“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”
In Ephesians 6, Paul exhorts believers to put on the full armor of God, which includes the belt of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, the sword of the Spirit, and shoes that bring the gospel of peace. Today, there is only one piece of the armor of God that is offensive: the sword of the Spirit. I believe that one of the primary reasons that the church in America seems to have become so helpless against our three greatest enemies, the world, the flesh, and the devil, is that we have not taken up our swords.
Imagine a battalion of soldiers charging valiantly towards the enemy without any weapons. They could have bulletproof jackets, helmets of steel, and every intention of destroying the enemy, yet without their guns, they will be mowed down with ease. It is absurd to imagine such a sight, but we do the same thing when we try to stand against the world, the flesh, and the devil, without the word of God.
A mentor of mine, Stephen Trafton, used to perform on Broadway before deciding to use his performing arts skills to memorize and passionately proclaim entire books of the Bible in front of live audiences through a ministry called Living Letters. Stephen’s passion and love for the Word surprised me. When I saw his love for the Word of God demonstrated through memorization and delivery, I was inspired to take Scripture memorization more seriously.
John Piper recounted that he had never heard Scripture recited in Church until he was 31 years old, and when he did, it simply blew him away. He has since intentionally memorized many passages which have served him in countless ways. When we hear the Word of God recited, it lead us to a new love for the Word.
Throughout his life, the great preacher George Whitefield spent countless hours on his knees, devouring the Word of God, which he unleashed with unprecedented force in the colonies and in Great Britain. I can imagine that Jesus Christ spent countless hours Himself before the Word, memorizing it and savoring it, meditating on it day and night. He loved it to the point that when He was in the wilderness, even after days of hunger and thirst, He was able to fight off the devil with His weapon: the Word of God.
Throughout Paul’s letters, we see him constantly referencing and quoting, word for word, verses from the Old Testament. When I started reading Charles Spurgeon’s writings and sermons, I was shocked to see all of the verses that were simply woven into his works without any citation… it seemed like the Word of God was so ingrained in his mind that it just flowed out as he preached the Gospel.
Love the Lord with your Mind
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.
Our Lord proclaimed this as the greatest commandment. In many evangelical churches today, it is far too common that all of the focus is directed towards loving God with the emotion at the expense of everything else, especially the mind. It is easy to find yourself in a community that cares deeply about feeling God’s love, or a community that cares deeply about doing good things and obeying God’s law, however, it is rare to find young believers that are resolutely seeking to love God with their minds as well as their emotions and actions. God cares deeply about what we think, and our minds are a very important part of us that we must fully submit to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. A way in which we can use our minds to honor God, is to fill them with His Word. In Psalm 119:11, the Psalmist writes:
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
The Psalmist stores up the word of God in his heart for what reason? In order that he “might not sin against God.” How could the Psalmist get the written word of God into his heart any other way than through the mind? R.C. Sproul stated that “The word of God can be in the mind without being in the heart, but it cannot be in the heart without first having been in the mind.” This verse is a perfect example of how we can love God with our minds through the memorization of His Word which, by the power of the Holy Spirit, can enter our hearts and then bear God-glorifying fruit in our lives.
Earlier this year, I had a friend at Wheaton who spent hours locked away in his room and memorized ten chapters of First Corinthians. God used this in part to convict me of my lack of seriousness about the Word of God, and I dove into trying to memorize Romans 6 and 7. Romans 6 contains the verse “how can we who died to sin still live in it?” which God brought to my mind many times later on to keep me from sin. I would be on the verge of giving in to some temptation or other, yet this question, “how can we who died to sin still live in it?” kept popping into my head. Unable to give an answer, I turned to Christ and was protected.
