How to Study the Bible for Transformation

Take the next step when you're ready to go beyond information.

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Oftentimes Christians read the Bible with a focus on information. Their goal is to learn the content of the Scriptures, including historical data, personal stories, practical principles, important truths, and so on. This is a worthwhile goal, and there are specific steps a Christian should take when reading the Bible primarily as an opportunity to learn about God and what He's communicated through His Word.

However, it's also important for Christians to understand that the Bible is not a textbook for history and philosophy. It's much more significant:

For the word of God is living and effective and sharper than any double-edged sword, penetrating as far as the separation of soul and spirit, joints and marrow. It is able to judge the ideas and thoughts of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12; HCSB)

The primary purpose of the Bible is not to communicate information to our brains. Instead, the primary purpose of the Bible is to change and transform us at the level of our hearts. In other words, in addition to reading the Bible for the purpose of information, Christians must also commit to regularly reading God's Word for the purpose of transformation.

To help you toward that goal, here are 5 practical steps for reading the Bible with a focus on transformation.

Step 1: Find the Right Location

Would you be surprised to learn that even Jesus had to eliminate distractions when He sought out a deeper encounter with God? It's true:

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, [Jesus] got up, went out, and made His way to a deserted place. And He was praying there. Simon and his companions went searching for Him. They found Him and said, "Everyone's looking for You!" (Mark 1:35-37; HCSB)

Find yourself a quiet, peaceful place where you can realistically dive into the Bible and stay there for awhile.

Step 2: Prepare Your Heart

Internal preparation means different things to different people at different times. For example, if you're buckling under the weight of stress or negative emotions, you may need to spend significant time in prayer before you even approach the Bible. Pray for peace. Pray for a calm heart. Pray for release from stress and anxiety.

At other times you may prefer to worship God in advance of studying His Word. Or, you may want to encounter the reality of God by getting into nature and immersing yourself in the beauty of His creation.

Here's the point: before you even begin flipping pages in the Bible, spend a few moments in contemplation and self-evaluation in order to prepare yourself for a transformational experience. It's important.

Step 3: Evaluate What the Text Says

When you're ready to take the plunge and read a passage of Scripture, commit to the experience. Read the full passage two or three times in order to immerse yourself in the themes and direction of the text. In other words, skimming the Bible won't lead to transformation. Instead, read as if your life depended on it.

Your first goal in encountering a passage of Scripture is to determine what God has communicated through that passage. The first questions you should ask are: "What does the text say?" and "What does the text mean?"

Notice the question is not, "What does the text mean to me?" The Bible isn't subjective -- it doesn't rely on us to come up with different meanings in different situations. Rather, the Bible is our main source of objective truth. In order to properly engage the Bible, we must recognize it as our primary source for truth and as a living document that is true and useful for everyday life (2 Tim. 3:16).

So, as you read through a specific passage of Scripture, spend time identifying the truths contained within it. Sometimes this will mean studying the text in order to seek out information if the passage is confusing or complicated. Other times this will simply mean finding and noting the major themes and principles contained in the verses you read.

Step 4: Determine the Implications for Your Life

After you have a good understanding of what the text means, your next goal is to contemplate the implications of that text for your specific situation.

Again, the goal of this step is not to shoe-horn the Bible so that it fits with your current goals and desires. You don't bend and twist the truths contained in Scripture to make them affirm whatever you want to do during a particular day or a particular season of life.

Instead, the genuine way to study the Bible is to figure out how you need to bend and change in order to conform yourself to God's Word. Ask yourself this question: "If I really believe this passage of Scripture is true, how do I need to change in order to align myself with what it says?"

After years of sometimes-frustrating experiences with reading the Bible, I've learned that prayer is a necessary step in this process. That's because we don't have what it takes to conform ourselves to the truths contained in the Bible. Sure, we can attempt to use our willpower to change certain behaviors, and we may even be successful -- for a while.

But ultimately God is the One who changes us from the inside out. God is the One who transforms us. Therefore, it's vital that we remain in communication with Him whenever we seek a transformational experience with His Word.

Step 5: Determine How You Will Obey

This final step of transformational Bible study is a step that many Christians forget to take (or are ignorant of altogether). To put it simply, it's not enough for us to understand the ways we need to change in order to be transformed -- in order to conform ourselves to the truths contained in the Bible. It's not enough for us to know what we need to do.

We need to actually do something. We need to obey what the Bible says through our daily actions and attitudes. That's the message of this powerful verse from the Book of James:

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. (James 1:22, NIV)

So, the final step in reading the Bible for transformation is to make a specific, concrete plan about how you will obey and apply the truths you discover. Again, because God is the One who ultimately changes you at the heart level, it's best to spend some time in prayer as you come up with this plan. That way you won't rely on your own strength of will to carry it out.