Are you ready to Live PURPOSEFULLY
Using Devotionals and Bible Studies to Grow Your Faith
I had just put my kids to bed. The youngest was snoring away on the pillow next to me while my older two were fast asleep in their bunk bed. And it wasn’t even 8 pm yet (small mom victory!) which meant I had plenty of time to recline in my bed, put my feet up, and soak in a good Christian Living book. Or at least, that’s what it was supposed to be…
I’m not going to share the title of what I was reading because the truth is it wasn’t correctly categorized as a Christian Living book, and I can’t in good conscience recommend it. BUT this book brought to light an issue that (for the most part) has flown under the radar.
What if they Christian Books or Devotionals you’re reading aren’t as sound as you were lead to believe?
Wise Practice or Big Mistake?
Devotionals and Bible Study books have become HUGE in the Christian community. Everyone wants to write one and even more, people want to read them. They’ve become valuable tools for growth. Even I have my every growing shelf of Christian literature that I like to read through. But what I’m finding to be true in this new and growing age of Christian literature, where new authors are emerging in every city, is not every book that claims to be for our spiritual growth is biblically sound.
And that’s a problem. ESPECIALLY when so many Christians have turned to these examples to set the foundations for their lives. We have to realize if we are going to be using these tools to help equip us in our walk with God then we are responsible for making sure what we take into our minds is biblically sound. Which means we don’t blindly accept things as truth just because someone says it’s in the Bible or points to a Bible verse. There are a lot of books out there that use Christian references and point to scripture to prove a point without mentioning the context or original intent of the scripture they quoted. They take the Gospel of Truth and bend it into a gospel that serves their beliefts instead of adopting God’s ways as their own. They’ve created a false gospel.
Does that mean we should throw all the devotionals and Christian Living books away? No way! But it does mean we need to be discerning as we read them. And we certainly shouldn’t rely solely on them. But there are some things you should keep in mind and put into practice if you plan to use these tools to strengthen your walk and relationship with God.
How to Use Devotionals, Bible Studies, and Christian Living Books Properly
Before anything else we must understand that Christians are not the final authority on Christian living; God is. And devotionals aren’t a solid foundation for Christian living; the Bible is. So if at any point what you are studying contradicts the heart of God or His Word, the wise choice would be to dismiss it as myth and not accept it as truth. We can skip over a lot of false doctrines by putting these checks into place.
1. Get Familiar With the Author
Often, before I consider reading a devotional, Bible Study, or Christian living book I consider who the author is. If I don’t know much about them I try to find out the basics. What’s their testimony? Are they attached to any heavy controversy? If so, what is it? What is the mission of their ministry or outreach?
Most of these things you can find on their website, Facebook page, or through a simple google search. YouTube is a great vetting source for established authors and speakers. Often after listening to a short teacher you can tell if the author is teaching opinion or truth. And it never hurts to ask a trusted friend, pastor, or mentor what their thoughts about a particular book, teacher, or ministry.
2. Keep Your Bible Handy
The Bible should be the foundation of every devotional, Bible Study, or Christian Living book you read. I recommend keeping yours close by as you study other sources so when questions arise you can pull out your Bible, turn to your index or concordance, and seek out a sound answer.
3. Look up any scriptures, texts, or stories that are mentioned.
Any time scripture is quoted in a book, it is wise to look it up in your Bible. Often times scripture in books are paraphrased and even taken out of context. Taking the time to look verses up for yourself will help you keep scripture in context and ensure that you aren’t being misled. When you look up the scripture you want to do three things:
1 | Read the scripture in entirety.
Too many people are trying to build their lives off of small portions or paraphrases of scripture. This practice fosters confusion more than anything and causes us to miss what God intended when He inspired that passage of scripture. A well-known example of this is the paraphrase, “wives, submit to your husband.” When we take that paraphrase as is we interpret it as an absolute directive. However, when you look at the scripture in entirety you see God’s heart and intent behind it and it’s not what people think. Context matters
2 | Read a few verses above and below the referenced scripture verse. Maybe even the chapter as a whole.
This is another big piece of the context puzzle. God is very intentional about what is written throughout the Bible. That alone should tell us context matters. Taking the time to read a few scriptures above and below the verse referenced can help us keep scripture in context and keep us from misinterpreting scripture. I’ll use Philippians 4:13 as an example.
