Category: Applying the Bible


Biblical hermeneutics is the study of the principles and methods of interpreting the text of the Bible. Second Timothy 2:15 commands believers to be involved in hermeneutics: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who . . . correctly handles the word of truth.” The purpose of biblical hermeneutics is to help us to know how to properly interpret, understand, and apply the Bible.

The most important law of biblical hermeneutics is that the Bible should be interpreted literally. We are to understand the Bible in its normal or plain meaning, unless the passage is obviously intended to be symbolic or if figures of speech are employed. The Bible says what it means and means what it says. For example, when Jesus speaks of having fed “the five thousand” in Mark 8:19, the law of hermeneutics says we should understand five thousand literally—there was a crowd of hungry people that numbered five thousand who were fed with real bread and fish by a miracle-working Savior. Any attempt to “spiritualize” the number or to deny a literal miracle is to do injustice to the text and ignore the purpose of language, which is to communicate. Some interpreters make the mistake of trying to read between the lines of Scripture to come up with esoteric meanings that are not truly in the text, as if every passage has a hidden spiritual truth that we should seek to decrypt. Biblical hermeneutics keeps us faithful to the intended meaning of Scripture and away from allegorizing Bible verses that should be understood literally.

A second crucial law of biblical hermeneutics is that passages must be interpreted historically, grammatically, and contextually. Interpreting a passage historically means we must seek to understand the culture, background, and situation that prompted the text. For example, in order to fully understand Jonah’s flight in Jonah 1:1–3, we should research the history of the Assyrians as related to Israel. Interpreting a passage grammatically requires one to follow the rules of grammar and recognize the nuances of Hebrew and Greek. For example, when Paul writes of “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ” in Colossians 1:13, the rules of grammar state that God and Savior are parallel terms and they are both in apposition to Jesus Christ—in other words, Paul clearly calls Jesus “our great God.” Interpreting a passage contextually involves considering the context of a verse or passage when trying to determine the meaning. The context includes the verses immediately preceding and following, the chapter, the book, and, most broadly, the entire Bible. For example, many puzzling statements in Ecclesiastes become clearer when kept in context—the book of Ecclesiastes is written from the earthly perspective “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:3). In fact, the phrase under the sun is repeated about thirty times in the book, establishing the context for all that is “vanity” in this world.

A third law of biblical hermeneutics is that Scripture is always the best interpreter of Scripture. For this reason, we always compare Scripture with Scripture when trying to determine the meaning of a passage. For example, Isaiah’s condemnation of Judah’s desire to seek Egypt’s help and their reliance on a strong cavalry (Isaiah 31:1) was motivated, in part, by God’s explicit command that His people not go to Egypt to seek horses (Deuteronomy 17:16).

Some people avoid studying biblical hermeneutics because they mistakenly believe it will limit their ability to learn new truths from God’s Word or stifle the Holy Spirit’s illumination of Scripture. But their fears are unfounded. Biblical hermeneutics is all about finding the correct interpretation of the inspired text. The purpose of biblical hermeneutics is to protect us from misapplying Scripture or allowing bias to color our understanding of truth. God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). We want to see the truth, know the truth, and live the truth as best we can, and that’s why biblical hermeneutics is vital.

Simply put, illumination in the spiritual sense is “turning on the light” of understanding in some area. Throughout the ages, people in every culture and religion have claimed some kind of revelation or enlightenment from God (whether true or not). When that enlightenment deals with new knowledge or future things, we call it prophecy. When that enlightenment deals with understanding and applying knowledge already given, we call it illumination. Regarding illumination of the latter type, the question arises, “How does God do it?”

The most basic level of enlightenment is the knowledge of sin, and without that knowledge, everything else is pointless. Psalm 18:28 says, “You, O LORD, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.” Psalm 119, which is the longest chapter in the Bible, is a song about God’s Word. In verse 130, it says “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” This verse establishes the basic method of God’s illumination. When God’s Word enters the heart of a person, it gives light and understanding to them. For this reason, we are repeatedly told to study the Word of God. Psalm 119:11 says “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” Verses 98 and 99 say “Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes.”

Regular study of the Word of God will give direction and understanding in the issues of life. This is the first method of God’s illumination and the starting point for us all. In Psalm 119 we also find another type of God’s illumination. Verse 18 says, “Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law.” These are not new revelations, but things which have been written and revealed long before, and just now understood by the reader (one of those “aha!” moments). Similarly, verse 73 says, “Your hands made me and formed me; give me understanding to learn your commands.” The plea is for personal understanding and application of God’s laws as they are studied by the individual. Fifteen times in this psalm, God is asked to teach or give understanding regarding His laws.

