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
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.