One of the chief characteristics of teachers is that they are always learning. If teachers are continuously learning, then how much more should that be true of all of us. Regardless of one’s vocation or ministry, we all should be students of the Word, always seeking to learn more of God’s Word and being increasingly transformed by it. In my Bible classes at FIRE School of Ministry I teach that a student of the word is one who is a humble, Spirit-led, lover of truth. In my previous two articles I addressed the importance of loving the truth and being humble. Now we will discuss the attribute of being Spirit-led in the process of biblical interpretation.
Probably, most Christians assume that they have received their interpretations of Scripture from the Holy Spirit. But even if your interpretation is correct, it does not mean you learned it from God. A student of the Word not only accurately understands what the Word of God teaches, but also receives this understanding from the Holy Spirit, not from his own ingenuity. As Christians, we know that to be disciples of Jesus we must deny ourselves, yet when we interpret Scripture, we rely on that most untrustworthy of sources for our interpretation: self.
The problem with self being a trusted source of interpretation is that it allows the self-preservation mode to kick into high gear. Good methodology can lead us to correct interpretation, but we often never get there because “self” gets in the way. For example, when we read Jesus’ call for believers to, “deny themselves take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34) what do we interpret taking up our cross to mean? Many people produce a list of things they have to deny themselves of, at least occasionally, on order to obey this command. We give up luxuries, pleasures, sometimes even promotions, and we call it the cross we have to bear. But even if we lose our job because of our faith, it does not necessarily mean that this is bearing our cross. It is only bearing the cross if it is a path Jesus has led you on. Jesus did not say to deny yourself of things. he simply said to deny yourself. That includes everything, except what Jesus allows you to have.
For Jesus and his disciples, there was no confusion in the meaning of the word, “cross.” It meant, horrible, shameful, torturous death. This was the path Jesus was on and he calls us all to follow him there. That does not mean we all must suffer and die as he did, but it does mean we must be willing to if he leads us there, as he did with Peter.
The call to discipleship is a call to die. We are no longer in control of our lives. Jesus is, and he will sometimes lead us down a path that we would never take if we were in control. The disciple who has taken up his cross no longer calls the shots. That is why Jesus prefaced taking up the cross with denying yourself. Your “self” will never allow you to pick up a cross and go to certain death. It is impossible to take up your cross if you have not first denied yourself.
This principle holds true in Bible interpretation as much as any other part of the Christian life. The Holy Spirit will lead us down a path of interpretation that we would never go down if we were in control, so the faithful interpreter must first deny self. That means we no longer dictate the interpretation of Scripture. We cannot trust our own ability to understand what it teaches. We must rely on the Holy Spirit.
This does not mean abandoning our hermeneutics and methodology. Rather, it means submitting the entire process of interpretation to the Lord, who will lead us into all truth. Jesus taught that the teacher who is trained in the kingdom of God will bring out of his storeroom “new treasures as well as old” (Mat 13:52). This means the Spirit-led interpreter will use many of the same methods that self-led interpreters use. The old is the same; the difference is in the “new” that the Spirit-led interpreter brings. This refers to the Holy Spirit, who is the defining difference between the evil kingdom of this world and the kingdom of God. When we add the Holy Spirit to the process of interpretation, everything changes. Good methodology can take you to the right conclusions, but sometimes self will prevent it from happening. The Holy Spirit will always lead you to the right interpretation.
Are you Spirit-led or are you self led? Probably, it is something in between. The following chart refers to Bible students in a classroom atmosphere. Compare the differences and see to what degree you are truly Spirit-led, but please, do not allow “self” to examine yourself; let the Holy Spirit provide the honest answers for you.
Spirit-led: Prays before, during, and after studying
Self-led: Does not include God in the studying process
Spirit-led: Praises God when “illumination” comes
Self-led: Feels proud of self when a discovery is made
Spirit-led: Seeks God for research choices
Self-led: Only chooses interesting, easy, or familiar topics
Spirit-led: Seeks to bless the professor in assignments
Self-led: Seeks to impress the professor in assignments
Spirit-led: Concentrates on the presence of God
Self-led: Concentrates on demands put on self
Spirit-led: Expectantly waits for revelation
Self-led: Struggles with frustration in mental blocks
Spirit- led: Asks for prayer when blocked
Self-led: No time to ask for prayer
Spirit- led: Seeks to promote the purposes of God
Self-led: Studies mainly to promote self and career
Spirit- led: Joyfully studies in God’s presence
Self-led: Study is a chore, and relief comes when finished
Spirit- led: Stays in God’s Word regularly
Self-led: Reads the Bible only when it is assigned in class
Spirit- led: Has peace despite the workload
Self-led: Feels overwhelmed and hopeless; wants to give up
Spirit- led: Faith in God
Self-led: Faith in self
To be students of the word, we must be children of the kingdom who are utterly dependent upon the Holy Spirit for all things, not least of which is the interpretation of Scripture. If we all were truly led by the Spirit, would we have so many competing doctrines and denominations? Not only will being Spirit-led help us to be in the truth, but if it catches on, it can lead to unity in the church. But it must begin with you and with me. Let’s be humble, Spirit-led, lovers of truth and see where the Holy Spirit takes us.