Based on something John Jefferson Davis writes in Meditation and Communion with God, I have been thinking about the focus of our spiritual lives as it pertains to our meditation on Scripture. Our meditation must be about the gospel rather than about mere tidbits of how to live more godly lives. I will explain.

Just as our natural tendency is to be religious in such a way that we want a set of guidelines to follow and a checklist to work through, we can often approach our devotional lives in such a manner even though it is inconsistent with what we claim to believe. What I mean is this:  we tend to read our Bibles in such a way that we desire to learn something new or gain some additional insight that will make us a “better” Christian. The success of our personal time with our Bible open hinges on whether we glean some new insight or “discover” some nugget of truth which appeals to our hearts or confirms something we had been previously pondering. We tend to measure our devotional lives by how much knowledge we are gaining. Sometimes it is a gentle correction we seek; sometimes it is an affirmation of the way we are already living. Without such insights, we might be inclined to think our time reading and studying God’s word to be purposeless.

Davis speaks to the effect that encountering the risen Christ had upon the Apostle Paul by pointing to the fact that Paul’s understanding was drastically changed from being one of Moses and the law to one of Jesus and the Spirit.

So, how should this affect my devotional life? The gospel must be at the center of my knowledge of who God is. Whenever we find ourselves reading Scripture looking for new additions to our sanctified “to-do” list we are walking a fine line bordering on a works-based experience of God. Maybe this is the reason we often find devotional time to be such work. Maybe we don’t find any joy in this Christian discipline because we find it to be purely discipline and so lacking in gospel-saturated joy.

Does this mean our devotional Bible reading must be from the New Testament and only passages directly about the gospel? No. However, when one reads any of Paul’s letters, Paul is consistent to speak clearly about the gospel as the foundation for any call to change that he places upon his readers. One is amiss to try to make application of Ephesians 4-6 without soaking in the riches of Ephesians 1-3. Likewise, in Romans the reference to God’s mercy in 12:1 is robbed of its meaning unless we have the depths of Romans 1-11 in mind. Paul does not call people to adopt new ways of living because of any reason short of the overwhelming grace shown them by God through Jesus. Hence, whatever we are reading in Scripture we must make some attempt to connect to the truth of the gospel in very real terms.

We tend to have a passive knowledge of the gospel which we leave on the shelf more often than not. A passive knowledge can seemingly be accompanied by great biblical depth, but if the knowledge is only passive as we attempt to prayerfully approach God in private worship, we are not really worshipping. If a person cannot truly worship who is not “in Christ”, then the parallel would hold true for one’s personal devotional life. Only to the extent that I am consciously aware of what God has done through the cross of Christ am I going to be able to grasp the truths of Scripture. If I read about prayer but do not view praying as a response to the gospel, I will pray as a means of earning God’s favor. If I am exhorted to love others but do not understand this instruction in light of the love shown to me through Jesus, I will be frustrated at what I cannot do. If I am challenged to be a godly parent but without an understanding shaped by the gospel, I will only see a set of rules governing my actions which do not change my heart. Even as referenced earlier, the very call to us to be men and women who spend regular time in God’s word, if it is not always understood as a response to the gospel, will only be a legalistic effort.