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General Bible Courses > Living by the Book > Studying by the Book

Chapter 8: Applying The Bible Today


IN THIS CHAPTER, you will discover:  

*    The warning signals that accompany disobedience.  

*    The rules of life application.  

*    How to begin using the study techniques you have learned.      

AS A RESULT, you will be able to:  

*    Guard against falling into disobedience.  

*    Evaluate your spiritual growth.  

*    Dissolve spiritual logjams.

Rules of Disobedience

Key Scripture: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (Prov. 3:5-6).

Peter writes that those who receive the washing of baptism acquire “the pledge of a good conscience toward God” (1 Peter 3:21). This is not the end of the Christian life, however, but the beginning. It is our responsibility to keep our consciences clear. We must “fight the good fight, holding on to faith and a good conscience” (1 Tim. 1:18-19). The maintenance of a good conscience is not automatic. Paul described believers who “shipwrecked their faith” (v. 19) and who, through hypocrisy and lying, had their consciences “seared as with a hot iron” (4:2).

This image of searing or branding suggests a cauterization or sealing of the conscience. It evokes the image of people covering their ears and screaming to blot out the voice of the Holy Spirit until deafness results. Within their shell of silence and denial, they are finally alone and finally free. But it is a terrible solitude and an awful freedom. They are imprisoned within the confines of their own self-will — a stagnant and sterile existence unrelieved by spiritual reality. They are free to lie to themselves without the interference — or rejuvenating presence — of truth.

This is a frightening prospect, but one that Scripture would have us contemplate. As we have seen, increased knowledge of spiritual things brings added responsibility and accountability. It is one thing to disobey a king’s order from afar; it is another to disobey it in his presence. As we become more familiar with God and the things of God, our forms of resistance to His Spirit become more subtle and therefore more dangerous. We may seldom openly disobey His commandments, but we may rationalize our way around them or presume upon His grace. In the process our faithfulness may die the “death of a thousand qualifications.” In this lesson we will discuss several rules that will help us recognize subtle forms of disobedience, so that we may remain alert and watchful against them.

Rule Sixteen. Disobedience creates confusion.

If we step out of God’s will, His Spirit will admonish us to make a course correction. If we ignore that admonition and cease to acknowledge Him, He is not able to “direct our paths” (see the Key Scripture). Our “knowing-with” God (the literal meaning of syneidesis, the Greek word for conscience) is disrupted, and confusion results. Disorientation, bewilderment, and fear are the usual companions of disobedience (recall 1 John 4:18). If we are wise, we will regard the presence of these unsettling emotions as clues that something is wrong with us spiritually. Speaking in terms of our driving analogy, we may regard them as “red warning lights” on our spiritual dashboard, alerting us that a malfunction has occurred.

Dr. Gyertson suggests using the “search me” prayer at such times: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me . . . See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24). When God reveals a specific area of disobedience, repent and correct the situation, rendering whatever restitution is appropriate. As you commit yourself to such action, your relationship with God will be reestablished. His guidance and inner assurance will again be present, even in the midst of trial and suffering.

Rule Eighteen. We must refuse to yield to what we know is wrong.

For young children to be emotionally healthy, they must have confidence in the unconditional love and acceptance of their parents. As children get older, however, they test the boundaries of that love to see just how “unconditional” it is. After experiencing God’s grace and forgiveness for years, many Christians develop the same tendency. They become careless about the quality of their relationship with God and lose the earnestness of “first love.” Just as prayer and devotion stab the conscience awake, indifference and creeping sensuality lull it to sleep. But we should be aware that the price paid for spiritual apathy may be quite high. Though God’s grace is free, it is not cheap. True repentance is a matter of brokenness and tears. And though God may forgive our debt of sin, the earthly consequences of sin still fall heavily upon us.

Read David’s story in 2 Samuel 10-11. David knew God well; his heart was enthralled by the beauty of the Lord. God gave him victory over his enemies and established Israel as a world power under him. What did some innocent voyeurism matter to one so favored of God? It was such a small sin — an “acceptable” sin. Yet it led to adultery, deceit, and murder. Although David repented and was forgiven (Ps. 32 and 51), the consequences of his actions broke his family and his kingdom (2 Sam. 12:10-14). His illegitimate child died (vv. 15-18). His sons imitated his deeds of rape and murder (13:1-14; 23-29). His wives were publicly abused (16:21-22). And the God of Israel became an object of scorn to the Gentiles.

Today the name of God continues to be blackened by Christians who allow sin to reign in their lives. Paul used the analogy of yeast to symbolize the power of even the smallest sin to proliferate and destroy lives: “A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough” (1 Cor. 5:6; Gal. 5:9). As the fictitious demon Screwtape advised his nephew Wormwood, the apprentice tempter in The Screwtape Letters, “It does not matter how small the sins are provided that their cumulative effect is to edge the man away from the Light and out into the Nothing. Murder is no better than cards if cards can do the trick. Indeed the safest road to Hell is the gradual one — the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts” (p. 67).

