Engaging God’s Word: Why We Don’t Apply What We Read

Engaging God’s Word: Why We Don’t Apply What We Read

This article is from our Engaging God’s Word series

Have you ever gotten a speeding ticket? How about a warning? Why is it that we know we should not speed, we see the speed limit sign plain as day, and yet we do it anyway? Anything from 10 miles over the limit on the highway to a couples miles over the limit in a restrictive neighborhood slow zone. It can be a struggle to adhere to the rules, not because we want to break the law but because it just doesn’t seem critical at the moment we are exceeding the limit. Seriously, are a few miles an hour that big a deal when you’re on a 10 hour trip on a major highway? There aren’t any other cars around, is it really that unsafe? Haven’t you heard somewhere that the police won’t pull you over if it’s with a few miles an hour?

The simple truth is, we know what we are supposed to do, we just don’t apply it in the moment. This is the same mindset that goes into our bible engagement. The Scripture is filled with insights, encouragements, wisdom, and praises. It is also filled with ways in which we should live as disciples of Jesus. He even clarifies in the Great Commission that we are to teach the disciples we make to obey, or observe, everything He has commanded. That means a couple of things:

  1. We have to know what His commands are in order to teach them.
  2. Jesus expects His disciples to obey His commands.

I’m in no way saying we ought to think of Jesus’ commands the same way we think of speed limits. I’m simply comparing the mindset behind the two practices. Whether it’s abiding by a simple law of the government or walking in obedience to our Lord: We know what we are supposed to do, we just don’t apply it in the moment.

Why is that?

First of all, we are sinners in need of God’s grace every single second of every single day. We choose to go our own way if left to our own desires. That’s the bad news. Thank God for the good news: Christ died for our sin, and we have the Holy Spirit to empower us to live a life that honors Him. So, it isn’t too difficult to understand that we often do not apply what we read in God’s Word. But there are a few key elements we must understand if we really do want to be doers of the Word and not just hearers.

Accountability is crucial

If you and I don’t have people asking about how we are living in obedience to Christ’s commands, then we are far more likely not to do it. We set ourselves up for failure when we don’t surround ourselves with faithful men if you’re a man, or women if you’re a woman, who will inquire about your pursuit of Jesus. Who will ask if you lived out the Word? Who has permission to get in your face when you need them to (hint: we all need them to all the time). Back to my imperfect comparison to speeding. How do you drive when a policeman is right behind you? Is it at all different from how you drive in their absence? Again, my goal is not to equate accountability to legalistic works, but the idea holds: we need people who care about us and love us to help us in our pursuit of Jesus.

If you and I don’t have people asking about how we are living in obedience to Christ’s commands, then we are far more likely not to do it. Click To Tweet

Know the Word

This is no surprise: we can’t obey the Word if we don’t know what it says. The crucial first step in Bible engagement is reading the Word. As part of our discipleship group model, we suggest using the HEAR method which drives us toward action as half of the method is application. Regardless of how you regularly engage God’s Word, make sure you are doing it consistently. Perhaps you’ve driven down a stretch of road, and you did not know the speed limit. The policeman has probably heard, “I didn’t know what the limit was” a thousand times. He is still right to give you a ticket. Our lack of knowledge of the Word does not negate us from what it says. Let us be people of the Word so we can obey what it says.

From Legalism to Love

It is so easy for me to be legalistic. I see people doing something wrong, and I want to pass judgment immediately. I’ve been on the road and noticed a motorcycle pass me going at least 90 miles per hour or faster. What’s more, the driver on one wheel standing up flying through the center line through traffic. I thought this guy was crazy (perhaps he was). My first thought was, “That guy is going to get a ticket, hopefully before he gets hurt or hurts someone else!” The truth is I didn’t just think he might get a ticket; I wanted him to get one. I wanted to see him on the side of the road, police car lights flashing, handing this man a ticket for reckless endangerment. Maybe even cuffing the guy and taking him into the police station. I wanted justice!

I am so glad that is not how Jesus thinks about us. To really apply what Jesus commands, we need to understand His heart. Unlike me (and perhaps you), HE isn’t out to get us. Jesus isn’t waiting behind a copse of trees on the side of the road so he can bust us when we speed by and write us a ticket. Jesus has already paid the price for our transgressions. He has bared the weight of all our sin on His shoulders and taken the penalty we owe. Jesus conquered death and hell and rose again victorious over the enemy and through Him, we can too! The motive behind God’s pursuit of us is love and our motivation to apply the Word has to be love as well. Jesus does not want our obedience out of shame, guilt, and legalism. He wants us to love Him, and when we love Him, we will obey him more. We will apply His truth to our lives as a response in love to Him.

Applying the Word to our lives is a central aspect of engaging God’s Word. We must do more than just read it, listen to it, and study it. We must put into practice all that Jesus has commanded. By being accountable to other believers, reading God’s Word, and growing in love toward our Savior, we can shift from knowing the Scriptures to applying them in our daily life.

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Chris Swain currently serves at Long Hollow Baptist Church as the Executive Director of Replicate Ministries. After fours years of service in the United States Marine Corps, Chris served in full-time ministry for 14 years in Arkansas, Florida, Texas, and Georgia, leading ministries ranging from Students, to Collegiate, to Spiritual Formation. Most recently, Chris served as the Director of Student Ministry Publishing at Lifeway Christian Resources serving the Church in its mission of making disciples. Chris’s heart is to expand the Gospel through disciple-making in the local church.