Some study the Bible and enjoy great spiritual growth and maturity. Others study it but grow little if at all. What makes the difference? How can you be one who grows in spiritual understanding? The key is to live what you learn!
Just because a person begins with a humble attitude and proceeds to reading and studying the Scriptures intently doesn't mean he will continue this approach and gain the understanding he seeks.
The Bible shows that some who come to an understanding of certain basic revealed spiritual truths will lose that comprehension because they do not act on them. By rejecting knowledge revealed by God, they choose to exalt their own point of view over that of their Creator. They no longer allow the mirror of God's Word to show them what they need to change (James 1:22-25).
On the other hand, those who faithfully persist in the right approach and remain dedicated to learning from Scripture will continue to grow spiritually and will be richly blessed in the end.
Understanding and obedience reinforce each other
As we saw up front, we must approach God with a prayerful, humble attitude—one desiring to learn and heed His instructions. This right attitude leads to obedience of His laws, which form much of the foundation of the Bible.
Psalm 119:34 expresses this proper motivation: "Give me understanding, and I shall keep your law; indeed I shall observe it with my whole heart."
We see, then, that applying what we learn from God's Word is necessary, along with a humble approach. In fact, we must begin to live what we learn for God to grant us continued understanding.
If we refuse to accept the understanding God reveals to us, He ceases to give us more of it. God explains this principle: "My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you . . ." (Hosea 4:6).
For us to understand the Bible, we must first learn about and respect God's law. We see a summary of this principle in Psalm 111:10: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; a good understanding have all those who do His commandments." So if we really want to come to better understand the Bible, we need to heed and follow what we already understand—and change our ways accordingly as we learn more.
Paul emphasizes this point in Romans 2:13: "For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified." If a person studies the Bible just to hear what it says, but not to do what it commands, he is not pleasing God and cannot expect His help. After all, why should God reveal greater understanding to a person who has demonstrated that he won't follow what God has already shown him?
Sadly, many think Jesus Christ came to do away with the law, but He denied this in the strongest terms. "Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets," He warned. "I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled" (Matthew 5:17-18).
Jesus did not mean He would obey the law so we wouldn't have to, as some think. Rather, His teaching and personal example would fill up the meaning of God's laws—showing their full spiritual intent—beyond the mere letter. In the same message, Christ showed that God's laws are binding on even our thoughts—not just our actions. His "fulfilling" of the law—filling it up to its fullest intent—was to show us what the law truly requires of us.
To those who followed Him, but did not obey God's laws, He said, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven" (Matthew 7:21). Christ expected His followers to deeply respect God's commandments, just as He always respected and obeyed them. His view was clear: "If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love" (John 15:10). Christ's teachings uphold God's commandments. They do not do away with them.
The apostle Peter said this of people who desire to receive the Holy Spirit, a requirement for more fully understanding the Scriptures: "And we are His witnesses to these things, and so also is the Holy Spirit [which] God has given to those who obey Him" (Acts 5:32).
Therefore, to understand revealed spiritual truths requires the vital key of faithful obedience to God's perfect laws and instruction as shown in Holy Scripture.
Though obedience is necessary for continued spiritual understanding, this does not mean that obedience entitles us to salvation. God alone, through His grace and mercy, forgives sin, grants us help to overcome and offers salvation as a gift. However, God does expect us to do our part while He fulfills the rest. James emphasized this principle: "Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he [as an act of obedience] offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?" (James 2:21-22).
The many benefits of obedience will quickly manifest themselves to the doer. "Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good," wrote King David (Psalm 34:8). Jesus Christ said, "Whoever chooses to do the will of God will know whether my teaching comes from him or is merely my own" (John 7:17, Revised English Bible). Following through with humble, willing obedience is the litmus test!
Holding on to what we learn
Finally, we must hold fast to what God reveals to us. Proverbs 23:23 tells us, "Buy the truth, and do not sell it [away]." The New Century Version renders this as "Learn the truth and never reject it." The idea here is to expend our resources and efforts in learning truth—and once we've learned it to not let anything entice or compel us to part with it.
Jesus illustrated, in His explanation of the parable of the sower, why some will understand while others will not: "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that 'Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.'
"Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But the ones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.
"Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience" (Luke 8:10-15).
In Christ's words, these are some of the reasons people fail to grow in spiritual understanding. Most do not persevere in God's Word because of negligence, lack of faith or a self-centered rather than godly outlook.
We must develop an enduring love for the truth of God as revealed in Scripture—a love that will drive us to always study and follow it.
Warning of an apostasy—a defection from truth—to come in the future, in which many would follow a false religious figure, the apostle Paul spoke of "unrighteous deception among those who perish, because they did not receive the love of the truth . . . And for this reason God will send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie, that they all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness" (2 Thessalonians 2:9-12).
He then exhorted the Church, "Therefore, brethren, stand fast and hold the traditions which you were taught, whether by word or our epistle" (2 Thessalonians 2:15).
This is exactly what we must do—faithfully stick to the teachings of God's Word. That means loving the truth enough to deeply study and internalize it—and, of course, to follow it. With God's help, we can persevere and make it a deeply ingrained part of our lives.
What about you? Are you prepared to humble yourself before God and seek His will as revealed in the Bible? Are you willing to commit to lifelong learning from its pages? And will you embrace what you learn and continue to ask God's help in holding on to what is right and true?
Those of us in the United Church of God are here to help you in any way we can. It is our heartfelt desire that you come to really know "the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 3:15).
Like Paul said in Colossians 1:9-10, we "do not cease to pray for you, and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of [God's] will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding; that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God."
Use these keys to biblical understanding to be fruitful and increase in the priceless knowledge of God!