Practicing Your Skills:

1. Is there any area in which you may be rationalizing some sinful behavior? Prayerfully examine this area. Judge your actions and motivation in light of the Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7) and the “sin lists” in Romans 1:29-30; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:9-10; Galatians 5:19-21; and 2 Timothy 3:2-4. Then judge it in light of your conscience. Remember: “Everything that does not come from faith is sin” (Rom. 14:23). Review the Rules of Personal Responsibility in Chapter 7 of the Study Guide. Avoid legalism and recall that Christians are bound only by the law of love.

2. The attitude of the heart is most important in deciding the lawfulness of any issue before you. Are you sincerely willing to abide by whatever guidance God gives? If not, there is a strong chance you may be deluding yourself.

3. Are you experiencing disorientation, confusion, and fear in your life? Use the “search me” prayer described above to discover if these feelings are rooted in unconfessed sin. If they are, follow the steps for reconciliation listed above. If they are not, pray that your faith might be increased so that you may find freedom from fear.

Rules of Life Application

Key Scripture: “Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).

In the verse above Paul described the correct Christian attitude to life using imagery borrowed from Greek athletic competition. Like runners in a marathon, we are to display both endurance and single-mindedness in our journey home to God. The Greek word epekteinomenos, translated “straining toward,” expresses the keen determination of a racer focused on the finish line. Neither external opposition nor inner uncertainty can divert the runner’s attention from the goal.

Mature Christians ought to be similarly disciplined and focused. Their outlook should be prudent and incisive. No matter what challenge arises, they should appropriately respond by living up “to what we have already attained” (v. 16). Each trial calls them to the singular task of practicing the principles of Christian living. In this lesson you will receive some final guidelines for living up to these scriptural principles.

First, we must distinguish between measuring and evaluation in the process of application. If we were orange growers wishing to judge the success of our crop, there are two ways we could proceed. We could count the oranges harvested and measure our success by numbers — quantitatively. Or we could taste several oranges and evaluate our success by the excellence of their flavor — qualitatively.

Spiritual growth cannot be measured quantitatively. The number of chapters we read a day, the length of our prayer time, or the thickness of our Bible study notebooks are not, in and of themselves, reliable evidence of growth. Such indicators must be weighed in light of qualitative questions like: What did I understand? How deeply did I open myself to God? How have I been changed by what I have learned? Only you can truly answer such questions. Others may notice outward changes as you “work out your salvation.” Indeed they may often notice before you. But neither their approval nor their disapproval are accurate measures of your spiritual condition, for “each one should test his own actions” (Gal. 6:4).

Because we are unique, the process of sanctification occurs differently in each of us. We cannot know another person’s motivation or conscience, or the roots of their weaknesses and strengths. For these reasons we are not to judge others (1 Cor. 4:5), nor allow others to judge us (1 Cor. 10:29; Col. 2:16-17). We are even to judge ourselves with caution (1 Cor. 4:3). The most fruitful question to ask in evaluating our spiritual growth is: Are we more loving, more patient, more self-controlled today than we were yesterday? “The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love” (Gal. 5:6). The flowering of an inner joy independent of outward circumstances is a good sign that spiritual growth is occurring.

Second, successful scriptural application is a lifelong process. It takes a lifetime to be conformed to the image of Christ. Only when we see Jesus “face to face” will we become like Him fully (1 Cor. 13:12; cf. 1 John 3:2). But we are, even now, “being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). For those in Christ, eternity has already begun (John 5:24)! And the acts we perform in this life have consequences that affect not only our future and the future of others, but will also color eternity itself.

Dr. Gyertson cautions us not to allow “progress” to limit our enjoyment of “process” in our spiritual journey. The harried pace of modern living causes us to focus anxiously on quotas, deadlines, and the achievement of future ambitions and goals. “Progress living” is directed toward the future. But to taste eternity, we must orient ourselves toward the present. “Process living” is concerned with being and acting in harmony with God’s order now. Only in the stillness of the present moment can we hear God instruct us and then choose to obey. As we obey, time is lifted into eternity and sanctified. In every act of charity the kingdom of God draws near to the world of time. Each act is a miniature spiritual homecoming in which we see God “face to face” and are transformed into His eternal image in some small but real way.

Our journey toward God is a progression of such moments; of tiny but significant homecomings of repentance, forgiveness, understanding, and praise. We must be sensitive to this process in ourselves and others. None of us has arrived, spiritually speaking. We must therefore have patience with those “in process” around us. As Mother Teresa said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.” Be gentle and patient with yourself as well.