One passage that sometimes stirs controversy regarding illumination is John 14:26, “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.” Jesus was speaking to His disciples in the upper room, giving them last instructions before His death. This special group of men was to be responsible for spreading the good news of Jesus Christ to the whole world. They had spent three and a half years with Him, watching His miracles and hearing His teachings. They would relay those things to the rest of the world, and would need God’s special help remembering those things accurately. Jesus said that the Holy Spirit would teach them and remind them of what had been said, so they could give it to others (including the writing of the Gospels). This verse does not teach that the Spirit will do so with all believers (though there are other verses that speak of the Spirit’s illuminating work).

What is the Holy Spirit’s illuminating work in believers? Ephesians 1:17-18 tells us that the Spirit gives wisdom and revelation concerning Jesus Christ, and opens the eyes of understanding so we can know God’s purposes in our lives. In 1 Corinthians 2:10-13, God has revealed His plans for us by His Spirit, who teaches us spiritual things. The context here points to the Word of God as that which has been revealed. The Spirit of God will always point us to the Word of God for our instruction. As Jesus told His disciples in John 16:12-15, the Spirit simply repeats what the Father and the Son have already said. This repetition helps us remember and fully hear what God has already told us. Sometimes we have to hear things several times before we actually hear them. That’s where the Spirit comes in.

One thing that is sometimes overlooked in the discussion of illumination is the purpose of it. To hear some arguments, it would seem that the whole purpose of illumination is an accurate and academic understanding of God’s Word. There is no question that God desires us to accurately understand what He has given us. Words have meaning, and we must pay attention to the details in those words. If, however, we stop there, we simply have an academic understanding of facts or philosophies, which do no one any good.

Going back to Psalm 119, we find purpose statements connected with the illumination verses. “I will meditate on your wonders” (v. 27), “I will keep your law and obey it with all my heart” (v. 34), “that I may understand your statutes” (v. 125), “that I may live” (v. 144). The illumination always points to action. Why does God help us understand His Word? So we are able to live in its light. First John 1:6 challenges us, “If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth.” We could paraphrase it to say, “If we say we’ve been enlightened, but still walk in the dark, we lie about understanding God’s Word.” The Spirit of God, who enlightens us to hear and understand God’s Word, then takes that knowledge and guides us in living it. Romans 8:14 says “For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons of God.” The illuminating and leading work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is a confirmation that we are indeed children of God.

  It’s important to study Bible passages and stories within their context. Taking verses out of context leads to all kinds of error and misunderstanding. Understanding context begins with four principles: literal meaning (what it says), historical setting (the events of the story, to whom is it addressed, and how it was understood at that time), grammar (the immediate sentence and paragraph within which a word or phrase is found) and synthesis (comparing it with other parts of Scripture for a fuller meaning). Context is crucial to biblical exegesis in that it is one of its most important fundamentals. After we account for the literal, historical, and grammatical nature of a passage, we must then focus on the outline and structure of the book, then the chapter, then the paragraph. All of these things refer to “context.” To illustrate, it is like looking at Google Maps and zooming in on one house.

Taking phrases and verses out of context always leads to misunderstanding. For instance, taking the phrase “God is love” (1 John 4:7-16) out of its context, we might come away thinking that our God loves everything and everyone at all times with a gushing, romantic love. But in its literal and grammatical context, “love” here refers to agape love, the essence of which is sacrifice for the benefit of another, not a sentimental, romantic love. The historical context is also crucial, because John was addressing believers in the first century church and instructing them not on God’s love per se, but on how to identify true believers from false professors. True love—the sacrificial, beneficial kind—is the mark of the true believer (v. 7), those who do not love do not belong to God (v. 8), God loved us before we loved Him (vv. 9-10), and all of this is why we should love one another and thereby prove that we are His (v. 11-12).

Furthermore, considering the phrase “God is love” in the context of all of Scripture (synthesis) will keep us from coming to the false, and all-too-common, conclusion that God is only love or that His love is greater than all His other attributes, which is simply not the case. We know from many other passages that God is also holy and righteous, faithful and trustworthy, graceful and merciful, kind and compassionate, omnipotent, omnipresent and omniscient, and many, many other things. We also know from other passages that God not only loves, but He also hates.

