Personal Spiritual Development

Shelterglen University
School of Theology

Personal Sanctification

The Point of  Need and Crisis


             As believers in, and ministers for Jesus Christ, our lives must become vessels of the presence, control and empowerment of the Holy Spirit, growing us in the teachings and lifestyle exemplified by the earthly life and ministry of Jesus Christ.

             There comes a point in our Christian walk where we realize Jesus Christ is not only our Savior, but that He must become our Lord (Master) also. The Apostle Paul defines what the Lordship of Jesus Christ truly is when he writes to the church at Philippi in chapter 2:10-11 “that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” The word in the original text used for our English word ‘Lord’ is more accurately translated ‘master’. In Matthew 6:24 Jesus says "No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money”. Jesus is literally saying that a person cannot be owned by two masters simultaneously. A man can only have one master. The issue here is not whether God and money are the master of one’s life. It is the issue of control, and who will retain control of one’s life. This is the point of crisis when the need for one master in one’s life is made obvious. At this point Christ can no longer be just Savior, He must now become “Master” also. It is a decision of surrender that an individual must consciously make before the Lord that invites the Holy Spirit to take control of the lifestyle, the appetites and the outcome of life.

           For some, this recognition of need happens at the exact same crisis point of salvation. But for many others, it is indeed a separate point of crisis and realization that happens later in their Christian life. For many believers it happens during mental or physical crisis or trauma or desperation, such as illness, divorce or financial gloom. It is an awaking, a conviction of the Holy Spirit to step forward in faith and to increase the personal measure of commitment to the Christ-like lifestyle.


Defining Sanctification

              We often call this process which takes place from that moment of crisis or realization the process of our sanctification. The dictionary defines sanctification as “being separated to become holy or sacred”. This process of separation is what the Apostle Paul clearly defined to the Corinthian church when he said in1 Corinthians 1:2 To the church of God in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ-- their Lord and ours. The word “together” clearly defines the two separate categories of Christian believers. Those who have been, or are being “sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy” and “those who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” Very clearly, it is possible to know Jesus Christ as your Savior and not have come to the point and process of sanctification.

            Sanctification is definite separation from sin, dedication to God in every aspect of our life, the process of conforming to the image of Christ as a new creature being shaped and molded. Sanctification is also a position and process of expressing love of God and for all mankind. Jesus issued a response to an attorney’s question over which one was the greatest commandment when He said in Mark 12:29-31            "The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' The second is this: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these." (NIV) By this Jesus was saying that loving God is a key factor in the sanctified life, but also it is as important to love everyone, in a sense as God would love them. Jesus places such an equal amount of importance on both aspects of not only loving God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, but also loving your neighbor (or literally anyone you come in contact with in life) in that same way. This is a continuous cycle of experiencing God’s love and then expressing God’s love to a world around you that is lost and dying without a relationship to God in their life. In effect, what He is saying is that you cannot truly love God in the purest form unless you love the world around you enough to reach out to them (seek the lost) and share God’s love which has been made manifest through the person of Jesus Christ with them.

              As we individually yield more control to the Holy Spirit in our lives, we will experience a deeper and more Godly lifestyle and personal relationship through commitment to Jesus Christ. Paul writes to the Philippian Christians in chapter two and says Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed-- not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence-- continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling. This act of ‘working our own salvation out’ is actually the practical way of living our lives in a way in which the sanctification process is being effected. The original text gives us a definitive that clearly states we are to protect ourselves both morally and physically from that which would destroy us spiritually. As we engage in this process or activity, we are becoming more controlled and empowered by the Holy Spirit and can become more effective in the Kingdom of God as revealed in our Lord Jesus Christ.

                 The Apostle Paul also wrote to dear friend Timothy, a Christian who he mentored into the ministry of the gospel, and said these words in 2 Timothy 2:21-22 If a man cleanses himself from the latter(he has just talked about wickedness and false doctrines being taught), he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work. Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. The statement of ‘If a man cleanses himself’ strongly implies two things. First, that a man can choose to participate or allow this cleansing to take place. Secondly, it makes it obvious that there is this point of crisis, or event in which this act indeed takes place. After this crisis and during this process of sanctification, the believer then becomes fit for use by the ‘Master’. This is the point at which the process of sanctification continues onward, and we in that process, run from evil desires (in other words we don’t seek after those evil things), and we now seek after faith, love and peace along with those other believers who have a purified heart in their walk with Jesus Christ.     


