The primary goal of this chapter on listening is to make reading the Bible a meaningful habit, through which we are able to listen to God’s Word, his voice, as he speaks directly to each of us. Through our daily Bible reading, God’s voice speaks to the depth of our souls a message about our sin (law), and our great need for the Savior (gospel). As Luther said, “From all eternity God has had an active voice, a thought, a conversation, a will, an address within him that he wants to share with us through Scripture.”
·LISTEN for how God is describing his solution for our broken relationships with God and others ·LISTEN for God's promise to help us with our sinful nature that destroys the fullness of life. ·LISTEN for God's free gift of eternal life, which does not involve God's judgment or punishment. ·LISTEN for the phrase for you. The Gospel says it straight out: You are forgiven, Jesus died to save You. Eternal life is God's gift to You, given by the Savior. ·LISTEN for the many ways that God's promise of eternal salvation is being offered to us, despite our sinful separation from God.
+ Both the explicit and the implicit examples of the gospel in a text will be a response to our problems with sin, death, and the devil. We want to anticipate that the gospel will be expressed within a given biblical text with a wide variety of words, images, and metaphors. And yet, all of these expressions of the gospel will have either a direct or indirect connection to Christ crucified and risen.
+ The core confession of the Christian faith is that the Good News of the Gospel is always connected to the Good News of Christ’s death and resurrection. The gospel is best defined as Christ our Savior. The gospel of Christ Jesus, crucified and risen, is God’s only solution to our problem of being estranged sinners.
+ Within most texts (even a gospel text) the words Christ, crucified, or risen, are not present. And yet, when we examine a text for its gospel content we will often find evidence of the gospel’s effectiveness in changing lives. There are times when we will need to borrow a gospel text from a neighboring section of the Bible. Think of the Bible as a large neighborhood with plenty of gospel to share between neighbors.
+ For those texts within the Old Testament it may require more effort to identify the gospel. In the Old Testament there will be no explicit material about Christ crucified and risen. Instead, there will be specific references to God’s promise of a Savior. All those words in the Old Testament that reveal God’s promises are considered gospel texts.
·LISTEN for the should, could, ought, must, have to, and shall words in each Bible text. ·LISTEN for how we regularly violate God's First Commandment: You shall have no other gods. ·LISTEN for how we are being asked to think, act or speak in a different way. ·LISTEN for how our sin is drawing us away from a life with God and into a more self-centered existence. ·LISTEN for how God is describing a problem all people share in common.
The primary purpose of God’s law is to reveal the truth that we are incapable of having a relationship with God without the saving work of God’s appointed Savior, Jesus. The Bible does not sugar-coat the truth that all people are sinners, making themselves enemies of God. In the Bible Paul teaches: The wages (result) of sin (sinful nature) are death (eternal separation from God) (Rom 6:23).
+ We initially identify God’s law in a biblical text as it applies to all people. The reason our law questions are in the third person (our), instead of the first person (my), is to restrain our defensiveness at the law’s accusations. If we accept that God’s law in a text applies to everyone, it becomes easier to apply God’s law to ourselves.
+ For some it is difficult to identify the consequences of violating God’s law. If a person has not experienced the fullness of God’s love, especially as a child, it becomes quite difficult for them to accept that the result of being a sinner, without the Savior, is death.
+ Whenever God’s law and our sinfulness is minimized, the ability for us to appreciate Christ’s sacrificial death and resurrection for our salvation is also minimized. When the life and death urgency of God’s law is not recognized, the law becomes incapable of leading us to the gospel.
+ The most common error in a law & gospel Bible study is to attempt to identify God’s moral law (i.e. the Ten Commandments) only as rules or a guideline for living, instead of a means to reveal our desperate need for the Savior. Only Christ is able to give us the capacity to live by the great commandment: Love God and love your neighbor.
How do you feel about being an enemy of God without Christ?
"If preaching in the Church today is sick it is because preachers do not know how to preach both the law and the Gospel. Preachers are lulling people to sleep with a foreign Gospel of unconditional love (Bonhoeffer called it cheap Grace), instead of arousing them with the law of a wrathful God. Only the law can reveal our problem with sin, satan, God’s wrath, and hell. If the Gospel is not placed in bold relief against the background of the law’s sin, death, and the devil, the Gospel degenerates into a saccharine message of feel good religion devoid of Christ. In Scripture, Jesus Christ is pictured as the fulfiller of the law’s demands, the appeaser of God’s wrath, the victor over satan, the conqueror of death, the atoner of sin. When the law is taken seriously, it then has the ability to prepare us to hear the Gospel. For the reformers it was not possible to hear the Gospel apart from the law." Carl E. Braaten (b. 1929)
We learn from the Bible that our souls are best nourished by the voice of God. This is an important benefit of Bible reading which we cannot underestimate. Jesus said, What good is it for us to gain the whole world and lose our connection to God through our soul; What can a person possibly get in exchange for their soul? (Mark 8:36). We lose our souls when we neglect the life giving power of God’s voice. Tragically, many in our society have become enslaved to the desires of the body (world), ignoring the importance of the soul. The Bible describes the soul as the command center which serves to direct our daily lives. A contemporary analogy of the soul is to liken it to the steering wheel in a car. It is the steering wheel (soul) that has the ability to turn in one direction or the other, either toward God or away from God. Allowing God’s voice to penetrate our souls through regular Bible reading and our attention to the proclamation of God’s Word in worship is an important and essential habit needed to nourish the soul of a disciple.