The Bible is the Word of God, literally “God-breathed” (2 Timothy 3:16), and we are commanded to read, study, and understand it through the use of good Bible study methods and always with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to guide us (1 Corinthians 2:14). Our study is greatly enhanced by maintaining diligence in the use of context because it is quite easy to come to wrong conclusions by taking phrases and verses out of context. It is not difficult to point out places that seemingly contradict other portions of Scripture, but if we carefully look at their context and use the entirety of Scripture as a reference, we can understand the meaning of a passage. “Context is king” means that the context often drives the meaning of a phrase. To ignore context is to put ourselves at a tremendous disadvantage.

Not only can we take the Bible literally, but we must take the Bible literally. This is the only way to determine what God really is trying to communicate to us. When we read any piece of literature, but especially the Bible, we must determine what the author intended to communicate. Many today will read a verse or passage of Scripture and then give their own definitions to the words, phrases, or paragraphs, ignoring the context and author’s intent. But this is not what God intended, which is why God tells us to correctly handle the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

One reason we should take the Bible literally is because the Lord Jesus Christ took it literally. Whenever the Lord Jesus quoted from the Old Testament, it was always clear that He believed in its literal interpretation. As an example, when Jesus was tempted by Satan in Luke 4, He answered by quoting the Old Testament. If God’s commands in Deuteronomy 8:3, 6:13, and 6:16 were not literal, Jesus would not have used them and they would have been powerless to stop Satan’s mouth, which they certainly did.

The disciples also took the commands of Christ (which are part of the Bible) literally. Jesus commanded the disciples to go and make more disciples in Matthew 28:19-20. In Acts 2 and following, we find that the disciples took Jesus’ command literally and went throughout the known world of that time preaching the gospel of Christ and telling them to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). Just as the disciples took Jesus’ words literally, so must we. How else can we be sure of our salvation if we do not believe Him when He says He came to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10), pay the penalty for our sin (Matthew 26:28), and provide eternal life (John 6:54)?

Although we take the Bible literally, there are still figures of speech within its pages. An example of a figure of speech would be that if someone said “it is raining cats and dogs outside,” you would know that they did not really mean that cats and dogs were falling from the sky. They would mean it is raining really hard. There are figures of speech in the Bible which are not to be taken literally, but those are obvious. (See Psalm 17:8 for example.)

Finally, when we make ourselves the final arbiters of which parts of the Bible are to be interpreted literally, we elevate ourselves above God. Who is to say, then, that one person’s interpretation of a biblical event or truth is any more or less valid than another’s? The confusion and distortions that would inevitably result from such a system would essentially render the Scriptures null and void. The Bible is God’s Word to us and He meant it to be believed—literally and completely.

I came across this today. It was posted by a friend of mine,  Angela Digman,  and I wanted to share '~  Do Barbers Exist?</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>A old cowboy went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed. As the barber began to work, they began to have<br /><br /><br /><br />
a good conversation. They talked about so many things and various subjects. When they eventually touched on the subject of God, the barber said: "I don't believe that God exists."</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>"Why do you say that?" asked the cowboy. </p><br /><br /><br />
<p>"Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn't exist. Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can't imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things." </p><br /><br /><br />
<p>The cowboy thought for a moment, but didn't respond because he didn't want to start an argument. The barber finished his job and the cowboy left the shop. Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard. He looked dirty and unkempt.</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>The cowboy turned back and entered the barber shop again and<br /><br /><br /><br />
he said to the barber: "You know what? Barbers do not exist."</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>"How can you say that?" asked the surprised barber. "I am here, and I am a barber. And I just worked on you!</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>"No!" the cowboy exclaimed. "Barbers don't exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside."</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>"Ah, but barbers DO exist! What happens, is people do not come<br /><br /><br /><br />
to me."</p><br /><br /><br />
<p>"Exactly!"- affirmed the cowboy. "That's the point! ....<br /><br /><br /><br />
God, too, DOES exist! What happens, is, people don't go to Him and do not look for Him. That's why there's so much pain and suffering in the world." </p><br /><br /><br />
<p>* God bless and keep sharing the Good News !!!! ~ C4C'it with all of you. It is originally from “Cowboy’s -4- Christ” on facebook. It is meaningful and I  enjoy it. Thank you, Angela, for making it available.