The Process of Sanctification

             Dr. A.B. Simpson in his book “The Fourfold Gospel”, stated that there are four steps in the process of receiving the sanctification process into one’s life. First we must be convinced of our need to sanctified by a revelation of God. Secondly we must come to Jesus Christ and acknowledge Him as our sanctifier. Thirdly, we must surrender all that we are to His control. And finally, we must believe that He is willing and able receive and act upon the consecration we make in our surrender. 

              My wife runs a very large catering business that primarily serves a local denominationally owned seminary. From time to time I have gone to the kitchen there and assist her in various aspects of food preparation and serving. One day while watching her, this illustration came to me about the act and process of sanctification in the life of the believer.

          One day I saw her take a big stainless steel cooking crock off the shelf and take it to the sink and cleanse it thoroughly. She was exceptionally careful to make sure it was very clean and rinsed free of the soap she had just used to clean it with (salvation). She then put some water in the crock and took and set it on the counter next to the stove. For the next several minutes she retrieved various ingredients from the cupboards or the pantry or the walk-in cooler and added them to the water in the crock in a specific order, one by one. She knew what the recipe called for and exercised a very precise order in which the ingredients were to be added.

             Sometimes she would add an ingredient and then stir it in. Other times she would just simply sprinkle some herb or spice across the top surface of the mixture and let it sink into the other ingredients. As I watched her I noticed that there were times that it appeared that she had forgotten about the potential stew, walking away from it to start or continue other aspects of the upcoming meal that was to be served . When I questioned whether or not she was ready to work on it again, she would simply tell me “It’s OK, the ingredients just have to blend together for a while”.

              Finally when she knew everything was ready she turned the burner on the stove on and placed the fully prepared crock of ingredients on the stove to cook (the moment of crisis in sanctification). Then I watched as she begin to experience the potential of the stew develop. She would return repeatedly to it, stirring it, looking to make sure it had the right appearance and consistency, and smelling the aroma that was now becoming a very inviting appetizer to all of us in the kitchen. Occasionally she would take a small spoon and sample the taste just to make sure all the ingredients were mixed in right proportions (the process of sanctification).

             Eventually it was ready and was served to all the students at the seminary. Everyone enjoyed it and was nourished by it (our eternal life in the presence of God and all the saints who have gone on before).   

            So often there are many times between that point of our salvation and the crisis point of our sanctification that God is very faithfully adding the right ingredients in the right proportions in the correct sequence into our spiritual lives. Then comes that moment of crisis when the potential of what God has been doing starts to materialize. We then begin to yield the aroma of what God has planned for us to become, because He is in control. We are then no longer “sitting on the counter” merely holding the potential of being what God wants us to be, but now we are placed on the “stove” and become what God is desiring through this experience.   


Control and Power

          As stated earlier, sanctification is a process within the believer in Jesus Christ that not only empowers them to do the works desired by a righteous God, but also to be completely controlled by that same loving caring God. Both elements of control and empowerment are necessary.

           Someone or something can be empowered and yet be completely out of control. On the other hand, someone can be controlled by someone else or something else and never empowered to accomplish the given task The accelerator of a car can be depressed to the floorboard empowering it, but if there is no one in the drivers seat to control of the direction and braking of that car, it is completely out of control even though it is empowered.  It is our conscience  decision to allow the Holy Spirit to not only empower us to accomplish works of righteousness  for the advancement of the Kingdom of God, but also to control the manner and means by which those things are accomplished and made manifest in our lives.

         In Ephesians 4:20-24 we find a threefold process in which we see the evidence of sanctification and the believer’s walk with the Spirit. It says You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.(NIV) This speaks of the intentional process of taking off “the old self” much as you would a change of clothing. Then it addresses the change of heart or the thought process of our attitudes, and how they are to be made new. This can only be accomplished by the empowerment and control of the Holy Spirit actively working in our lives which results in the putting on of “a new self.” 


