a fight – people died on that battleground, as we are so eager to remind each other. But this is still only the starting point of our investigation into the root of our problem. Because, I would argue that simply because people died for it does not immediately confer upon us a lasting feeling of obligation that will then drive us to read the Bible consistently. Besides, can I be a healthy Christian if I read the Bible only because Martin Luther really, really believed that I should? No, obviously there is something more to be understood here. What is it? Where is it?
The righteous shall live by faith.Romans 1:17
It is understood that this is one of the verses that most impacted Martin Luther. Salvation is by faith and not by works. One of the centrepieces of the reformation. But wait here with me for a second. Luther understood this truth, and then everything changed. Do you see what’s happening here? He read the Word, and then he changed… His heart was transformed by what he read. He was “re-formed” by what he believed to be truth. He was, now, living by faith! As James so often reminds us, faith without works is dead! (James 2:17) And isn’t the transformation of our heart nothing but the first “work” of true faith in us (not one that we do, but God does in us), the source of the many good works that we must do ourselves? (Ephesians 2:10) Consider this, then. If the righteous shall live by faith, how then shall they die? Is it not also “in faith”, so to speak? Beloved, I believe the question that we must ask is this, “Why did all those people choose to die?” Because I am pretty sure that none of these people were assassinated by snipers from half a kilometre out without anyone knowing about it. They stood for Christ, and they fought. When they were asked to stop, they persisted. When they were threatened, they stood firm. They made known what they were standing for. They were mocked and ridiculed. And then they were killed, in public. But why did they choose this terrible path?
The relevance of all the stories of people who were persecuted and killed in those days is not simply that “a lot of people died for this cause”, but it is actually this: “a lot of people were given a choice – to renounce what they believed or else to die – and they chose to die for the truth that was revealed to them in Scripture”. They did not do it so that you would have an opportunity to read the Bible, although that was part of the plan. No, when facing death at the hands of persecutors, they were thinking only of Christ, and then, through Christ, they loved and served you! But all of it was only because their hearts were changed by what they read in His Word! Do you see? It is not simply, “do you know how many people died so that you could have this privilege”, but “do you not see that this book contains such manner of truth that the one who reads it and is transformed by it would rather die than give it up?” Is that not a substantially different question? Does it not give the Bible infinitely greater worth? It is pointing to Christ now, not stopping at the reformers and martyrs themselves. And that is what they sought to do! They pointed to Christ, and if we, from this side of history, point only to these people and leave Christ out of the picture, are we not running the risk of doing the same thing that the church did back then? Suddenly, it all makes sense, and it becomes so much more persuasive. They did what they did, because the Word touched their hearts. Here is the solution to our little problem! Now, how do you respond to that?
Beloved, are you changed by what you read in the Word of God? Is your heart transformed by it? Are you re-formed by it? Does it trickle down from your brain and into your heart and then pierce the division of soul and spirit? (Hebrews 4:12) Does it become fountains of living waters within you? (John 4:10, John 7:38) Does it bring to you teaching, rebuke, reproof and correction? (2 Timothy 3:16) Do you love it? Do you recognize that this is God speaking to you? Do you love Him?! (John 14:15) Just writing about this fills me with that tingling sensation. Ha! I’ll tell you – when I read through the entire Bible those first two times, it was not like this. Not in the least! In fact, nowadays, it is more common to see me stuck on a single verse for days on end, not that that is somehow holier. I still believe we can and must read through the entire Bible, apart from our deep and more focused personal meditations on shorter portions of Scripture. Anyway, all of this completely changed how I understood the phrase, “knowing Scripture by-heart“. The phrase had, till then, implied a heartless memorization, but now I was looking to take it to heart! Because, when what I read changed me, when it became something that affected my nature, when it became something that caused me to glorify God, when it filled my heart with joy, well, then I simply could not forget it as easily. I mean, sure, I still do forget verses all the time, but that’s because I have really bad memory, and I must work all the more to memorize the Scriptures that are so precious to me.
If you were able to say, at the beginning of this article, that you are far more acquainted with the Bible than any movie or song or sport, I praise God for you! But you must continue to examine yourselves and confirm that the words you have memorized are not simply permanently barricaded in the steel trap of your mind, but have made it down to your heart and have changed your life – that you now live by faith, and that, if God were to call you to it, you would choose to die for it.