Thursday, November 13, 2014

Some Thoughts on Application


 As we have been studying Colossians together on Wednesday nights, I’ve been encouraged by the thoughtfulness of the participants as we have sought to apply the Scriptures to everyday life.  Thus far, we have only studied the more doctrinal sections of the book, and yet everyone has offered helpful insights into how those sections can be applied to real life. 
Unfortunately, many in the modern church do not take Bible study to its proper final step of application.  How easy it is to study a passage intently and diligently, to find its proper interpretation, to thank God for His beautiful truth, and then to walk away with nothing but a bigger head and duller heart. You know, the devil can use God’s Word as a tool to work pride ever deeper into our hearts, and he does that by tempting us to focus on the process of study and not the goal of study.  Most of us have probably fallen for this trick at some point in our Christian lives.

What is the goal of Bible study? Some may be tempted to say “knowledge.”  Bible knowledge is a good thing as long as it produces something else, but it is not the ultimate goal.  Others may say, “a transformed life” or “sanctification.”  This also is good, but it is not the main thing.  The ultimate end of all things, including bible study, is the glory of God.  How does bible study glorify God?  Through the knowledge we attain, we apply the Scriptures to our lives which causes us to grow in Christlikeness which brings glory to God (Matt 5:14-16).
 The Holy Spirit has given us the Holy Word for the purpose of knowing God and being transformed into the image of the Son for His glory. That goal – that God would be glorified – should be kept at the forefront of our minds as we study the Bible. Our desire to understand should serve our desire to become more like Christ, which should serve our desire for God to be glorified. If I find myself studying and digging into the Scriptures simply to have a better grasp of doctrine rather than to be sanctified for His glory, I need to spend some time on my knees confessing that and asking for a heart that hungers for much to be made of Him.  God is not glorified in my study until application has happened.  

Once we have interpreted a passage soundly, our final question should be, “how do I live this?” 2 Tim 3:16 is a helpful guide for breaking down truth to see how it should be applied: All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.

Teaching is doctrine. It is what the Word says about any given subject. The epistles are heavy in teaching. Let’s use Ephesians as an example. The first three chapters are all doctrinal teaching. How do you apply that? Well, one common misconception about application is that we have to do something external in order to obey the Word. But sometimes what we really need to do is change our thinking on a certain issue. For example, Ephesians 1 makes a very strong case for the absolute sovereignty of God. He chose us (v4) and predestined us (v5) according to his purpose (v9) and plan (v10), and He is working all things after the counsel of His will (v11). How do I apply that? By deciding to believe it and incorporate it into my understanding of God. I obey that truth by accepting it.

The same could be said for the depravity and inability of man in chapter 2. Man is unwilling and unable to turn from His sin (vv1-3). His faith is a gracious gift from God (v8). The whole of his salvation and sanctification is God’s work (v10). How do I apply this? By believing that my salvation has nothing to do with my own will to follow Christ. I believed because it was given to me to believe. So I humble myself and give all glory to God. That’s application.

Reproof and Correction work together to expose our sin and to correct our course. When we arrive at a proper interpretation of any passage, we should pray that the Holy Spirit would reveal to us where we are missing the mark in relation to the truths we’ve found. When we hold that text up to our lives like a mirror, we may find that we are thinking ungodly thoughts, exhibiting ungodly attitudes, harboring ungodly desires, or engaging in ungodly acts. Sin is not simply outward actions. We can be in grievous sin without showing any visible signs. It is important to prayerfully meditate on the truths we found, using them like a torch to expose any iniquity in our lives. We then apply that truth through confession, repentance, seeking forgiveness, putting off & putting on, and renewal of the mind.   

Training in righteousness refers to positive instruction from God’s Word. The text we have studied may not show that we are in sin, but it may give us promises, exhortations, or warnings. If there are promises, we cherish them. If there are exhortations, we follow them. If there are warnings, we heed them. If there are positive examples in the lives of biblical characters, we emulate them. If there are negative examples in the lives of biblical characters, we learn from them. We seek to use these truths to discipline ourselves for the purpose of godliness like an athlete running so as to win the prize (1 Tim 4:7; 1 Cor 9:24-27).

Studying the Bible is hard work. It takes much time, energy, and commitment. But once we have finished the process of actual study and begin to apply truth to our lives, the work has only begun. …work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure (Phil 2:12-13).

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