What Would a Biblical World Look Like?

How the Bible Changes our Behaviors

Why should we lead others in reading Scripture? What difference does it make? In this four-part series, we explore the Bible Cause: the transformative stages of leading others in Scripture engagement—1. Introducing others to Jesus 2. Restoring a secure identity 3. Transforming our attitude 4. Changing our behaviors.

One of the great joys of my work at American Bible Society comes from the reports we hear of the Bible’s impact on people’s lives, worldwide. A man from Tanzania writes how he “developed interest” in reading the Bible when a portion was produced in his local language. “From reading the portion of Matthew,” he notes, “I came to know that Jesus called those who had heavy loads to surrender their loads to him. I knew I had many heavy loads such as smoking, drunkenness, fighting at home. Then I decided to give my life to Jesus, who changed my life completely.”

In this series of blogs, we’re exploring the effect of the Scripture on individuals, on churches, on communities. Is Bible-reading just something that Christians are supposed to do, or does it make a difference in our lives? We’ve considered its impact in introducing people to Jesus, reorienting our identity, and shaping our attitudes. This man from Tanzania would testify to all of that, but he also includes a report of substantial behavior change. It’s the same with Derek, the friend we mentioned in a previous article, who changed his ways after he began to focus on Scripture. It affected his struggle with addiction, his love life, and his finances. His actions were affected by the power of Scripture. You can probably tell similar stories of other people you know whose lives found a radically new direction after their encounter with the Bible.

What comes after conversion

But we’re also wondering about what happens next—after the conversion, after the person has identified as a Christ-follower and connected with a church. Does the Bible keep refining the behavior of its readers?

We know it should. The God-breathed Scripture, we’re told, is “useful for teaching the truth, rebuking error, correcting faults, and giving instruction for right living, so that the person who serves God may be fully qualified and equipped to do every kind of good deed” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). That indicates a regular process of calibration.

Jesus told a mini-parable about a house built on rock and another on sand—and how they fared differently in a storm: “Anyone who hears these words of mine and does not obey them is like a foolish man who built his house on sand” (Matthew 7:24-27). Hearing and doing are two different things. James wrote, “Do not deceive yourselves by just listening to his word; instead, put it into practice.” He went on to describe God’s Word as a mirror, urging people to “look closely” and to “keep on paying attention to it and do not simply listen and then forget it, but put it into practice” (James 1:22-25).

This bears a resemblance to the first psalm, in which a “blessed” person finds “delight” in God’s Word and meditates on it “day and night” (Psalm 1:2).

All of this indicates a difference between casual reading and deep reflection. Clearly the Bible’s value is not just in a momentary encounter with its ideas, but even more in allowing its continuing guidance. Paul had a Damascus Road conversion experience, but also the prophetic assurance of Ananias. When the psalmist calls God’s Word “a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105), that’s not just mental illumination, but practical direction on where and how to walk.

Survey says

Does it really work like this?

Lifeway Research studied the effects of regular interaction with Scripture. In his report on that data, Brad J. Waggoner crisply writes that “daily Bible engagement is the Number 1 predictor of spiritual maturation” (The Shape of Faith to Come).

Another study of 3,000 adults by the Center for Bible Engagement (CBE) found a connection between regular Bible reading and assorted positive and negative behaviors. Those who engaged with Scripture at least four times a week were less likely to get drunk, have sex outside marriage, use pornography or gamble. They were more likely to share their faith, disciple others, or memorize Scripture.

The most fascinating detail of that study was what the CBE called “The Power of 4.” Those who read the Bible 1-3 times a week saw little effect on these behaviors in their lives, but the 4+ group had strong correlations.

Lifeway Research had similar findings on the positive correlations. Christians who read the Bible daily, they found, are more likely to give generously to a church, to be active in a small group or Sunday school, to share their faith, to pray, to attend worship services, or to participate in local ministries or missions.

The effects of changed behavior

How can these changes in behavior affect our communities or even our nation? Can we envision a society in which a critical mass of people is engaging regularly with Scripture and modeling their lives on its teaching?

Would there be less violence because people are committed to peacemaking?

Would there be a renewal of the legal system because of the frequent biblical commands to seek justice and mercy?

Would people be freed from addictions, more committed to their families, more concerned for the poor?

Would Bible-motivated people lead the way in the fight against racism?

Would Christians become known for their humility, honesty, and love?

It’s nice to think about, but how would it happen? All the research, all the personal testimonies, and all the guidance of Scripture leads us to the conclusion that it starts with the regular reading of the Bible, as we open our souls to the life-shaping truth of God.

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Randy Petersen
Randy Petersen

Randy Petersen is Director of Scripture Engagement Content for American Bible Society. Writer of more than sixty books and hundreds of church curriculum lessons, he has also served churches as a Bible teacher, small-groups coordinator, drama director, preaching consultant and softball pitcher.

Thanks to the support of our faithful financial partners, American Bible Society has been engaging people with the life-changing message of God’s Word for more than 200 years.

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