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Will the Bible Make Us Better?

Someone observed that a Bible that is falling apart probably belongs to someone who isn't. Millions of people read the Bible and are changed into better people. Thomas Jefferson did not believe in the deity of Jesus Christ. He actually produced a cut-and paste edition of the New Testament that included all the great moral teachings of Jesus but edited out passages that alluded to miracles or claims and evidence that Jesus was God come in the flesh (John 1:14). And yet, Jefferson, a brilliant man, acknowledged the powerful impact the Bible had in the lives of people who read it and then actually flesh out its teachings in their lives. That impact caused Jefferson to write, "I have always said, and will always say, that the studious perusal of the sacred volume will make better homes, better citizens, better fathers, and better husbands." Abraham Lincoln said concerning the Bible he said, "I am profitably engaged in reading the Bible. Take all of this book upon reason that you can, and the balance by faith, and you will live and die a better man." These great men expressed what history has verified — the teachings of the Bible, when believed in the head, embraced in the heart, and expressed in daily life, change people for the better one at a time. As it does so, it raises and improves the moral and spiritual character of human society.

But let's get honest and admit the cold, hard truth — the Bible doesn't always make people better. Some people are exposed to the Bible regularly and yet their lives are like a soap opera — months and months go by and the same old stuff just keeps happening. Why? Hear it in James 1:21-25 — "Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. 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 observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does." James' message is clear: the Bible can bless and make us better.

But it won't unless we heed what we hear it saying. As one preacher said, "No one is saved by buying a Bible he does not read; and no one is saved by reading a Bible he does not obey." Reading or hearing the Word powerfully preached is not enough. Agreeing with the Bible is not enough. Feeling bad about sin in my life is not enough. Planning to do better is not enough. A mirror does not improve my looks if I do not do something about what I see when I look in it. And the Bible will not improve my life unless I do what God tells me to do. Years ago, at the height of her fame as the "other woman" in the breakup of Ivana and Donald Trump's marriage, Marla Maples spoke of her religious roots. She believed in the Bible, she told interviewers, then added the disclaimer, "but you can't always take it literally and be happy." Maybe not. But you would be more holy, that is, more like God. And I guarantee you, that will make you better. Will the Bible make you better? Only if you do what you hear in the Word.

Dan Gulley
Smithville church of Christ