Excerpt from Life with God Spiritual Formation Bible

God not only orig­i­nat­ed the Bible through human author­ship; he remains with it always. It is God’s book. No one owns it but God him­self. It is the lov­ing heart of God made vis­i­ble and plain. And receiv­ing this mes­sage of exquis­ite love is the great priv­i­lege of all who long for life with God. Read­ing, study­ing, mem­o­riz­ing, and med­i­tat­ing upon Scrip­ture have always been the foun­da­tion of the Chris­t­ian dis­ci­plines. All of the dis­ci­plines are built upon Scrip­ture. Our prac­tice of the Spir­i­tu­al Dis­ci­plines is kept on course by our immer­sion in Scrip­ture. And so it is, we come to see, that this read­ing, study­ing, mem­o­riz­ing, and med­i­tat­ing is total­ly in the ser­vice of the life that real­ly is life” (1 Tim 6:19). We long with all our heart to know for our­selves the with-God kind of life that Jesus brings in all its fullness. 

And the Bible has been giv­en to help us. God has so super­in­tend­ed the writ­ing of Scrip­ture that it serves as a most reli­able guide for our own spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion. But as in its author­ship, so in its pre­sen­ta­tion to the world, God uses human action.

So we must con­sid­er how we can our­selves come to the Bible and also how we can present it to peo­ple in a way that does not destroy the soul, but inducts it into the eter­nal kind of life.

We begin by open­ing our lives in Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty to the influx of God’s life and by expe­ri­en­tial­ly find­ing, day-to-day, how to let Jesus Christ live in every dimen­sion of our being. We can gath­er reg­u­lar­ly in groups of two or more to encour­age one anoth­er to dis­cov­er the foot­prints of God in our dai­ly exis­tence and to ven­ture out with God into areas where we have pre­vi­ous­ly walked alone or not at all. 

But the aim is not exter­nal con­for­mi­ty, whether to doc­trine or deed, but the ref­or­ma­tion of the inner self — of the spir­i­tu­al core, the place of thought and feel­ing, of will and char­ac­ter. The psalmist cries, You desire truth in the inward being; there­fore, teach me wis­dom in my secret heart. Cre­ate in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spir­it with­in me” (Ps 51:6,10). It is our inner nature” that is being renewed (ren­o­vare) day by day” (2 Cor 4:16). (Ren­o­vare = to renew.)

Although the many Chris­t­ian tra­di­tions dif­fer over the details of spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion, they all have the same objec­tive: the trans­for­ma­tion of the per­son into one of greater Christ­like­ness. Spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion” is the process of trans­form­ing the inner real­i­ty of the self (the inward being” of the psalmist) in such a way that the over­all with-God life seen in the Bible nat­u­ral­ly and freely comes to pass in us. Our inner world (the secret heart”) becomes the home of Jesus by his ini­tia­tive and our response. As a result, our inte­ri­or world becomes increas­ing­ly like the inner self of Jesus and, there­fore, the nat­ur­al source of words and deeds that are char­ac­ter­is­tic of him. By his enabling pres­ence we come to let the same mind be in [us] that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5).

This, then, pro­vides the ori­en­ta­tion of The Life with God Bible. And it pro­vides the answer to our ques­tion about how we can present the Bible to peo­ple in a way that does not destroy the soul, but inducts it into the eter­nal kind of life. We sim­ply do all we can to enable peo­ple to see clear­ly the Life that burns bright­ly on the pages of the Bible and to show, by prac­ti­cal steps, how they can bring their entire life into that Life. An intel­li­gent, hum­ble, care­ful, inten­sive, straight­for­ward read­ing of the Bible will direct us into life in the king­dom of God. 

Read­ing with the Mind 

It is gen­uine­ly help­ful as we read the Bible for spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion to learn to iden­ti­fy the lit­er­ary forms of Scrip­ture. The first form we encounter are the books of the Law — Gen­e­sis, Exo­dus, Leviti­cus, Num­bers, and Deuteron­o­my. In utter grace God stretched out his mighty hand to deliv­er the Israelites from bondage and, hav­ing deliv­ered them, he made a covenant with them in which he would be their God and they were to be his peo­ple. The books of the Law then estab­lished the stip­u­la­tions of the covenant God made with Israel. Com­posed of more than six hun­dred com­mand­ments, these laws defined the unique rela­tion­ship between Israel and Yahweh. 

Car­ried across the pages of Scrip­ture, these laws and the obe­di­ence they evoked, pro­vid­ed Israel, now the Peo­ple of God, with clear direc­tions for liv­ing: keep­ing God’s laws, exhibit­ing God’s love, express­ing God’s righteousness.

The sec­ond lit­er­ary form is prophe­cy. In its orig­i­nal struc­ture, Scrip­ture dis­tin­guished between the for­mer prophets (Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings) and the lat­ter prophets (Isa­iah, Jere­mi­ah, Ezekiel, and the twelve Minor Prophets). The pri­ma­ry pur­pose of prophe­cy is to speak for God in a par­tic­u­lar sit­u­a­tion. The prophets were viewed not so much as fore-tellers but as forth-tellers, con­stant­ly call­ing the Peo­ple of God back to their covenant oblig­a­tions of sin­gle-heart­ed obe­di­ence to God, mer­cy and com­pas­sion for the poor and dis­pos­sessed, and jus­tice and shalom (“peace”) toward all peoples. 

