Guilt is a very real problem for many Christians, but have you ever thought about what I call “Bible guilt”? Have you ever been sitting down to watch some TV, play a video game, read a book, or do something you generally enjoy, when suddenly, out of nowhere, you have a pang of guilt? The little voice in your head is saying, “You shouldn’t be enjoying this. You could be doing something so much better with your time like reading the Bible, or reading books about the Bible, or volunteering, or something. Anything but what you enjoy.”
This is a feeling that a lot of Christians struggle with, and I want to take a little time to discuss it (Is that okay? Or should I just read the Bible instead?). Look – it is always commendable to have a desire to read the Bible and to study its vastness and richness and grow in understanding of our huge God who, though simple in composition, is complex and incomprehensible in many ways. We should always have a desire to learn more, but God has given us talented people and technology to entertain us and to keep us busy.
There is a doctrine called the Threefold Use of the Law. One of these uses is called the pedagogical use, or the mirror use of the law. When we look at the Law of God as defined in Scripture, the first thing we do is compare ourselves to it. We look to see what the Law requires and then judge ourselves to see how we stack up. The Holy Spirit uses this comparison to convict the believer of sin and bring us to repentance. Another use is the didactic or teaching use of the Law. This use of the Law teaches us what is pleasing to God, and teaches us how to live a godly life in glad submission to Him.
These uses are helpful, but many Christians have a tendency to burden themselves and live in guilt because they cannot stack up. Remember, Jesus said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Jesus has freed us from the heaviness that guilt can bring by taking our sins upon Himself.
Grace has freed us from guilt
For the Christian living in a state of grace, fun and enjoyment outside of strict Bible study is a gift from God. Due to the mediation of Jesus Christ, we are freed to glorify God by enjoying gifts he provides. Before our regeneration, when we read a book, watched a movie, ate a great meal, or did anything – we did it because it brought us pleasure. That was the only reason we would do anything. Unregenerate people are, for the most part, hedonists – pleasure seekers doing anything they can to reduce pain and increase pleasure. For the born-again Christian, whatever pleasures we experience on the earth, we know (as long as they are Lawful) that they are from God and are for our enjoyment:
Everyone also to whom God has given wealth and possessions and power to enjoy them, and to accept his lot and rejoice in his toil—this is the gift of God. – Ecclesiastes 5:19
The Bible makes it clear – whatever we have to enjoy is a gift from God. It is ok to enjoy them.
It is ok to enjoy a good book. It’s perfectly acceptable to watch a movie or watch some TV, so long as we remember that it is God that provided the means to produce and enjoy these things. We should give thanks to God regularly for these common graces that are often overlooked. We have to remember that we didn’t earn these things. Sure, we work hard and make money so we can afford to have a cable box, but it was God that provided you the skills to get that job. That money belongs to Him. That cable box belongs to Him.
Share first, enjoy later
Because all blessings come from the Lord, it’s important to not horde everything, focusing solely on our enjoyment; rather, but we should share. Do we really need the fastest internet speed? Do we really need to have all of the premium channels? Do we really need to own every book by our favorite author?
That’s not to say that we can’t have these things, but if we have these things and don’t give, we are living for ourselves and not for the glory of God. God has wired us to share. Sin has wired us to keep. If having these luxuries is prohibiting your ability to give faithfully to your local church, to charities, or to friends and family in need (with no expectation of getting anything in return), then we should feel that pang of guilt. That is the Holy Spirit convicting us of our sin of covetousness.
Do not neglect the Word
Finally, an exhortation. Just because God gives us things to enjoy apart from the Bible, does not give us a license to neglect the Bible. There is a fine balance one must find to keep the Bible and other blessings in alignment. Certainly, we should at least try to spend more time in the Word than any other book or in front of the TV, but we shouldn’t feel guilty about enjoying the things God has blessed us with.
Enjoy your fiction novel. Enjoy your video game. Enjoy movies. Just enjoy the Bible more. If your Bible is sitting on the shelf collecting dust, but your video game collection is collecting fingerprints and scratches, then you may have a problem. If your Bible is collecting tears, pen/highlighter marks, and writing on the margins then you might have a good balance.
I can’t tell you to spend x hours reading your Bible vs y hours enjoying other things. It is a balance you’re going to have to learn for yourself. Your guilt may be well-founded due to a lack of study, but your guilt may be unfounded due to some other sin or anxiety that is causing you to feel guilty for enjoying things. Just remember, God provides us things that entertain us – they are not inherently bad – but if we enjoy them to the neglect of the study of the Scripture, we are slipping into sin.