Over the last seven weeks, we have laid a rock-solid foundation for spiritual growth by taking a tour de force of the Bible’s teaching on how we grow as Christians into the likeness of Christ.1 In these final two articles, I want to end by providing a practical treatment of the specific means God has provided for Christians to pursue sanctification. Question 89 of the Westminster Short Catechism asks, “How is the word made effectual to salvation?” The Shorter Catechism’s answer is quite revealing when it says that “the Spirit of God makes the reading, but especially the preaching of the word, an effectual means of convincing and converting sinners, and of building them up in holiness and comfort through faith unto salvation.”
Seeing Without Seeing, Reading Without Reading
While an entire book could be written on how the word is made effectual unto salvation through preaching, I want to instead home in on how the word is made effectual through the reading, studying, memorizing, and meditating of the word of God. Although your familiarity with this topic may tempt you to check out, I want to humbly submit to you that when it comes to reading God’s word, all Christians, to one degree or another, either have a seeing or a savoring problem.2 Some Christians, when it comes to Bible reading, have a seeing problem. That is they read without seeing rightly. They read but do not seeing the beauty and glory of Christ in the Scriptures. They read without really reading, they see without really seeing. When they read the Scriptures, it is often at a cursory level and therefore what they see often appears in black and white rather than full color. And the reason for this, often times, is simple—they read with a deep-seated pride of believing that they already know what it says even before they have read a word.
Understanding Without Savoring
Others have a savoring problem. These Christians are not cursory readers and often times may understand intellectually what is written. However, despite having a profound knowledge of the truth they do not savor it truly. Although they might be able to articulate the truths of Scripture, the beauty and glory of Christ in the Scriptures has not moved their affections to savor him in worship.
Four Habits for Seeing and Savoring God in Bible Reading
However, God’s design is that we see and savor the glory of God through the Scriptures. To that end, I want to commend to you four essential habits (one major one this week, three next week) to increasingly cultivate in order to see and savor the glory of God in the Scriptures. I’ve chosen those words increasingly and cultivate intentionally. For cultivate underscores that it takes work to acquire these habits and increasingly highlights that the cultivating is a process.
Depend on God to See and Savor Glorious Truth
First, we must humbly depend on God to open our eyes and hearts to see and savor what’s really there. By nature we don’t instinctively see the glorious truths of the Scripture. As John Owen says , “there is a light in the word…but there is by nature a covering, a veil, on the eyes of the understanding of all men, so that they are not able of themselves to behold the light,.” Therefore, we must, with the Psalmist plead with the Lord to “open [our] eyes, that [we] may behold wondrous things out of [God’s] law.3 Why do I say a “humble” dependence? As Psalm 25:9 says “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way” John Owen explains “Pride is a very great obstacle to the entering of divine light.” And the reason for this, as Edwards points out, is that it “hinders men from seeing the excellency of God [because it] set up themselves as the most excellent.”4
This reality challenges us to ask, “do I believe God can my eyes?” John Piper gives a cutting testimony of how most Christians answer this question. He says, many “people feel that the absence of the desire is the last nail in the coffin of joyful meditation on God’s word.” They believe “there is nothing they can do about the absence of desire.” He notes that “the problem with this response is that these folks have not just lost desire for God’s word, but they have lost sight of the sovereign power of God, who gives that desire. They are acting like practical atheists. They have adopted a kind of fatalism that ignores the way the psalmist prays” when he says, “Incline my heart to your testimonies.” Given this, what is the solution? In the absence of desire and with full conviction that ultimately God is sovereign over the desires of the heart, we must “[plead] with God to give us him desire for the word” and “[call] on God to cause what [we] cannot make happen on [our] own.”5
Bible Reading in the Strength God Supplies
In short, our Bible reading, like everything else is done not by our own efforts, striving, or skill, but “in the strength God supplies” (1 Peter 4:11). As we call out to Him, asking him to change our affections with greater love for His word, God actively works new affections in us. God is not indifferent to our growing in love for His word. No, He is actively working to bring about a love for His word. And because we believe that God’s grace is effectual grace, that He can and does accomplish what He desires to complete, we can have confidence that “he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion” (Phil. 1:6) according to His will in Christ.
The reality that ultimately only God can change our hearts does not nullify our efforts, but it empowers them. It encourages us to know he is working in and through us to accomplish and create new affections with love for Christ. Someone once said to Charles Spurgeon that “he did the work of two men”; to which Spurgeon replied, “you forget, there are two of us.” Indeed, we strive for new affections for God’s word not in isolation, but with the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead working in us to create life out of deadness (Rom. 8:11). Again, the crucial question is—do you believe this? Ask God for the faith to embrace this God-besotted reality that although we are powerlessness to increase our love for God’s word, God can and will create new affections in us as we plead with Him to fan them into flame.
1 This article is an expand and updated version of one section of Greg Salazar, “Growing in Christ-likeness,” in Joel R. Beeke, ed., Growing in Grace (Grand Rapids: Reformation Heritage Books, 2020).
2 As the footnotes reveal this entire final section is heavily indebted to John Piper’s masterful treatment of this subject in his Reading the Bible Supernaturally: Seeing and Savoring the Glory of God in Scripture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017).
3 John Owen, The Works of John Owen, 16 vols., (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1965), 4:130.
4 Jonathan Edwards, Sermons and Discourses 1723–1729, Vol. 14 in Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Kenneth P. Minkema (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997), p.87
5 Piper, Reading the Bible Supernaturally, p.255