Excerpt from Life with God Spiritual Formation Bible

God, in sov­er­eign grace and out­ra­geous love, has giv­en us a writ­ten rev­e­la­tion of who he is and what his pur­pos­es are for human­i­ty. And God has cho­sen to accom­plish this great work through his peo­ple on earth. This writ­ten rev­e­la­tion now resides as a mas­sive fact at the heart of human his­to­ry. There is, sim­ply, no book that is remote­ly close to achiev­ing the sig­nif­i­cance and influ­ence of the Bible. It is tru­ly The Book” (hay Biblos).

But the intrin­sic pow­er and great­ness of the Bible often make it dif­fi­cult for us to receive the life it offers. The aver­age Bible con­sumer,” pub­lish­ing research tells us, owns nine Bibles and is look­ing for more. This is mute but pow­er­ful tes­ti­mo­ny to a deep and abid­ing sense of lack — a sense that we have not real­ly achieved a grasp of the Bible that is ade­quate to our needs. 

In point of fact, we can often use the Bible in ways that sti­fle spir­i­tu­al life or even destroy the soul. This hap­pened to any num­ber of peo­ple who walked with Jesus, heard him teach, and saw him exer­cise the pow­er of the king­dom of God. For many, their very study of the Scrip­tures pre­vent­ed them from rec­og­niz­ing who he was and putting their con­fi­dence in him (John 5:39 – 47). And lat­er, Peter speaks in very grim terms of how peo­ple can twist” Scrip­ture to their own destruc­tion” (2 Pet 3:16).

Is it pos­si­ble that this still hap­pens today? Sad­ly, we must admit that it does. Think of the mil­lions of peo­ple who say, sin­cere­ly, that the Bible is the guide to life, but who still starve to death in the pres­ence of its spir­i­tu­al feast. This trag­ic sit­u­a­tion is obvi­ous from the usu­al effects (or lack of effects) that the study of the Bible has in the dai­ly lives of peo­ple, even among those who speak most high­ly of it. 

The source of the prob­lem is root­ed in the two most com­mon objec­tives of Bible study. The first is the prac­tice of study­ing the Bible for infor­ma­tion or knowl­edge alone. This may include infor­ma­tion about par­tic­u­lar facts or his­tor­i­cal events, knowl­edge of gen­er­al truths or doc­trines, or even knowl­edge of how oth­ers are mis­tak­en in their reli­gious views, beliefs, and practices.

We know from expe­ri­ence how knowl­edge can make peo­ple arro­gant — even knowl­edge of the Bible and of God. It is not sur­pris­ing, then, that study focus­ing on knowl­edge alone does not lead to the life trans­for­ma­tion that is the real human need. No won­der we who love the Bible keep buy­ing more edi­tions of it, hop­ing to obtain what we know in our hearts is there for us. 

The sec­ond com­mon objec­tive of Bible study is to find some for­mu­la that will solve the press­ing need of the moment. Thus we seek out spe­cif­ic pas­sages that speak to par­tic­u­lar needs rather than seek­ing whole-life dis­ci­ple­ship to Jesus. To be sure, these needs are impor­tant, des­per­ate­ly so when we are trapped in the harsh real­i­ties of life. These needs may involve com­fort or for­give­ness, phys­i­cal heal­ing, con­for­mi­ty to a par­tic­u­lar denom­i­na­tion­al or polit­i­cal per­sua­sion, spe­cial endow­ments or gifts of the Spir­it, or works of social lib­er­a­tion. But in the end they always have to do with being a good cit­i­zen,” a good spouse,” or a good some­thing else” — per­haps even a good Chris­t­ian” by cer­tain interpretations. 

What we must face up to about these two com­mon objec­tives for study­ing the Bible is that we or our human instruc­tors are in charge of the process. They are, in fact, ways of try­ing to con­trol what comes out of the Bible rather than a means of enter­ing the process of trans­form­ing our whole per­son and our whole life into Christlikeness. 

