If you plan to start a new Bible reading plan this year (or if you “cheated” and began at the end of December), you are more than likely going to read Genesis 1. The plan I’m using in 2018 includes the first two chapters for the first day of the year. I always really enjoy the feeling of a new year that goes along with the creation account and the sense of gift and possibility that comes from God.
But, and it’s no more surprising than the inevitable deflation of the Christmas break balloon, Genesis 3 is coming. The ancient dragon is coming. Eve will eat like she’s done every other time. Adam will fail to obey His Maker, and he will doom humanity to death again. For all the optimism that January 1 tends to bring, January 2 is back to work in a world under the curse.
So now is a timely place to remind you that time does not heal all wounds. Hanging up a new calendar has never fixed any relationship. Amazing plans for self-discipline in diet and exercise and communication cannot, by themselves, get anyone back to Edenic paradise.
Depending on your reading plan, maybe you get one day out of 365 (which is a puny percent of the year) where, during your Bible meditation, there is no sin. But in reality we don’t even get that. We are facing, right at 12:00:01 AM on 1/1/18, another year of spiritual enmity, of conflict, of sweaty work, of pain, of death. Here comes another year of seeing our nakedness before God, of the guilt that comes from being deceived or being weak. We are facing another year of sin desiring to rule over us.
Time, past or present or future, does not solve sin, time is a theater for sin. Jesus—dead, buried, and risen from the grave on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures—is the Savior from sin. He is the seed of the woman in whom the serpent’s head is crushed. We enter the year of our Lord 2018, and we do so abiding in Him that His joy may be in us and that our joy may be full.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus listened as Jesus interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning Himself, and their hearts burned. Earlier in His ministry Jesus had talked with some other Jews who were serious Bible studiers. They searched the Scriptures. They didn’t do it to disprove God’s Word, they did it with confidence that they would find eternal life in there.
Yet Jesus claimed that while they knew some of the finer points they had missed the entire point. They knew the details and they didn’t actually know God (John 5:39).
Jesus confronted the Sadducees over a similar problem when some of them came with a Bible question. They wanted to know how the law of Moses—specifically the law about a younger brother marrying his deceased older brother’s wife—fit with the teaching on resurrection. Before giving them the answer Jesus told them, “You know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). But again, their question was based on the Scriptures.
What did these men need to repent from? They needed to repent from the very thing they considered their righteousness. They needed to repent from their Bible reading.
Of course it’s not the Bible that’s the problem, it’s the reading. There is a way to read and search and know the Bible that isn’t enough. It is to read partially, or academically, or for the purpose of impressing others with what we know. But reading the Bible should make us want the glory that comes from God not that comes from man. And reading the Scriptures to know Jesus should show that Jesus is interested in more than just our Bible reading.
It is not enough to be delivered out of the land of weak theology and topical-topic sermons, but still complain and not obey. Some have itching ears for sermons that make them feel better about themselves, yes, and others of us have itching ears for expositional sermons that make us feel better that we aren’t like “other men,” like the unrighteous (see Luke 18:11). Let us repent whenever we need to, including when we find ourselves missing the point while staring at the pages.
God does not command His people to read the Bible anywhere in the Bible. That’s probably for two reasons. First, most people didn’t have their own copies of God’s Word to read. They depended on hearing the Word read in corporate worship, and pastors were commanded to read the Word publicly for the people (see passages such as 1 Thessalonians 5:27 and 1 Timothy 4:13).
A second reason why personal reading of the Bible isn’t an imperative is because reading, in and of itself, is much too undemanding. God commands believers to crave the Word like a newborn baby craves milk (1 Peter 2:2). He commands us to mediate on it day and night (Psalm 1:2). Noble believers examine the Scriptures daily (Acts 17:11). Wanting it, always thinking about it, and investigating it are much higher callings.
That said, reading helps. Having our own complete copies of the inspired canon in our own language in a portable format to read anytime we want is a thick blessing that we ought not take for granted.
I’ve used the same plan to read through the Bible in a year a few years in a row. I love it. The Discipleship Journal Bible Reading Plan has four separate readings, two from the Old Testament and two from the New. It also has only 25 readings each month leaving room for catch-up days if needed.
This new year I’m switching to try a new-for-me plan and I’m also switching to a new copy. I’m going to follow the M’Cheyne Bible Reading Plan. It also has four readings every day, but it completes the New Testament and Psalms twice and the rest of the Old Testament once. Even though I’m studying for my Bible class at school and to preach on Sundays, I still want more of the Word.
I’ll also be using an ESV Reader’s Bible. This edition has no verse numbers and zero cross-references or notes. It does have paragraphs, and paragraphs make me happy. I got it a few months ago and tried it with the Discipleship Journal plan, but it wasn’t as easy to use because the New Testament readings are usually only certain verses and the Reader’s Bible doesn’t show the verse numbers. The M’Cheyne plan usually includes entire chapters.
It doesn’t matter what reading plan you use. I didn’t write this to persuade anyone to switch. I wrote this to say that I’m thankful for the grace that keeps me hungry for the Word. I’m thankful for the variety and access to resources to choose from. And I’m glad to give something even more challenging a shot. Maybe you will, too.
I won’t miss the opportunity to blog on a day that only occurs every four years. So if I fail to post something substantial later today, Happy Leap Day! In the meantime, the ESV Bible Blog recommends what to do if your Bible reading plan skips February 29.
If you’re undecided about how to read the Bible this year take a look at these eight Bible reading plans for the ESV. Each plan can be read on the web, received through RSS or email, or printed out for to carry in your own copy of God’s Word.