This requires time, lucidity, and heightened observation skills. If your life is one big time-crunch, if you’re so tired your brain feels like a crater surrounded by fragments of once-coherent thoughts, you just won’t be able to pull it together, and you’ll have to be content wading in the shallows. Bible study often requires life-style changes and a careful management of one’s personal energy and time.
Once you’ve gotten yourself under control and clear-headed, read a passage and look for repeated words, phrases, or ideas. Let’s consider the book of 1 John as a test case. When you read through this book, you’ll keep coming across similar statements indicating that we shouldn’t take it for granted that a person who claims to be a Christian is in fact a Christian.
“If we say we have fellowship with him and yet walk in darkness . . .” (1:6) “If we walk in the light . . .” (1:7), “If we say we have no sin. . .” (1:8), “Hereby we know that we know him, if we keep his commandments” (2:3), “whoever keeps his word. . .” (2:5), “He who says he is in the light and hates his brother is in the darkness” (2:9), “If any man love the world . . .” (2:15), “if they had been of us . . .” (2:19), “Every man that has this hope in him purifies himself” (3:3), “in this the children of God are manifest” (3:10), “We know that we have passed from death unto life because . . .” (3:14).”
This is just a sampling of such statements in the book. One time I counted over 40, but there are even more than that. The theme of 1 John is “Tests of a Living Faith,” or “how to know if a person’s profession of faith is genuine.” First John functions in the Bible as a “personal assurance manual” because it shows you the unmistakable marks of God on a person’s life. In fact John says the purpose of his book is: “These things I have written to you that believe that you may know that you have eternal life” (5:13).
With this knowledge of the book, you can read 1 John as it was intended to be read. Sit down and note all the ways God wants you to test your profession of faith. Another way to think of it is “Find all the spiritual goals God has for you.” Each “test” is also a spiritual goal that God has for you. Or you could think of it as what it means that “God is continuing the good work He has begun.” In the New Covenant God’s commands become promises. If you are a believer in Christ, then sin shall not have dominion over you. As John says in chapter 5, “Whoever is born of God overcomes the world.” It’s a promise that you will have substantial victory, though not perfect victory. Nevertheless, substantial victory!
What does that victory look like? Go back through the tests again! Each test of a living faith is also an area in which God is working in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure. Each one of those tests is also a promise of God to any believer. It’s as though God whispers to you through the Spirit, “Pick up the Sword which is the Word and resist your spiritual enemies, and I will be with you, and I will vanquish your foes beneath your feet.”
Makes me want to go and read 1 John again . . .
Go read it and underline every test of a living faith. Then, each time you underline, pray to God that He would by His grace work into your life the virtue that underlies each test. He’ll never turn away those who come to Him that way.
Noticing repeated words, phrases, or ideas is one of the most simple and helpful Bible study principles around. Go read the parable of the sower as another example and note the repeated word “hear.”