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224 pages
Mar 2005
Nelson Reference

The Heart of the Bible: Explore the Power of Key Bible Passages

by John MacArthur

Review  |   Author Bio  |  Read an Excerpt



his book grew out of a list of 52 key passages I chose to encourage believers to memorize—one per week for a full year. It was not an easy task to cut my list of favorite passages down to 52. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God. All Scripture is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16). But these verses are particularly helpful to anyone who wants to get a firm grasp of the truth.

Those who are familiar with my teaching will notice that I have chosen verses that reflect the main themes I have emphasized in my teaching ministry. Those themes encompass the great themes of Scripture. They are the heart of the Bible.

I could have written a very different book. You could make a case that the heart of the Bible is a story. There is indeed a narrative that runs from Genesis to Revelation, and its main character is God. The Bible tells how God made the world and human beings (Adam and Eve), how they fell and were judged and received grace, how their descendants fell and were judged and received grace again. It tells how God redeemed and created for Himself a people (Israel) whom He intended to be holy and to be a light to the world, and how they fell and were judged and received grace. It tells how God became flesh among those people in the person of His Son and gave Himself for our salvation—how He died on a cross for our sins and rose from the dead that we might share His life. It tells how God brought the church into being and called people to a new kind of life, and how God’s reign will one day be complete.

This book presupposes a knowledge of that story.What this book attempts to do is draw from the great truths that are revealed in that story and join them with the great principles for living that Scripture reveals. It seems to me that for a new believer—or one who desires to be grounded in God’s truth—nothing could be more useful than to focus on the nature of the Bible, the nature of God, the nature of salvation, and the nature of discipleship.

I hope that as you read these 52 sections, you will meditate carefully on the Scripture passages rather than on my comments. It is God’s Word itself that is perfect and sure and right and pure. His words are able to give life, not mine. As you meditate on them, you will find delight and nourishment and discipline as well. God’s promises are a source of comfort, but they are also a sword that cuts into our hearts.

It is my prayer that you will hide God’s Word in your heart, that you might not sin against Him—and that you might love Him with all that you are and be transformed into the person He has called you to be. As always, I am thankful to my editors at Thomas Nelson for their help.

They suggested that my comments on these passages might be helpful to you in your Christian growth. I hope they are correct about my comments. I know they are right about the usefulness of the heart of the Bible.

John MacArthur





HE BIBLE IS NOT JUST A BOOK you read for information. You read it for transformation. The words of Scripture are the very Word of God, and they change your heart as you meditate on them. This is what the Bible claims for itself: it is a perfect treasure that changes us, enlightens us, judges us, equips us, and makes us grow.

As you read the favorite verses I’ve included in this book, don’t just pass over them quickly. Savor them. Repeat them to yourself. Ponder their meaning for your life and allow them to penetrate your heart. That is what Scripture itself tells us to do.

This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. —Joshua 1:8

Where does the Word of God belong? In your mouth and in your heart. In Joshua 1:8, “this Book of the Law” refers to the five books of Moses, Genesis through Deuteronomy. But the same command can be expanded to refer to all the books of Scripture, the whole Word of God. The command is that it should not depart from your mouth. In other words, it should be a part of your vocabulary all the time. You should be speaking about Scripture and the things Scripture is concerned with at all times.

How can that happen? It will happen when you meditate on it day and night. It’s a simple principle. If you saturate your mind and your thoughts with the Word of God it will come out in your speech. If you saturate your mind and thoughts with other things, they will come out in your speech as well.

The Book of Proverbs tells us that as a man thinks in his heart, so he is (Proverbs 23:7). Jesus said, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matthew 12:34). If your heart is full of the Word of God, that’s what is going to come out of your mouth. Before that can happen, you have to fill your heart with the Word. That’s why meditation is so important.

When you meditate—when you read a verse over and over and contemplate its meaning—it begins to fill your heart. I believe that is why God gave us a book and not a music video. A music video just goes flying by, jumping from one angle to the next, bombarding you with images, and then it’s gone. Even the best movie just washes over you like a wave and then recedes. Our experience of it is fleeting. But words on a page are frozen there permanently.You can go back to the same page, the same verse, over and over, and keep meditating on it. You can compare and contrast it to other verses.

You can synthesize what several verses say and interpret them carefully. That is meditation—not just a momentary encounter with the truth, but immersion in it. Putting His Word in a book was the best way God could put a tool in our hands that would teach us to meditate.

If you meditate on the Bible day and night, it will start to come out of your mouth. Your speech will be “gracious and seasoned with salt,” as Paul says (Colossians 4:6). It will be the kind of talk that edifies, building others up rather than tearing them down (1 Corinthians 14:26; 1 Thessalonians 5:11).

The purpose of meditating on God’s commands is “that you may observe to do according to all that is written.” The purpose is not just knowledge but obedience. The promise here is that meditation will ultimately produce changed behavior because our hearts will be saturated with the Word of God. David asks in Psalm 19:14, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.” He is asking, “O LORD, please govern and guard the meditation of my heart.” Why? Because that is what is going to show up in my behavior.

As the Bible shapes you as a Christian, it brings blessing. It promises that if you meditate on the Word, speak the Word, and live the Word, your way will be prosperous and you will have good success. This is the real “prosperity gospel”—not the false message that God wants everyone to get rich quick. God does not promise to make you prosperous just because you want things. God promises to bless your spiritual life and your spiritual endeavors with success through the deep understanding and application of Scripture.


Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and in His law he meditates day and night. —Psalm 1:1–2

How can you be blessed? How can you find deep-seated contentment and spiritual well-being below the surface of life’s circumstances? These verses are a promise of blessing. They tell us what to avoid and what to focus on.

If you want to be blessed, the psalmist says, don’t walk in the counsel of the ungodly.What does that mean? Don’t listen to what ungodly people have to say. Don’t follow their advice. Don’t be influenced by their spin on things, their assessment of the situation, or their solution to a problem.

A three-stage process is pictured here, moving from walking to standing to sitting. It starts with the image of walking alongside ungodly people, engaged in casual conversation. Don’t even get started with that, the psalmist says. Don’t expose yourself to the lies of people who evaluate the world apart from God’s Word.

The next image is standing with the sinners. If you find yourself walking with them, don’t allow yourself to stand and talk with them. Don’t let the conversation become deeper and more penetrating.

The final image is actually sitting with the scornful—sharing the seat so that you become one of them. Don’t get that close to those who mock God. Certainly don’t take your seat in their classroom while they scoff at divine truth. Too many young people sit in classrooms where a scornful teacher seeks to destroy their faith. If you want to be blessed, stay away from all that.

Instead, find your delight in the law of the Lord. To most of us today, the idea of delighting in the law is a strange concept. We might fear the law or respect it, but to find pleasure in it is not something that crosses our minds. But the psalmist is thinking of the whole Torah as God’s gracious gift of guidance for how to live in a covenant relationship with Him. God’s revelation of the right way to live and worship and know Him is something to delight in. Psalm 119 uses the word “delight” eight times to describe our attitude toward God’s Word. It is a source of joy and satisfaction.

Rather than delighting in the latest sophisticated way of mocking what is good, find your pleasure in knowing and doing the will of God. Meditate day and night on the Scriptures which reveal His will for your life. Then when you walk, you will walk with the godly; when you stand, you will stand with the righteous; when you sit, you will sit in the place of the holy. This is the path to blessing.