A old cowboy went to a barbershop to have his hair cut and his beard trimmed. As the barber began to work, they began to have a good conversation. They talked about so many things and various subjects. When they eventually touched on the subject of God, the barber said: “I don’t believe that God exists.”

“Why do you say that?” asked the cowboy.

“Well, you just have to go out in the street to realize that God doesn’t exist. Tell me, if God exists, would there be so many sick people? Would there be abandoned children? If God existed, there would be neither suffering nor pain. I can’t imagine a loving God who would allow all of these things.”

The cowboy thought for a moment, but didn’t respond because he didn’t want to start an argument. The barber finished his job and the cowboy left the shop. Just after he left the barbershop, he saw a man in the street with long, stringy, dirty hair and an untrimmed beard. He looked dirty and unkempt.

The cowboy turned back and entered the barber shop again and
he said to the barber: “You know what? Barbers do not exist.”

“How can you say that?” asked the surprised barber. “I am here, and I am a barber. And I just worked on you!

“No!” the cowboy exclaimed. “Barbers don’t exist because if they did, there would be no people with dirty long hair and untrimmed beards, like that man outside.”

“Ah, but barbers DO exist! What happens, is people do not come to me.”

“Exactly!”- affirmed the cowboy. “That’s the point! ….
God, too, DOES exist! What happens, is, people don’t go to Him and do not look for Him. That’s why there’s so much pain and suffering in the world.”

* God bless and keep sharing the Good News !!!!

The statement “the Bible is our only rule for faith and practice” appears in many doctrinal statements. Sometimes, it takes a similar form, stating that the Bible is “the final authority,” “the only infallible rule,” or “the only certain rule.” This sentiment, whatever the wording, is a way for Bible-believing Christians to declare their commitment to the written Word of God and their independence from other would-be authorities.

The statement that the Bible is the “only rule for faith and practice” is rooted in the sufficiency of Scripture, as revealed in 2 Timothy 3:16–17: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” Because God is sovereign, His Word is the absolute authority in our lives, and by it God equips us for His service. As A. A. Hodge wrote, “Whatever God teaches or commands is of sovereign authority. . . . The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are the only organs through which, during the present dispensation, God conveys to us a knowledge of his will about what we are to believe concerning himself, and what duties he requires of us” (Outlines of Theology, chapter 5).

When we say, “The Bible is our only rule for faith and practice,” we mean that we hold the Bible, God’s Holy Word, to be our ultimate guide for what we believe (“faith”) and what we do (“practice”). We mean that the Bible trumps man’s authority, church tradition, and our own opinions. We mean we will allow nothing that opposes God’s Word to dictate our actions or control our thinking. We mean that we agree with the Reformers’ cry of sola scriptura.

When the Bible clearly reveals a truth, we believe it with all our hearts. When the Bible clearly commands us to do something, we make sure we are doing it. For example, the Bible says that Jesus is coming back again (John 14:3; Revelation 19:11–16). Since the Bible is our “only rule for faith,” we have no choice but to believe that Jesus is returning some day. Also, the Bible says that we are to “flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18). Since the Bible is our “final authority for practice,” we are bound to abstain from immorality (as defined by the Bible).

We believe following the Bible as our only rule of faith and practice is the safest position, theologically. Fidelity to Scripture keeps us from being “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching” (Ephesians 4:14). As the noble Bereans taught us (Acts 17:11), all doctrines are to be examined in light of the Bible, and only what conforms to biblical truth should be accepted.

Following the Bible is also the most sensible position, because the Word of God “is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens” (Psalm 119:89) and “the law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7).

Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures, the promise of a Messiah is clearly given. These messianic prophecies were made hundreds, sometimes thousands of years before Jesus Christ was born, and clearly Jesus Christ is the only person who has ever walked this earth to fulfill them. In fact, from Genesis to Malachi, there are over 300 specific prophecies detailing the coming of this Anointed One. In addition to prophecies detailing His virgin birth, His birth in Bethlehem, His birth from the tribe of Judah, His lineage from King David, His sinless life, and His atoning work for the sins of His people,the death and resurrection of the Jewish Messiah was, likewise, well documented in the Hebrew prophetic Scriptures long before the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ occurred in history.

