You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life.
There’s an important truth in this statement from the lips of Jesus; one that we as Bible-believing Christians must not miss. Eternal life was one of the key themes in John’s Gospel. Jesus taught Nicodemus (who was teasingly called the “teacher of Israel” by Jesus) that eternal life belonged to those who believed in the Son (John 3:15-16). To the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well, Jesus explained that He was able to give her eternal life, bubbling up like a wellspring (John 4:14). To the Jews who were seeking to kill him, He promised eternal life if they paid attention to His words and believed Him to be from God (John 5:24), and again to them He said they were looking for eternal life in the wrong place – in the Scriptures (John 5:39).
Several more instances highlight the theme of eternal life in John’s account, but this statement about the Scriptures is worth a closer look. Shouldn’t we be delving into the Scriptures? Is that the wrong approach? Well, let me settle that early – yes we should, and it’s not wrong. But let’s be careful: there are atheists who study the Bible. Study of the Bible, even extensive knowledge of the Bible, is not in itself the source of eternal life. The Bible is the source of understanding about the source of eternal life – Jesus Christ, the Son of God. It is a relationship with Him that gives life.
In other words, the Bible cannot save you; but it will introduce you to the One who can, and it will teach you about His ways. It’s the relationship that counts, not the knowledge. To help illustrate that point, imagine for example that you want to be a good wife, perhaps even the best wife ever. It’s a very noble ambition. You buy several of the most well-regarded books on the subject, and you learn every scrap of information they have to offer: every hint, every strategy, every discipline. Now you know what it takes to be a great wife. There is nothing more for you to learn, you’ve studied your subject from top to bottom, you have “wifing” down pat. All you need now is a husband! The knowledge does nothing to make you a wife, but once you enter into marriage, it all makes sense and becomes real in the way you conduct your life. In the same way, knowledge of the Bible does not make you a Christian, but once you are in that relationship, all that knowledge takes on its true significance.
The Jews to whom Jesus said these words were the religious authorities, particularly the sect called the Pharisees. They paid very close attention to the rules and regulations, as they perceived them in the Scriptures. But this is where they lost the plot: the Scriptures point us towards a person, not a list of rules. When we embrace that person, when we are “in Christ” as Paul terms it, all the hints, strategies and disciplines now make sense.
So should we study the Scriptures? Of course. God gave them to us for a purpose. They introduce us to Christ; they reveal God’s will and His ways to us. They give us the privilege of understanding, correction, reproof and encouragement in those ways. They navigate us to the source, to the wellspring of eternal life.