The Ultimate Goal

        The ultimate goal of the Christian believer is not to get to heaven. It is to become more like Jesus Christ in action, motivation and expression. The process of sanctification brings us into a more Christ-like posture in life as we become more obedient to His voice and His will and direction for our lives. This submissive process which we enter into grows as we yield more control to the Holy Spirit, receiving the power needed to reflect the life and glory of Jesus Christ in our daily living. Sanctification is the manifestation of the righteousness of God in Christ-like form upon the willing surrendered believer. 

         The process of sanctification is a dynamic (or powerful) and continuous process within the life of the believer which matures as time goes on. Jesus accurately illustrated this in John 7:37-39 On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.(NIV)

                      This process of sanctification is never completed in mortality. However, it will be culminated just as Paul told the Corinthians in I Corinthian 15:43 “it (this mortal life) is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power, when we pass from this mortal life into the immortal and timeless presence of our Lord Jesus Christ. When we stand face to face with Jesus Christ our Savior and Sanctifier, our sanctification will become complete in His presence. In I John 3:2-3 we read Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. Everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure. This very amply defines what the completion of our sanctification will be in the full presence of Jesus Christ, when we become like Him. This passage also charges us to engage in or be yielded to this process of sanctification by the Holy Spirit, referring to it as a purification of our lives to imitate the life and personage of Jesus Christ. I Thessalonians 5:23 says May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.


Being Gifted by God

         For many involved in ministry it is easy to see a natural ability or talent within themselves and mistakenly think of it or even refer to it as a gift from God. While it is indeed from God, it is not a spiritual gift. It is simply a talent. Knowing the difference in makes the picture clearer in the minister, and helps them become more readily used by God in the spiritual gift(s) He has placed within them.     


         Talents are abilities God places in us from birth, whereas spiritual gifts are independently placed within us at the point of our conversion to Christianity by accepting Jesus Christ as our personal Savior. The purpose of a talent is to bring glory to the person, whereas the purpose of spiritual gifts within us is to bring glory to God. Talents are fueled by human efforts to develop the ability to do. Spiritual gifts are fueled by the Holy Spirit. Talents may at best last a lifetime. Spiritual gifts are eternal.     

          There are five primary reasons why each Christian is endowed with spiritual gifts. They are as follows:


1). To bring glory to Christ’s church. 1 Peter 4:10-11 Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.(NIV)


2). To Build or equip the body of Christ Ephesians 4:11-13 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.(NIV)


3). To complete the work of the body of Christ 1 Corinthians 12:24-25 while our presentable parts need no special treatment. But God has combined the members of the body and has given greater honor to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other.(NIV)


4). To build unity in the body of Christ (see the two previously quoted passages in statements 2 & 3)


5). To include every Christian in the ministry of the Lord Jesus’ work. 1 Corinthians 12:27 Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.(NIV)


            In the book of Romans Paul gives a list of spiritual gifts that function in the body of Christ. Romans 12:6-8 We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man's gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.(NIV)


            Another list of spiritual gifts that the Lord may give to any Christian is found in I Corinthians 12:8-10 To one there is given through the Spirit the message of wisdom, to another the message of knowledge by means of the same Spirit, to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by that one Spirit, to another miraculous powers, to another prophecy, to another distinguishing between spirits, to another speaking in different kinds of tongues, and to still another the interpretation of tongues.(NIV) 1 Corinthians 12:28 And in the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues. (NIV)


           Still another listing of gifts is found in Ephesians that defines the leaders within the body of Christ and in each congregation of Christians. Ephesians 4:11 It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers,(NIV) These gifts are sometimes referred to as the five-fold gift ministries. 


           Here are the various gifts of the Spirit and what their basic definitions are. As you read through this list, make note of which ones are applicable in your own life :  


Administration = ability to plan, organize and coordinate


Apostleship = ability to communicate the gospel across cultural barriers, establishing and governing new Christian churches


Contributing =  ability to discern and respond to material and financial needs 


Discernment = ability to distinguish between Godly or satanic behaviors, influences and spirits


Encouragement = ability to strengthen others through understanding, counsel and challenge (exhortation)


Evangelism =  ability to lead unconverted persons to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ and a personal relationship with Him. 