Of the best-known prophecies in the Hebrew Scriptures concerning the death of Messiah, Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 certainly stand out. Psalm 22 is especially amazing since it predicted numerous separate elements about Jesus’ crucifixion a thousand years before Jesus was crucified. Here are some examples. Messiah will have His hands and His feet “pierced” through (Psalm 22:16; John 20:25). The Messiah’s bones will not be broken (a person’s legs were usually broken after being crucified to speed up their death) (Psalm 22:17; John 19:33). Men will cast lots for Messiah’s clothing (Psalm 22:18; Matthew 27:35).

Isaiah 53, the classic messianic prophecy known as the “Suffering Servant” prophecy, also details the death of Messiah for the sins of His people. More than 700 years before Jesus was even born, Isaiah provides details of His life and death. The Messiah will be rejected (Isaiah 53:3; Luke 13:34). The Messiah will be killed as a vicarious sacrifice for the sins of His people (Isaiah 53:5–9; 2 Corinthians 5:21). The Messiah will be silent in front of His accusers (Isaiah 53:7; 1 Peter 2:23). The Messiah will be buried with the rich (Isaiah 53:9; Matthew 27:57–60). The Messiah will be with criminals in His death (Isaiah 53:12; Mark 15:27).

In addition to the death of the Jewish Messiah, His resurrection from the dead is also foretold. The clearest and best known of the resurrection prophecies is the one penned by Israel’s King David in Psalm 16:10, also written a millennium before the birth of Jesus: “For You will not abandon my soul to Sheol; Nor will You allow Your Holy One to undergo decay.”

On the Jewish feast day of Shavuot (Weeks or Pentecost), when Peter preached the first gospel sermon, he boldly asserted that God had raised Jesus the Jewish Messiah from the dead (Acts 2:24). He then explained that God had performed this miraculous deed in fulfillment of David’s prophecy in Psalm 16. In fact, Peter quoted the words of David in detail as contained in Psalm 16:8–11. Some years later, Paul did the same thing when he spoke to the Jewish community in Antioch. Like Peter, Paul declared that God had raised Messiah Jesus from the dead in fulfillment of Psalm 16:10 (Acts 13:33–35).

The resurrection of the Messiah is strongly implied in another Davidic psalm. Again, this is Psalm 22. In verses 19–21, the suffering Savior prays for deliverance “from the lion’s mouth” (a metaphor for Satan). This desperate prayer is then followed immediately in verses 22–24 by a hymn of praise in which the Messiah thanks God for hearing His prayer and delivering Him. The resurrection of the Messiah is clearly implied between the ending of the prayer in verse 21 and the beginning of the praise song in verse 22.

And back again to Isaiah 53, after prophesying that the Suffering Servant of God would suffer for the sins of His people, He would then be “cut off out of the land of the living.” But Isaiah then states that He (Messiah) “will see His offspring” and that God the Father will “prolong His days” (Isaiah 53:5, 8, 10). Isaiah proceeds to reaffirm the promise of the resurrection in different words: “As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see light and be satisfied” (Isaiah 53:11).

Every aspect of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Messiah had been prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures long before the events ever unfolded in the timeline of human history. No wonder that Jesus the Messiah would say to the Jewish religious leaders of His day, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me” (John 5:39).

“for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16).

In the middle of an everyday conversation with a friend, you suddenly sense the Holy Spirit’s tug upon your heart. As you make small talk about the weather and current events, you attempt to disregard the twinge in your spirit, but the feeling intensifies. “Tell her about Me.” It is as if Jesus is whispering the words softly in your ear. Then, a ringing telephone distracts your friend and she walks away. Why didn’t I say something? you think as you allow feelings of regret to flood your mind.

How many times have you felt a strong desire to share the Gospel with another person? Have you ever walked away from a religious discussion with someone of a different faith because you were uncertain of what to say? Do you ever feel compelled but frightened to share the story of how you met Christ?

If you have experienced one or all of these situations, you understand how challenging it can be to speak out with boldness when the Holy Spirit prompts us to do so. This is why it is vitally important to be prepared to share our faith compassionately, effectively, and truthfully.

Sharing Compassionately

There is much to be learned about evangelism, or “witnessing,” from the One upon whom we base our faith—Jesus Christ. The New Testament provides countless examples of Jesus’ compassion and mercy as He embodies the message of God’s unconditional love and forgiveness.

This truth is evident in Jesus’ encounter with the woman at the well in the fourth chapter of John. When Jesus meets this woman—a known adulteress—He does not reject her. Instead, He shows compassion by explaining the wonderful gift of “living water,” the opportunity for eternal life.

