Foreword: Scripture by Heart
Scripture by Heart: Devotional Practices for Memorizing God's Word, by Joshua Choonmin Kang, Intervarsity Press, 2010
The Apostle Paul tells us to present our bodies to God in such a way that we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds. (Romans 12:1-2) Most who read him today stop right there, thinking perhaps, “What good advice that is!” But they do not proceed to implement the advice. They do not take it seriously as a doorway into the blessed life with Christ in His kingdom. They do not welcome it as a reality that will carry them away from conformity to a social existence—even a religious one—that is actually in defiance of God and plant them solidly in the eternal kingdom that is here now.
In part this is because they do not understand the mind and do not know exactly what to do toward its renewal. They are apt to become passive and not understand their part in the divine work of “mind transplant.”
The human mind is filled with feelings, ideas, images, ways of reasoning, habits of thought, memories, and expectations of various kinds. Many of these are enslaving, harmful, and false. They shape our actual beliefs and guide our actions. No doubt we most go wrong in how we think about God and about our life before God. It is in this area more than anywhere else that our minds must be renewed for the sake of the transformation of our whole life into godliness.
God will help us, but our part is also indispensable. What are we to do? The simplest and most effective way of mind renewal in Christ is memorization of Scripture: large passages of it as well as individual verses. That is why memorization must play such a large part in spiritual transformation. The human mind is quite small and limited in terms of what can consciously occupy it, but we have some choice as to what is present there. We must choose well.
Memorization of Scripture is one way of “taking charge” of the contents of our conscious thoughts, and of the feelings, beliefs and actions that depend upon them. Ancient followers of God understood this well: “Thy word have I hid in my heart, that I might not sin against Thee” (Psalm 119:11), and “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path” (119:105), and “The entrance of Thy word gives light” (119:130). Our life takes a godly and good direction when our mind is consciously occupied with God’s written words. Those words then increasingly eliminate the conscious mental contents that would surely lead us away from God.
But when we take the Scriptures in by memorization, the words of God also affect our lives far beyond our consciousness. We come to live “by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). Through memorization ,God’s words reside in our body, in our social environment, in the constant orientation of our will, and in the depths of our soul. They become a power, a substance, that sustains and directs us without our even thinking of them, and they emerge into conscious thought and action as needed. This is what Jesus spoke of as abiding, dwelling in him: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it shall be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:7-8).
Joshua Choonmin Kang helps us to appreciate and appropriate the power for transformation into Christlikeness that comes from knowing the Scriptures “by heart.” He gives us encouraging words about the many good effects of memorization, and excellent instruction upon how to go about memorizing the Scriptures. If you will absorb his teachings and do what he says—adapting it to your personal circumstances and making it a persistent part of your day-to-day life—then you will experience the renewal of your mind and undergo the transformation of your life which everyone knows should come from following Jesus closely. Grace will see to it. The Word of God which is “living and powerful” (Hebrews 4:12) will form you in the likeness of Christ.