Well, it’s that time of year again when a lot of people think about what changes they want to make in their life. Lots of people make resolutions related to their physical health, like losing weight, starting an exercise program, or quitting smoking. Some set educational or career goals, say, to go back to school and finish a degree, earn a certification, or get a new job or promotion. Maybe you want to improve yourself as a person — quit a bad habit, learn a new skill or hobby, or travel somewhere you’ve always wanted to go. But have you thought about making a resolution that will profit your soul or help you to grow spiritually? In the Reformed faith, the term means of grace is used for the things that God uses to “build us up in the most holy faith.” This term refers to the ordinary methods or vehicles that God ordained to bring the lost to saving knowledge and faith in Christ and to continue the process of sanctification in the believer — that is, the process of becoming more like Christ. The Gospel is the primary means God uses to initially save sinners. Other common means of grace that should be a part of every believer’s life include: the preaching of God’s Word, prayer, worship, baptism, and the Lord’s Supper/Communion. This verse sums up the most accepted means of grace pretty well:
“And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42).
(Note: here, “breaking of bread” doesn’t mean just sharing a meal together; it’s referring to the Lord’s Supper.) To clarify, these are not things that are done to earn salvation, acceptance or approval from God; they are things God gave His people to help them in their spiritual walk.
(I’m making an assumption that if you are a professing Christian, you belong to a local fellowship of believers where you meet to worship and to sit under the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. If not, then my first recommendation to you as a New Year’s resolution for your spiritual health is: find a good, Bible-preaching Church! God doesn’t expect you to travel this spiritual journey alone, and the body of Christ needs every member!)
That being said, my suggestion is this: Consider reading through the entire Bible this year. I’ll never forget hearing one pastor share in his testimony that before he became a Christian he insisted on reading the whole Bible. He said he felt that he couldn’t in good conscience accept Christianity and agree to believe in the Bible unless he’d read it first. We know that God typically saves people and grants them faith before they have read the entire Bible. But it struck me, how many people profess to be Christians and claim they believe the whole Bible, but haven’t even read it, or even attempted it? Sure, it takes some time, but shouldn’t that be just about one of your first goals after coming to faith in Christ – to read The Book?
The Westminster Catechism sums up what God’s Word, the Bible, is all about:, “The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man” (Question #3). In other words, Who is God, and how should I live? That’s it in a nutshell. These are the two main issues I need to know if I am to live the Christian life.
If you’ve never attempted to read the whole Bible, it helps to understand the format. Obviously the Bible is not meant to be read like a novel. (I actually read a reviewer of the Bible comment that he had such a hard time reading it because he couldn’t follow the plot!) The Bible is a collection of works of different genres – history and biography, poetry and songs, letters and sermons, etc., written by 30-40 different people (priests and prophets, teachers and lawyers, kings and politicians, shepherds and fishermen; rich and poor, educated and uneducated), who encountered and had a relationship with God.
There’s one consistent theme or message that runs through the entire work: Man is a fallen creature (see Genesis chapter 3) and God is in the business of redeeming man back into a relationship with Himself. The Old Testament provides the background for why this plan was needed, shows how God began to work it out with a particular group of (undeserving) people, and speaks of the promised Redeemer to come. This plan finally becomes a reality in the New Testament when Christ comes to earth by being born as a man, living a life of perfect submission and obedience to God, and then giving his life as a substitutionary atonement for the people God reserved for Himself. In the New Testament, we learn who Christ was, what He said and did, how God established His church on earth, and how the people of God should conduct themselves.
There are a number of ways you can approach reading through the Bible, and various reading plans have been designed to make it simple and quite doable. You may want to go through the Old Testament first, then move into the New; or you might prefer reading portions from both Testaments every day throughout the year. There are several One Year Bibles on the market published in different versions. Also, I definitely recommend reading through a Chronological Bible at least once. The books of the Bible are organized by type, not in the order in which the events occurred. A chronological Bible will give you a good understanding of the sequence of events in which they took place historically. (Did you know that Job probably lived before Moses?)
The Bible isn’t a book that is meant to be read once, then checked off a list and set aside. Augustine remarked, “God’s Word is shallow enough not to drown the young, but deep enough that the greatest theologian will never touch the bottom.” Every year I read through the entire Bible, varying the method I use from one year to the next. It never gets old because each time I read it I understand it better and see something that I didn’t see before. Each year when I revisit a particular passage I am in a different place in my life and different mindset, and God uses His Word to teach, challenge, or encourage me as needed at the time. God has promised that when His Word goes out, “it shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11). And the writer to the Hebrews explains that the Word of God is “sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit…and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).
One final thought: I doubt any true Christian ever went to his death thinking, “I sure wish I hadn’t wasted so much time reading the Bible.”