Among the unique features of the Journey discipleship project is our approach to studying Scripture by reading entire books at once. (For example, for Session 7 we are reading through the book of Romans.) Those of us who have spent any time in church have been conditioned to read small sections of the Bible at a time, so to be asked to do this may seem odd or difficult.

To be clear up front, reading smaller bits is the preferred way for Bible reading. It’s what we ought to do 90% of the time in our quiet times, home Bible studies, sermons, etc. because there’s only so much truth we can process at a time. And besides, just as the Lord only needed a few loaves and fishes to feed a multitude, he only needs a small amount of Scripture to feed our souls. One story, one paragraph, one verse is often enough.

So why this approach?

1. For starters, because the Journey is designed to help both new believers and stagnant believers get growing in their faith.

Sadly, most new believers are terribly illiterate when it comes to the Bible. (And it’s doubly sad to find out that way too many older believers are as well.) So the first order of business is to tackle that deficit head-on by simply doing a flyover of the Bible’s story. We want that new believer to have read the entire Bible through in their first couple of years of faith. (And if you’re a stagnant believer, then this ought to be a goal for you as well.)

When you go to the Magic Kingdom for the first time, it’s useful to study the map first, and see how the five parks are laid out, and which rides are found in which parks. Then you dive in. It’s the same with God’s Kingdom. We want that new believer to learn how the Bible tells one main story that’s focused solely on Jesus Christ, and how each part of the Bible supports that grand theme.

2. Reading Bible books straight through is necessary for interpreting it properly.

Doing it this way allows you to see how the book is constructed. You’ll see more clearly the various sections of the book, and how they weave into each other. You’ll discern the context far more easily, and when it comes to safe and sound Bible interpretation, the #1 rule is: Context is King.

In reading Romans straight through this week, I took note of Romans 12:17,19 where Paul writes, “Repay no one evil for evil…Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine. I will repay says the Lord.’” Paul is repeating the Lord’s Sermon of the Mount teaching about living non-violently by turning the other cheek and not resisting those who are evil (Matthew 5:38-39). It’s a teaching that many struggle with. “So we’re just supposed to let evil people get away with it?!” you’ll hear people ask. (I’ve asked it myself.)

But then just a few verses later in 13:4, Paul writes of government that “he [the civic ruler] is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” I’ve been reading the Bible my whole life but until now missed the connection between those verses. In calling his followers to live lives of mercy and forgiveness, he was not giving that command to governing powers as well. They have a God-given authority to preserve order by punishing wrongdoing. So if people “take the law into their own hands” society falls apart; but if government doesn’t justly enforce the law, society falls apart. By reading the Bible straight through I caught that connection.

3. You’ll see things that you wouldn’t see otherwise with the high-level flyover.

In reading Romans straight through, I was able to easily identify the four main sections of Paul’s letter. Chapters 1-4 defend the main theme of the book that no one – Jew or Gentile – can earn righteousness by lawkeeping (i.e. being good). Salvation is a gift of God received by faith. Chapters 5-8 identify all the blessings that flow out from this lifegiving doctrine. Chapters 9-11 are an important detour where Paul explains why Israel largely has rejected the gospel of righteousness by faith in Christ. (Some of what Paul writes here fast-forwards straight to our time, as God continues his work with Israel.) Chapters 12-16 explore all the practical behaviors that we will practice if the doctrine of salvation by faith in Christ is true.

Paul in many of his letters begins with doctrine, then ends in ethics. First he tells us what God has done; then he teaches us what to do in response to God’s work. So even in the structure of his letters, we are shown that we cannot save ourselves! But that would have been harder to see without reading it straight through.

My wife Janis and I love Yosemite National Park. It’s centered around a lush, river-fed valley surrounded on all sides by awe-inspiring granite cliffs, which are themselves enclosed by 10,000 foot mountains which birth sinewy meadows and waterfalls in all directions. One of my favorite Yosemite hikes brings me to the top of Inspiration Point which overlooks the entire valley at a glance (the picture that is above). You see it all spread out – the surging Nevada and Vernal Falls looking like little wisps of water, mighty Half Dome looking like a giant’s plaything, the valley floor like a couple footprints thousands of feet below.

You should experience something similar when you read the Bible from high above. You’ll see interconnectedness between ideas. You’ll recognize favorite verses and find yourself saying, “Oh that’s why that verse is there!” And from high above you ought to be able to recognize a single set of footprints walking across time and eternity. Footprints that belong to Jesus Christ.

 

Bear Clifton is a pastor, writer and screenwriter. His latest book, “Communion With Christ” is now available through Amazon. His blogs and scripts can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, and “A Sparrow Could Fall”, all available through Amazon. 

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