If we want to receive from the Bible the life with God” that is por­trayed in the Bible, we must be pre­pared to have our dear­est and most fun­da­men­tal assump­tions about our­selves and our asso­ci­a­tions called into ques­tion. We must read humbly and in a con­stant atti­tude of repen­tance. Only in this way can we gain a thor­ough and prac­ti­cal grasp of the spir­i­tu­al rich­es that God has made avail­able to all human­i­ty in his writ­ten Word. Only in this way can we keep from trans­form­ing The Book into a Catholic Bible, an Ortho­dox Bible, a Bap­tist, Methodist, Luther­an, or even a Ren­o­varé Bible. 

What will enable us to avoid this soul-crush­ing result? 

The Super­nat­ur­al Pow­er of Love 

Jesus found­ed on earth a new type of com­mu­ni­ty, and in it and through him love — God-giv­en agape love — came down to live with pow­er on earth. Now, it is this God-giv­en agape love that trans­forms our lives and gives us true spir­i­tu­al sub­stance as per­sons. Sup­pose, then, we sim­ply agreed that the prop­er out­come of study­ing the Bible is growth in the super­nat­ur­al pow­er of love, the love of God and of all people. 

We could call this the 1 Corinthi­ans 13 Test: If I… under­stand all mys­ter­ies and all knowl­edge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove moun­tains, but do not have love, I am noth­ing” (v 2). And so the test of whether we have real­ly got­ten the point of the Bible would then be the qual­i­ty of love we show. Knowl­edge of the Bible and its teach­ings would, of course, con­tin­ue to be of great val­ue, but only inso­far as it leads to greater love: to greater appro­pri­a­tion of God’s love for us and to greater love on our part for God, oth­ers, and ourselves.

When we turn to Scrip­ture in this way our rea­son for know­ing” the Bible and every­thing it teach­es would be that we might love more and know more of love. We would expe­ri­ence this love not as an abstrac­tion, but as a prac­ti­cal real­i­ty by which we are pos­sessed. And since all those who love through and through obey the law, we would become ever more obe­di­ent to Jesus Christ and his Abba. 

Regard­ing the Bible, then, per­haps the most basic ques­tion is: Shall we try to con­trol the Bible, that is, try to make it come out right,” or shall we sim­ply seek to release its life into our lives and our world? Shall we try to tilt” it this way or that, or shall we give it com­plete free­dom to tilt” us as it will? 

Can we sur­ren­der freely to the life we see in the Bible, or must we remain in con­trol of that life, only selec­tive­ly endors­ing it when we find it prop­er and safe from our per­spec­tive”? Can we trust the liv­ing water that flows from Christ through the Bible, open our­selves to it and release it into the world as best we can, and then get out of its way? This, we believe, is the only wor­thy goal for a study of the Bible. 

Life With God”: The Immanuel Principle 

The Bible is all about human life with God.” It is about how God has made this with-God” life pos­si­ble and will bring it to pass. In fact, the name Immanuel, mean­ing in Hebrew God is with us,” is the title giv­en to the one and only Redeemer, because it refers to God’s ever­last­ing intent for human life — name­ly, that we should be in every aspect a dwelling place of God. Indeed, the uni­ty of the Bible is dis­cov­ered in the devel­op­ment of life with God” as a real­i­ty on earth, cen­tered in the per­son of Jesus. We might call this the Immanuel Prin­ci­ple of life. 

This dynam­ic, pul­sat­ing, with-God life is on near­ly every page of the Bible. To the point of redun­dan­cy we hear that God is with his peo­ple: with Abra­ham and Moses, with Esther and David, with Isa­iah, Jere­mi­ah, Amos, Mic­ah, Hag­gai, and Malachi, with Mary, Peter, James, and John, with Paul and Barn­abas, with Priscil­la and Aquila, with Lydia, Tim­o­thy, Epa­phrodi­tus, and Phoebe, and with a host of oth­ers too numer­ous to name. 

