It can be intimidating to start going to church every Sunday and hear about passages you didn't even know were in the Bible. How can you even begin to grasp this massive book? You want to understand the Bible for yourself, but the laws and stories seem so different from your life today; how can you possibly understand and apply it? Must you be a scholar?
The good news is that you, like every other Christian (educated or not) who has gone before you, have exactly what you need to study God's Word and glean from it—the Holy Spirit. You have been bought with Christ's blood, brought into his family, and been given the third person of the Trinity as your helper in this Christian walk. You have everything you need to understand and apply the Bible, and some tools will help you get started.
The Bible Is Valuable
You may believe the Bible is true, but you may not understand the tremendous value it has for your life, made clear in 2 Timothy 3:16−17:
All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.
God gives us the Bible so that we will be able to live the Christian life. It is the means by which we can be equipped, encouraged, and edified as children of God. It’s a living book that breathes life into our souls. In order to understand the Bible for yourself, you must first believe that it has a lot to say to you—that it is the very word of God to you. Once you grasp that truth, you are ready to begin diving in for deeper understanding.
Start Small and Observe
It's easy to get overwhelmed whenever you undertake a new task, especially reading and interpreting the Bible. The best advice I ever received for getting started: take it one day at a time. There is no shame in baby steps. They will get you to the same destination. That's how growth begins. Learning to interpret the Bible on our own takes discipline, but over time you will see God work in your life because he has promised to do his work through his Word (Isaiah 55:11).
Start small—maybe one chapter a day. In that chapter, observe carefully what the text says and what comes before and after it. It may be helpful to jot down those observations.
Sometimes Scripture passages are just hard to understand. Asking questions will help you get on the right road to interpreting the Bible and applying it to life. While these questions are not exhaustive, they are a start. If it helps you, buy a journal and write down these questions and answers each time you read:
- What does this verse or passage say about God?
- What does this verse or passage say about me?
I start with God because he is the author of the book. He establishes authorial intent. When he inspired the biblical writers to pen the pages of Scripture, he had a plan and purpose in mind. To understand God, his character, and his work in the Bible is to understand the message of the Bible. It's also important to start with God because only in light of who he is will we rightly see ourselves in the pages of Scripture. The Bible is a mirror, and while it also gives us a big view of our God, it also gives us an accurate view of ourselves.
Sometimes these questions lead to more questions and thoughts, and that’s the point. Great things happen when, coupled with the work of the Holy Spirit, we stop and linger over God's Word.
Apply It to Your Life
After you take some notes and ponder what these verses are saying about God and you, you’re ready to apply it to your life. Interpretation is the key before application. It is impossible to apply the Bible to your own life if you miss what the Bible is saying about God.