Deadly Substitutes for Genuine Discipleship

I spoke recently with a woman who has a great thirst for Scripture. She reads and studies the Bible voraciously. She is curious to understand what it says and means. She came to me to ask how she can better understand what she reads in Scripture. We talked about resources like study Bibles and books on systematic theology. I loaned her a couple of books to help her get started.

But before we finished, I had to warn her about a temptation someone with her gifts and passions will surely face. She has an active and inquisitive mind, and she loves to read the Bible. What could possibly go wrong there?

Plenty, actually.

I told her that it would be easy for someone with her gifts and passions to be distracted by learning about the Bible without letting it transform her life. I told her that Satan would be entirely satisfied to see her read her Bible every day for the rest of her life and even study it deeply to gain deeper insight into God’s Word. All that would be fine with Satan so long as she never gave thought to obedience and life change, so long as her Bible reading never pointed her to Jesus.

Our Bible engagement is never complete until we reflect on it with first-person pronouns: “I” and “me” and “my.” James tells us that engaging the Bible without letting it change our lives is an exercise in self-delusion: “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like” (James 1:22-24, ESV).

And we misread the Scripture if we forget that the entire Bible is about Jesus. The entire Old Testament looks forward to Jesus, the Gospels tell us his story, the epistles explain what Jesus means, and John’s Revelation portrays his final victory. Missing the central role that Jesus plays in the Bible is like trying to understand physics without bothering to understand how gravity works.

Bible engagement without Christ-focus and life-transformation is one kind of deadly substitute for genuine discipleship. But there are others. I’d like to hear from you. What are some other deadly substitutes for genuine discipleship? What are some other ways we can deceive ourselves into thinking we’re growing in Christ when we’re really just treading water?

Email me with suggestions for future blog posts.

Paul Pyle