Faith =  ability to trust God in extraordinary ways


Healing = ability to function as the instrument of God’s healing grace in the lives of others


Helps = ability to assist others in the exercise of their gifts and talents


Interpretation of Tongues = ability to understand the meaning of what another says in tongues and communicate that meaning to others


Knowledge = ability to know information about a person or situation as directly revealed by the Holy Spirit


Leadership = ability to communicate vision for ministry and to inspire confidence to act together in a particular endeavor, to preside or rule.


Mercy = ability to experience and express genuine empathy and compassion for persons in personal distress; also called compassion


Miracles = ability to function as an instrument of God’s supernatural intervention in the lives of others.


Pastor = ability to provide spiritual care and guidance to others for their personal growth and spiritual development - often referred to as “shepherding”


Prophecy = ability to proclaim the word of God with clarity and persuassiveness


Teaching = ability to explain the Christian faith to others with clarity and revelance


Tongues = ability to speak in a language one has not learned


Serving =  ability to care for the temporal and material needs of other persons in  a spirit of love and joy


Wisdom =  ability to exercise keen insight and guidance in a particular situation.


Bearing Spiritual Fruit

              The fruit of the Spirit is listed by the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5: 22-23 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.(NIV) This is a brief description of how each of these fruits can be recognized in someone’s life:


Love = unconditional giving of one’s self

Joy = an attitude of celebrating God’s goodness

Peace = a quiet confidence

Patience = a willingness to wait on God’s timing

Kindness = relating to others in a caring, supportive manner

Goodness = exercising high moral and ethical values

Faithfulness = consistent and ongoing trust in and obedience to God

Gentleness = using strength in a controlled and humble manner

Self-Control = exercising mastery over one’s thoughts, desires and appetites


             Jesus Christ also taught his disciples about these same fruits of the spirit. John 15:1-8 "I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. "I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. This is to my Father's glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.(NIV)


                 To abide means that we live in close relationship with Jesus Christ. What Jesus is really saying is that He is the one who produces these spiritual fruits or attributes in His followers lives. It is not something that they do or generate even because of their salvation experience. This passage of scripture admonishes us to stay connected to (or dependent on) Jesus Christ because if we don’t none of these things can be produced in our lives. The fruit of the spirit can only be produced by the Holy Spirit. It is not a result of our own efforts or our good deeds. 


A Life of Prayer

               Prayer is considered to be one of the greatest privileges and one of the greatest responsibility of the Christian. Many have debated the areas of how much and how often, but the Bible shows examples and teaches us that prayer is a lifestyle of communication and relationship with God as much as it is an actual event.

             In 1Thessalonians 5:16-18 it says Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you. (KJV) Notice the emphasis of “continuing on” in these three verses used in the words ‘evermore’, ‘without ceasing’ and ‘every thing’. The aspect of prayer is nestled in between the joyous aspects of rejoicing and giving thanks.

              If we believe the theological implications that God does nothing apart from prayer, then we are forced to see prayer as an awesome responsibility that through its processes brings glory and honor to God. If we don’t pray, God does not move. If we pray according to His will, He will move. And when He works and moves amongst us, He will be glorified and we will be satisfied. John 14:13-14 And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it.(NIV)

              We are instructed through scriptures to pray for many things. We are taught to pray for those who persecute us or cause us trouble [Matthew 5:44 But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,(NIV) & Luke 6:28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you.(NIV)]. Jesus Christ prophetically instructs us to pray for safety and timeliness in our coming circumstances [Matthew 24;20 Pray that your flight will not take place in winter or on the Sabbath.(NIV) & Mark 13:18 Pray that this will not take place in winter, (NIV)].

            Jesus also teaches us to pray that we don’t fall into temptation [Matthew 6:13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.'(NIV) Matthew 26:41 "Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak."(NIV) & Luke 22:40 On reaching the place, he said to them, "Pray that you will not fall into temptation."(NIV)].

               Paul asks the church at Rome and at Colossi to pray that the message of that God has given him will be well received [Romans 15:31 Pray that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea and that my service in Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints there,(NIV) & Colossians 4:3,4 And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.(NIV)]  

              The Word also tells us that we should pray that we no do anything wrong [II Corinthians 13:7 Now we pray to God that you will not do anything wrong. Not that people will see that we have stood the test but that you will do what is right even though we may seem to have failed.(NIV)].

