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Eat this bookA couple weeks ago, I argued that a gospel-driven church will have gospel-centered expectations when it comes to the Word. It is not enough that the preacher’s sermon is Christ-centered. The congregation should be trained to be, too. That entails not only expectations but also application, which is what I want to address in this post.

Before I explain the difference between morality-based application and gospel-centered application, let me briefly mention substitutes for application in general. If we are not careful, we can allow substitutes that fall short of actual application of the Word. One of them is meeting a knowledge quotient. You can come for the purpose of intellectual satisfaction (new insights, profound interpretation, etc) and still not have the Word applied to your life. In this case, we are creating smarter sinners and not transformed saints. Another substitute is emotional experiences. You can have your heart-strings pulled and not have your heart transformed by truth. Mountain top experiences only mean you have to come back down to level ground at some time. Another substitute is sentimentalism. This is close to emotional experiences, but it is different in that the message “works” only if it fits in your sensibilities or self-imposed template.

Having mentioned substitutes, perhaps the greatest enemy of gospel-centered application of the Word is moralism. It is answering the “What?” question while completely ignoring the “Why?” question. It is going to the “How?” question with too many assumptions about the “Who?” question. Moralism leads to man-centered “rededication” as opposed to gospel-centered repentance and faith. One is driven on the performance of man; the other is driven upon the performance of Jesus. Just so that we can see the difference and highlight gospel-centered application, consider the following:

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Gospel-Centered Expectations

Tim Brister —  December 29, 2012 — 6 Comments

Danger-ExpectationThe nature of your expectations will have direct impact on your receptivity of future grace.

The preaching of the gospel is a powerful means of grace for the Christian, but is that your expectation? What is the nature of your expectations every time you hear the Word of God preached? A gospel-centered church will have a congregation full of gospel-centered expectations every time the Word of God is proclaimed. The commentary (and lifestyle) post-preaching will evidence the nature of expectations, whether they are God-honoring or not.

When it comes to the preaching of God’s Word (or gospel) . . .

» If you expect to come away with intellectual insights, you will find something to satisfy knowledge cravings.

» If you expect the preacher will say something debatable, you will find something to blog about.

» If you expect to judge the quality of the preacher’s message, you will find something he said wrong or could have said differently.

» If you expect to have a to do list for moral improvement, you will find opportunity for behavioral modification to try harder and do better.


» If you expect life transformation, you will discover the Spirit exposing sin and fostering greater desire for repentance.

» If you expect to become like Jesus, you will be granted fresh eyes of faith to behold Jesus.

» If you expect to be used in the service of the kingdom, you will find the Word empowering and enabling you to bear fruit disproportionate to your abilities.

» If you expect to meet with God, you will find God will not pass you by without glimpses of His glory and grace.

The question is . . . what are you expecting whenever you come under the authority and power of God’s living and active, faith-engendering, sin-exposing, Christ-exalting, gospel-centered Word?

He who has ears to hear, let him hear. – Jesus

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Over the past several weeks, it has been encouraging to connect with many of you on the subject of sentence-diagramming. In the past three days, there have been over 500 downloads of the 18-page PDF compilation of the posts in this mini-series. Toward the end (see end of part 5), I shared two desires: (a) to explain why this is important to disciple-making and how to work it out as a weekly rhythm (see part 6), and (b) to show the importance of sentence diagramming for faithful biblical interpretation, which I hope to explain here.

Rightly dividing the word of truth begins with becoming a good “seer” but it does not end there. We need to incorporate what we see in understanding the meaning of  the text. I have argued that sentence diagramming serves like training wheels for studying the text, and when assimilating other disciples of prayer and meditation, becomes a powerful means of being immersed in the undercurrent of God’s Word. But once you have done your homework, it’s time to apply it to interpreting the text.

Granted, a lot of what you see will immediately trigger interpretive meaning, but it is advantageous not to jump the gun without assimilating all of what you see in the text. For the purpose of interpretation, I would like to simply suggest four primary sources for determining meaning in a text. There numerous secondary sources available to us, and while I believe they are helpful, I am afraid that oftentimes they supplant the primary sources.

For instance, I am not totally opposed to study Bibles, but one of the main beefs I have with them is that the student of God’s Word will be regularly tempted to become a second-hander when it comes to Scripture.  So he comes to a text he doesn’t quite understand…what does he do? Jump below the line and see what someone else says to give it meaning. What happens here is that meaning is conclusive from reading what is below the line (commentary) rather than what is above the line (Scripture). And quite frankly, sometimes people have a hard time making the distinction between what is above or below the line (inspired text vs. fallible interpretation).

My hope is that sentence diagramming will be a tool to keep God’s people from being a second-hander when it comes to Scripture. There’s nothing like getting in God’s Word for yourself. You cannot become a disciple-maker when you do not labor as a learner. Invest your time and energy is knowing God through His Word, and let me encourage you to do so with these primary sources in mind:

1. Committed in Prayer – we should begin with prayer, asking God to guide us and lead us in His Word, to open our eyes, and cause us to be committed to the Bible alone for truth,

2.  Dependence upon the Spirit – though we have minds to think and understand meaning and concepts, we are sinners whose minds have been corrupted by sin. We acknowledge our dependence on the Spirit who searches the deep things of God, gives us the mind of Christ, and illumines to us the very Word He has inspired.

