God wants every believer to be like His Son, Jesus Christ. Paul wrote, "Those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son" (Romans 8:29). The transformation of your life into the likeness of Jesus Christ will enable you to join in fulfilling creation's eternal purpose—to glorify the Creator.
Conformity to Christ is a lifelong process which is completed only when you pass into God's presence. Paul described this process: "All of us, with faces uncovered, because we continue to reflect like mirrors the splendor of the Lord, are being transformed into likeness to Him, from one degree of splendor to another, since it comes from the Lord who is the Spirit" (2 Corinthians 3:18, WMS).
Bible study is a vital part of this process. If you will study God's Word faithfully, pray for understanding, and diligently apply the Scriptures to your experience and daily walk, your life will change and increasingly glorify God.
Many spiritual truths have thought-provoking parallels in the physical world. Take, for example, a thirsty person coming to a well. Before he can quench his thirst, he must let down the bucket, draw the water, and then take a drink.
God's Word is able to satisfy the spiritually dry and thirsty person, even as Jesus promised "living water" to the woman by the well in Samaria. First, however, he must study the Bible to draw out its truths, then personally apply them to his own life.
Drawing the water compares to the academic study of God's Word. Good study methods and habits help us toward proper understanding and application of Scripture. The Apostle Paul wrote to a coworker, "Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth" (2 Timothy 2:15).
Drinking the water compares to believing and applying God's Word. James stated, "The man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:25).
THE CHARACTERISTICS OF BIBLE STUDY
Personal Bible study that is life-changing is not something that is done haphazardly. A study that is meaningful, applicable, and life-affecting will have the following five main characteristics.
It Must Be Systematic and Consistent
Jesus explained the Scriptures systematically (Luke 24:27), and the Berean Jews evaluated the Gospel they heard by its consistency with Scripture (Acts 17:11). Your study must also be systematic and consistent. R. A. Torrey, great Bible teacher of another generation, advised, "Have some good system of Bible study and follow it. System counts in everything, but it counts more in study than in anything else, and it counts more in Bible study than in any other form of study."
It Must Be Original Investigation in the Bible Itself
Personal Bible study does not depend on what others have said about the Scriptures, but must involve the student in the Bible itself. Again Torrey urges, "Do not study about the Bible; study the Bible." Libraries of books have been written about the Bible, but there is only one Bible. So go to the source. As you study, compare Scripture with Scripture. One portion of it sheds light on another, enriching your Bible study experience and answering your questions.
It Must Be a Written Reproduction of Your Findings
An important part of the learning process is reproducing in your own words what you have studied. Dawson Trotman, founder of The Navigators, said, "Thoughts disentangle themselves passing over the lips or through the pencil tips." If you want to master the truths of Scripture, write them down in your own words.
It Must Be Personally Applied to Daily Living
You need to follow the psalmist's example when he wrote, "I thought on my ways, and turned my feet unto Thy testimonies. I made haste, and delayed not to keep Thy commandments" (Psalm 119:59-60, KJV). The Scriptures are the means by which the Holy Spirit changes our lives, but in this ministry He needs our cooperation.
It Must Be "Pass-on-able"
A good personal Bible study method is one that is simple enough to be easily passed on. Teaching someone else how to study the Bible for himself is far better than sharing what you have received from your own study, though that is helpful too.
(These five characteristics of Bible study are drawn from the ministry of Lorne C. Sanny, former president of The Navigators.)
AS YOU BEGIN
Good Bible study methods alone cannot guarantee a changed life. The Bible can be understood fully only with the aid of the Holy Spirit. Apart from a growing personal relationship with God, the academic study of the Word will produce little change. Some important steps of personal preparation are necessary.
A Cleansed Life
Refusing to deal with sin in your life breaks fellowship with God. The secret of restored fellowship and the cleansed life is very simple. John tells us what we should do: "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness" (1 John 1:9). Before beginning your Bible study, stop and confess to God any known sins.
Prayer for Illumination
Since understanding the Scripture can come only through the illuminating ministry of the Holy Spirit, you need to follow the example of the psalmist when he prayed, "Praise be to you, O Lord; teach me your decrees.... Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.... Let me understand the teaching of your precepts; then I will meditate on your wonders.... Direct me in the path of your commands, for there I find delight" (Psalm 119:12, 18, 27, 35).
Dependence on the Holy Spirit
One of the Holy Spirit's ministries is to teach Christians the truths from the Bible. Jesus promised, "The Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you" (John 14:26). Paul declared, "We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us" (1 Corinthians 2:12). You must rely on His instructions, following Solomon's wise advice, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding" (Proverbs 3:5).
Willingness to Obey
Jesus pointed out that a prerequisite to knowing the truth is willingness to obey the truth. "If anyone chooses to do God's will, he will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own" (John 7:17). The one who is willing to obey will receive God's instruction.