In the book Habits of Grace: Enjoying Jesus through the Spiritual Disciplines, pastor and author David Mathis says, “When we learn the Scriptures by heart, we’re not just memorizing ancient, enduringly relevant texts, but we’re listening to and learning the voice of our Creator and Redeemer himself. When we memorize lines from the Bible, we are shaping our minds in the moment to mimic the structure and mind-set of the mind of God.” (p.68).
The spiritual discipline of memorizing scripture is the most enduringly fruitful discipline available to us as followers of Jesus. By memorizing God’s Word and storing it up in our hearts, we fight sin, fuel our prayer life, and conform our minds and character to Jesus. In short, God uses Bible memorization to transform us to be like Jesus and to further his purposes.
In that sense, we can look to the great example of the Temptation of Jesus in Matthew 4 to demonstrate to us the power of Scripture memorization to conform our minds to the mind of God. In Matthew 4, Satan (the liar, murderer, and enemy of our souls) takes three opportunities to test Jesus. We see how Jesus has God’s Word stored up in his heart and mind and he is able to resist the devil and his schemes.
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,
“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
—Matthew 4:1-4 (ESV)
First, we see that Jesus was hungry. Jesus is fully man and fully God. As a man, he felt serious hunger after 40 days and 40 nights of fasting. Satan tempts him to use his divine power to turn the stones into bread to eat. However, Jesus refuses to use his divine power to curb his fleshly hunger. He does this by defending himself with Scripture. He quotes Deuteronomy 8:3. Jesus arms himself with the word of God and responds that “man shall not live by bread alone,” resisting Satan’s temptation. The fact that Jesus had these words memorized enabled his humility and obedience to the Father’s will.
Next, Satan tries to misuse God’s word to test Jesus. He uses Psalm 91 to test Jesus, (Satan knows the Scripture, by the way). He tempts Jesus to act in a way to gain glory for himself:
Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written,
“‘He will command his angels concerning you,’
“‘On their hands they will bear you up,
lest you strike your foot against a stone.’”
Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
—Matthew 4:5-7 (ESV)
If Jesus were to fall from the temple and be held up by God’s angels, this act would gain him an enthusiastic following, but the action would also be outside of God’s plan for how Jesus was to be revealed as the Messiah. Jesus cites Deuteronomy 6:16 and reveals again that he will walk in God’s plan for his life. His memorization of this passage enables his humble obedience of God and protects his mind from the devil’s twisting and corruption of God’s pure word. The knowledge Jesus had of God’s word helped him to test and discern the comments of Satan, which even though they are Scripture, are motivated by deceit.
Lastly, Satan tempts Christ with the offer to rule all kingdoms:
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written,
“‘You shall worship the Lord your God
and him only shall you serve.’”
—Matthew 4:8-10 (ESV)
Jesus rebukes Satan, citing Deuteronomy 6:13, “You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.” Satan offers Christ the rule of the world without the pain and separation of the cross. All he has to do is bow down and worship him. This is a lie however, because we know that God, and not Satan has sovereign control of the world. Again Jesus uses this memorized Scripture to defend himself against the lies of the devil. And the best thing happens, “then the devil left him.” The devil flees from Christ when he is thwarted by God’s word.
How does this apply to us?
When we follow Christ’s example and let the word dwell richly in our hearts through Scripture memorization, we are shaping our minds to seek God’s will and better know God’s mind in the moment by moment stresses and temptations of life.
First, we are enabled to resist the temptation to disobey God’s will, just as Christ refused to turn the stones into bread. Second, we are the sheep of Christ who hear his voice and follow him. Storing up God’s word in our hearts helps us to know the voice of Christ and therefore we are protected from “empty words,” and false teachers. When we meditate often on the word of God, we are aware of the times when Scripture is twisted or misapplied (even by our own hearts), just as Jesus knew that Satan was twisting God’s words from Psalm 91 to serve his evil schemes. Lastly, storing up God’s word defends us from deceitful words and lies, just as Christ defended himself against Satan’s lie of ruling all kingdoms. When we arm ourselves with the “sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17) the devil will flee from us, just as he fled from Christ. Memorizing and quoting God’s word as we have it stored up in our hearts helps us resist the devil and sends him fleeing! As James says, “Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (James 4:7 ESV)
Here are some practical considerations for memorizing Scripture:
- Memorize Word perfectly – seek to get each word correct.
- Say the verse or verses out loud repeatedly.
- Listen to the passage often, and try to parrot it back.
- Write the verse out, carry it on a notecard in your pocket, and look at it often.
- Say the location in the Bible as you memorize. For example, say “Psalm 32:1” before and after you recite the verse.
- Learn what the verse means.
- Finally, tell people like your small group that you are doing it! Encourage them to join you or hold you accountable. Then, share with them how the passage is changing the way you think about God or live in his ways.
Scripture memorization is a great blessing and means of grace given by God, as it is written,
“Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.”
—Psalm 1:1-2 (ESV)
I’ll close with a personal anecdote. Early on in my Christian walk, I felt myself slipping back into sin, and struggling. I didn’t feel like myself, and I knew I wasn’t obeying God the way I am called to. The Bible became dull to me, and my heart felt far from God’s Word. The only passage that would still ‘cut to the quick’ was Ephesians 1, so I decided by the Spirit’s leading to memorize it.
God met me in this process. I would listen to Ephesians when I was driving in my car. I must’ve listened to it for 2 months straight, both ways in my commute! I would recite it while I was walking my dog, working hard to get it word-perfect. I would pull my phone Bible out of my pocket after each verse to check my progress, adding one verse at a time. And in the course of three months, I ended up having not only Ephesians 1 memorized, but having all of Ephesians memorized. What grace from God! This catapulted my walk with Christ, and has provided me so much growth, and blessing, and conviction in the years since. It was truly one of the greatest investments I have ever made. I am a totally different person because of memorizing God’s Word. Scripture memorization is transformative. It will change your life, because it is the very words of our Creator speaking directly to us.