Whenever I read a passage of Scripture, whether it's in my personal devotions or to prepare for a study, my first question is always, ''What am I supposed to do?''
Now, there is nothing wrong with this question. Each passage of Scripture does have some call to action. God does have a lot of stuff for you to do today. However, this should not be the first question we ask of a passage, it should be the last.
This morning I read Psalm 119:57-59,
57 The Lord is my portion;
I promise to keep your words.
58 I entreat your favor with all my heart;
be gracious to me according to your promise.
59 When I think on my ways,
I turn my feet to your testimonies;
My first reaction was to say to myself, ''Self, you need to turn your feet to the testimonies of the Lord and do what He has called you to do.''
But, I then I thought, ''No, I need to read the entire passage, and ask three questions first.'' Let's use the Psalm 119:57-59 passage as an example.
Here are three questions you need to ask before you do anything the Bible tells you to do.
1. What does this passage tell me about God?
This passage tells us that the Lord is my portion. The Lord is my provider, He is the one who will sustain me, he is the one who will comfort me, he is the one who will protect me, he alone is the one who will satisfy me. The Lord is my portion. And I know that the Lord is perfect and holy and he will take care of me perfectly.
It's important to put each passage in its correct perspective. This passage is not about me but it's about the Lord, and the truth that He is my portion. And even though this passage is in the Old Testament, we know that it points us to Jesus. Is not Jesus our portion? Hasn't Jesus been the One whom God used to provide for my salvation and my sanctification? Isn't it Jesus who calls me to ''feed on him'' through faith and the sacrament of the Lord's Supper? For do not all the promises of God find their yes in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20)?
This passage also tells us that we rely on the Lord for grace. The Psalmist has nowhere else to go to find grace and help in his time of need. The Lord is the only one to go to. It also tells us that the Lord is a promise keeper. Why else would the Psalmist say this? And of course, the Lord provides us with true testimonies. Psalm 119 is all about the value and worth of God's law, His testimonies and His truth for us to live by.
2. What does this passage tell me about me?
Again, the Psalmist is not relying on himself to find provision, favor, grace and truth. When we read this passage, we see that we are incomplete in our ability to take care of ourselves. We also see that we need grace. And since grace is unmerited favor towards those who do not deserve it, then we must admit that we've done something wrong and need the Lord's grace and mercy. In this way, the passage reveals our sin and brokenness. It reveals our inability to live according to the testimonies of the Lord and our capability to be promise-breakers.
Finally, these verses reveal that we have turned away from the Lord and His testimonies. Verse 59 says, ''When I think on my ways, I turn my feet to your testimonies.'' Therefore, if ''thinking on our ways'' causes us to ''turn'', then our ways must have been going in a different direction than the Lord wanted us to go.
3. What does this passage tell me about who I am in Christ?
Since we answered the first question about who God is, and the second question about how I fallen short, then we can see more clearly about who He has created me to be and what He has done for me through Christ. Since I am in Christ, I am a child of God, who depends on the Lord as my portion. Since I am in Christ, I will believe in the promises of the Lord that have been secured in the work of Christ.
All three of these questions create the foundation for the question we always ask, ''What is the Bible telling me to do?'' Without asking these questions first, we end up living a moralistic, self-centered life, based on our own sheer will to obey. But if we answer these three questions correctly, then we can live out who we are in Christ and obey the commands of Scripture by the power of the Holy Spirit that lives in us.
My ability to turn away from my sin and turn in faith to Christ, comes from the character of God and His gifts to me through Jesus. So, go out and do what God has called you to do today, but first look to Him, look to His promises that have been fulfilled in Christ and have been poured out to you!
If you would like to learn how to study the Bible from a gospel-centered perspective just go to: www.gospelcenteredbiblestudy.com