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” If you don’t read Philippians 4 in entirety you might get the idea (as many have) that God is saying we infinite abilities and can do whatever we want to, whatever we set our mind to. IF however, you read this verse in context with the rest of the text, it would appear that Paul was talking about His ability to be content regardless of His circumstance and set His mind of the things that reflect the goodness of God even in hardship (see Philippians 4:8 through 14). Context makes a difference.
3 | Write down any scripture you are aware of that supports the scripture referenced in your book.
If a topic comes up that you are unsure about even after reading the text in entirety and gaining context through surrounding verses, your next step is to either refute or support the claim made, through other biblical text. This is where having a concordance comes in and when knowing how to use the index of a Bible comes in handy. The index can help point you towards other verses associated with the principle at hand. Studying these additional scriptures can help you gain an understanding of where there was once confusion.
A concordance is a great tool because it allows you to look at scripture in its original language (Hebrew, Greek, or Arabic). A concordance can help you uncover keywords and meanings that were lost during the translation process.
What To Do When You Encounter and Error
It’s going to happen and one point or another. We are all human which means we are incapable of getting it right all the time. So before you throw out the book, you may want to consider these things:
1| Is the mistake one that disrupts the foundation of the Gospel?
If the answer is yes, this isn’t the book for you. The foundation that you build your faith from needs to be solid. There’s no getting around that. If the foundation of something is faulty it’ll show up in other portions of the structure too. If you’re looking for sound truth you may be better off using a different source.
2 | Does it make sin look acceptable?
Walking out our salvation and living a redeemed life (through Christ) requires us to set aside our old ways, in adopting God’s ways as our own. It means leaving sin behind and pursuing righteousness. Will we get it right every time? No. But there’s grace for that.
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What we can’t afford to do though, is take advantage of that grace and use it as an excuse to continue living in sin. Paul addresses this very thing in his letter to the Roman church. Grace is not a free pass to live this life however we want to. So if a source is leading you to believe that what God tolerates sinful living or that He’s too loving or kind to respond with anything other than acceptance you NEED to set that one down and leave it down.
We are told in Romans 12:2 not to conform to the standards of the world but to allow Christ to renew our minds with His truth. Anything that contradicts His truth is not worth holding onto.
3 | Is it simply a difference of opinion?
Should we eat meat? Should we not eat meat?
Can we drink alcohol?
Is contemporary worship music ok?
Questions like these tend to cause a lot of confusion within the church. Why? Because there isn’t a straight yes or no answer to them. God doesn’t instruct us away from them (or provide principles that instruct us away from them) but He doesn’t tell us to embrace them either. So how do we decide where we stand? First, considers these questions:
- Does this practice or belief affect my salvation?
- Does it negatively affect my walk with God?
- Does it draw me closer to Him?
- By participating in this, am I demonstrating good stewardship?
When there isn’t a clear yes or no directive in the Bible chances are the question you’re asking is more of a heart issue than it is one of legality. In these instances, we follow the individual leading of the Holy Spirit. Paul addresses this in his letter to the Roman church as well (Romans 14). We are all at very different places in our walk with God which means that the boundaries we set to protect our relationship with Him are all going to look a little bit different. What may be a stumbling block (something that causes us to fall into sin or leads us away from God) for me may not necessarily be a stumbling block for you.
If I were recovering from a season of alcoholism and struggling to maintain control in that area, it would be wise to set boundaries that kept me from falling back into the habit of drunkenness such as “no alcohol in the house.”
If on the other hand, sobriety wasn’t something you struggled with, you might not need that same boundary. Celebrating with a glass of wine doesn’t share the same damaging consequences in your life that it could someone who is recovering from an alcohol addiction. And if you were aware of their struggle the loving thing to do would be to help them walk in authority by respecting their boundaries in their presence. Paul also explains in Romans 14:13 – 23.
All that to say, If the error you encountered is simply a difference of opinion or matter of personal preference there isn’t a reason to be concerned about what you’re reading. In fact, learning about differences and how to manage them, how to see someone else’s point of view; that’s valuable. You may not implement those principles into your life and that’s ok. Just be careful not to let the fact that someone things a differently than you keep you from learning from them.
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