My earliest encounters with Scripture were not always the life-giving, relational experiences they are now. I started reading the Bible in earnest when I was 12. On every page, however, it seemed that I was discovering yet one more thing wrong with me. God was holy. I was not. And I needed to shape up—or else. That’s pretty much how I saw it in those days.
My view of Scripture was imbalanced. So was my view of God. The combination didn’t make for very encouraging times in God’s Word. The fact that I saw the multitude of ways I was not measuring up did not empower me to change. Quite the opposite, in fact. The only effect this knowledge seemed to have was to defeat me and to cause me to distance myself emotionally from God. After all, if every time I read His Word I discovered one more thing wrong with me, how motivational was that?
Obviously, I was messed up. But God kindly, over the years, has been gently straightening me out, giving me more accurate views of both Him and His Word, and drawing me into closer relationship with Him.
Here are three crucial things He has shown me:
- Scripture is more about Him than it is about me. Sure, my sin situation is described in there, but it’s always against the backdrop of His mercy, grace, and salvation. Yes, Scripture shows me I’m a sinner—count the ways! But more importantly, it shows me my Savior.
- My sin does not surprise God. He knows what I’m made of (Psalm 103:13-14). My sin has never, ever, kept Him from loving me or wanting to be near me. In fact, He is like the prodigal’s father in Luke 15—He is just waiting for me—ragged and dirty—to come to Him. So, although His Word shows me my sin, it’s not a cause to distance myself. Rather, it’s a reason to draw near to Him.
- The Holy Spirit is the change agent—not me! For year I tried diligently to overcome certain sin patterns. But even though I’m a pretty disciplined person, I simply could not do it. Then God showed me that overcoming sin happens through partnership. He shows me the sin issue. I agree with Him about it, but tell Him how powerless I am to change. Then I ask Him to help. And He does!
These three key insights have changed the way I read and pray Scripture. I don’t gloss over the parts that draw attention to my sin—that would be like looking in the mirror, then walking away with dirt still on my face (see James 1:23-24). But now, convinced that God has provided for my sin, wants to be with me, even in my mess, and has given me the Holy Spirit to empower my transformation—coming face to face with my sin patterns is no longer the crushing thing it used to be.
Now when I read something convicting, I don’t just close my Bible and walk away, discouraged. I dialogue with Him about it. Suppose, for example that the sin I’ve encountered in that day’s reading is the sin of arguing. My conversation with God might go something like this.
Oh, Father, I do that!
God: I know.
I’m sorry! And I just did that the other day with so-and-so! Please forgive me!
God: I do! I love you!
Why is arguing such a struggle for me, Father?
God: Because you don’t trust Me. You think you have to defend yourself or no one else will. That’s not true. I am your shield and your defender. I protect you as the apple of my eye!
Oh, Father, You’re right. I don’t need to take up my own cause—You have promised to be my Advocate. Help me to remember that, to really believe that. Holy Spirit, in the time of temptation, before I even open my mouth, remind me that Abba will take care of me. Give me both the desire and the power to resist arguing my own case.
This combination of reading Scripture, dialoguing with God about it, and asking for the Holy Spirit’s transforming power, has become one of the main ways God transforms me spiritually. I need to be clear that this does not happen instantly—it’s usually incremental change that involves more Scripture, more dialogues with God, and more failures—but also more victories.
But, I’m happy to say, that I no longer dread being convicted by God’s Word. Instead, it is just one more opportunity to enjoy relationship and conversation with the God who is all about transforming me gently and gradually into His Son’s likeness.