Learning to Read the Bible Again: Thoughts from a Recovering Legalist
“…Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Matt. 4:4
Some time in my twenties I made the decision to read through the whole Bible. I found a plan and I checked the box each day I read a chapter from the Old Testament, a chapter from the New Testament and a Psalm or Proverb. I got off track several times and had to make up days when I didn’t read my assignment. Sometimes (a lot of times) I found myself skimming passages just so I wouldn’t fall far behind in my reading. Needless to say, I finally finished the “plan” and completed my Bible in about 18 months.
When I look back I readily admit my reading through the Bible was mostly from a sense of obligation mixed with pride. Bless my heart. Legalism never produces joy and I was clearly motivated by works and approval, from both God and man.
Twenty years have passed and I have studied many books of the Bible mixed with periodic attempts of reading through the whole Bible again. I have tried a few daily reading plans and checking boxes. Usually somewhere around Leviticus I fade out and eventually give up.
In more recent years I have pondered the bigger question: why should I read the whole Bible? Is it something I need to do as a Christian or is there a grander purpose? Is it okay to just continue studying specific books of the Bible (in women’s Bible study or in church sermon series) without reading through the whole Bible?
Seeking to turn from legalism, I thought about these questions and prayerfully came to some conclusions. I truly want to know the Lord more deeply–His ways, His character, His wisdom, His truth. The best way to know Him more fully is to read His entire Word. It is easy to keep going back to the books in the Bible where life application is obvious and I don’t have to think so hard and wrestle with the challenging aspects of an infinite God. But I know there are things the Lord wants to teach me in Obadiah, Nahum & Leviticus.
Reading through the whole Bible gives me the broader perspective on each of the individual books as I study them. It all fits together as one story and if I leave some of it out, I’ll miss out on understanding the bigger picture of the Lord and His purposes.
God’s redemptive story of reconciling a broken, sinful people to Himself through Jesus is seen through every book in the whole Bible, not just in parts. In some books it is not as obvious. It takes thought and time. Like any good story, one part builds on the next. In order to fully appreciate the New Testament books, we need the backdrop of the Old Testament books.
As I thought through these conclusions I began observing how my husband was going about his Bible reading. Almost every night when we got into bed he would pick up his Bible and read. Some nights he read several chapters. Other nights he would read just a couple. He would miss a night here or there but–get this–there wasn’t a plan. He just read what he could and there was no pressure. No boxes to check. No getting behind or ahead.
Once I discovered his genius non-plan plan, it was like a light bulb went on and I realized this was the answer. Isn’t this the way we read every other book? We don’t sit down with a book and a plan to get through it. We read as much as we want or can at the time and enjoy it. Obviously the Bible isn’t just any book. It is alive and powerful (Heb. 4:12) which is an excellent motivation to read it. It is God-breathed and profitable for teaching, reproofing, correcting and training in righteousness (2 Tim. 3:16). It is the only book that has the power to set men free (John 8:32). It can change lives, make them wise, revive souls! (Ps. 19:7). It is the only book that gives comfort, life and hope (Ps. 119:50).
This is how I read my Bible now. I read the Bible whenever I can for as long as I can. I started reading Genesis again earlier this year but I don’t know the day. It’s freeing to not care (no box to check)! Currently I’m in the book of Deuteronomy. I am also trying to read a psalm slowly and just take a few verses and meditate on them after I read the longer chapters I’m going through. Currently I’m meditating on a few verses Psalm 86.
My hope is that this will be my routine for the rest of my life. Once I finish Revelation, I plan to start back with Genesis again. I’m thankful for a wise husband who demonstrated for his legalistic leaning wife a grace-oriented way to approach the Scripture. To be clear, however you choose to read your Bible, reading plan or not, God blesses the reading of His Word. May the Word of God dwell in you richly (Col. 3:16) and may His Word thoroughly equip you for every good work. (2 Tim. 3:17).