Third, God uses people to help us grow. The “Lone Ranger” Christianity of which Dr. Gyertson speaks is an expression of the extreme individualism so idealized in the West. Individualism breeds important virtues such as initiative, confidence, and courage. But when overly stressed, it can blind us to other truths.

One such truth is that our actions affect others. The case of David shows how the sins of a father influenced his sons. Psychologists agree that the most important influence in forming a child’s character is the family environment. Are you being fully accountable to God by caring responsibly for your family and friends?

Another truth is that we need one another, whether or not we dare admit it. Often pride makes it difficult to receive ministry or assistance from others. We become spiritually isolated, and unable to encourage each other and bear one another’s burdens as Scripture commands (Gal. 6:2; Heb. 10:24-25). Are you accountable to your church and to a small group of people who can encourage or rebuke you as the need arises? Are you humble enough to admit your needs to others?

Finally, we need to serve one another. Jesus said to Peter: “Do you love me? … Feed my sheep” (John 21:17). Peter’s vocation is at once our own. It has been said that those who plant a tree knowing that they will never sit under its shade understand what real service is. When we give of ourselves in this way, our actions become truly pleasing to God. We become wonderfully free — free to give with no expectation of reward and free to serve with no hunger for recognition or honor. Such service is the highest form of liberty.

Practicing Your Skills:

1. Describe a time when you experienced definite spiritual growth. What made you aware that growth had occurred? Have you grown spiritually in the last year? How do you evaluate this growth? In what area do you presently need to grow? How do you plan to do so?

2. Evaluate areas of your life in which “progress” eclipses “process.” How can you reverse this? In what ways can you be more patient with others? With yourself?

3. Sometime during the next week ask someone for help, or confide a problem to someone you trust. Do your friends and family members see you as a “helper” also?

Using What You Have Learned

Key Scripture: "The voice of the Lord breaks the cedars; the Lord breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon" (Ps. 29:5).  

An old adage states: "Give a man a fish and you have fed him dinner. Teach a man to fish and you have fed him for a lifetime." If you have studied the lessons and practiced the exercises in "Studying The Book," you have learned a great deal about the Bible. But more important, you have learned how to continue learning. You have acquired a broad repertoire of Bible study techniques that will allow you unending access to new and deeper scriptural knowledge and wisdom. The question that faces you now is where to begin. How should you use your new skills? Should you do a topical study or a book study? What should your topic or focus be? It is easy to become dizzy - even paralyzed - by the possibilities and options before you.  

To ease you into independent Bible study, Dr. Gyertson offers a final helpful analogy. As a boy growing up in northern Ontario, he watched logs floating downriver from the lumber camps to the sawmill. At times, the river would become choked with logs, causing a massive bottleneck. Lumberjacks would attempt to untangle these obstructions with long pikes. The key to unsnarling a logjam was to locate and dislodge the primary log causing the problem. If this log could be worked loose, the obstruction would free itself. Sometimes the problem log would be wedged in so tightly that the lumberjacks would resort to dynamite to blast it loose.   

We often have a similar problem in our spiritual lives. An unending river of grace flows to us from God, surrounding us and working to transform us. God deals with us daily on many levels and in many areas of our lives. But sometimes our will and God's will are at cross-purposes in one of these areas. This can create a blockage, which hinders our reception of God's grace and blessing, and inhibits our spiritual growth. The most important task to which you should apply your Bible study skills is removing the key log that may be jamming up your spiritual life. Martin Luther appreciated the logic of this course of action. He said that it makes no sense to fight a battle any place other than where the battle is raging. How do you locate the logjams in your spiritual life? Here are examples of areas in which they typically occur:   

Relationship Problems. If you feel bitterness toward someone, you need to be reconciled with them. Such feelings sometimes run so deep that they remain unnoticed, especially if they are ingrained from youth. The Bible tells us that bitterness has a very damaging effect on our ability to communicate with God. A biographical study of the life of Joseph may help you appropriate the qualities of forgiveness he showed his brothers. In so doing, you may break your spiritual logjam. You too can be filled with the Spirit and tap the source of divine forgiveness from which Joseph drew (Gen. 41:38).  

Faith Problems. We can be bitter toward God as well as toward others. Perhaps you have trusted God for something, stepped out upon the waves in faith, and floundered. If you have looked about, comparing your suffering with that of others, and cried, "Why me, Lord?" you are not alone. A book study of Job may help you better understand the mystery of why God allows suffering. Actively ask questions like: What are the sources of suffering? How many kinds of suffering are there? Must we allow fear and anxiety (or any emotion) to create suffering in us? What are the negative and positive ways that suffering can affect us? How should we respond to suffering? What did the suffering of Christ signify for us as Christians? Use topical studies or word studies to find biblical answers to these questions.   

