One of my strongest memories from my sophomore year of high school is of a black, 5-inch thick three-ring binder I carried everywhere. I was part of the not-so-exclusive academic quiz bowl team at my school, and every few weeks, I would compete against other schools to see which team could “buzz in” first to earn points answering trivia questions. My binder was filled with the printed records of previous tournament questions and answers. Though questions were rarely repeated, I poured over that binder every opportunity I could find, hoping that my incessant studying might reveal recurring subject matter or a pattern in how questions are worded for tournaments to give me an edge over the competition. To this day, I’d still choose a trivia night at a local restaurant over almost any other activity.
I used to think taking this same approach to Scripture was proof that I loved God’s Word. Studying the Bible—its words, history, cultural contexts, and languages—has been life-giving to my faith in my undergraduate and postgraduate studies, as well as in my career. But I have to be reminded that life as a follower of Jesus is so much more than just memorizing facts about God or storing up interesting trivia about the Bible. Our reading and study of Scripture should shape us and reorient our hearts as it shows us who He is and who we are in Him.
I come back to the book of James over and over when I find my heart wanting to make a god of knowing about God, rather than truly knowing Him. The book is full of direct one-liners that cut right to the truth: truly delighting in God’s Word means living out what the Word teaches us. In the opening passage of his letter, James sums this up by telling believers that we must be “doers of the word and not hearers only” (James 1:22).
Hearing without acting is more than useless—it’s self-deception, because as believers, we are new people born of the gospel (v.22,18). James writes that God has implanted His Word in us (v.21). We miss the point if we are not willing to let its truth take root, growing and bearing fruit in us as we are changed and made more like Christ.
Essentially, we are living out what the psalmist pleads with God to do: transform him so that he can keep God’s commands (Psalm 119:21). By His Spirit and His Word, we’ve been made into new people. Unlike the person who looks in the mirror and responds, “I forget,” when asked what they look like (vv.23–24), we are called to remember who we are as we walk away from reading the Bible. If we go about our lives without acting on what it teaches, we live as fractured people, at odds with who we now are in Christ. Praise God, because He’s done the hardest work in giving us new hearts already!
Being in the Word of God every day equips us to live out the Word of God every day. It guards against forgetting what is true of our God and of ourselves. Let our prayer echo that of the psalmist as we come to the Bible each day: ”Teach me, LORD, the meaning of your statutes, and I will always keep them” (Psalm 119:33).
Written by Jessica Lamb