I must confess that for many years I was little more than a “proof text” Christian. What I mean is that I could skillfully swing the sword of truth at anything and anyone at the drop of a hat, to uphold my particular view or position. Christianity for me, during this time, was little more than an intellectual argument to be won, not a life to be lived in unity and intimacy with the Shepherd of my soul, Jesus Christ.
Looking back, I can see now that in many ways I loved studying God’s Word more than, and even in place of, the Author of my faith. Understanding and learning became an end in itself rather a means to discovering my need for newness of life, found solely in the Lamb of God. And just as with every zealous disciple who starts down this path, I burned and fizzled out like a wasted firecracker on the 4th of July.
Interesting how this works really, and how subtly it distances us from the real object of our faith, the only true source of power. Proof text Christians are masterful at weaving together scriptural tenets to support this or that theological position, and on the surface it appears they may even be farther down the road in their spiritual walk than the rest of us. They will never admit it openly, but in living practice they equate the spiritually endowed gift of teaching with higher-level mastery of Strong’s Concordance or other bible study aids.
I know brethren, for I was there; that was me. I am writing from experience here.
And you know something… it was all nothing but vanity and emptiness; a vain attempt to appear holier and godlier than everyone else – mere religious exhibitionism – and it was as cold and lifeless as a box of rocks.
Go to many Christian newsgroups and biblical discernment sites today, and you will see evidence of this in abundance. People trying desperately to impress each other with copied and pasted “proof texts”, believing wrongly that this is all that the Bible means by discernment, by "rightly dividing the word of truth". Yet once you get in a little deeper, and begin to genuinely discern the spirit behind the message, you begin to wonder if these folks are defending the Lord or their positions. Is Christ being increased or are they?
I certainly cannot speak of others, but I know that this was true of myself when I was engaged in this kind of "proof text" religion.
True biblical discernment, my friends, is the spirit-empowered ability to see things from God's perspective, with divine clarity, and it never develops apart from a deepening relationship with Him, who is the Truth. Like all heavenly gifts and abilities, it is not something He overnights to us before heading back to the remoteness of heaven. It grows in us as we grow in Him. If we want His gifts apart from Him, then we will be sorely dissatisfied, for this is not how it works. The Christian life flows only out of Christ. The wonder of the gospel is that the Giver and the Gift are one and the same. Jesus Christ is both the means and the end!
My friends, for many years I belonged to what amounted to a pseudo-christian cult because I fell prey to the arguments of men who could manipulate proof-texts better than most followers of Jesus Christ. My response was to learn the Bible so completely that I would never be deceived again - to arm myself with an arsenal of proof texts that would protect me in the future.
For you see my friends, the Bible can indeed become an end and idol unto itself, just like anything else. Does that shock you? It shouldn’t. The devil can and will use anything, even religion, to draw us away from an intimate, heart-changing encounter with the Living Word, the Walking Truth, the Light of the World that came to expose the darkness.
As the Apostle Paul predicted of our age, many have a form of godliness but effectively deny its real power. This, in my view, accurately captures the trend towards cold fundamentalism seen at one extreme of Christendom today. Yet, our Lord promised us so much more than a story about God and holy living; He offered us Himself, and the animate power to overcome, to live as children of light in a dark, demonic world. He offered us revelation by His Spirit that activates and enlivens the recorded words of Scripture, and turns dry orthodoxy into dynamic and living testimony.
This mystery of godliness, this beautiful process of sanctification whereby we are first unmade by His gracious and Loving touch, then built back up again in the image and life of His Son, is the Word lived, and breathed, and spilling out from our lives as a true and powerful testimony. It is so much more than a script, or a topical bible study. It is Christ Himself! Praise God!
It is one thing to read about love, or to hear choruses sung about love; it is quite another to experience true and selfless love in its purest form and flow. It is one thing to read a history textbook describing one of the epic battles of modern warfare, and it is quite another to actually have been there, to feel the ground shake under the movement of tanks and armaments, to witness the sky explode in a mortar assault.
The Scriptures and the Lord of the Scriptures call us to a living and life-changing relationship with Him. The mere ability to perform a word search in an online Bible does not transform a sinner into a saint, or a devil into a disciple. Jesus came into the world to show us by example what this New Life looks and feels and sounds like. “Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good” cried the psalmist, conveying a relationship that transcends the academic mind and penetrates deeper into the very soul and spirit of the redeemed man.
“But wait”, come the cries from the back row. “What about Hebrews 4, what about Hebrews 4?”
True my brother. So true. But what you read in your red-letter Bible has no power of and by itself. Behind it all is God, the Living Word, the One that interpenetrates your very being, and refashions you from within. The devil himself can throw scripture around. He still does so in the church today for those who have ears to hear.
It all begins and end by us coming to Him, laying our lives down on that heavenly altar, in living sacrifice, completely emptied of ourselves and intellectual pride. Only then can He build us up again with all of the means at His disposable, including His Word. Certainly He teaches us, and corrects us, but never are we to come to the Scriptures alone, then stay there. To the raw, unredeemed spirit of man, it is very much a coded and hidden book. To the children of light, accompanied by the Living Word, it is a light to our path, and the path always and forever leads to Him.
Please don’t make the mistake I made and think that the more we know about the Bible - the more we can prove our faith through theological arguments, then the deeper and more intimately we will know Him. This is putting the cart before the horse. What I have discovered is that the more I seek Him and draw near in loving obedience and submission, the more He reveals Himself within the pages of the Holy Scriptures.
Until this occurs, all they are, and can ever be are “proof texts”. You may persuade other proof text Christians, but at its core, this is not the very best that is available to us as pure and simple Christians.
May the Eternal Father reveal all the riches of His Son in us through His Spirit. May He illuminate our hearts in a new and dynamic way through the Living and Powerful Word of Life. May we realize our truest potential as we come see only Him in every passage and page of Scripture.
Please pray for us here at Living-Walk, that we would watch and see the Master at work, and understand what He would have us do.
Your friend in Christ Jesus,
© 2011 Livingwalk.com and W.E. Smith
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