I am currently on “study break,” where I am taking some time to plan the sermon calendar for 2020, pray for our church, and get a head start on individual messages. It is a gift and I don’t take the opportunity to study for granted. I have thought about the studies in the New Testament that have impacted me the most. By “studies” I mean the collection of many things around a specific topic – classes I have taken at seminary, books and bible studies I have read, academic works I have powered through (they are not the easiest), and sermons I have both listened to and prepared. I am confident this list will change as it always seems the current sermon or the current study is the one I am most passionate about, but here are the three areas of study in the New Testament that have impacted me the most.
The book of Galatians
The book of Galatians, more than other book, has helped me understand the grace of God given to us in Jesus. Spurgeon declared “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years,” and I have seen that best in my life with the book of Galatians. I first taught Galatians when I was a young youth pastor and I have taught through it in recent years as well. The time between my first and last time teaching the book is about twenty years, and the book meant so much each time. Martin Luther loved the book so much that he wrote: “The Epistle to the Galatians is my epistle. To it I am, as it were, in wedlock. It is my Katherine (name of his wife).” That is some serious love right there. The book reminds us repeatedly that grace is something we have received and not achieved and challenges us to never drift from holding to the grace of God. The received grace of God impacts how we view people different from us, how we mature, how we operate as a faith community, how we treat sin, and how we encourage one another.
The I AM statements of Jesus
I love reading through the gospels and the gospel of John is my personal favorite – ever since I read Michael Card’s book “Parable of Joy” as a college sophomore. The I AM statements have increased my awe for Jesus, helped me see how He is the fulfillment of the Old Testament, and reminded me that He is the One we ultimately need. When Jesus claimed to be “I AM,” He was placing Himself in the middle of the story of one of the most significant events in Israel’s history – their liberation from Egyptian slavery. He was essentially saying: “The voice from the burning bush; that was My voice. The hand that rescued your people from slavery; that was My hand. I have always been.” He is the Eternal One and as the Living Bread, He satisfies our souls. As the Light of the World, He ensures we don’t walk in darkness. As the Resurrection and the Life, He gives us life everlasting. As the Vine, He holds us and sustains us.
Our New Identity
Throughout the New Testament we discover who we are as people who have been rescued by Jesus. Spiritual growth is about becoming more like who God has already declared us to be. We are His sons and daughters, so we trust Him as a child trusts a loving parent. We are His ambassadors, so we announce the good news in a land that is no longer our home. We are His priests, so we can enter His presence. We are His friends, so we enjoy being with Him. We are His bride, so we walk in purity. Our new identity impacts how we view the world and how we live.
We should keep studying and keep learning. For some, that might mean going deeper by pursuing seminary training. Devoting time to studying His grace, His character, and your new identity will nudge you along on your Christian journey. The best thing about seminary, for me anyway, is that it gave me the tools I needed to become a lifelong learner of the deep truths of Scripture. If you are interested in formal theological studies, I encourage you to check out Southern Seminary. They have a world-renown faculty that include New Testament scholars like Tom Schreiner and Jonathan Pennington and you can access their classes on campus in Louisville or online.