The Deadly Side Effects of Biblical Illiteracy

The statistics on Biblical illiteracy in our nation are astonishing.  Just 14% of Americans read the Bible every day. Almost 70% consider themselves knowledgable about the Bible, and yet only 43% can name the first 5 books. The statistics of Biblical illiteracy in the church are even more staggering. Only 45% of regular church attenders read the Bible more than once a week while a whopping 20% don’t read the Bible at all! Church attenders say that their top reasons for not reading the Bible are that they don’t have time (46%) and that it is too difficult to relate to or understand (16%).

The Statistic Brain Research Institute reports that the average American watches more than 5 hours of TV per day, so we can safely assume that “not having time” is not a legitimate excuse in almost all cases. So why is it that we don’t read our Bibles? Why is it that 1/5 regular church attenders never reads the Bible? How can anyone claim to be a follower of Jesus without being immersed in His word?

If people would actually pick up their Bible and read it, they would find some very helpful verses that just might make them more likely to read it more often. 1 Timothy 3 tells us that all Scripture is profitable in the Christian life. In Luke 4, Jesus himself blocks the devil’s attack with Scripture recitation and says that it is God’s word that gives him strength even more than food (and he said this after not having eaten for 40 days!). In Joshua 1, God commands Joshua to meditate on Scripture day and night so that he will be able to obey God.

Scripture reading, comprehension, and application is absolutely essential in the life of those who claim to know, love, and follow God. Reading or meditating on the Bible once a week is insufficient; never reading it is unacceptable. God’s word helps us fight the sin within ourselves, so there will be consequences in the Christian life without study of God’s word.

Imagine this. You’re sitting at home not reading your Bible, watching TV for one of your 5 hours of the day, and you see a commercial for a new medicine that might help with a condition you have. Just when you are ready to pick up the phone and call your doctor to ask about it, you hear the list of side effects. Then you put the phone back down and change the channel.

The side effects of Biblical illiteracy in the Christian life are too significant to ignore. We cannot afford to not read the Bible; to know it inside and out and meditate on it throughout every day. Here are just a few major side effects of Biblical illiteracy.


1. Not understanding who God really is.

Scripture is the God’s primary method of revealing himself to people. It is through Jesus that we experience a personal encounter with God, and it is through Scripture that we encounter Jesus. All of Scripture, even the most “boring” parts of the Old Testament reveal something about who God is to us. If we rarely read the Bible, we will have a very limited understanding of who God really is. And if we have a limited understanding of who God is, we will remain in spiritual immaturity. How can we possibly love, know, obey, and serve a God whom we do not know very well?

2. Not understanding who we really are.

Scripture also reveals to us information about who really are, both as humans and as God’s children. If we don’t read the Bible, we will never have an accurate understanding of the depth of our depravity apart from God. We will also never understand the depth of God’s love and the magnitude of what He did for us on the cross if we don’t understand how sinful we are. And if we don’t understand just how much God loved us by sending Jesus to die for us, we won’t understand our true value in the eyes of God. A failure to grasp our depravity apart from God and our value because of Jesus’ sacrifice will also leave us in spiritual immaturity. How can we possibly understand God’s love for us and the practical implications for Christian living that stem from that knowledge if we don’t read the Bible, which reminds us of these truths on every page?

3. Not understanding our role as Christ’s ambassadors.

Scripture not only speaks truth about who God is and who we are – it also speaks truth about God’s mission in this world, in which he has invited us to participate. Jesus mission was to seek and save the lost, to forgive sin, and to bring people back to God. Paul calls this “the ministry of reconciliation” in 2 Corinthians 5. He tells the church in Corinth that Jesus reconciled the world to himself through his death and resurrection, and then entrusted that same message of reconciliation to his followers. He says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” God is making his appeal to the world through you and me. We represent Him and His kingdom in this world, therefore we are His ambassadors, entrusted with the gospel message. People who fail to immerse themselves in Scripture rarely live on mission – actually being Christ’s ambassadors – actually sharing the good news with people.

But being an ambassador not only includes delivery of a message that has been entrusted to us, but also living a lifestyle that accords with that message. Part of being Christ’s representative means living like him, acting like him, talking like him, loving like him. If we don’t read Scripture and allow our hearts and minds to align with God’s, as revealed in the Bible, we will not be able to understand and therefore live out our role as Christ’s ambassadors in this world.

We Must Be People of the Word

Biblical illiteracy is a major problem in the American church. A failure to be people of the word has led to a failure of the church in being strong, mature ambassadors for Christ in our dying world. The side effects of this Biblical illiteracy are devastating to the spiritual health of churches and individual believers. We must commit ourselves to reading, applying, and meditating on the word of God day and night, so that we may be able to do and be all that God has commanded.



* Statistics came from Barna Group and Lifeway Research


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