In times of fearing man, which is sinful, God has brought to mind Psalm 23:4, “though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will not fear, for you are with me,” or Psalm 27:3, “Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war arise against me, yet I will be confident.” I would even quietly recite parts of Psalm 27 to myself to combat fear during my high school basketball games, and now God brings it to my mind to combat fear before preaching the Gospel. What was once a verse I skimmed over now is a precious diamond to me. These verses have become trusted weapons that I have used by God’s grace to fight away the lies of the devil time and time again. Therefore, memorize the Word to fight against your flesh, for
if you live according to the flesh you will die, but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.
Scripture Memorization, Evangelism, and Discipleship
While the memorized, locked, loaded, and deadly Word of God is helpful in the fight for your own soul, it is also helpful in the fight for the souls of others. God’s Word honors Him, and He will honor the Word. In Isaiah 55:11, God states that His Word
shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
While I think you should bring along your physical Bible to evangelize for a variety of reasons, there will always be circumstances in which you need to have a verse locked and loaded. After I finished memorizing my favorite chapter, Romans 8, I was able to swiftly respond with Romans 8:18-23 while sharing the Gospel with a man in Chicago, who had a seemingly random question about the brokenness of the Creation. I have had many other instances on the street where the memorized Word of God has been brought to mind by the Spirit and had a powerful impact on my audience, by God’s grace.
When you only have a couple minutes to share the Gospel with someone, you do not want to be unprepared and resort to whatever you happen to remember. Wheaton’s Chicago Evangelism Team doesn’t take the train to Chicago every Friday just to share our opinions or our thoughts with people. They don’t need our speculation. They need the truth, the truth of God’s Word. We need to give the lost the infallible word of God, not our opinions. The Apostles didn’t get slaughtered for softly sharing some of their thoughts of Jesus, they didn’t get slaughtered for earning the right to be heard, establishing a relationship, and then sneakily weaving their opinion about Jesus into a conversation, no! They were slaughtered for boldly proclaiming the word of Christ.
Refuting Today’s Lies
Now, the memorized Word will not just help with evangelism, but it will help in important debates and arguments against serious theological error, which are crucial. American society and churches have been contaminated with pretty much every heresy under the sun. I’m not talking about whether or not it’s wrong to get a tattoo or even whether or not Calvinism is true. I am talking about the majority of your youth group thinking that eternal life is a result of sincerity, no matter what you believe. I am talking about youth pastors denying Hell and students who think evangelism is wrong. I am talking about your friend who watches a few YouTube videos and concludes that Jesus was not God and that the only thing that matters in Christianity and every other religion is love. If you don’t think these heresies should be lovingly refuted, so that unity can be maintained, you need to read the New Testament.
Heresy is like poison, and often we will not have time to google the verse we are vaguely thinking of in a conversation. We need to have God’s Word locked and loaded, in season and out of season, in order to powerfully fight against the lies of Satan which have been steadily creeping their way into the worldview of young believers across America for as long as we have been alive.
For a moment, forget nonbelievers, forget those in error, what about a brother or sister in Christ who just lost a family member and calls you at three in the morning in tears? What about a younger student you are mentoring at summer camp who is struggling in his faith at public school and needs hope in the face of persecution? God opens doors for precious intimacy with struggling believers where we do not want to have to waste precious time googling some verse you heard one time in a sermon or flipping through your prayer journal. There will be desperate moments where time is of the essence and you have a golden opportunity to comfort or encourage a brother or sister. May you not damage them by neglecting the memorization of the Word.
Memorize Scripture, and may God give you the power to use it wisely in the battle for the souls of your friends. May He give you a deep love for the memorization of His Word, and may you arm yourself more and more for the rest of your life with weapons that will prove themselves over and over, weapons that you will be able to fend off the devil with, weapons that, by the Spirit can pierce and soften the hearts of the most angry atheists, weapons that you will defend your children and maybe even your grandchildren with, weapons that you will use to valiantly protect God’s bride until the day you die.
I pray that this article would be a spiritual call to arms for our generation to memorize the Word of God with the goal of more deeply loving our neighbors, and more devastatingly waging war against the world, the flesh, and the devil.