Just Do It
Imagine you are visiting the home of a new neighbor. As you enter the kitchen, you see a wall of shelves filled with books. The books bear titles like 100 Unforgettable Thai Dishes, or Easy Slow-Coooker Recipes, or Favorite Dishes from Top Chefs. What would you conclude about your neighbor? That she enjoys cooking, right? And so you point to the books and ask, “Which is the best recipe you've made?” Imagine your surprise if she replied, “Oh, those? I've never made any of them. I just like to read them!”
Why our imagined neighbor seems a little foolish in this story is because we know that recipes have a purpose. They're not like short stories or news articles that we read for enjoyment or information. Their purpose is to instruct our actions – to guide our behavior. The point is not to read them, it's to do them.
And that's the point of Scripture as well. This is our final entry in a series of blog posts on how to read and hear God's Word in a way that is effective – a way that produces the results God intends. The Westminster Shorter Catechism Question 90 asks, “How is the Word to be read and heard that it may become effectual to salvation?” We began by looking at the meaning of the question – particularly that word effectual. Then we looked at each phrase of the catechism's answer in turn: “That the word may become effectual to salvation we must attend thereunto with diligence, preparation, and prayer, receive it with faith and love, lay it up in our hearts...” And now we reach the final phrase. If we expect God's Word to work the way he wants it to, we have to “practice it in our lives.” To fail that is the same as reading a cookbook and wondering why you're still hungry.
The Scripture is filled with verses reminding us of the importance of putting into practice what we read. James (in James 1:22-25) says the person who only hears God's Word but doesn't do it is like a man who looks in the mirror, sees his reflection, and does nothing about it. Like checking your teeth and seeing a big piece of green lettuce but just leaving it there. Jesus (in Luke 6:47-49) says that the person who does not put into practice the Word of God that he hears is like a man building a house on a foundation of sand. When the rains come, the house will collapse. He had the knowledge, but he didn't act on it.
For me, one of the more interesting verses on this topic is in the book of Hebrews. The author criticizes his readers for not yet growing mature in their understanding of God and his Word. They are, he says, still drinking milk (the simplest truths of the faith), though they should by this time be eating solid food (understanding the deeper and more difficult doctrines). How does one go from immature knowledge to mature knowledge? Our first thought might be to study more. Read more. Memorize more. But that's not the answer the author of Hebrews gives. In Hebrews 5:14 we read, “Solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.” What makes us ready to learn more? Practicing what we have already learned.
In this way, our life of discipleship is much like any other skill. One does not learn an instrument by sitting down and reading about all the scales and notes and how to play them. You have to actually play the instrument, getting the basics down before moving on. Athletes don't prepare for a game by only studying plays and strategies. They get on the field and practice. Christian, your knowledge will be of no benefit to you if you are not acting on what you know.
That's not always an easy or obvious thing. Some parts of God's Word are clear in how to apply them. Other parts need wisdom, understanding, and guidance. Which is why our reading of God's Word is not a solitary activity. We can and should read alone. But we should also read in community. We should hear and discuss God's Word with others who will help us practice what we read so that the promise of Jesus in John 13:17 is true of us all: “If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”