          Paul sets the example by praying that spiritual eyes would be opened [Ephesians 1:18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,(NIV)]. Paul also writes to the church at Ephesus and says to pray for understanding to know the greatness of the love of Christ [Ephesians 3:17-19 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge-- that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.(NIV)]    

              Prayer is a vital and important part of our spiritual lives. Without it communication with God is void. We can hear God’s voice through prayer and through meditating. If we are not willing to dedicate time out of our lives to specifically pray and communicate with God, we cannot have a healthy relationship with God. 

              Fasting is a spiritual act in which one elects to give up a normal activity such as not eating to spend the time praying and communing with God. It is a spiritual sacrifice. Fasting can be a very effective way of intensifying your prayer life. There are many Biblical examples given to us about the importance of fasting and praying in tandem. It is an excellent indicator that you are serious and mean business with God. God truly appreciates this type of sacrifice, when it is done with a correct motive and to seek His exclusive will in the particular circumstance of concern.


A Student of God’s Word 

          The Holy Bible is God’s written word to all of humanity. As Christians, we believe that it is complete and without error. We believe that it is inspired by God in its original text and is useful in every aspect of our life. 2 Timothy 3:15-17 and how from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.(NIV) To be able to have and to study God’s written word to us is a tremendous and valuable privilege. We are not only commanded to study God’s word, but we are also encouraged to listen for His knowledge, truth and instruction for the purpose of living this mortal life in accordance to God’s will for our lives individually. 

             There are two primary approaches to Bible study. The first one is what we call deductive study procedures. The other approach is called inductive. Deductive Bible study begins by observing the general topics and themes of the Bible as they blatantly appear. It is always followed by a search for support to these themes and topics. Deductive Bible study basically allows the student to express a position or doctrine derived from such general themes or topics, and then go to the scriptures to find support or defense for the particular doctrine or position. 

                Inductive Bible study is used by the objective or impartial student. It is an approach to the Bible without any predisposition. It is a “listening” style of bible study that doesn’t “second guess” the emphasis or doctrine of scriptures based on previous knowledge or instruction. The Bible student that uses an inductive approach to the scriptures makes conclusions based on what the scripture is actually saying, because they are not searching or studying scripture with a position to defend.      

              There are four basic stages in the process of studying the Bible. The first is observation. This may be blatantly obvious to the serious Bible student. You must spend time reading the Bible. It is often helpful to read the same passage more than once.

              Be careful to note the portion of scripture you are reading. The Bible was not original inspired by God in chapter and verse. Man has divided the scriptures up that way for the sake of easier reading and organization. Example; If you have been reading a couple of chapters and one particular verse jumps off the page at you. Go back and read the entire chapter it is contained in. If it is at the end of that particular chapter, read the next chapter after it. You may find that indeed the subject matter has changed in the new chapter. But you also might discover that the following chapter ads more definition or explanation to it.         

               Be sure not to skip around in a book or section of the scripture you are reading. Read continuous sequential passages. Example; Don’t read the just the third and sixth chapter of the book of Daniel, read the third, fourth, fifth and sixth chapters in sequence. 

              The second stage is called interpretation. To many, interpretation is the scariest part of Bible study. This is because we feel we will err in the development of the interpretation. When we interpret scriptures we simply attempt to give them more definition or explanation. It is obvious that certain scriptures are housed in Godly mystery and can never be fully interpreted. We must recognize this and be content to occasionally respond to ourselves and others with the very acceptable “I don’t know”.

              There are three filters we can use in the interpretative process with scriptures. The first filter is called the cultural filter. If it is at all possible to learn about or discern the cultural setting of the time and location that the selected passage of scripture is discussing, it will be an obvious help in understanding the passage a little easier. The culture is very simply defined as the conditions and development of the environment. Example: If you are reading a passage of scripture from the book of Daniel, it would be helpful to know that Daniel was writing during a period of time when the nation of Israel had been exiled into Babylonian captivity. It would probably shed some light on the message in scripture if you knew the conditions the people of Israel lived under in Babylon. Sometimes even the geographical setting and conditions will help you better know the environment and its influences.

