Part One

Preparing for Applications

Chapter One

Why Apply?

l “Let’s get going, everyone, or we’ll be late!” Bill calls up the stairs. “I’ll get the car, warmed up.” After a couple of impatient honks of the car horn, Joanne, Billy, Sarah, and Todd pile into the minivan. Quickly Bill backs out of the drive and heads for church. He has to be there early this Sunday to interview new members ... and then there’s choir ... and worship ... and Sunday school (he and Joanne teach the junior high class). Bill and his family are immersed in church activities. Bill is a leader there—confident, capable, spiritual, and available—everybody knows they can count on him.

But Bill’s not so sure. Inside he carries self-doubts and worries about the future that he hasn’t shared with anyone, not even Joanne. The pressure has been building at the office, and Bill is afraid that he’ll be the next to be let go. He may be a success at church, but he feels like a failure at work.

l After hearing a dynamic tape on the importance of studying God’s Word, Sally was determined to have a daily quiet time. So she sets her daily alarm at 6 A.M. and reads for a half hour before getting dressed. So far, she’s only missed two days in six weeks (she was sick). Gwen, her roommate, has really been impressed with Sally’s discipline and “spirituality,” and she has said so on several occasions.

Sally wonders, however, if she’s doing something wrong. The daily readings are beginning to feel like drudgery ... work. She just doesn’t seem to connect with Scripture. And she sure doesn’t feel very spiritual the rest of the day.

l Ruth is known for her contagious smile and warm words. She seems to be on a first-name basis with everyone in the neighborhood and church. People often compliment Ruth on her gifts of hospitality and encouragement. “How can she always be so ’up’?” one friend commented.

While Ruth is succeeding “out there,” she really struggles at home. Constant bickering with a teenage daughter and arguments with her husband leave her frustrated and discouraged.

l An honor student and varsity basketball player, Tim is the picture of the all-American boy. He is also an active member of the church youth group and a Christian club on campus, and he is very serious about his faith. Tim has grown up in the church and knows all the Christian vocabulary.

But Tim wants to know how to bring what has been taught in church and what he believes about Christianity into his everyday life. At school it seems as if he is bombarded by questions about popularity, sex, the future, and morality. On Sundays, Tim sits in the back of the church and wonders.

Do you recognize any of those people? Although you may have never met Bill, Sally, Ruth, or Tim, you probably know many just like them. Or maybe you recognize yourself in one of the descriptions. These men and women are typical Christians—they are what our churches are made of—needy people, some desperate, looking for help.

Where can they find the truth about life? Where can they find guidance and direction for how to act at work, home, and school? Where can they find comfort in time of need? For Christians, the answer is obvious, almost too obvious—it has been repeated from pulpits, in Sunday services and classes, and in evangelical literature for centuries—in the Bible.

After all, the Bible is God’s Word, and “whatever God says to us is full of living power: it is sharper than the sharpest dagger, cutting swift and deep into our innermost thoughts and desires with all their parts, exposing us for what we really are” (Hebrews 4:12).

God gave his Word to us through the Bible writers—"For no prophecy recorded in Scripture was ever thought up by the prophet himself. It was the Holy Spirit within these godly men who gave them true messages from God” (2 Peter 1:20-21).

So, “the whole Bible was given to us by inspiration from God and is useful to teach us what is true and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives; it straightens us out and helps us do what is right. It is God’s way of making us well prepared at every point, fully equipped to do good to everyone” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Clearly, then, the Bible is the answer. Through the years, millions of people have realized that fact and have made the Bible the best-selling book in history. And many people own several Bibles.

Unfortunately, the overwhelming number of people who own Bibles don’t read them much. According to research by the Barna Research Group , 93 percent of all the households in America own one or more Bibles. But of this group, 57 percent do not read the Bible at all during a typical week. The number one reason given for not reading the Bible is the perception of irrelevance. In other words, most people, even those who own Bibles, don’t believe that the Bible has anything to say about today, their society, and their lives. “After all,” they reason, “the Bible was written hundreds (some books, thousands) of years ago, to a land and culture thousands of miles away. The Bible is an ancient book. What can it possibly have to say to me?” So they don’t even crack the covers.

Of course, reading is just the first, most basic, step. Next, the Bible must be understood. Let’s say that someone decides that the Bible does, in fact, have a message for today. Here we encounter another perceived barrier—31 percent of all adults in America say that the Bible is too difficult to understand. Perhaps they remember seeing as a child the huge, old, dusty family Bible on Grandma’s coffee table—it was mysterious ... and heavy. They may remember hearing a minister reading the King James Version from the pulpit, and they didn’t know what many of the words meant. Maybe they tried reading the Bible themselves and stumbled over the thees, thous, and wouldests or got lost trying to find Obadiah. They may even have tried to understand Scripture by using Bible reference books, but the tiny print just explained facts—words such as wormwood, Septuagint, Pentateuch, and Ammonites—when they wanted to know about worry, stress, peer pressure, and anger. Whatever the barrier, many obstacles keep these motivated people from understanding.

Others, like Bill, Sally, Ruth, and Tim, read the Bible and understand much of what it is saying. But, as we have seen, for these folks something still is missing. There's a gap between the Scripture they read and the lives they live.

