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Reading the Bible Like Jonathan Edwards

Jonathan Edwards teaches us to see Scripture as a means of grace so that we come to the Bible to be transformed by God’s Spirit. To know Jesus truly, we need the Spirit to reveal him to our hearts directly.

After first learning about the spiritual disciplines, I felt tired. Rather than pointing me to true life, I felt an incredibly heavy burden to carry it all myself. But when I learned about the means of grace as understood by Jonathan Edwards, I didn’t feel the same burden. Means of grace are gifts to be with God; they are opportunities to know and love in response to being known and loved by God.  

Getting oriented to Jesus

Means of grace are meant to orient us to Jesus so our hearts pour out in love and affection to him. The goal of the means of grace is to share God’s own mind and will so that we think and will as Christ does. Just as David is called the man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), all believers are called to be “after God’s own heart.” As Edwards puts it, “The chief of the means of grace is the Word of God: that standing revelation of the mind and will of God that he gives the world, and it is as it were the sum of all means.”

In the Word of God, we are given the mind and will of God for us, so that our own minds and wills can be formed by it (Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16). With the work of the Spirit, we become conformed to the contours of the Word of God—bearing fruit according to God’s own nature and having our hearts beat in rhythm with his.

Reading like a Christian, not a Pharisee

The Word of God is God’s revelation to his people. However, the Word of God is not enough by itself, because without the Spirit, we simply behold a man (Luke 24:44-45). Edwards explains: “That notion that there is a Christ, and that Christ is holy and gracious, is conveyed to the mind by the Word of God: but the sense of the excellency of Christ by reason of that holiness and grace is nevertheless immediately the work of the Holy Spirit.” In other words, we can see Christ naturally in the same sense that the Pharisees could. Unfortunately, this did not do them any good. To see Christ as we need to, to see him as the glorious and beautiful Lamb of God, we need the Spirit to reveal him to our hearts directly.

Reading the Word is oftentimes the easiest way to seem spiritual, and yet be living from one’s flesh. Reading the Bible can derive from a desire to sound spiritual or intelligent. Reading the Bible can be fueled by guilt and a desire to rid oneself of guilt. It can, furthermore, be a fleshly attempt to earn God’s favor. The end of the flesh is always self, but the end of grace is God. It can be easy to know the Bible and fail to know Jesus. To truly know God and his Word is to read the Bible with a posture of receiving from the Spirit.

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Kyle Strobel is an assistant professor of spiritual theology at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University, and co-founder of Metamorpha Ministries. He is the author of Formed for the Glory of God: Learning from the Spiritual Practices of Jonathan Edwards (IVP) and co-author of Beloved Dust: Drawing Close to God in the Truth About Yourself (Thomas Nelson), which comes out this October. Find him at Metamorpha.com or on Twitter at Twitter.com/KyleStrobel.