              The second filter we can use is called the society or sociological filter. The society filter deals with the people that live within the cultural setting of the selected passage of scripture and their customs, attitudes, interaction and language. Once we see what the normal inclination of the society is in various circumstances, we will better be able to paint a bigger picture of the explanation or interpretation. Knowing the person(s) likes and dislikes, preferences and ideals that is speaking or being spoken to or about will also bring into the picture a more definable viewpoint.

              It is vitally important that you have access to or be able to at least occasionally research the original language of the text of scripture you are reading.  Remember, the language is part of the sociological picture. People in any society communicate verbally to each other. Since we are reading an English translation of the Bible, we must be keenly aware that not every word can be translated precisely word for word. The English language does not parallel the Greek and Hebrew 100% word for word. Some words in the English Bible were added for clarification of the text. Some words were used more often in the English language at certain time periods around the time of the particular translation you are reading. Example: A King James Bible will use “thou”, “thee” and “thine”, whereas a New International Version might use words like “you” or “yours” in the same text. The simple use of a Strong’s Concordance will shed much light on the original Greek and Hebrew texts. (see SBS1016 Bible Study Tools).

            The third filter is the most important part of the interpretation process. It is called the self-illumination filter of scriptures. This is where we must search the scriptures to see what other scriptures say about the specific passage we are reading. With this filter, we literally let the scriptures interpret themselves. In much of scripture this can be done as we begin to correlate and organize passages of scripture together. Be careful not to just take a phrase or a verse out of its text for comparison because it uses the same word as the passage you are looking at intently. There must be a mutual or reciprocal relationship between the two passages of scripture. Again, also be sure to examine the original text language to be sure these passage are discussing and related to the same thing.

           Many times we ignore this last filter of self-illumination of scriptures for the sake of knowledge and intellect. Much of the time scripture will interpret itself very accurately. We simply have to search the scriptures like the Bereans of Acts 16 to see the corresponding and related passages. Here is a cute definition that might help explain this process in the “big” picture sense of the word. The New Testament is contained in the Old Testament, and the Old Testament is explained in the New Testament.         

                One of the most shining examples of this would be the Tabernacle Moses built in the wilderness as the children of Israel journeyed to the promised land. This construction and priestly ministerial organization of this tabernacle is recorded in Exodus chapters 19-32. This religious process of Judaism remains rather dry and statuesque until you read through the New Testament passage of scripture in Hebrews chapters 4-9. Then you see that whole ritualistic practice in the Jewish religious community in an entirely different light. The very best way to interpret scriptures is to let scriptures interpret themselves.    

            The third stage in the Bible study process is called evaluation. In this stage we simply place a relative value on the passage of scripture we are studying as to the content and meaning. Does the passage have a nominal or exceptional value to the reader or hearer. Evaluation can only be done correctly between the stages of interpretation and application.

            In the evaluation process, the Bible student must determine how valid and what potential impact the selected passage of scripture can have on its reader. Sometimes that is all a matter of who the hearer or reader is or will be. All of this must be brought into consideration when assigning a relative worth or value to the selected passage of scripture. 

           The last stage in the effective Bible study process is application. What effect or potential change will the scripture make on its readers or hearers? Is it something they can use to bring about a closer relationship with God?

           This process takes the truth in fact or principal that the scripture contains and applies it to the reader’s spirit, mind and actions to effect a positive change of some degree. The application of the scripture to the lifestyle and  processes of the hearer  or reader should empower them in some new and special way to enhance their relationship with or understanding of God.

            Sometimes the gleaning of truth will impact the hearer or reader in an unexpected way. Even though the initial contact with the truth gleaned from a passage of scripture may seem painful or negative, we must see the long and/or full term process of the application of the truth in the Word of God will make. Many times the surgeon’s knife may be painful upon initial contact, but when the repair is completed and recovery is fulfilled, the patient will be better off than prior to the surgical experience. Hebrerws 4:12-13 For the word of God is living 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. Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account. (NIV)

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Shelterglen University
P.O. Box 750491
Dayton, Ohio    45475