Resolution 2019: The Bible
I have an annual joke that gets less funny every year. I wait for someone to ask me what my New Year’s resolution is, and then I say, “To not make promises I can’t keep.” Actually, that joke was never funny. I should resolve to retire it.
It was probably just an attempt to deflect the question. If I make a joke, then I might be able to get out of trying to be better this year. It’s supposed to be a light-hearted way of saying, “I’m still a sinner, and I can’t fix that, so why bother?” But that’s a really bad way of thinking. It’s a misuse of good doctrine. Good habits are still good, even if our fallen natures remain corrupted.
Or we might say, “I’m saved by grace. I don’t make resolutions because my good works won’t save me anyway.” This is another misuse of good doctrine. Of course we are saved by grace, but that doesn’t make good works bad. Salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is the main thing, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only thing. Good works are good, and good habits are good. That’s why we call them “good.” In fact, one of the purposes of salvation is that we might do good works (Titus 2:11-14). We just don’t measure our standing before God by them.
The New Year is as good a time as any to try to do something better. Christians, of all people, should be into New Year’s resolutions. They might be the same resolutions as the rest of the world: eat better, exercise more, learn a foreign language, etc. Or they might have to do with Christian piety: faithfully attend worship, start going to Sunday school or Bible study, practice family devotions, sin less, etc.
Any and all of these are good, but I want to suggest one specific resolution for the New Year: read the Bible. In my own congregation we are trying to do this together this year. Maybe you’ve done it before. Maybe you’ve tried and failed. Maybe you’ll fail again. Reading half the Bible (or even a few chapters) is better than not reading any of it. The Bible is the history of what God has done to save us from our sins. It is, by its very nature, the greatest story ever.
Reading the Bible can be hard, and I can’t change that, but I can give you a few things that will hopefully help:
Find a plan, or set your own. In my opinion, a good plan will include two chapters from the Old Testament, one from the new, and one psalm or proverb each day. If you read one psalm or proverb each day, you will read through those books twice in a year.
If you have a smartphone, use it to do something smart. Many Bible apps have yearly plans. You can set reminders, read the texts, or even listen to the readings from the app. We all read at different speeds, but you can listen to the Bible in about fifteen minutes a day.
It’s probably not a sin to skip or skim the genealogies. The names are important to the history of the Bible, but until you figure out who some of the people are, it won’t make much sense to you.
It’s also not a sin to just read the New Testament. If you don’t think you’ll succeed with the whole thing, it’s better to do part of it than none of it.
When you get to short books, like some of the Minor Prophets or the letters in the New Testament, instead of reading one or two chapters a day, just read the whole thing in one sitting. Many of these books were intended to be read in one sitting. It will also feel good to read an entire book.
Don’t stretch the text to make it apply to your life. In most cases the Bible applies itself. For example, when it says, “You shall not murder” (Ex. 20:13), the application is what it says: don’t murder. When it says, “The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost” (Luke 19:10), the application is simply that Jesus came to seek and to save you. And when it says, “Samuel hacked Agag to pieces” (1 Sam. 15:33), it really just means that Samuel hacked Agag to pieces. Don’t stretch it to make it apply it to your life. In short, read the Bible the same way you read any book. Let it speak for itself.
Most importantly, recognize that the Bible is primarily about Jesus (John 5:39; Luke 24:27). We should expect to find him all over the Bible, and we do. There is Law, there is Gospel, and all of it works together to reveal Jesus, the Savior of the world. The Bible teaches us God’s will for how we should live. If we ignore this, we will miss part of God’s good will. But if all we see is instructions for how we should live, we will miss God’s will for how we are saved and will live for eternity.
The Bible is an extraordinary book. It is the divinely inspired history of how God has worked in this world to save sinners through Jesus Christ. I hope you will join me in this resolution. May the Holy Spirit bless you through the Word.