Do you ever wonder why it is that we read Scripture in church? One of the reasons why we do it is because when we read it, we are proclaiming God’s truth. Another reason is to help each of us remember the Bible because when we hear it, and we are listening, God can take the words and imprint them on our hearts. Sometimes we need to read passages over and over and work at memorizing words and phrases for this to occur.
That discipline of memorizing Scripture is one of the most challenging disciplines for most people. But when you read the gospel of John, we see the value of memorizing Scripture, especially with Jesus’ testimony.
When I was at Briercrest, one of my classes had memorization as part of the course grade. It was worth 20% of the final grade. I only got 50% on that assignment and had to ace the final to get an A for the course. That being said, memorization is very important in the life of the Christian. Author and pastor, John Piper sums up how memorization benefits his life and ministry in the following 8 statements:
1. Memorizing Scripture makes meditation possible at times when we can’t be reading the Bible, and meditation is the pathway of deeper understanding.
2. It strengthens our faith because faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of Christ, and that happens when we hear the word in our head.
3. It shapes the way we view the world by conforming our mind to God’s viewpoint.
4. It makes God’s word more readily accessible for overcoming the temptation to sin because God’s warnings and promises are the way we conquer the deceitful promises of sin.
5. It guards our minds by making it easier to detect error—and the world is filled with error since the god of this world is a liar.
6. It enables us to hit the devil in the face with a force he cannot resist, and so protect us and our families from his assaults.
7. It provides the strongest and sweetest words for ministering to others in need.
8. It provides the framework for fellowship with Jesus because he talks to us through his word, and we talk to him in prayer.
I agree with these principles. I hope I can apply them to my life as well and I hope they will motivate you to make your own discoveries in allowing God’s Word to transform each of us. Now I’d like us to focus for a few minutes with me on a phrase in John 15:7.
Jesus says, “But if you abide in me and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you.” Let’s think about those words “If … my words abide in you.” What does this mean, and why do the words of Jesus have the effect they do, and what does this have to do with memorizing Scripture?
First of all, having the words of Jesus abide or remain, as some translations put it, in you is more than memorizing them. We know this for several reasons.
We know it because the devil can memorize Scripture. He quoted it to Jesus in the wilderness to tempt him (Matthew 4:1-10). We also know it because of what Jesus says in John 5:38. He said to the Jews who were questioning him, “You do not have [God’s] his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me – the one he sent to you.” But these people knew much of God’s word from memory. Jewish people who are serious about their faith have always memorized Scripture. But Jesus says that God’s word is not abiding in them. So when the word of God is abiding in us, it is more than just memorizing.
It means that the words of Jesus take root and bear the fruit of faith and holiness. John 5:38, connects the word and faith: “You do not have his message in your hearts, because you do not believe me – the one he sent to you.” If the word abides in you, you will believe in the word and the one who spoke it.
Jesus’ words abiding in us means that his words find a home in us. They fit. They belong. Remember Sesame Street, three of these things belong together… God’s Word belongs in us.
In John 8:37, Jesus says, “Yes, I realize that you are descendants of Abraham. And yet some of you are trying to kill me because there’s no room in your hearts for my message.” That’s the opposite of the word “abiding” in us. When the word abides in us, it finds a place, a home. It’s not foreign. It belongs. It is like a new piece of furniture. You move other things around and even get rid of some things so that the word has room and “feels at home.”
The words of Jesus don’t “abide” without effect. When they take root, they produce faith, holiness and good works in us. In John 17:17, Jesus says, “Make them holy by your truth. Teach them your word, which is truth.” So when His words abide in us, sanctification happens. We are transformed. Holiness, Christlikeness, deeds, they happen.
So, the abiding of Jesus’ words in us means that the words of Jesus take root and bear the fruit of faith and holiness. Why do the words of Jesus have this effect? There are at least three reasons we can see in the Gospel of John.
One is that Jesus’ words are the words of God. John 3:34: “For he is sent by God. He speaks God’s words.” So when Jesus is speaking, God is speaking. No person ever spoke the words of God more perfectly or consistently than Jesus.
When the apostles taught, they spoke with the truth and the authority of God. But every time Jesus opened his mouth, we are hearing the word of God. And the word of God is powerful. That’s the first reason why the abiding of Jesus’ words in us has the effects it does.
Second, the words of Jesus are life-giving. Jesus said in John 6:63, “The Spirit alone gives eternal life. Human effort accomplishes nothing. And the very words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
The Spirit of God gives life through the word of God. And Jesus’ words are those words. So his words are “spirit and life.” They quicken the spirit and impart eternal life. That’s why Peter says five verses later, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. (v. 68).
So the words of Jesus are the words of God, and they impart eternal life. And third, they produce faith and holiness because they conquer the devil. We have a supernatural adversary, the devil. He hates us, our marriages, our children, our church and he hates God.
In ourselves, we are not as strong as he is. That is why John says that “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). The world has no defence against the devil. None.
But listen to what John says of the young Christians in 1 John 2:14: “I have written to you who are young in the faith because you are strong. God’s word lives in your hearts, and you have won your battle with the evil one.” Do you see the connection? “The word of God lives in you, and you have won your battle over the evil one.” The devil cannot stand against the indwelling word of God.
I had someone ask me once if I thought a Christian or a Christian family could be cursed or possessed. My answer is this: If the word of God abides in you, you overcome the evil one. No demonic curse can stand against the Word of God. So we ask again, what does all this have to do with memorizing Scripture?
Biblically, the Holy Spirit awakens life and faith and personal transformation and we experience things like the fruit of the Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, etc. God the Holy Spirit does that. But he does it through the word of God. 1 Peter 1:23; For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God. But how does this happen?
If you carry your Bible around all day and never read it, will the Holy Spirit make the word of God in your purse or pocket effective in changing your life? Does God work by osmosis?
No. He won’t. Why? Because Romans 10:17 says “So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.” God gave us minds. He gave us choices and emotions. The Holy Spirit makes the words of Jesus effective when they attach with understanding to our minds and then to our wills and emotions. God wants us to not only hear his words but understood, obeyed and even enjoyed. That is how God wants changes to happen.
Anything that brings the word of God into connection with our minds will work to strengthen faith and promote understanding and bring about the fruit of the Spirit and the transformation of our lives—and not just our own, but the lives of others also. Memorizing Scripture makes this kind of connection between God’s word and our minds more constant, more deep, and more transforming. Realistically, nothing else can take its place. That’s a bit of what the Bible says.
In my own life, it has been a process. There have been times in my life when things didn’t go as I had hoped. It is in those times when I became frustrated about the hows and whys things happen. I became critical about everything. I know during that time that even when I did my devotions the negative thoughts would come in. Why can’t things be like this or why didn’t they do it like that? But in reality, at that moment, God’s word was silent. Why? Because my mind wasn’t focused on the Lord rather it was focused on what I perceived as a negative situation.
So I have decided to look towards making a positive change with a renewed focus and a more positive approach. My focus has to be on God: Who He is, what He means to me. To help me, Psalm 40:5 will be my guide and starting post: “O LORD my God, you have performed many wonders for us. Your plans for us are too numerous to list. You have no equal. If I tried to recite all your wonderful deeds, I would never come to the end of them.”
This is the first verse I am going to memorize in this pilgrimage to make Jesus’ words abide in my heart. My hope and prayer are that you too will take up this challenge and in the end, may Christ make his word dwell richly in us.