3. Submission to the Word – we need to bring our thoughts and ideas under the authority of God’s Word. One of the most practical ways of doing this is letting Scripture interpret Scripture. By doing this, we are saying, “When I don’t understand what the text is saying, I am going to submit to God’s Word and let it have the first (and final) say rather than jumping to whatever opinions I may come up with.” In other words, a high view of Scripture does not only pertain to your view of the Bible, but also your use of the Bible.

4. Participation with the Saints – our study of Scripture is not to be practiced in isolation. So much of what we can learn and understand comes when the Spirit works through one another to reveal truth and understanding of the text. We also have our ideas and meaning brought before other believers who can sharpen, encourage, or challenge in the process.

Instead of secondary sources like commentaries, study Bibles, or other reference works, I encourage you to reference prayer, the Spirit, the Word, and the Body of Christ. I will be the first to admit that I don’t employ these primary sources as means of knowing God’s Word like I should!  Let us not take short cuts and miss the joy and jewel that is in cherishing God’s Word for the change it brings to our lives!

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Well, I’m finished with the mini-series on sentence diagramming, and I’m grateful for all the feedback and interest this series has generated. Several of you have asked for a compilation and a downloadable PDF of the series, and I’m happy to provide that for you. Here’s the recap:

Part 1: Overview
Part 2: Set Up
Part 3: Propositions
Part 4: Labels
Part 5: Connections
Part 6: Assimilation

These posts together result in an 18-page PDF document which can be downloaded here.

There has also been some requests by folks willing to give this a try.  If there is enough interest, then perhaps we can pick a text, work through it together, and provide a way everyone can share the fruit of their study. If that’s you, then let me know in the comments.

Lastly, for those who asked about supplemental resources, there are some books on biblical hermeneutics, homiletics, and Greek syntax that have sections or chapters devoted to this kind of study, but I’m not sure the technical nature would be more profitable (I’ve tried to simplify the process as much as I could here so that anyone, regardless of their previous experience, could have a starting point accessible to them). In any case, if you would like for some resources, I will be happy to point you to some I have come across in my studies.

Hope the PDF will be a resource for disciple-making and intentional investments in others with the Word of God. The purpose of this series was to that end, and I’m grateful to hear how already that it is being used for that very purpose!

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[Part 1] Overview
[Part 2] Set Up
[Part 3] Marking Propositions
[Part 4] Labeling
[Part 5] Connections

The past five posts in this mini-series is intended to give very simple, practical steps to diagramming a text to gain a deeper understanding of the Bible. A disciple needs to be skilled in all three aspects of Bible study: observation, interpretation, and application. This mini-series focuses on the first aspect of observation, with the intention of equipping disciples of becoming better “seers” of the text.

The question I want to answer in this post is how to implement this kind of studied approach to Scripture in the disciple-making process. Can any Christian do this? Does this require too much time to feasibly incorporate this in the life of a disciple of Jesus? This looks important for pastors or teachers, but is it really important for every disciple of Jesus to put into practice?

A disciple is a follower or learner. It is true that our learning incorporates all of life (behavior, attitude, practices, relationships, worldview, etc.), but it is certainly not less than learning Scripture. In fact, I don’t believe the other aspects of learning are capable of becoming normative apart from learning Scripture well. The reason for this is because Scripture, rightly understood, will apply to all of the other areas of learning how to be a Christian. In other words, Scripture is not just a manual of Christian truth, but it is also a means of life transformation.

My recommendation for incorporating this method as a regular rhythm of Bible intake is to begin with a small book of the Bible. If your Bible breaks down passages in paragraphs, use those paragraphs as the building blocks of your sentence diagramming. In order to not overwhelm your study, simply take one paragraph at a time, meaning you will likely only do 1-2 paragraphs each week. That may not sound like much, but when you incorporate biblical mediation, prayer, and even memorization, you will have a saturation of Scripture over a sustained period of time that will be with you for good.

Here is how I recommend employing sentence diagramming over the course of a week and in context of disciple-making:

Day 1: Determine the text you plan on studying, asking the Holy Spirit to guide you in your study
Day 2: Set up your document for diagramming (or journal if you don’t use a computer) (see part 2)
Day 3: Determine propositions, coordinate and subordinate clauses (see part 3)
Day 4: Label/classify the clauses and propositions (see part 4)
Day 5: Make connections and mark observations (see part 5)
Day 6: Meditate on the text, assimilating observations
Day 7: Meet with discipler to share insights of what you learned with one another

Each day, you should expect to spend roughly 20-30 minutes doing the work. As with anything, the more you do it, the more natural it will come and the more quickly you will make observations/connections. Remember, the end goal is not to have a well-marked up text properly diagrammed. The goal is to transition to interpreting what you have seen and drive the meaning of the text to shape the meaning of our lives (application). Could it be that our lives are not being shaped by God’s Word to the degree they ought? Could it be our lack of life transformation is due to lack of truly understanding Scripture? Could our lack of understanding Scripture be due to a lack of properly handling and seeing what God has made known to us in His Word?

If I can be of any more practical help to any of you in this process, let me know. I am a learner, too. We’re in this together. :) And what I desire, as explained in my original tweet, is that disciples of Jesus would be better equipped to handle God’s Word. Those who know God best (through His Word) are most adequately equipped to speak well of Him to others. The more you see and hear, the more you will have to speak to others. May God open our eyes and ears, and loose our tongues to speak much of Him!

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