As you read the book of Job, compare God's view of suffering with Satan's view, with the views of Job's three friends, and with Elihu's view. As we mature in faith, we learn, like Job, to love God for who He is, not because of our external circumstances. As we are "crucified with Christ," we experience God's presence with us in the midst of suffering. Through Christ, He shares, redeems, and transforms our suffering. We realize that suffering cannot strip us of our joy or hope as long as we continue to abide in Christ. With this realization we attain victory over suffering and are reconciled to God.  

Besetting Sin. This is perhaps the most common spiritual logjam. We all have an Achilles' heel that Satan exploits to frustrate God's will for us. Word, topical, and biograpical studies may be used to expose our particular besetting sin and to reveal the God-defeating and self-defeating influence it has in our lives. A biographical study of Saul, for example, will show how reliance on occult knowledge displeases God and undermines His authority. A biographical study of Ananias and Sapphira will illustrate how greed leads to lying and idolatry. As you research your besetting sin, be sensitive to the way in which saying "yes" to that sin quenches spiritual growth in your life. Sin is not only an offense against God but also self-deception and self-betrayal. Correctly understood, sin is self-annihilation rather than self-fulfillment.  Spiritual sincerity and obedience are  the  true  paths  toward self-fulfillment and heaven.

Lack of Guidance. We all sometimes feel lost and in need of God's direction. We may be at an important crossroad, such as a decision involving marriage or a career. Or we may simply lack a sense of peace about our present situation (Isa. 48:17-18). In either case, God's guidance does not come automatically; it must be sought. You must learn to be dissatisfied with the stale water of your own wisdom before you can desire the living water of God's direction (Jer. 2:13). Remain constantly attentive to God's guidance, or "your wickedness will punish you; your backsliding will rebuke you" (Jer. 2:19). Awe of the Lord is the best compass (James 3:17). Topical studies, word studies, and biographical studies of figures such as Abraham, Moses, or Paul will instruct you about how God guides His people.  

Lack of Discipline. Failure to discipline ourselves is a more subtle type of spiritual logjam. God demands not only obedience from us, but also growth. C. S. Lewis compared God to a dentist who is not satisfied merely to relieve our toothaches; He insists on extracting our decaying teeth! God is not satisfied with "good" people. He aims for nothing less than perfection (Matt. 5:48). He wants to remove all the causes of sin and misery from our hearts. If the image of God as a cosmic dentist is somewhat disturbing, think of Him as a parent. No good father or mother would be satisfied to see their child barely able to walk or speak. They want the child to run, read, write, and create. God, like a good earthly parent, is easy to please, but hard to satisfy. He is undoubtedly speaking to you about the next stage on your journey to perfection. Are you listening? If not, you may be feeling spiritually "blocked" and lack a sense of God's peace and favor.  

The categories listed above are only a few of the areas in which spiritual logjams occur. How should you decide where to focus your attention in clearing such logjams? It is probably best to go with your initial feeling or impression. God has promised to give us a spirit of self-discipline and a sound mind (2 Tim. 1:7). When you have completed the final lesson, close the Study Guide and start using the Bible study skills you have acquired to "dynamite" your spiritual logjam. Share your knowledge with others, so that they too may interpret and apply Scripture to their specific needs (2 Tim. 2:2). God bless you in your efforts to live and grow according to His principles!  

Practicing Your Skills:   1. Define on paper the character of your spiritual logjam. Be honest and follow your first impression. You may not be ready to deal with the problem at present, but that's all right. Hand over your resistance to God. Allow Him to change your will as you search the scriptures.

Take the quiz

Quiz Instructions

Review Questions

1. Disorientation, bewilderment, and fear are signs of ____________________.



2. “Knowing-with” God is the literal meaning of syneidesis, the Greek word for “______________________.”



3. Paul used the analogy of ________________ to symbolize the power of sin.



4. __________________ and devotion stab the conscience awake; indifference and creeping sensuality lull it to sleep.



5. True or False. When we receive forgiveness from sin, we are relieved from its earthly consequences.



6. Though God’s grace is free, it is not ________________.



7. We must evaluate spiritual growth ________________ rather than quantitatively.


In reality

8. True or False. The more scripture we read every day, the greater will be our spiritual growth.



9. _____________________ is a process that occurs differently in each of us.



10. An inner sense of _________ is a sign that spiritual growth is occurring.



11. For those in Christ, ___________________ has already begun.



12. When we can give and serve without thought of _______________, we experience freedom.



13. We should practice ____________ living to achieve optimum spiritual growth.



14. “If you ______________ people, you will have no time to love them.”



15. True or False. We can taste eternity by orienting ourselves to the present.



16. When in need of guidance, awe of the Lord is the best ________-deception.



17. True or False. Individualistic Christians often have a hard time receiving ministry from others.



18. All sin is not only an offense against God but also _____________________.



19. God is not satisfied with simply making us “good” people; He aims for nothing less than our ________________.



20. We are to love God for who He is, not because of our external _______________.



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