Because it is so personal, application can be the most demanding part of Bible study. In observation and interpretation, we focus on the words and meaning of a passage of Scripture, and our distance from the study provides some cover. But application is dangerous because God calls us not just to think but to change. Applying the Bible is difficult.
Yet this difficulty doubles when we attempt application on our own. Like a solo mission on a battlefield or a five-on-one game of basketball, the odds of successful application spike when we engage without company. Relationships are messy and the cause of deep grief at times, yet God ministers grace to his children through other Christians. We need each other in order to faithfully apply the Bible.
We need other people because we all have blind spots. We often see ourselves dimly, as in shadows. While we may identify obvious transgressions, there are subtle sins below the surface. Blind spots show up in each of the three spheres of our lives where we must apply the Bible.
Ephesians 4:22–24 gives three steps for change when applying the Bible to your head: Identify what you think, identify what God wants you to think instead, and start thinking God’s thoughts. But how do we identify what we think? Our minds and beliefs are far more complex and layered than we assume, and the lies we believe often hide behind solid truths. A willing friend can help unveil our thoughts.
When applying the Bible to our heart, we focus on character. We ponder what kind of person God wants us to be. We have previously considered some questions to give us traction in this task: In what ways are you relying on your performance? What are your greatest hopes?
But here’s the problem: How confident are you in your ability to answer these questions? Can you diagnose your character by yourself? Our true hopes and values may be slightly (or dramatically) different from what we state in polite company. When a brother or sister forces us to answer why questions, we unmask our hypocrisy.
Perhaps most obviously, we have blind spots in our behavior (applying the Bible to our hands). We might not realize how our words were harmful or how we ignored someone in need. We might not identify our conversation as gossip, our snacking as gluttony, or our “personal time” as selfish. Good friends can point out our overlooked sins.
If we ignore community when applying the Bible, we will miss aspects of our head, heart, and hands that need to change. But our blind spots are not the only reason we need other Christians in our lives to help with application.
Because both the old man and the new man dwell within us, we always face a challenge when pursuing obedience to God. (See Galatians 5:16–17.) Our flesh likes inertia and dislikes change, especially if that change is brought about by faith. When applying the Bible to our lives, our flesh offers massive resistance.
Sometimes this resistance appears shortly after we resolve to change. Despite the conviction we feel and God’s call to repent, our flesh grabs a bullhorn and reminds us of the inconvenience of change. The old man offers dozens of reasons to delay or abandon this new obedience. One way to rob these protests of their power is to anticipate them with a friend.
But our flesh contends against our repentance over time as well. We’ve probably all experienced this: under the conviction of the Spirit you decide that change is needed, so you start off on a new course. You’re not walking perfectly, but by God’s grace you begin in the right direction. Over time that initial conviction of sin wears off, and you no longer connect the new behavior to the reason that inspired it. So the new behavior happens less and less frequently until it doesn’t happen at all. Sometimes we need friends to ask us about a repentance begun months ago.
If we ignore community when applying the Bible, we may lose momentum in our application and give up.
Our blind spots and our resistance to change provide some reasons that Christians should apply the Bible in community. In my next post we’ll discuss how to apply the Bible in community.