In Romans 12:2, Paul said, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (NIV, emphasis added). The word Paul uses here is the one we use for the metamorphosis of a butterfly. The change in the end is something completely different than what was there before. A similar transformation can happen to us through the reading of the Bible. This complete character transformation involves matching our thinking, thoughts, and behavior to God’s.
Christians often read the Bible with a focus on information. Their goal is to learn the content of the Scriptures, including historical data, personal stories, practical principles, important truths, and so on. However, it’s also important for Christians to understand that the Bible is not a textbook for history and philosophy. It’s much more significant. “For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).
The primary purpose of the Bible is not to communicate information but to change and transform us at the level of our hearts. In other words, in addition to reading the Bible for the purpose of information, Christians must also commit to regularly reading God’s Word for the purpose of transformation.
To help you toward that goal, here are five practical steps for reading the Bible with a focus on transformation.
STEP 1: FIND THE RIGHT PLACE
It may sound strange to worry about where you study the Bible, but this is an important step. If your goal is to have a significant encounter with God’s Word, you need to concentrate. That means you need to be proactive about getting rid of distractions—no smartphones beeping, no kids demanding attention, no TV, no Internet, and so on.
Even Jesus had to eliminate distractions when He sought a deeper encounter with God. “Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed” (Mark 1:35).
Find a quiet, peaceful place where you can realistically delve into the Bible and stay there for a while.
STEP 2: PREPARE YOUR HEART
Just as it is important to minimize external distractions when you study God’s Word, you also need to prepare yourself internally. Reading the Bible for transformation is a spiritual experience. It involves your heart and emotions—your inner self.
This kind of internal preparation means different things to different people at different times. For example, if you’re buckling under the weight of stress or negative emotions, you may need to spend significant time in prayer before you even approach the Bible. Pray for peace. Pray for a calm heart. Pray for release from stress and anxiety.
At other times, you may prefer to worship God in advance of studying His Word. Or, you may want to encounter the reality of God by getting into nature and immersing yourself in the beauty of His creation.
Here’s the point: Before you even begin flipping pages in the Bible, spend a few moments in prayer, contemplation, and selfevaluation to prepare yourself for a transformational experience.
STEP 3: EVALUATE WHAT THE TEXT SAYS
When you’re ready to read through a passage of Scripture for transformation, commit to the experience. Read the full passage two or three times and immerse yourself in the themes and implications of the text. Skimming the Bible won’t lead to transformation. Instead, read as if your life depended on it.
Your first goal in encountering a passage of Scripture is to determine what God has communicated through that passage. The first questions you should ask are: “What does the text say?” and “What does it mean?”
In order to properly engage the Bible, we must recognize it as the living word of God, useful for everyday life (2 Tim. 3:16). Spend time identifying the truths contained in the specific passage of Scripture you are reading. Find and note the major themes and principles contained in the verses you read. Refer to commentaries and inspired writings as needed.
STEP 4: DETERMINE THE IMPLICATIONS FOR YOUR LIFE
After you have a good understanding of what the text means, your next goal is to contemplate the implications of that text for your specific situation.
The genuine way to study the Bible is to figure out how to allow the Holy Spirit to change you so that you will be conformed to God’s Word. Ask yourself this question: “If I really believe this passage of Scripture to be true, how do I need to change in order to align myself with what it says?”
Prayer is a necessary step in this process because we don’t have what it takes to conform ourselves to the truths contained in the Bible. Sure, we can attempt to use our willpower to change certain behaviors, and we may even be successful—for a while. But, ultimately, God is the One who changes us from the inside out. He is the One who transforms. Therefore, it’s vital that we remain in communication with Him whenever we seek a transformational experience with His Word.
STEP 5: DETERMINE HOW YOU WILL OBEY
It’s not enough for us to know what we need to do; we need to actually do something. We need to obey what the Bible says through our daily actions and attitudes. “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says” (James 1:22). Prayerfully make a specific, concrete plan about how you will obey and how you will apply the truths you discover.
Since character development is an ongoing experience, not a one-time event in the life of a believer, we should continually read the Bible for transformation, allowing the Holy Spirit to bring us closer to the will of God.
S. Joseph Kidder is a professor of church growth and leadership at the Andrews University Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary in Berrien Springs, Michigan, USA.