Hello and greetings! This is the first of several brief articles designed to help you, the new Christian, as you begin your walk of faith. While there are Christian websites across the net, many of them are focused on acedemic concerns or advanced studies. This series is written with the new believer in mind, and I will seek to encourage you in practical ways for the first steps of a living faith.
I make a few assumptions in this series. I assume you are an adult convert to Christianity. I also assume that you have little background or training in the Bible. I understand what you may be thinking. It may feel like you are standing at the bottom of a huge mountain, with no idea how to scale to the heights of other more experienced disciples. You are not alone. There are many adult converts to faith in Jesus Christ with precious little knowledge of how to grow in the Christian life. I hope to provide you encouragement and advice in your first steps in the faith, born out of a God-given desire to strengthen your faith and help you to grow towards spiritual maturity. I don’t want you to be discouraged or to give up right at the start.
The Need for Bible Reading
First, it is important to understand that you need to read the Bible regularly. It is designed by God to instruct, challenge, correct, and change you. This verse from II Timothy explains God’s design and intent of his inspired word.
All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. (II Timothy 3:16-17, ESV)
How can a book do that? You will find, in the coming weeks and years, that the Bible is a special book. It is unlike anything else you have ever read. God has so designed the text that it speaks to the variety of human experience at depths unsounded by other books. You obviously recognize that the Bible is a huge book. How can you read the whole thing every day? Simply, you cannot. While God has given us an amazing book of incredible depth, there is no expectation in its pages that you will instantly master the contents overnight. Be encouraged, God is gracious towards us in providing his amazing word for our instruction and growth.
Learning takes time. Reproof is a word that you may not be familiar with. It means that the Bible will communicate God’s disapproval of sinful actions. This disapproval is designed to help you understand why your actions or attitudes are problematic and to clearly move you away from these sins. Linked with the idea of reproof is correction. Where reproof focuses on the negative, correction leans to the positive. If we are to stop sinning in a specific way, what should we do? Correction instructs us with positive acts of obedience to pursue in place of the dangerous hardening that sin always brings. Reproof and correction help us to both put off and put on, to put off sin and to put on righteousness in its place. God knows that both are needed for our benefit. Without correction, many times we fall into the trap of “try harder to stop doing this”, which never succeeds without putting on true obedience in place of the rebellion which is so attractive to us. Training in righteousness is needed to help us understand what our God desires and commands us to pursue, in ways which glorify and please him.
Bible reading is not only or merely, or even primarily about your behavior. Reading the Bible will teach you in many ways how great our God is. You will see his glory and power in the accounts you read. You will see his great mercies and terrible judgment play out before your eyes. You will begin to grasp crucial doctrines (things we must believe) as you see God display that he is all-powerful, all-knowing, everywhere-present, as well as deep mysteries about his Triune nature (One God in Three Persons – more about that later in the series).
The Desire for Bible Reading
As a new Christian, one of the fundamental changes you have experienced is life given to you through faith in Christ. This new life is rooted in Christ and gives you a heartfelt desire to know and hear your Savior.
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. (John 10:27, ESV)
As a new Christian, you need to follow Jesus. Read your Bible, dear friend. You will find in its pages the voice of your Savior and Lord. As you spend time in the coming weeks, months, and years reading your Bible, you will find a growing drive that moves you to dig into the Bible. At first, it may be harder to read the Bible becuse the landscape is unfamiliar. The culure was different. The people groups discussed are unfamiliar. The historical background is lengthy. The vocabulary is specialized. Take up and read. It will come, but you can benefit immediately from the gift that the translators have labored to deliver to us; God’s Word translated into our native tongue.