In Revelation 3:20, Jesus is shown to be patient and considerate as He “stands at the door and knocks.” Never does He barge in uninvited. As we seek to follow His example, we should proceed in love and refrain from acting critically with regard to the nonbeliever’s lifestyle or past choices. These are areas the Holy Spirit will deal with once this person receives Christ.

Demonstrating the mercy and compassion of Jesus can accomplish two important goals: drawing a nonbeliever’s attention with unexpected love and kindness, and providing him with a glimpse of the acceptance that is available through Christ. Both of these objectives are supported by Scripture.

Colossians 4:5-6 encourages us to conduct ourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, letting our speech always be seasoned with grace so that we will know how to respond to each person. And John 6:37 can be used to provide the assurance that anyone who comes to Jesus will not be rejected or “cast out.”

An excellent way to demonstrate compassion is to share the story of our own conversion experience. Since many people struggle with feeling worthy of God’s love, they are eager to identify with another person’s shortcomings. Sharing how we realized the need for Christ in our own lives allows us to establish common ground. After all, no matter what language we speak, where we grew up, or what type of education we received, we are all in need of God’s forgiveness.

The apostle Paul certainly understood the power of personal testimony, as in 1 Timothy 1 he described his thankfulness to God for using him despite his sinful past: “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor” (verses 12-13).

Sharing Effectively

Another important facet of sharing our faith is presenting the Gospel in a way that is both relevant and irresistible to the listener. Being an effective witness generally involves three things:

1. Listening to the Holy Spirit. (John 16:13) Recognizing the Holy Spirit’s voice will enable us to act upon His promptings. Since waiting upon and submitting to God’s timing and plan is extremely important (Isaiah 55:8), we must listen carefully to Him while resisting our own urges to forge ahead or back away. The Holy Spirit will also impart to us the gift of discernment. This invaluable resource allows us to “tune in” to an individual’s spiritual and emotional condition, as well as to his or her receptiveness to the Gospel message. (1 Corinthians 2:10-13)

2. Knowing our audience. (1 Corinthians 9:22) In this Scripture passage, Paul explains his method of reaching the lost: “To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” Though Paul was careful to remain obedient to the Lord, it appears that he took time to understand the culture and concerns of the people to whom he delivered the Gospel. Therefore, if we hope to reach the members of a particular social group (single parents, teens, the unchurched, followers of other religions), we must focus on relationship building. In addition, prayerfully studying the trends in our society will allow us to understand the specific struggles nonbelievers face. When we know our audience, we will be better equipped to present the Gospel to them in an effective way.

3. Recognizing our purpose. (1 Corinthians 3:7-9) Though it may be tempting to share everything we know about Christianity all at once, it is important to reveal truth in pieces that can be digested by the listener. This does not mean we are to hide any portion of the Gospel. Instead, we should speak in simple terms, and proceed with patience. For instance, God may be calling you to “plant seeds of truth,” with the intention of using someone else to “reap the harvest”—leading the person into a decision for Christ.

In his exceptional book on evangelism, Finding Common Ground,* author Tim Downs suggests that Christians should place equal importance on planters and harvesters. “What if the harvester, by elevating the importance of his own role, devalues the role of the sower?” he asks. The solution lies in our willingness to perform any act of evangelism that God calls us to do.

Sharing Truthfully

When we are faced with an opportunity to explain to someone how he or she can be “saved,” or born again through faith in Jesus Christ, it is extremely helpful to have an outline of scriptural support written down or memorized. Otherwise, we can be caught off guard, or end up in a precarious situation.

The good news is that this situation can be easily overcome by studying God’s Word daily. Contained within its pages are the answers to help you explain the love for Christ in your heart.

The Bible encourages us to study in order to present ourselves “approved to God . . . accurately handling the word of truth”(2 Timothy 2:15KJV). To carry out this command, we need to fill our hearts with the Word of God in preparation for evangelistic opportunities.

Below is a suggested outline for sharing the basic message of Christianity with another person. At the appropriate time, when the Holy Spirit leads you, use these key points to reach out in love.

An important final note on sharing truthfully: When we receive questions that surpass our knowledge, it is important to admit that we are unsure, as opposed to inventing a response. It is perfectly acceptable to stop and look up an answer in your Bible, or to defer a difficult question to someone with greater scriptural knowledge, like your pastor.

