Does Bible Study Sanctify One’s Soul?
By Fr. Matthew The Poor
We see an undeniable trend observable throughout the ages that all those who have dedicated their lives to contemplative, prayerful and humble Bible study, particularly for the sake of their own souls, the Bible has been indelibly impressed upon their lives, words, thoughts and behavior. Throughout history, their lives have remained a light and blessing to the whole world. What is the secret behind this? And how are we to approach this realm of absolute security which warrants the sanctity of our lives?
I would like to begin, dear reader, with the first moment in which this mystical spring burst to the surface, freely flowing for sanctification. It is the moment in which Christ offered His intercessory prayer to the Father (Jn. 17). In so doing He ignited the first flame, thus illuminating the entire way for those who know His secret, those walking along the way of salvation:
I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. Sanctify them in the truth; Your word is truth (Jn. 17:15-17).
This is the methodology of holiness initiated by Christ, clear, frank and simplified. The “word” became the means of sanctification used by the Holy Spirit in every soul trained for everlasting discipleship to the Lord.
Into all who have discovered and walked in the way of the Holy Bible, the holiness of Christ has been gently poured through the word: “the words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (Jn. 6:63); “And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth” (Jn. 17:19). Christ here causes His holiness, which He made known and appeared in material form in His incarnation, to fully flow. He did this so that it may be for us a spring that never runs dry. This He does through the word, that is, the truth. Christ here mystically links the sanctification of the Father’s word in the Bible (“Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth”) with the sanctification which is transferred to us as an inheritance through His incarnation and personal life. Because it is an inheritance it requires no effort on our part (“And for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth”).
And so it becomes clear that as a medium of sanctification, the Bible performs two actions: The first is through the word of the Father in the Bible which He described as the “truth”. The second, hidden in the gospel, is the life of Christ, or “myself” as described by Christ even more fundamentally.
Clear from the context of this deep prayer (Jn. 17) is the fact that Christ distinguishes between “himself” and the “Father’s word.” The “Father’s word,” as He associates earlier in the prayer, manifests the Father’s name, “I have manifested your name to the men whom you gave me … and they have kept your word” (v. 6). So Christ focuses most obviously on the word as a manifestation of the Father’s secret and name, that is, the relationship between God as a Father and people. This takes place by means of the manifestation of the Son.
And so every Bible reading, if done piously, reverently, worshipfully and with an open heart, is a mystical source of sanctification through the Father and the Son. Day after day, it penetrates mind, conscience, feelings, will and behavior. It constructs the soul as a new building, joined to Christ in an unperceivable mystical fellowship with God. It is very similar to the living arrangement of two spouses who share an eternal love for one another.
And so is the case with anyone who reads both Testaments of the Bible with an alert mind and an open heart. He enters little by little into the mystery of the Father through the manifestation of Christ. Here the words of Christ become an entrance into the Father’s mystery, leading both to protection and consecration. For through the “Father’s word” or “truth” (“Your word is truth”), the reader accepts the Father’s name, that is, His Person. He is holy truth that protects and supports, “Holy Father, keep them in your name” (v 11). From the Person of Christ, the reader accepts Christ’s own consecration, “I consecrate myself, that they also may be consecrated …”
How are we consecrated through Christ?
Does reading the Old Testament, even the Book of Genesis, for example, or Leviticus or Kings or the Prophets sanctify man as being “truth”?
The reader must open the Old Testament using a deep and mysterious methodology which then leads him to a state of sanctification. Before doing so though he must distinguish between two main styles of Bible reading.
The first is objective reading in which the reader’s mind becomes absorbed in the meanings of verses and words and their explanation. It takes him over the plane of History, Geology, Natural History, Geography, Anthropology, Botany, etc. “All of these discover and express objective truth and, consequently, provide a view of God in His wisdom, knowledge and surpassing ability.” Yet into this sterile reading also enter other critical studies. Some consider such studies to be on the same plane of authority as the Bible. Based on supposedly bold scientific research, they tear to pieces the unity of the Holy Bible and its authenticity. Still others in fact attack the Bible and are in reality atheists. Such persons ridicule the Bible, debase its value and call its truthfulness into question. They even call into question the existence of any truth at all except sensory matter which to them is the origin and source of everything!!
The conflict goes on endlessly between positive Biblical studies which produce evidence, satisfying and pleasing to the soul, and the critical studies with their cerebral, scholarly, fascinating and sometimes counterfeit subtleties. The conflict has not the least bit of hope of reaching a conclusive resolution, for neither side is in the position to budge in the slightest. Those who have engaged in this battle must sooner or later give up, having suffered many headaches, a mind torn asunder, a conscience pulled apart, much like a star that has wandered from its orbit. This is objective reading of the Bible. Though not totally without profit, it cannot build up one’s soul or faith.
