How many people have experienced reading the Bible, or trying to read the Bible, before “becoming a Christian”? I did.
I took a World Religion class as a freshman in college. In that class I read the Bible for the first time, and I have distinct memories of of some of my initial impressions.
I am not unintelligent. I was second in my law school class. I say that not to boast, but to make a point. Human intelligence is limited, and in particular, it is limited by our perspective. What I mean by that is that the human perspective is that of a finite being who lives a very, very short amount of time and, then, dies.
What can we really know of an infinite God?
On our own, given our limited perspective, on a very small planet, in a small solar system, in a vast universe, what can we understand of the Maker of it all?
In our 80 some years of life, if we are fortunate to live that long, what we can we really know and understand of the 13.7 billion years of the existence of the universe? Over the combined lifetimes of all the human beings that have lived on this planet, we have learned a great deal, but compared to what?
We have only to compare to ourselves – other people with limited perspectives in common!
If there be a God of this incredibly vast universe, this God would have to be greater still. He would have to be “other” than the universe to have created it. Things don’t create themselves. This material universe filled with matter and space and existing in time would have to have been created by a timeless, space-less, matter-less (immaterial) God who exists on a “plane” or realm or dimension other, outside of, and beyond the material world we live in.
The words and thoughts we have to define what that other existence might be like are wholly inadequate to describe it because it is completely unfamiliar to us. We can only describe it in terms of our experience that is bounded by time, space and matter.
Still, we have some sense of transcendent reality, something beyond us. Like prisoner who spent his whole life in a small cell, who sees the sunlight streaming in through the bars of the window above him, but has never seen the sun, we “know” that something lies “out there” beyond us.
So what does this have to do with reading the Bible?
I realized as I read the Bible for the first time in that World Religion class in college that, if God did exist, He would have to reveal Himself to us. We could not reason or research or experiment our way to knowledge of God. That would be like trying to find a painter in the canvass of a painting.
God would have to reveal Himself to us.
And, if God made us, He would know how to communicate Himself to us in a way that we could understand. I sensed this “possibility” as I read the Bible for the first time.
My backstory is that I tried to find the truth in everything I read. I tried to find God or what reality there might be in everything. From the Bhagavad-Gita to the Bible, I looked for evidence of truth and evidence for God – whatever “God” or truth might look like.
I am not going to recount my impressions of the various holy books of the major world religions that we studied in that class in this article. That isn’t the point of it. I have done a little bit of that elsewhere. Really the point of this article is my before and after experience with the Bible.
My first approach to the Bible, in that academic setting, was that it was “hard”. It was like flint. It made me feel uncomfortable, but there was “substance” there. It wasn’t “soft” like Hindu and Buddhist texts.
I understood it, as I understood anything I read, but there was some “code” or meaning there that escaped me. It made me squirm a bit. It seemed to reflect myself back to me, and what I saw was not flattering….
That isn’t even the right word: It exposed me.
But the class ended, and I went on with my life. The following summer I came into contact with many people who were “Christians” – born again believers. They “witnessed” to me, telling me about what God was doing in their lives, as if they knew God. I was drawn to them. I was intrigued.
There was something real in these encounters with people who claimed to know God, and I wasn’t just intrigued intrigued. I was compelled. I wanted to know more.
There were too many encounters that stick out in my mind to describe them all in a short blog post, but two were pivot points in my life. The first was with a charismatic Methodist insurance salesman who listened patiently to my spiel (I was selling books), and then asked me a question that would change my life. He said,
“If you died today, would you go to heaven?”
That is not the usual small talk I came to expect in my book selling experience, so I hesitated with my answer, and he asked a follow up question:
“If you stood before Jesus today, what you say to Him? Why should He let you into His heaven?”
In the conversation that followed, I realized in my own heart that I didn’t measure up, but it wasn’t anything that he said. I just knew it. I knew there was no reason that Jesus should let me in, but that realization wasn’t what changed my life.
I didn’t let on what I was thinking. Instead, I talked about how hard I was trying to be a good person. I really was. As I talked, though, I realized this was not a very convincing pitch. My temporary host let me go on for a while. And, then he gently offered,
“You can’t earn it. It’s a free gift.”
You may have heard this before, but I had not. I was raised Catholic. I grew up thinking I was responsible for everything I did. If there was a heaven, I figured I would have to earn my way in.
He went on to say that God offers us free salvation so that no one can boast about it. We only need to believe it, to accept it, to confess our sins, ask for forgiveness and accept Jesus as the Savior and Lord of our lives.
They offer of free salvation – so no one could be heard to boast about it -made sense to me. We are such prideful beings, I realized in that instant that a free gift made perfect sense. There would be no boasting in it. A person must drop his or her pride to accept it.
I also knew in that moment that I fell short. I knew I needed to be forgiven if goodness was the criteria to get into heaven, I didn’t measure up.
How could I pass that up? So I prayed the prayer, and I walked out of that condo feeling light as a feather.
That lightness didn’t last long, however. It wore off approximately when I knocked on the very next door and was rejected… again. Something was subtly different, however, but I didn’t realize what it was at the time.
The second encounter was toward the end of my time selling books. It was a miserable existence selling books: getting rejected nine times out of ten (though it felt like ten times out of ten!) and sweating my way through a hot Arkansas summer. I also felt something new in my life that wasn’t there before growing like a tender shoot. I was talking with God, and it seemed He was there with me.
At the end of that summer in Arkansas, I attended a Southern Baptist Revival… Yes, that isn’t a misprint. A northern Catholic kid who knew nothing of these sorts of things ended up at a Southern Baptist Revival!
It was as if the preacher was talking … directly … to… me. I was the prodigal son. I lived in a stable home with two parents who loved each other and loved me, but I had been a rebellious, self-centered, ungrateful and foolish kid, squandering my existence, until I finally straightened up and went to college.
I was on the right road for all appearances, doing what I “should” be doing, but I was still lost. I didn’t know where I was going.
I didn’t understand the significance of what I had already done. I didn’t realize the change that was already happening in me. I didn’t realize that I was already coming alive to the Word of God, and my reaction was a direct result of it.
I went forward that night and prayed another “sinner’s prayer” for forgiveness and “gave myself” to God again.
On the way out of town, the last thing I did was stop into a Christian bookstore and pick up a Bible. I began to read it for the first time on my own, not for college credit. And that is when I noticed something.
It came alive to me.
And, that is finally the point of this blog. The Bible came alive to me – as God’s Word – the Word that was in the beginning with God, the Word that was God – the Word that is living and active, sharper than any double-edged sword, piercing even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
I was alive to the Bible, and it made sense to me!
This existential “encounter” I had was confirmed to me in the very words of the Bible. Jesus says that we must be born again, born of the Spirit, to “see” the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, but that which is born of the spirit is spirit.
Jesus said it this way, “[H]ow can you believe if I tell you heavenly things?”
The only way is for God to birth us into the spirit. We must have God’s spirit to understand those things. We do that by being willing to do God’s will. We do that by asking God to take over as the Lord of our lives, as I had prayed twice to that point, and meant it.
We need to be wedded to the Spirit to be able to understand, really understand the Bible, which I have come to believe really is God’s communication to us. When it comes alive, when you come alive to it, you know what I mean.
I could find video of the stories of people who had similar experiences as mine reading the Bible before and after “becoming a Christian”. I have heard people say similar things many times, but I am wondering, “What’s your story?”
What was your experience reading the Bible before and after you have considered yourself born again?
Leave a comment with your story.
 John 1:1-2
 Hebrews 4:12-13
 John 3:3, 5-6
 John 3:12
 John 7:17 “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God….”