The Word That Saves

in the series "How to Live the Bible"

Living the Bible is a blessing, not a burden. It is a gift, not a loss. To “live the Bible” is to draw close to our Creator, not to scale a ladder to God.

Living the Bible is an organic process, like the seed of God’s word landing in rich soil, sprouting, growing, and bringing a harvest. Life from life. Or, as John 1 puts it, speaking of Christ the Word, “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (John 1:4). Living the Bible is not about worshiping a book. It is about having the word of the living God—in Christ and in Scripture—go in deep, and make us different.


To be more precise, what we mean by “living the Bible” is continual life transformation through the work of the Holy Spirit using the implanted word of God. Let’s take that definition one phrase at a time.

Continual life transformation. Whenever we look around at life or inside ourselves and have a proper sense of dissatisfaction, that sense that things should be different, we are longing for transformation. We’d like to reshape painful circumstances, or harmful people, or sin in ourselves. This is appropriate. God wants to reshape things. Things can be different. They must be different. That is the meaning and the promise of transformation. In 2 Corinthians Paul says: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit” (3:17-18). Paul does not say: “try to transform yourselves,” or “when you die you’ll be transformed,” or “you have been transformed.” Instead, he proclaims a process, which is what makes perfect sense: “you are being transformed.” That means with every passing year we can become wiser, more mature, more loving, more forgiving, more honest. It means that we become more like Christ (“transformed into his image”) as we “contemplate the Lord’s glory.” And how exactly do we “contemplate the Lord’s glory”? Not with vague imaginings, but with careful scrutiny of the life and teachings of Jesus found in Scripture.

Through the work of the Holy Spirit. Studying the Bible does not lead to transformation in and of itself. A work of God’s Spirit is necessary. Many scholars who become experts in the texts of the Bible know all the words, the history, the culture of the Bible, but remain untouched if there is no acceptance by faith. The Holy Spirit is involved on the front end and the back end of Scripture. Inspiration on the front end; illumination on the back end. The authors of Scripture were inspired by the Holy Spirit, and now we must be illumined by the Holy Spirit in order to comprehend the truths it holds. Living the Bible, in other words, is a supernatural accomplishment—on both ends.

Using the implanted word of God. The epistle of James speaks powerfully about living the Bible, which we will cover in the weeks ahead. In chapter 1 James uses the phrase “the implanted word of God.” This is consistent with the teaching of Jesus, the idea of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31, and many other biblical touchstones. James says we are to “receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls” (ESV; in NIV “humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you”).

We should not miss this little word: “save.” The “implanted word” can “save” us. Forget every cliche you’ve ever heard, every oversimplification of “saved.” To be saved is to be rescued. Sooner or later most people realize they cannot rescue themselves. We have all fallen overboard and need someone to throw us a life ring. We are all like people who have broken both legs and need a doctor to put the bones back together and other people to rehab us when we’re on crutches. We all must say: “I once was blind, but now I see.” And so this little word “save” is the order of the day. Pure and simple. The world is in trouble; our society is in trouble; we are in trouble. We need to be saved. And we will be, if we “humbly accept the implanted word.”

This does not contradict the biblical truth that we are “saved” by the sacrificial death of Jesus. The wider truth is that “saving” is a God-driven action that has many layers and phases. We have been saved (Eph. 2:8). We are being saved (21 Cor. 2:15). We will be saved in the future (1 Cor. 3:15).

Disintegration, decay, and destruction do not need to have the final word. We can be rescued and healed, persevered and protected, freed and empowered. There is a word that saves—if we humbly receive it.

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12 thoughts on “The Word That Saves

  1. I will start leading a small group at a retirement home this next week on the epistle of James and with your article and the Holy Spirit with us I feel secure in this study. Thank you.

  2. Thank you for this insightful article. When you say living close to the Creator is to live the Bible not to scale a ladder to God I believe you have gotten it exactly right. Scaling the ladder is quite exhausting. Living the Bible is in perfect harmony with Gods plan. And living the Bible is living every moment of your life mindfully, to be “ in God”, aware continually. You can do this. It takes practice. Starting young helps. Parents that reflect God in the way the live and breathe sets a good foundation for their children. Pretty soon your children are taking off on their own, seeing the creator in everything. “Mommy, isn’t it neat how God made peas? It has its own little zipper.”

  3. Pastor Mel,
    Thank you for your clear explanation of what living the Bible really means. It was very helpful to me .
    I also want you to know that it was your preaching at Elmbrook that drew me to seek the Lord 13 years ago. I once was lost, but now am found . Thank you so much for the work you do.