The second style of reading is personal, that is, man reads the words as if they personally concern him and his life. He reads them in a fluid, positive manner, drawing out the truth behind every verse. As opposed to the general objective truth, it addresses his conscience and behavior and uncovers the falsehood hidden deep within his soul.
For example, the objective reader may be extremely occupied with and stimulated by the meaning of light (Gen. 1:3,4), as the Bible states that God separated the light from the darkness. Here he becomes perplexed and asks, “How can that be?” The mind thereupon helplessly employs the aid of logic, science or astronomy. Yet for him it is a lost cause!
Meanwhile we find that the reader who seeks after personal truth considers that the “Father’s word” is tantamount to its owner. This means, as we saw earlier, that it protects and sanctifies by revealing the mystery of Christ within, not without man. He begins to reflect on the light of which God said, “Let there be light.” He sees that God himself created this light within man’s heart. In fact, it is the warehouse of knowledge, inspiration and life itself to all children of men. At the same time he is aware that darkness as well as light still covers man’s heart, and that this conflict is still present.
But by contemplating for a moment the reader realizes how it is that God was able, within man’s heart, to separate the light from the darkness. He brought this eternal conflict to an end once and for all by the coming of the Lord Jesus. In this way the meaning shifts to that which concerns man’s sanctity in its very core, his salvation, life, future and well-being. To pause for just a moment at such a contemplative thought is enough to awaken the soul to such a reality. Thus, reading the words of either the Old or New Testament transforms into practical, spiritual awareness. This awareness increases day by day until it delivers one into a state of sanctification, “Sanctify them in your truth; your word is truth.”
Reflecting upon the separation of light and darkness, the coming of Christ to the world as the “true Light” is what explains to us the mystical meaning of the existence of light after darkness. This is the New Covenant which could not be snuffed out by the darkness in the Old Covenant. Once this is comprehended, we can then see, looking through mystical, spiritual lenses, the more complex and difficult meaning of the separation of light from darkness in the book of Genesis.
And so man pauses calmly and profoundly on the exposition of the first verse of chapter one in the book of Genesis and asks, “Did God actually say in my soul, ‘Let there be light’? And did He actually separate the light from the darkness in the depths of my being?” Such reading penetrates man’s conscience. The word of God searches out, judges, straightens and sanctifies. It is no exaggeration that personal contemplation on this verse or another is enough, in a short period, to change man’s life in an incomprehensible way. This is what Christ means by saying to the Father, “Your word is truth.” In other words the Bible speaks the truth within man, leads him to the truth, confirms in the truth and then fosters him in that same truth. This is what is meant by “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.”
Note that this was Christ’s farewell address to His disciples just before the crucifixion. He therefore entrusts us here with one of the most confidential secrets of the work of His salvation and reminds us of the importance of the “Father’s word” as explained and revealed in Christ so that it might be a means for sanctifying man. Christ’s life is a fulfillment and manifestation of the “Father’s word” and the “Father’s name”. Making them one through His incarnation, life, words and works, He fulfilled New Covenant redemption for man’s sanctification.
Also through His name, the only Son, He manifests and glorifies God the Father’s name and thus protects man from the evil one. The manifestation of the Holy Trinity’s mystery dealt a fatal blow to the power of the evil one. Christ emphasizes the “word” and the “name” as two powers which are able to protect man and sanctify him. These include: the Father’s word which was manifested by the Son’s word, the Holy Bible with its Old and New Testaments, the words of Christ which are spirit and life and the Father’s name which was manifested by the Son’s name. These for man are a dependable source for “sanctification”, “protection from the evil one”, and union together in the Father and the Son.
Therefore, God’s commandments throughout the Bible and His manifestation through the Person of Christ were not given throughout the ages primarily for investigation or study. Because absolute objective investigation and study away from the reader’s personal condition only help to further separate the aim of the Bible as a whole from the reader. God’s aim is to make His commandments and word “truly” an illuminating light for man’s conscience, truly reproving, truly orienting, building and illuminating man’s way: “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Ps 119:105)!!
Saint Mark’s Orthodox Fellowship urges you to study the Bible and encourage others to do the same. Please feel free to make copies of these notes to distribute them. The Fellowship welcomes any questions, or comments. Write to us:
PO Box 6192, Columbia, MD 21045