A third form of bib­li­cal lit­er­a­ture (and a corol­lary to prophe­cy) is apoc­a­lyp­tic writ­ing. In the Hebrew Scrip­tures, apoc­a­lyp­tic lit­er­a­ture is found pri­mar­i­ly in Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechari­ah, and parts of Isa­iah. In this form of bib­li­cal writ­ing, the prophets cried out against the peo­ple’s dis­dain for the stip­u­la­tions of the covenant and warned that the result of their dis­obe­di­ence would be divine wrath and destruc­tion. Always, how­ev­er, the apoc­a­lyp­tic writ­ings held forth the vision of a com­ing day of hope and restora­tion, a day when the wolf shall live with the lamb, the leop­ard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fad­ing togeth­er, and a lit­tle child shall lead them,” a day when the earth will be full of the knowl­edge of the Lord as the waters cov­er the sea” (Isa 11:69). 

The final lit­er­ary forms of the Hebrew Scrip­tures are found in the Writ­ings. In the orig­i­nal arrange­ment, the Writ­ings con­sist­ed of poet­ry (Psalms, Job, and Proverbs), fes­tal writ­ings (Ruth, Song of Solomon, Eccle­si­astes, Lamen­ta­tions, and Esther), and his­to­ry (Ezra, Nehemi­ah, and Chron­i­cles). This nar­ra­tive lit­er­a­ture out­lines God’s uni­ver­sal design for all cre­ation. Scrip­ture teach­es that the for­ward move­ment of his­to­ry is the dra­mat­ic unfold­ing of God’s divine plans for life on earth, and these nar­ra­tives demon­strate the way in which God cre­ates and calls a peo­ple to expe­ri­ence life in the king­dom of God. 

Next we encounter the Deute­ro­canon­i­cal lit­er­a­ture, a body of writ­ings cov­er­ing the peri­od between our Old and New Tes­ta­ments. Most of the Church through­out much of his­to­ry has accept­ed the Deute­ro­canon­i­cals as Scrip­ture, though Protes­tants do not give these writ­ings the same author­i­ty. They deal with an impor­tant peri­od in Israel’s his­tor­i­cal and spir­i­tu­al devel­op­ment and con­tain many help­ful insights into spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion. The peo­ple Jesus encoun­tered and taught were in many ways spir­i­tu­al­ly formed by these writ­ings. In addi­tion, the Deute­ro­canon­i­cal writ­ings can func­tion for us in much the same way that good ser­mons and devo­tion­al writ­ings do. They con­tain his­to­ries (Judith, the Mac­cabees, 1 & 2 Esdras), wis­dom writ­ings (Wis­dom of Solomon, Sir­ach), and works of the­o­log­i­cal reflec­tion and moral instruc­tion (Tobit, Baruch, the Let­ter of Jeremiah). 

When we turn to the New Tes­ta­ment, we first encounter the majes­tic teach­ings of Jesus Christ in the Gospels. Here the bril­liance of Jesus’ words and actions cat­a­pult us into the life that is Life indeed, and that more abun­dant­ly (John 10:10). Through the dynam­ic use of para­bles, ser­mons, and proverbs we learn deeply and ful­ly what it means to live with God. Even more, by him­self com­ing as incar­nate Lord,

Jesus ush­ers us com­plete­ly into the with-God life, a life that is in and through him who is the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6).

After the Gospels comes the book of Acts, which is a con­tin­u­a­tion of the acts and teach­ings of Jesus through the Holy Spir­it (Acts 1:1). It dis­plays in bold relief the great vari­ety of Chris­t­ian expe­ri­ence: from speak­ing in tongues and bap­tism by fire to log­i­cal analy­sis and philo­soph­i­cal debate (Acts 2:1 – 13; 17:16 – 34). We see the dra­mat­ic unfold­ing of life with God, the breath­tak­ing works of heal­ing, evan­ge­lism, and demon­ic encounter, the infi­nite vari­ety of ways God calls his peo­ple to life with him, and much, much more. All of this, remem­ber, is through the dynam­ic pow­er of the Holy Spirit. 

Fol­low­ing the his­tor­i­cal dra­ma of the book of Acts, the the­o­log­i­cal teach­ing of the New Tes­ta­ment is cap­tured in the diverse Let­ters of Paul and oth­ers. Here we learn how the Peo­ple of God, scat­tered in diverse local set­tings, live in the king­dom of God and, trans­formed by the pow­er of God, obey the com­mands of God. These Let­ters pro­vide the prac­ti­cal wis­dom nec­es­sary for the with-God life. 