Perhaps reading is a real hurdle to you. You don’t consider yourself a reader, and it has little appeal to you. You’re not the first Christian to say that. God calls a variety of people into the kingdom, from bookworms to those driven by the engine of emotion. This is where the uniqueness of the Bible, and the life you’ve been gifted in Christ come into play. The Christian life is not a small, insignificant part of your life. The Christian life is broad and encompasses every part of your life, whether work, play, rest, or duties. You will find real wisdom and instruction in the Bible that is unique and unlike any other book, since it is written by God for your benefit and growth into a mature and fruitful walk. Over time, your tastes become trained to love the word and to be fed by God through it.
Bible Reading or Bible Study?
Here is where we need to be practical during the beginning phases of our walk of faith. It is extremely easy to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of Bible translations, study bibles of every variation, topical study guides, commentaries, encyclopedias, and more. The riches at our fingertips is both embarassing and daunting. Embarassing in the ease of access and number of options, but daunting for the very same reasons. So, let’s take a deep breath of common sense and figure out how to get you into the Bible on a regular basis.
My recommendation is that you start with reading through the Gospel of Mark from beginning to end, a chapter or two a day. It is better for you to start with something manageable and attainable, rather than kick off an aggressive reading program that quickly overwhelms and discourages you. There are many different type of Christians, yet it seems much of the material surrounding Bible reading and study is geared towards a higher commitment of time and attention than many of us can accomplish.
Take time to familiarize yourself with your Bible. What features does it have? Are there reference helps included, like a dictionary? Are there maps or drawings? Is it a study bible, which has a lot of commentary writing on each page along with the actual Bible text? A little time familiarizing yourself with the Bible can pay great dividends as you embark on this journey of faith.
You are the one to best understand your schedule, responsibilities and outside demands. Begin with reading the Gospel of Mark, and try to make consistent, regular progress in reading through Mark. You will learn a lot, but you won’t learn everything, and you don’t need to learn everything. The Bible is an amazing book that can teach you throughout your entire life.
Read it. Study will happen, but first, take the time to read your Bible.
Keep it simple
There are so many things for the new Christian to learn. There is familiarity with a broad range of Bible stories. There is special vocabulary to learn. It’s not an insult to your intelligence to recognize that it takes time to pick up on all of these things. It is not simply or only a matter of having a body of knowledge. The life of a Christian is described frequently as a walk. It takes time and more time to grow to maturity, just as it does for a child to grow to adulthood. It is nothing to be ashamed of or to be defeated by.
For the new Christian, your ability to read and understand the Bible may be different from someone else. You may have friends who know an incredible amount about the Bible and the Christian faith. You are not them. You may need quite a lot of time to find your feet when it comes to the complexity and variety of Bible accounts.
Why keep it simple when you are starting out? Think about how learning works. When a child first learns to read, do we give them a technical academic textbook about grammar, syntax, and literary style? Of course not. We give them resources approriate for their level of comprehension and encourage them as they build their skills. Please, do not get swamped by complexity. Read the Gospel of Mark regularly. Be patient. Understanding will come, and you will benefit even at the very start by watching Jesus in the fast-paced text of Mark.
Press on, brother and sister! Take up your Bible every day and read it. The great shepherd of your soul awaits you in the pages.Certainly, after some time doing this, you can add additional steps to your Bible reading, but let’s get you started with simply reading your Bible. Read the Gospel of Mark and watch Jesus in his actions and interactions. Learn who your Savior is, and observe how he cares for the people around him. Watch him progress through the various phases of his all-too-brief ministry, advancing throughout towards the central event of the Bible, the cross of Christ.
One closing thought. It is possible that you feel self-conscious as an adult convert to Christianity. You may feel unprepared and even ignorant when your Christian friends start talking about the faith. Start the journey and read your Bible every day. Everyone, and I mean everyone, has to start somewhere. No one begins anything as an expert. Take up and read, for the good of your soul and the feeding of your intellect. May God help you as you seek him diligently.
If you have questions or ideas you would like to discuss with me, please leave them here in the comments section below. I will read them and offer what help I can, to assist you in following Jesus. Welcome to the faith, my new friend.
To be continued…