Why do some Christians talk so much about Bible study? If we are truly led by the Spirit (Rom 8:13–17), some may ask, what need is there for something as dry and cognitive as study? Could we be in danger of quenching the Spirit and trusting our own efforts if we focus too much on rigorous, academically responsible study of the Scriptures?
I cannot capture in a single blog post the sum total of the work of God’s almighty, infinite, and eternal Spirit. But perhaps I can highlight a few of the exceptionally clear and certain ways God has shown his Spirit to be at work in and through the Scriptures.
1. The Spirit inspired
No prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. (2 Pet 1:20–21)
When the prophets wrote down all that God had revealed to them, they weren’t making it up. Sure, they had their own personalities, training, and experience that shaped how they wrote and who they wrote to. But even their personalities, training, and experience were sovereignly ordained and shaped by the Spirit of God dwelling in their midst.
The authors of Scripture were not robots or stenographers, recording only what they saw or heard with no agency of their own to package the message. But nonetheless, Peter tells us that even in the act of packaging their message to suit their audience in their time, these prophets were “carried along by the Holy Spirit.”
Because God was committed to getting his Word into your heart and mine, he sent his Spirit to ensure that every book of the Bible ended up the way he wanted it. The Spirit of God was personally involved in the very writing of the Scriptures.
The Spirit was at work in your Bible study long before you even thought to study the Bible. He was at work recording these things so you and I could access the mind of Christ.
What this means for us
Whenever you sit down to study the Bible, trust that the Spirit who helps you to understand and apply Scripture is the same Spirit who caused the text to be written. He has invested much in your nearness to God, so express your dependence on him by asking his help with your study.
2. The Spirit illuminates
As it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”—these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. (1 Cor 2:9–13)
The Spirit who inspired the prophets to write the very words of God is the same Spirit who now opens the minds of readers to grasp those words of God. The Scriptures themselves testify to the mystery of God’s will, now revealed by his Spirit.
Wouldn’t it be amazing if you could speak with your favorite author from the past to ask him why he wrote what he did? What was Augustine thinking in that confusing passage in City of God? What was Aquinas really hoping would come of his Summa Theologica? What made Calvin take that turn in Book 4 of the Institutes? Why did Bunyan direct Christian’s pilgrimage through one region and not another?
When it comes to the Scriptures, some questions will have to go unanswered until we hobnob with the human authors in the world to come. But for the most pressing questions, Paul says that “we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit” (1 Cor 2:13). He goes on to ask, “‘Who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (2 Cor 2:16).
The Spirit is at work in your Bible study, opening your mind to understand the intent of the Lord Jesus in the text.
What this means for us
Some parts of the Bible are difficult to understand, and we need the Spirit’s help to interpret them. Other parts of the Bible are more evident, and we need the Spirit’s help to apply them. Either way, express your dependence on the Spirit by asking for his help, and then by putting forth your best effort to partner with him in grasping his message by faith.
3. The Spirit gives wisdom
I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know … (Eph 1:16–18)
Sometimes I’ve heard people contrast being “Spirit-led” with being “wise and learned,” as though they were mutually exclusive aspirations. Perhaps it escapes our notice that the first time the Bible describes someone being filled with the Spirit, the “filling” is a filling of wisdom and skill to perform a craft responsibly and with excellence (Exod 31:1–5). A craft of cosmic value is making possible the worship of God on earth as it is in heaven.
As Paul says, the Spirit is a Spirit of wisdom. The wisdom of God’s Spirit grants us greater knowledge of God so we might both understand and live according to the incredible hope, riches, and power he has granted to us in Christ.
The Spirit is at work in your Bible study by granting you the wisdom to know God and to live in a manner that pleases him.
What this means for us
Our Bible study is not complete until we put what we’ve learned into practice. To stop with mere academic insight is to build a beach hut in a hurricane zone (Matt 7:26–27). Therefore, one way to express your dependence on the Spirit of God is to receive his wisdom and heed his counsel to change. Without the Spirit, Bible study produces nothing but ideas and possibilities. But with the Spirit, Bible study produces transformed lives and disciple-making disciples of Jesus Christ.
The Spirit who breathed out the words of Scripture in the pens of its human authors is the same Spirit who now illuminates its meaning and grants its readers wisdom.
Far from being an act of self-reliance, rigorous Bible study performed by those who believe what they find there is itself a glorious work of God’s Spirit. When sinners turn in faith to the God of the Bible, the results are nothing less than supernatural.
Will you allow God’s Spirit to lead you in Bible study this week? Will you ask for his help, labor to understand, and partner with him in the change movement?
For further study
This brief post has not exhausted the role of God’s Spirit in our Bible study. Perhaps you’d like to examine the Spirit’s further work of conviction (John 14:25–26; 16:7–10), preservation (2 Tim 1:14), and glorification (2 Cor 3:15–18). He is the Spirit who uses the Scriptures to convict his people of sin, preserve the true gospel, and lead us into glory.
In the Logos Bible app (get it free), the Factbook provides a wealth of information about the Holy Spirit, including a summary article, a list of key Bible passages, and links to additional resources such as Bible encyclopedias and systematic theologies. Such resources will enable you to develop increasing appreciation for the Holy Spirit sent from our heavenly Father.