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 21:3, NIV).

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 

Now Underway: The 2018-19 Renovaré Book Club

How do we read for transformation, not just information? First, choose books that stir the soul and have an enduring quality. Then read with God and others at an unhurried pace, attentive to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach. The Renovaré Book Club is designed for transformative reading. It runs October 2018—May 2019.

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