Do you know anyone who tells the same story over and over again? Whether it's a grandparent, acquaintance, or a close friend, we have all had that same annoying experience. We roll our eyes and think, “I’ve heard this story a million times.” We have Facebook to check, news to read, and places to be.
With so much new, who has time for repetition?
This same impatience for the repetitiousness can bleed over into how we approach the Word of God. We come across a familiar passage and just skim over it. “I’ve read this one before." Our pastor starts a new sermon series on a familiar section of Scripture and we think “I’ve heard sermons on this before.”
Learning new things is not the only goal when we open our Bibles.
It’s been said that there is always more we can learn from the living Word—even from passages we have studied for years. That’s true. And we should certainly approach familiar passages with a heart eager to learn more. But there is another posture we should also cultivate as we approach well-known texts: a readiness to be reminded.
A Quest for More Than Mere Novelty
The truth is good stories bear repeating, not because we don’t know them, but because even in knowing them we still need to be reminded of the lessons within. This is even more true of the Scriptures. We should never walk away from a Sunday service, Bible study, or time of Bible reading, and with disappointment say, “I didn’t learn anything new.” It may be true that you did not learn anything new, but it shouldn’t be a letdown.
While we should always be striving to learn more from our study of God’s Word, learning new things is not the only goal when we open our Bibles. Have you considered that you need reminders of what you already know just as much as you need to learn new things?
One of the consequences of being fallen humans in a broken world is that we forget. We forget God’s faithfulness, His promises, and His commands. The troubles of this world, the allure of the novel, and the deceitfulness of sin are ever drawing our attention away from those truths to which, in our better hours, we would wholeheartedly assent.
The living Word has the power to teach us new things, but it also has the power to remind us of the truths we so desperately need to keep before our eyes. That’s why sitting through a sermon on a text that’s really familiar is not a waste of time, even if you don’t learn anything new. We need to be reminded. In fact, we are commanded to remember.
Commanded to Remember
The next time you’re reading through Deuteronomy, pay attention to how many times God commands the people of Israel to remember the things He had done for them (Deut 5:15; 7:18; 8:2, 18; 9:7;15:15; etc.). Our forgetfulness is something God is well aware of. He even gave the Israelites reminders of his commands and past works with prescribed feasts and festivals.
Our forgetfulness seems to be more than just cognitive. Because of our fallen nature, we are plagued with a sort of spiritual amnesia. It’s less of an “I’m bad with names” and more of an “I’m bad with obedience” kind of situation.
Look at how the ESV renders Jude 5. “Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.” He’s warning people about the consequences of going after erroneous doctrine, even while acknowledging that its something they already knew! But their entertaining of false teachers demonstrated to Jude that they must have forgotten. He goes on to lay out the consequences for false teachers, fallen angels, and all deceivers and those who follow them. Which is why believers are enjoined to remember and fight for the sound doctrine they had been taught (Jude 17).
I know I am guilty of spiritual amnesia. I was recently reading through some of my old journal entries and was surprised by the number of times I had written about learning the same lesson, each time I wrote as though it was some grand new epiphany. But the truth is I had simply forgotten what I learned and needed to be reminded.
We are commanded to remember, but what kinds of things should we be looking to Scriptures to remind us of?
Remember the Commands and be Convicted
I bet the Old Testament prophets would have really benefited from audio recording technology. Those faithful saints all but went hoarse repeating the same things again and again to the Israelites. “Remember what the Lord has commanded!” Imagine if they could have put that message on repeat and taken a nap?
And the call to remember God's commands is still true for New Testament believers. Peter writes,
“This is now, beloved, the second letter I am writing to you in which I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, that you should remember the words spoken beforehand by the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior spoken by your apostles.”
(2 Peter 3:1–2)
Hang on. Did you just skip over or skim that Bible verse? This is exactly what I'm talking about! Go back and read it, slowly.
We must be careful to remember those things which the Lord has promised to us. Peter wanted to remind the people of commands which had been echoed and expanded upon by the Old Testament prophets, Jesus Himself, and finally by Peter and his contemporaries, the authors of the New Testament. The thrust of it is, "Don’t forget what the Lord requires of you!"
Do not harden yourself against the Holy Spirit’s conviction by these reminders. The attitude, of “I already know this” set’s up a resistance in your heart; an a priori assumption that the living Word of God has nothing more to convict you of since you’ve heard that passage preached before. Let the Word remind you of God’s commands, and be convicted afresh by lessons you have already learned but may have forgotten.
Remember God’s Works and be Encouraged
Likewise, we must be careful to remember those things which the Lord has promised to us. It’s so easy to lose focus on the truth; to let eyes droop from Christ to circumstances. Again, we see this injunction in the Old Testament. Through Moses, God reminded the Israelites repeatedly, “Remember how God brought you out of slavery in Egypt, using straight up miracles, and has provided for you with great power over and over again?” (e.g. see Ex 13:3).
Remembering what the Lord has done and promised gives us strength for the fight.
“And I looked and arose and said to the nobles and to the officials and to the rest of the people, 'Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.'” (Nehemiah 4:14 ESV)
We recall to mind the times the Lord has been faithful to us in the past.
“when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” (Psalms 63:6–8 ESV)
When we think on God's past faithfulness, we are reminded that the God who has delivered us time and again is powerful enough and faithful enough to do so once more.
As Christians, we also remember being apart from Christ and the doomed trajectory we were on (Eph 2:11-12). This is why of all things you hear repeated in the Scriptures or in your church, you should never get sick of hearing that old story of Jesus who lived, died, and rose again to redeem a people for Himself. And in that reminder, take great encouragement. Never become bored of hearing familiar passages, because repetition is the cure for your spiritual amnesia