I grew up in a very strong evangelical church. We believed in the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. In Sunday school I sang, “The B-I-B-L-E, yes, that’s the book for me; I stand alone on the Word of God, the B-I-B-L-E.” Each summer I went to DVBS (Daily Vacation Bible School). Each spring, I memorized verses to earn my way to church camp. I competed in Bible quizzes. And over the years, I heard a steady stream of sermons from God’s Word. Certainly I was convinced of the inspiration of Scripture, and as much as possible, I was a student of the Word. I knew a lot about the Bible and a lot in the Bible. I read and understood God’s Word. But something was missing for me as well. I found it easy to relegate the Bible to the “spiritual” area of my life—my Sunday and church world. But rarely did the truth of the Bible touch the rest of my world—school, friends, work, even family.

James wrote about this kind of problem: “And remember, it is a message to obey, not just to listen to. So don’t fool yourselves. For if a person just listens and doesn’t obey, he is like a man looking at his face in a mirror; as soon as he walks away, he can’t see himself anymore or remember what he looks like. But if anyone keeps looking steadily into God’s law for free men, he will not only remember it but he will do what it says, and God will greatly bless him in everything he does” (James 1:22-25). According to James, then, we are to do what the Bible says, not just read and understand it.

In commenting on the purpose of the Old Testament Scriptures, Paul wrote: “All these things happened to them as examples—as object lessons to us—to warn us against doing the same things; they were written down so that we could read about them and learn from them in these last days as the world nears its end” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Paul was saying that reading the Bible should affect the way we live.

And listen to what the prophet Isaiah told God’s people: “Won’t even one of you apply these lessons from the past and see the ruin that awaits you up ahead?” (Isaiah 42:23).

It is clear from James, Paul, and Isaiah that we are supposed to be doers of God’s Word and not just hearers of it. But how can we tell how well we are applying the Bible? Consider the following five steps in the application process:

1.READ—open the Bible and read a passage; get a general idea of the story

2.UNDERSTAND—know what all the words mean; learn the facts; see the concepts

3.COMPREHEND—find the biblical principles, the timeless truths that God wants to communicate

4.APPLY—see myself in the story and how the biblical principles relate to my life; make the timeless truths timely; see what God wants me to do

5.DO—design an action plan; obey God and put into practice now what he has taught me in his Word

These steps are necessary to bring the Bible to life. Each step is important; action that isn’t based on God’s Word may be misdirected, wasted, or even harmful. On the other hand, merely reading the Bible is of some profit, but it misses the purpose for which it was written. Step 1, reading, is the bare minimum. Step 5, doing, is the goal. Consider where you would place yourself on these steps. Which word most closely describes your relationship with Scripture? Where do you tend to get stuck?

The key step between the Bible and life is apply. That’s where the truths of Scripture begin to move beyond statements of fact or principles. Simply defined, apply means putting knowledge to practical and specific use. So biblical application means allowing the truth of Scripture to penetrate our lives, to make a difference in how we live.

We need to apply God’s Word ...

Because of who God is: God knows us and he knows everything about us, our talents, potential, gifts, fears, and foibles. No one knows us better than God. Not only that, God loves us and wants the very best for us. It only makes sense to discover God’s will—and we will settle for less than the best without it.

Because of who we are: We are finite and fallible ... and sinful. We can’t see the future, we don’t know ourselves very well, and we easily forget the past. Left to our own devices, we stumble, fall, and fail. We need help. We need direction. We need wisdom. We need encouragement. We need answers.

Because of the way the world is: Our world is fallen, filled with sin and sinful people and ruled by Satan. It is filled with temptations, questions, pressures, and pitfalls. God doesn’t want to remove us from the world; he wants to use us to make a difference in the world (John 17:13-18). God wants to work in us and through us to reach others.

Simply put, we need to know what God wants us to do, and then we need to do it!

This book will help you understand God’s Word and then show you how you can apply it to your life. In the course of our study, we will remove some barriers, explode some misconceptions, and explain clearly what Bible application is. Then we will discover two Bible study methods. In one we’ll climb a Pyramid, and in the other we’ll look through a Window. The ultimate goal is to give you the tools to dig into God’s Word, mine for applications, and bring the treasure home—in short, to help you bring the Bible to your life.

In the next chapter we will take a closer look at application.

Working It Through

Take a moment to assess your relationship with God’s Word. Circle the number that is most appropriate for each step.

1. READ—I can read a passage in the Bible and get a general idea of the story. In reading the Bible, I am:

1—bad

2—poor

3—all right

4—good

5—very good

I think I can improve my Bible reading skill by:




2. UNDERSTAND—When I read the Bible, I can figure out what the words mean, learn the facts, and see the concepts. In understanding the Bible, I am:

1—bad

2—poor

3—all right

4—good

5—very good

I can probably improve my Bible understanding by:




3. COMPREHEND—As I study the Bible, I can find biblical principles, the timeless truths that God is trying to communicate. In comprehending the timeless truths of the Bible, my skill level is:

1—bad

2—poor

3—all right

4—good

5—very good

My Bible comprehension probably could be improved by:




4. APPLY—When I read and study the Bible, I can see myself in the story; I can see how the biblical principles relate to my life, and I can see what God wants me to do. My skill in applying Bible truths to my life is:

1—bad

2—poor

3—all right

4—good

5—very good

I think I can improve my application skills by:




5. DO—Based on my study of the Bible, I can design an action plan to obey God and put into practice now what he has taught me in his Word. In doing what I learn from God’s Word, I am:

1—bad

2—poor

3—all right

4—good

5—very good

I’m pretty sure that I could improve my doing skills by:

6. I need to apply God’s Word to my life because ...

Chapter at a Glance

To bring the Bible to life I must:

l Read l Understand l Comprehend l Apply l Do

I need to apply God’s Word:

l Because of who God is

l Because of who I am

l Because of the way the world is

—How to Apply the Bible