Of course, every evangelistic opportunity will be original because each person is unique, with different life experiences and needs. Therefore, even though there is but one Truth, there are many effective ways in which to share Him—Christ—with others. While we long for chances to guide nonbelievers into a relationship with Christ, there are ways in which we can testify of God’s love every day. Have you considered:

  • Passing along Scripture cards as means of encouragement?
  • Responding with love and assistance to co-workers or neighbors in times of death, illness, or disaster?
  • Sharing topical Christian books with friends who are experiencing marital difficulties, depression, addictions, or problems with children?
  • Inviting college students, teens, or young couples to join you at a church concert or worship service?
  • Starting a daytime Bible study to include retired neighbors and stay-at-home moms?

Now that you have been encouraged to share your faith, are you ready to get started? If the Enemy is still delivering messages of doubt and discouragement to your mind, hold fast to this promise: The Word of God will not come back to Him empty. (Isaiah 55:11) The Lord can use you—your personality, your experiences, and your gifts—to effectively reach others for Him. If you are ready to make a difference for God by sharing your faith, pray this prayer:

“Lord, I know You have called me to share with others the joy that comes from knowing You. Forgive me for the times I have been too busy, anxious, or scared to listen to Your voice. Please begin to show me through Your Holy Spirit how I can serve You by leading people into a growing relationship with Your Son Jesus Christ. Amen.”

Determining the meaning of Scripture is one of the most important tasks a  believer has in this life. God does not tell us that we must simply read the  Bible. We must study it and handle it correctly (2 Timothy  2:15). Studying the Scriptures is hard work. A cursory or brief scanning of  Scripture can sometimes yield very wrong conclusions. Therefore, it is crucial  to understand several principles for determining the correct meaning of  Scripture.

First, the Bible student must pray and ask the Holy Spirit to  impart understanding, for that is one of His functions. “But when he, the Spirit  of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own;  he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come” (John 16:13). Just as the Holy  Spirit guided the apostles in the writing of the New Testament, He also guides  us in the understanding of Scripture. Remember, the Bible is God’s book, and we  need to ask Him what it means. If you are a Christian, the author of  Scripture—the Holy Spirit—dwells inside you, and He wants you to understand what  He wrote.

Second, we are not to pull a scripture out of the verses that  surround it and try to determine the meaning of the verse outside of the  context. We should always read the surrounding verses and chapters to discern  the context. While all of Scripture comes from God (2 Timothy  3:16; 2 Peter  1:21), God used men to write it down. These men had a theme in mind, a  purpose for writing, and a specific issue they were addressing. We should read  the background of the book of the Bible we are studying to find out who wrote  the book, to whom it was written, when it was written, and why it was written.  Also, we should take care to let the text speak for itself. Sometimes people  will assign their own meanings to words in order to get the interpretation they  desire.

Third, we must not attempt to be totally independent in our  studying of the Bible. It is arrogant to think that we cannot gain understanding  through the lifelong work of others who have studied Scripture. Some people, in  error, approach the Bible with the idea that they will depend on the Holy Spirit  alone and they will discover all the hidden truths of Scripture. Christ, in the  giving of the Holy Spirit, has given people with spiritual gifts to the body of  Christ. One of these spiritual gifts is that of teaching (Ephesians 4:11-12; 1  Corinthians 12:28). These teachers are given by the Lord to help us to  correctly understand and obey Scripture. It is always wise to study the Bible  with other believers, assisting each other in understanding and applying the  truth of God’s Word.

So, in summary, what is the proper way to study the  Bible? First, through prayer and humility, we must rely on the Holy Spirit to  give us understanding. Second, we should always study Scripture in its context,  recognizing that the Bible explains itself. Third, we should respect the efforts  of other Christians, past and present, who have also sought to properly study  the Bible. Remember, God is the author of the Bible, and He wants us to  understand it.

Applying the Bible is the duty of all Christians. If we don’t apply  it, the Bible becomes nothing more to us than a dry, tedious tome, an  impractical collection of old manuscripts. That’s why Paul says, “Whatever you  have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice.  And the God of peace will be with you” (Philippians  4:9). When we apply the Bible, God Himself will be with us.

The  first step toward applying God’s Word in our lives is reading it. There are  hundreds of Bible reading plans available on the web and through various  Christian ministries that we can use to familiarize ourselves with God’s Word.  Our goal in reading is to get to know God, to learn His ways and to understand  His purpose for this world and for us individually. In reading the Bible, we  will learn about God’s interactions with humanity throughout history, His plan  of redemption, His promises, and His character. We will see what the Christian  life looks like. The knowledge of God we glean from Scripture serves as an  invaluable foundation for applying the Bible’s principles for life.