Do you understand your soul as your connection to God?
At no other time or place in our week does God’s Word, his voice, break into our lives as forcefully as when we are gathered together in worship. God’s transforming power in worship is his voice, which we hear through the Bible and the sacraments. It is important that we prepare to hear God’s voice in worship by doing a law & gospel study of the assigned Bible readings for each week. These readings are organized in a three year cycle of readings, called the Lectionary, which has been used in varying forms for centuries. Martin Luther described worship as the time when, The power of God’s Word (voice) must have free course. That is to say, we can prepare before worship to listen for God’s transforming voice by doing a law and gospel study of the assigned readings so that we will be open to receive the specific message God’s voice has for us in worship.
What do you think of Luther’s description of worship?
When we read the Bible, we do more than learn about God, we are actually hearing God speaking to us. The following five steps cover how to listen to God's voice in Bible reading: Step One: Begin with Prayer (Sample) Father, as I read your Word, speak to me. Allow your voice to speak to my heart and the circumstances of my life. Let me be open to hear your law & Gospel voice as I read your Word. Amen.
Step Two: Read and Re-read the Text It is helpful to read the text repeatedly until we are able to retell the passage in our own words. As we repeatedly read the text, we want to be attentive to those words which may be law and those words which may be gospel. It can be helpful to underline those law words in the passage which seem to be directing us toward our sin. It can also be helpful to circle those gospel words in the passage that seem to be directing us toward the Savior.
Step Three: Review a Study Bible A study Bible provides helpful insights into the theological issues of the text. However, do not allow these insights, no matter how interesting, to detract from the identification of God’s law voice and his gospel voice. Use any theological insights to help identify our problem with sin and God’s solution of the Savior.
Step Four: Identify God’s Law & Gospel A helpful way to identify God’s law voice and Gospel voice is to ask one law and one gospel question of each passage. The law question: How does this passage reveal our sinful self-centeredness, which is keeping us from depending on the Savior? The gospel question: How does this passage reveal God’s gift of the Savior, which offers us a new life with Christ?
Step Five: Meditate Upon God’s Gospel Quieting Our Inner Sanctuary: We quiet our souls by focusing on our breathing. Breathe in slowly while silently spelling the name of Jesus (J-E-S-U-S). Hold your breath as you silently spell Christ (C-H-R-I-S-T). Exhale while silently spelling the Lord (T-H-E-L-O-R-D). Repeat this pattern of breathing until you are relaxed, which takes about ten minutes for most people. You may want to adjust this pattern of breathing so it is comfortable for you. Another way to quiet ourselves is to focus on the temperature of our breath as we inhale and the warmer temperature of our breath as we exhale. Dwelling within Our Inner Sanctuary: The second part of meditation is to meet the Lord Jesus in the sanctuary of our souls, which we may think of as a place created within our mind’s eye to be with the Lord. Using our favorite sights, sounds, smells and feelings, we visualize our inner sanctuary which is a favorite place where the Lord Jesus meets us. Listening to God’s Voice in Scripture Speak to Us through Jesus: As Jesus meets us in our inner sanctuary, we ask him to share God’s gospel message of forgiveness and hope from the biblical passage we have just read. Listening to God’s gospel voice restores our trust and hope in Jesus’ death and resurrection. When God’s voice is spoken to us through Jesus, our souls are nourished and refreshed. As Bonhoeffer explains: God’s Word seeks to enter our souls and remains with us. God does all the work of speaking to our souls. Our singular, and yet daunting task, is to be attentive to God’s voice. Through meditative prayer, we are given the opportunity to listen to a message that God desires to share with us through Jesus. Jesus said, my sheep can hear and know my voice (John 10:11). It is the voice of Jesus that nourishes and refreshes the depths of our being.
The goal of Bible reading is not for us to interpret the Bible, but for God’s voice to interpret our lives with his law and his gospel! This is the single most important reason for reading the Bible.When we become aware of both God's law voice and God's gospel voice within a passage, it is then that God’s voice becomes for us a transforming power in our lives. In a practical way, while reading the Bible, we need to keep asking ourselves: Are these words God's law voice, or are these words God's gospel? Through his law voice, God interprets our lives and describes our chronic connection to sin, death, and the devil. Through his gospel voice, God interprets our lives and freely offers us forgiveness and eternal life. As Martin Luther explains…For us to properly hear God's voice in the Bible requires that we understand God's law, that we understand God's gospel, and that we do not mix them together so that each part remains the clear voice of God. We read the Bible so that God’s voice might speak directly to each of us in a very personal way. Being able to discern God's law voice from his gospel voice is the critical skill we need if we are to truly hear God's voice. Reading the Bible through the lenses of God's law and his gospel is the ancient practice of the church, and is the essential hallmark of Reformation teaching about how to read the Bible.
Do you expect God’s voice to interpret your life in Bible study?