I was recently grieved to see an ad targeting Christian women with the selling point that its product included pre-selected Scriptures, to make getting in God’s Word easier than ever. How is it a benefit to be relieved of the burden of opening one’s Bible, to be spoon-fed popular Bible verses, and steered away from encountering the whole counsel of God?
God’s Word asserts that “all scripture is inspired by God, and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man [or woman] of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17; emphasis mine). Through ministry with our church, my husband and I often meet believers who sincerely love the Lord and even desire to pursue careers in ministry or missions, but have no consistent walk in God’s word — this leaves them uncertain of what they believe, hampered in their fight against sin, and ill-equipped for the good works in which they are called to walk.
Reading the Bible, much more studying it, requires effort, discipline, and perseverance — more now than ever, perhaps, with the world shining from screens that are literally at our fingertips, telling us that we shouldn’t be made uncomfortable. The 2020 State of the Bible report from Barna and the American Bible Society showed a decline in daily Bible reading from 14% of American adults in 2019 to only 9% in 2020, while the number of those whom the survey designates as “Bible-centered” — for whom the Bible is central in decisions and relationships — fell from 9.6% to 5.8% in the first six months of last year. All signs indicate that Americans, and even American Christians, are reading the Bible less and less: an alarming trend.
- Biblical Illiteracy leaves us vulnerable to falsehood.
My four-year-old recently announced that he was going to build a funny barn. We have a basic Duplo barn that only requires adding roof pieces to complete it. In place of the usual yellow slopes, my son added a disorderly array of towers and walls, making a “funny barn” indeed. But how did he know it was funny? He knew because he knows what a barn ought to be. He’s seen the Duplo barn properly constructed. He’s seen barns in books and barns in real life. He knows how a barn is supposed to look, and, so also knows when a barn looks funny.
Believers should know the truth, as well as my son, knows barns. The contours of truth should be imprinted on our minds and hearts so that we can recognize error when we meet it so that we realize when information strays into falsehood after starting with an apparent truth. In a warning about false teachers, the apostle Paul says that “among them are those who … capture weak women, burdened by sins and led astray by various passions, always learning, and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:6-7). If women are particularly vulnerable to false teaching, as this passage seems to suggest, we should be particularly diligent to avoid it.
However weak we are, however, burdened we may be by sins, however much our passions seek to lead us astray, Christian women have a defense available to us. We have access to the truth and can arrive at the knowledge of it. Jesus, praying for His disciples, said that “[God’s] word is truth,” (John 17:17), and other Scriptures reiterate this: “The sum of your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160). Moreover, Jesus said that He Himself is the truth (John 14:6), and Jesus’s character is revealed through Scripture. If we wish to discern truth from error, it behooves us to know God’s Word.
2. Biblical Illiteracy leaves us vulnerable to sin.
Closely related to vulnerability to error is the danger that springs from it, the danger of ignorantly falling into sin. In Psalm 119:11, the Psalmist explains “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” From this, it seems that knowledge of God’s Word — which here involves committing it to memory — protects against sinning against God. In Psalm 19:11, David shares a similar insight: “Moreover, by them [by God’s law and rules] is your servant warned.” It is easy to think — particularly if we get most of our scripture from Instagram — that God’s Word is primarily for encouragement and comfort, but God’s Word is full of warnings against sin as well. It not only tells us how to live, it tells us how not to live. Those who read and study the Word of God encounter these warnings and, by the grace of God, walk in wisdom and obedience.
The book of Proverbs presents an extended contrast between the way of wisdom and the way of foolishness, demonstrating that wisdom is rooted in “the fear of the Lord,” while “fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs 1:7). God’s Word contains both wisdom and instruction, but too often we demonstrate our folly in neglecting the provision God has made us in His Word, behaving as though we have no need of this help. The outcome of this is not good, “for the simple,” Proverbs says, “are killed by their turning away, and the complacency of fools destroys them” (1:32). We must not trust ourselves and our own hearts as guides; “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Proverbs 14:12). When we measure what seems right to us against the perfection of what God has declared right, we can avoid sin and the destruction that follows it.
In case we need more motivation to bring God’s Word into our fight against sin, even Christ himself, God in human flesh, used Scripture to fight temptation. When Satan attempted to draw Him into sin, Jesus answered each attack with “it is written” (Matthew 4:1-11). The sinless Word who became flesh actually used God’s written Word to silence the tempter. How much more then, should we, frail and sinful people, apply ourselves to scripture, seeing that Jesus demonstrated its sufficiency.
3. Biblical Illiteracy leaves us ignorant of the God we profess to love and serve.
When speaking of the importance of reading God’s Word, my husband likes to use this example: Imagine, he says, if I said I love my wife, but I never listened to her. You can imagine it. He might try to demonstrate his love in acts of service or in gifts, but if he never took the time to hear what I had to say, he might not even know what I liked. Moreover, how could he call it “love” if he didn’t want to hear my mind, understand my thoughts, and take the time to know me as me?
When asked what God’s greatest commandment is, Jesus agreed with the Old Testament: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment” (Matt. 22:37-38). As my husband’s example above illustrates, a huge part of loving is listening. How can we claim to love a God whom we do not know? And how can we know this God apart from what He has revealed to us in His Word?
1 John 4:19 says that “We love because he first loved us.” Where do we learn that He loves us? In the Bible. The Bible puts the fullness of God’s grace, glory, and goodness on display. It demonstrates how God can be perfectly just and extend mercy to sinners. It highlights how the holy, holy, holy God humbled Himself to take on human form, and illumines the love by which our Lord laid down His life for us when we were at war with Him. Would we willfully stay in ignorance of His character when all its riches are revealed in Scripture? At best, that leaves us sincerely loving a God of whom we know very little, impeding our service to Him because we don’t know what He desires. At worst, we risk making God in our own image and falling into idolatry, worshipping a false god because we do not know the true One.
While knowing God’s Word brings great benefits, being ignorant of God’s Word does not simply deprive us of those benefits; it also puts us in grave danger. There’s no neutral area of ignorance in which we are safe from harm. Those who desire to avoid error must cling to the truth found in God’s Word; those who desire to avoid sin must know God’s law, revealed in His Word; those who desire to love the Lord must know Him as He has declared Himself in His word. Fellow Christians, your souls are at stake: know God’s Word, study God’s Word, and walk securely in Christ.