The Bible con­cludes with the book of Rev­e­la­tion. This pul­sat­ing dra­ma returns us to the dra­mat­ic style of apoc­a­lyp­tic prophe­cy. The cat­a­clysmic clash between God and Satan, between good and evil, reach­es fever­ish pitch when Satan’s great scheme to destroy Christ is thwart­ed (Rev 12 – 18). As the dra­ma moves toward its glo­ri­ous con­clu­sion, the new heav­en and the new earth, God’s ulti­mate inten­tion of estab­lish­ing an eter­nal rela­tion­ship with us is ful­ly revealed: “ See, the home of God is among mor­tals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peo­ples, and God him­self will be with them;’… They will see his face, and his name will be on their fore­heads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign for­ev­er and ever” (Rev 21:3; 22:4 – 5).

Read­ing with Understanding 

In seek­ing to dis­cov­er the with-God life, it is help­ful to read the Bible in four dis­tinct ways. First, we read the Bible lit­er­al­ly, from cov­er to cov­er, inter­nal­iz­ing its life-giv­ing mes­sage. By read­ing the whole of Scrip­ture, we begin to cap­ture the force and the pow­er of the with-God life. We enter into the orig­i­nal dynam­ics and dra­ma of Scrip­ture: strug­gling with Abra­ham over the offer­ing up of the son of promise; puz­zling with Job at the tragedies of life; rejoic­ing with Moses at Israel’s release from bondage; weep­ing with Jere­mi­ah for the slain of my poor peo­ple” (9:1); bow­ing in awe with Mary at the mes­sian­ic promise. 

Sec­ond, we read the Bible in con­text. This means allow­ing the way in which the author orig­i­nal­ly depict­ed life with God to estab­lish the stan­dard for under­stand­ing our life with God today. We read with a firm deter­mi­na­tion to dis­cov­er the intent of the orig­i­nal author and then allow that intent to con­trol our com­pre­hen­sion of the pas­sage. This helps us grasp the way God con­tin­ues to shape human life today. 

Third, we read the Bible in con­ver­sa­tion with itself. In oth­er words, we seek to under­stand how the whole of Scrip­ture gives struc­ture and mean­ing to each of its parts. The unfold­ing dra­ma of Scrip­ture often rais­es puz­zling ques­tions, which are resolved only when more obscure and dif­fi­cult pas­sages are held under the light of clear­er, more straight­for­ward pas­sages. In bib­li­cal inter­pre­ta­tion sys­tem­at­ic pas­sages inter­pret inci­den­tal pas­sages, uni­ver­sal pas­sages inter­pret local ones, and didac­tic pas­sages inter­pret sym­bol­ic ones. In this way the whole Bible guides us into a bet­ter under­stand­ing of its par­tic­u­lar parts.

Fourth, Chris­tians read the Bible in con­ver­sa­tion with the his­toric wit­ness of the Peo­ple of God. The Church learned from the syn­a­gogue that it is the com­mu­ni­ty that reads the Bible. This, in part, is what we mean when we speak of the com­mu­nion of saints.” Chris­tians through­out the cen­turies help us under­stand the nature of life with God and pro­vide insight and dis­cern­ment that enrich our own spir­i­tu­al life. So we read the Bible in con­ver­sa­tion with Ori­gen and Jerome, Augus­tine of Hip­po and Hilde­gard of Bin­gen, John Chrysos­tom and John Calvin, Mar­tin Luther and Richard Bax­ter, Watch­man Née and Sun­dar Singh — and many oth­ers, includ­ing wise and mature inter­preters of Scrip­ture today. This cor­po­rate read­ing of the Bible illu­mi­nates for us the mul­ti­fac­eted ways the Immanuel Prin­ci­ple is expe­ri­enced in ordi­nary life. 

Read­ing with the Heart 

Final­ly, as we approach the Bible it is help­ful to slow down, breathe deeply, and read with the heart. Now, this read­ing with the heart” way of approach­ing the sacred text has a very long and time-hon­ored his­to­ry among the Peo­ple of God. It even has a name, lec­tio div­ina, divine or spir­i­tu­al reading. 

What does lec­tio div­ina mean? Well, it means lis­ten­ing to the text of Scrip­ture — real­ly lis­ten­ing, lis­ten­ing yield­ed and still. It means sub­mit­ting to the text of Scrip­ture, allow­ing its mes­sage to flow into us rather than attempt­ing to mas­ter it. It means reflect­ing on the text of Scrip­ture, per­mit­ting our­selves to become ful­ly engaged — both mind and heart — by the dra­ma of the pas­sage. It means pray­ing the text of Scrip­ture, let­ting the bib­li­cal real­i­ty of the with-God life give rise to our heart cry of grat­i­tude, con­fes­sion, com­plaint, or peti­tion. It means apply­ing the text of Scrip­ture, see­ing how God’s Holy Word pro­vides a per­son­al word for our life cir­cum­stances. And it means obey­ing the text of Scrip­ture, turn­ing, always turn­ing, from our wicked way and into the way ever­last­ing (Ps 139:23 – 24).

Except­ed from the Life with God Spir­i­tu­al For­ma­tion Bible.

Originally published March 2005

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