Accord­ing­ly, the var­i­ous intro­duc­tions, essays, and notes that accom­pa­ny the text in The Life with God Bible all have as their pri­ma­ry aim enabling us to see and under­stand the Immanuel Prin­ci­ple. They serve to make clear how the with-God” life works in all the cir­cum­stances of human exis­tence, both for indi­vid­u­als and for groups, both in spe­cif­ic his­tor­i­cal peri­ods and through all times. 

For exam­ple, what do the first eleven chap­ters of Gen­e­sis tell us about this with- God kind of life? And how are the par­tic­u­lar sto­ries about, for exam­ple, Cain or Noah rel­e­vant? Then we need to con­sid­er the Pen­ta­teuch as a whole, and the tran­si­tion to Abra­ham, then to Moses, then to Joshua. What is real­ly hap­pen­ing here in terms of the Immanuel Prin­ci­ple? Exact­ly how is God with us in these sto­ries? What does Leviti­cus mean from the per­spec­tive of the Immanuel Prin­ci­ple? What are we to learn from the con­quest of the Land of Promise and the man­ner in which it was car­ried out? Or from the peri­od of the judges and the amaz­ing per­sons and sto­ries involved? What of Ruth and Esther, of Hosea and Nehemi­ah?

What was hap­pen­ing for the indi­vid­u­al’s life with God between Malachi and Matthew? What was hap­pen­ing in the Peo­ple of God as a whole? What was hap­pen­ing with God’s pur­pos­es in human his­to­ry? Cer­tain­ly the world into which Jesus was born was remark­ably dif­fer­ent from the one in which Malachi lived. What unique per­spec­tive does the intertes­ta­men­tal peri­od bring to the Immanuel Prin­ci­ple? What did it do to pre­pare the world for Jesus’ birth? 

Then on to the New Tes­ta­ment doc­u­ments, up to Rev­e­la­tion, which God gave to Jesus to show to his peo­ple (Rev 1:1). In these doc­u­ments the bib­li­cal pre­sen­ta­tion of life with God comes to its full­ness and com­ple­tion. How, we may ask, do we read Luke or Romans or Rev­e­la­tion in the light of the Immanuel Principle? 

The Peo­ple of God — this all-inclu­sive com­mu­ni­ty of lov­ing per­sons — are seen in the New Tes­ta­ment as God’s house­hold, built on the foun­da­tion of the apos­tles and prophets, with Christ Jesus him­self as the chief cor­ner­stone. In him the whole build­ing is joined togeth­er and ris­es to become a holy tem­ple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built togeth­er to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spir­it” (Eph 2:19 – 22, NIV). Even the ful­fill­ment of God’s pur­pos­es for human­i­ty beyond human his­to­ry is por­trayed: Now the dwelling of God is with human beings, and he will live with them. They will be his peo­ple, and God him­self will be with them and be their God’ ” (Rev 21:3NIV). 

And so we dis­cov­er that the Immanuel Prin­ci­ple is, after all, a cos­mic prin­ci­ple that God has used all along in cre­ation and redemp­tion. It alone serves to guide human life aright on earth now and even illu­mi­nates the future of the universe. 

Of course, these brief exam­ples hard­ly touch the sur­face of the riv­er of life that flows through the Bible into the thirsty waste­lands of the human soul. And any study Bible wor­thy of the name should help, and not hin­der, the spread­ing of the waters of that riv­er abroad. Now, once we decide to sur­ren­der freely to this riv­er of life, we must learn how it is done. And we must learn how to help oth­ers see into the divine Life with­in the Bible and increas­ing­ly receive that Life as their own. 

You can also find this and oth­er sup­ple­men­tary resources from the Life with God Spir­i­tu­al For­ma­tion Bible on our web­site: Life with God Spir­i­tu­al For­ma­tion Bible 

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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