Our  next goal is what the psalmist refers to as “hiding” God’s Word in our hearts.  He says, “I have hidden your Word in my heart that I might not sin against you”  (Psalm  119:11). The way we “hide” God’s Word in our hearts is by studying,  memorizing, and meditating on what we have first read. These four steps—read,  study, memorize, and meditate—make it possible to successfully apply the  Scriptures to our lives.

Study: While studying certainly involves  reading, reading is not the same as studying. To study God’s Word means that we  prayerfully devote time and attention to acquiring advanced knowledge on a  particular person, subject, theme, passage, or book of the Bible. A multitude of  study resources is available online, as well as in biblical commentaries or  published Bible studies that enable us to feast on the “meat” of God’s Word (Hebrews 5:12-14). We can  familiarize ourselves with these resources, then choose a topic, a passage, or a  book that piques our interests, and delve in.

Memorize: It is  impossible to apply what we cannot remember. If we are going to “hide” the Word  in our hearts, we have to first get it in there by means of memorization.  Memorizing Scripture produces within us a well from which we may continually  drink, especially at times when we are not able to read our Bibles. In the same  way that we store up money and other earthly possessions for future use, we  should “lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul” (Deuteronomy 11:18,  KJV). Create a plan for the Scripture verses you would like to memorize each  week.

Meditate: Writer and philosopher Edmund Burke once said, “To  read without reflecting is like eating without digesting.” We cannot afford to  “eat” God’s Word without “digesting” it. In the parable of the four soils (Matthew 13:3-9; cf. 18-23),  Jesus tells of a sower who goes out to sow seed in his field, only to find that  some seeds – the Word of God (Matthew  13:19) – had fallen on “rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and  immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun  rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away”  (13:5-6). This, Jesus says, is the person in whom the Word is sown but does not  take root (13:20-21).

Psalm 1:2 says  that the man who meditates on God’s Word is blessed. Donald S. Whitney, in his  classic work Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, writes, “The  tree of your spiritual life thrives best with meditation because it helps you  absorb the water of God’s Word (Ephesians  5:26). Merely hearing or reading the Bible, for example, can be like a short  rainfall on hard ground. Regardless of the amount or intensity of the rain, most  runs off and little sinks in. Meditation opens the soil of the soul and lets the  water of God’s Word percolate in deeply. The result is an extraordinary  fruitfulness and spiritual prosperity” (pp. 49-50).

If we desire for the  Word to “take root” in our lives so that we produce a harvest that pleases God  (Matthew  13:23), we must ponder, reflect, and meditate on what we read and study in  the Bible. As we meditate, we can ask ourselves some questions:

1. What  does this passage teach me about God?
2. What does this passage teach me  about the church?
3. What does this passage teach me about the world?
4.  What does this passage teach me about myself?  About my own desires and  motives?
5. Does this passage require that I take action?  If so, what  action should I take?
6. What do I need to confess and/or repent of?
7.  What have I learned from this passage that will help me to focus on God and  strive for His glory?

Apply: The degree to which we study,  memorize, and meditate on God’s Word is the degree to which we understand how it  applies to our lives. But understanding how the Word applies is not  enough; we must actually apply it (James 1:22).  “Application” implies action, and obedient action is the final step in causing  God’s Word to come to life in our lives. The application of Scripture enforces  and further enlightens our study, and it also serves to sharpen our discernment,  helping us to better distinguish between good and evil (Hebrews 5:14).

As a  final word, it is important to note that we are not alone in trying to  understand and apply God’s Word to our lives. God has filled us with His Spirit  (John  14:16-17) who speaks to us, leading and guiding us into all truth (John 16:13). For this reason, Paul instructs believers to  “walk by the Spirit” (Galatians  5:16), for He is a very present Help in our time of need (Psalm 46:1)! The Spirit will faithfully guide us into the  will of God, always causing us to do what is right (Ezekiel  36:26-28; Philippians  2:13). Who better to teach how to live according to all that is written in  the Bible than the One who inspired the Bible to begin with—the Holy Spirit  Himself? Therefore, let us do our part by hiding the Word in our hearts and  obeying the Holy Spirit as He draws that Word out of us.