Working to Own It
Our modern church culture inculcates a couch-potato faith.
While the Bible demonstrates a lively, active Christianity—preaching, witnessing, healing, and teaching out in highways and the byways—our modern church culture inculcates a couch potato faith. Today believers aren't fiery Stephens; they're bloated shoppers of ministry cafeteria fare. Would you like some Christian television to go with that study Bible? How 'bout this study guide? Everything's already done for you; just have to fill in the blanks (psst, the answers are in the back). You want to do a study on the book of Acts? Well, we have a conference for that. Elijah? Oh, there's a couple of seminars on him too. Don't fit into your busy schedule? (we are all so busy, aren't we?) We have it all on CD, DVD, Web streaming, and now even those little tweets that come on your phone. Just $19.95 please.
The problem with the Gospel cafeteria, besides its junk food, is that it doesn't let you do your own cooking. Show me a man who's been to all the super church buffets in the past year, and I'll show you a man who can't testify himself out of a Tupperware party. Oh, he might have learned some juicy tidbit about Joseph, or tasted some yummy Revelation tart. (Mmm.) But he can't tell you what he ate just five minutes ago.
The only way to own scripture—where it becomes James's engrafted Word—is to eat it. Couch potato conferences won't do it. Reading the Word as a daily devotional won't do it either. You've got to break it down, chew it up, and put it back together—all on your own. There aren't any shortcuts. A preacher can wave a desert plate of "we are his fullness" and "Christ in you" under your nose, but it won't do you any good until you stick your own fork in it and chew it up yourself.
One of the best ways (if not the best way) to work the scriptures is to write them out. Get a moleskine, a pen, a Bible, and go to work. Write out the scriptures long-hand. Break them up. Diagram them. Compare translations (in writing). Explain them. Do that for a week and you'll have a new Bible.
Here is one morning's work for me. I didn't have that much time to work Colossians 1:27, but this is an example of what you could do in just 20 or 30 minutes (if you don't do Greek, you'd have more time for more translations and, more importantly, more of your own notes):
The verse in Greek: ὁις ἠθελησεν ὁ θεος γνωρισαι τι το πλουτος της δοξης του μυστηριου τουτου ἐν τοις ἐθνεσιν ὁ εστιν χριστος ἐν ὑμιν ἡ ελπις της δοξες
Diagramming: [The diagramming doesn't really work on the blog. But what I do is diagram the verse (in Greek) like most of us learned to do in eighth grade. Sometimes, like with this verse, the diagram goes across one Moleskine page to the other.
Diagramming is one of the best ways to study the scriptures because it forces you to slow down and think about the content of the verse.]
Translations: Smythean: to whom God desired to make known what are the riches of the glory of this mystery in the nations, which is Christ in y'all, the hope of glory. Rotherham: Unto whom God hath been pleased to make known what is the glorious wealth of this sacred secret among the nations, Which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.
Notes: Paul expressly states that the mystery is "Christ in you" which is the hope of God. This is the revelation of the ages. This is the pinnacle of knowledge of the church. In reading the first nine books of Acts, you can see that the apostles didn't have this revelation. They preached Jesus as the Messiah, but they weren't aware of identification; they weren't aware of "Christ in you." Peter's letters are the direct result of his understanding of Paul's mystery. He didn't have that knowledge back in the first part of Acts. ἐν τοις ἐθνεσιν – the mystery is for all nations, not just the Jews. This goes back to Abraham. The promise was that all nations would be blessed in him, not just the nation of Israel. το πλουτος της δοξης του μυστηριου τουτου – There is a richness of a full and complete redemption in this mystery. It has everything to do with righteousness and holiness. And everything to do with Jesus being faithful all the way until the moment he was resurrected by the Father. χριστος ἐν ὑμιν – There is a depth here that the church hasn't even begun to touch. Christ in you means an ontological change, a change in the very nature of the man. A change of a satanic nature (John 8) to the very nature of Christ himself. The believer is called "Christ" because his nature is that of Christ. This truth is so fantastic, so unimaginable that the Church has been afraid to acknowledge that the scriptures declare it. Another aspect of this small phrase is identification, another doctrine that the Church deems radioactive. How can a believer have "Christ in you" unless Christ first identified with us? Man was alienated from God, without a sliver of hope in the world. It was only by Jesus' identification with him that he could become a living letter of "Christ in you."
Did I write out the verse in Greek longhand? Yes, every word of it.
Did I write my own translation? Yes, and I compared it to other translations to check accuracy, word choice, and meaning.
Did I really diagram the verse? Yes. And like I said, it's one of the best ways to make yourself slow down and chew on the truth.
As I began doing this years and years ago, I gradually stopped buying all the latest and greatest preaching books. In fact, I started selling stacks of them to used book stores. When you start feeding on the scriptures instead of just sampling them, you begin to see that most of the Christian books on your bookshelves have no more appeal than a day-old donut. For real Gospel meat, you've got to fire up your own grill.
An old post from 2009.