How Not to Read the Bible

February 7, 2020
By: Dr. Phil Collins

Though any listening and reading of Scripture is better than none at all, some ways that people come to the Bible end up restricting their spiritual growth. Below are a few of those “weak” reasons, some ways NOT to approach the Bible. This list isn’t exhaustive, but perhaps it can serve as a catalyst for you to explore your own motivation for coming to the Bible. If you find your motivation to come to the Bible has not been what you want it to be now, just tell God that you’re sorry and ask Him to help you to make the necessary adjustments.

1. Don’t Feel Guilty

Many people understand that “good Christians read the Bible.” They want God to like them, so they read the Bible out of trying to please God, out of a kind of guilt. This approach can see God as either punitive (“if I don’t read, God will be mad at me”) or almost like He is a “lucky charm” (“if I read, God will reward me”). Neither of these approaches will help you grow closer to God and grow spiritually.

At its core, Scripture engagement is a relational process. We come to a loving God through the Scriptures because we want to know Him, to understand what is true, and to be changed into the person He created us to be. Approaching anybody out of a sense of trying to win them over or because of guilt really limits the depth that relationship can reach. The same is true of approaching God.

Guilt is a poor motivator—the results don’t last or give life. Of course, guilt is important because guilt forces us to see that we are sinners who need God’s forgiveness. However, if you approach the Bible only out of a sense of guilt, you will not be prepared to fully engage the God who loves you so much that He sent His Son to die for you. Remember that you aren’t doing God a favor by spending time in the Bible; instead, He has done you a favor by giving you the Bible as the gracious means of knowing Him.

2. Don’t Look to Find Just a Devotional Thought

Another way that people approach the Bible is for a “devotional thought.” They come to Scripture for a quick, happy thought that will be an encouragement for the day, maybe tied to a nice moral story. But the Bible never presents itself as something warm and fuzzy. Hebrews 4:12 tells us that “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.” Treating God’s Word like a warm and cuddly toy, when it is really a double-edged sword (or a fire and a hammer, as in Jeremiah 23:29), is condescending.

So come to the Bible ready to be challenged, to be asked to change, to be brought to your knees. For sure, you will often find a wonderful thought to brighten your day, but come looking for much more than that. Look to be deeply changed from within.

3. Don’t Read Only for Content or Information

The Bible is indeed full of content. It is a window into a number of ancient worlds, as well as a window into the spiritual world. While all of the information in the Bible is fascinating, knowing facts about God and His Word is not the same has having a relationship with God Himself. The person who knows the most Bible facts is not necessarily the person who knows God the most. If we elevate facts above meeting God, then we have lost the most important facet of the Bible. If we read primarily to learn content, it can lead to treating the Bible like an object for us to control or as a problem to be solved.

Knowing the content of the Bible is critically important because through those real-life realities, God makes Himself known. But don’t come to the Bible just to be able to pass a Bible trivia exam; come to the Bible ready to meet your Creator. Read the Bible out of a desire for a relationship and out of love for God, not just to learn facts.

4. Don’t Focus Only on Self

Have you ever overheard a conversation that you thought was about you but really turned out to be about someone else? When that occurs, it can be the source of some deep misunderstandings. It is possible to come to the Bible thinking it is our story and read it just to understand ourselves. Not every word in the Bible is a direct instruction of how to live. In reality, the Bible is God’s story. Yes, we learn a great deal about ourselves in the Bible, but to think that every word is all about us can lead to misunderstanding the message of Scripture.

The Bible is a sweeping story about God. It is only as you grow in your understanding of God, His character, and His plan that you will really start to understand your place in His story. Perhaps the best question you can ask after reading a passage of Scripture is, “What does this tell me about God?”

5. Don’t Think It’s Only about Rules

Many people think that the Bible is primarily a book of rules, as if God wanted to control all of our actions by giving us a lot of directions about what not to do. The people who think this way tend to avoid the Bible altogether—who would read a book of rules on their own? The truth is that the Bible is about God and His loving actions of redeeming us and making us into His people. To view the Bible as a bunch of rules is similar to viewing marriage vows as a list of rules. Marriage vows are about love and promises made between two people to enhance and protect their love. The Bible is about love also. To view it as a set of rules is to miss the whole point and to ruin the loving relationship it is designed to protect.

So come to the Bible with understanding that God did indeed give His people rules, but they are not rules so we can earn a relationship with him, they are rules to enhance the relationship with Him that He has freely given to us.

Do Build a Relationship with God

So come today to the Bible, not out of guilt, to get a verse to make you happy, to just learn facts, to just focus on yourself, or to find a bunch of rules. Come to the Bible to build a relationship with the God who loves you.

The Abide Bible: Engage Scripture, Engage God.

Do you yearn for life-giving, intimate communion with God? The Abide Bible is designed to help you experience the peace, hope, and growth that come from encountering the voice and presence of God in Scripture. Every feature in Abide is designed to teach and develop Scripture-engagement habits that help you know the power and spiritual nourishment of abiding in Christ.

Related Articles

How to Abide in God’s Word

Learn how to come to the Scriptures in a manner that promotes a thriving, living, transforming relationship with Christ. Read More

Christ: The Center of Scripture

It is through the Bible that we meet and know Christ. When we grow in our love for Christ, we grow in our love of Scriptures. Read More

5 Steps to Engage with the Bible

Following these five steps will help you prepare to engage with God’s Word so it becomes more personally meaningful and transformative in your life. Read More

Sign Up for the Latest Blog Posts from Thomas Nelson

By submitting your email address, you understand that you will receive email communications from HarperCollins Christian Publishing (501 Nelson Place, Nashville, TN 37214 USA) providing information about products and services of HCCP and its affiliates. You may unsubscribe from these email communications at any time. If you have any questions, please review our Privacy Policy or email us at

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *