Sitting within view of my desk at this moment are no less than seven study Bibles—Bibles that contain supplemental notes explaining Scripture. That feels excessive, but it also feels like a gift.
The wealth of Biblical wisdom and insight in these volumes is expansive and helps me learn, grow, and apply what God has written.
One of these—the Gospel Transformation Study Bible—has become a “first among equals” resource in my life. In some ways it’s an unusual study Bible, departing from the traditional “explain the culture, context, and meaning of the Scriptures” format of so many others. The Gospel Transformation Study Bible was developed in 2013 and then updated and re-released this month.
So what makes the Gospel Transformation Study Bible unique, and why should you consider adding this to your library of Bible resources? The answer is found in the name of the Bible itself: gospel transformation.
AN EMPHASIS ON GOSPEL TRANSFORMATION
Under the editorial direction of Bryan Chapell and Dane Ortlund, an expansive team of men and women were tasked with two purposes:
To enable readers to understand that the whole Bible is a unified message of the gospel of God’s grace culminating in Christ Jesus.
To help believers apply this good news to their everyday lives in a heart-transforming way.
That sounds a lot like discipleship. In fact, the editors note: “Another particularly useful context in which to use this edition of the Bible is in personal discipleship—a pastor mentoring a younger believer, or an older woman in the faith meeting with a younger one, or a neighbor discipling a new believer, for example.”
The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16) and the means of God for discipleship. We grow as disciples of Jesus through the power of the gospel being worked out within us. This is what makes this resource so helpful in the work of true gospel-centered discipleship.
That being said, I want to identify a few ways the Gospel Transformation Study Bible stands out above the rest by exploring some of the explanatory notes in Matthew’s gospel.
First, I appreciate how the notes in Matthew emphasize gospel-centered motivations rather than legalistic "how-to" points of application. Matthew's emphasis on the universal Lordship of Jesus is staggering, and his commitment to portraying Jesus as King over all things is seen throughout the entire Gospel.
With that truth comes the sobering reminder that Jesus has a rightful claim over all things, including my life. Furthermore, that claim determines that I live a life reflective of my submission to Christ. Yet Matthew makes it clear that Jesus is the one who makes that "kingdom way" clear for us in Jesus. It is in Christ and Christ alone that I am transformed to live out the kingdom way of Christ.
Frank Thielman's notes in Matthew reflect this emphasis:
God continues to help his people at their points of need, not because of anything within themselves that makes them worthy of his help but because he is a gracious and merciful God who delights in helping the needy.
Christian discipleship is genuine when it arises from a heart and mind transformed by God's grace, and this inner transformation, which Matthew calls repentance, will inevitably bear good fruit.
RAISING THE AFFECTIONS OF MY SOUL
Secondly, this "study Bible" isn't so much for study as it is for devotional use. This may seem like a dangerous label to serious-minded students of the Scripture who are wary of fluffy, doctrinally-weak "Chicken Soup for the Soul"-kind of books. But the Gospel Transformation Study Bible isn't that. It's a Bible with notes that have helped me engage the Scripture more closely and, more than anything, love Christ more fully.
Many study Bibles have more notes than Scripture, it seems. That’s not the case with the Gospel Transformation Study Bible (though there are some points where I wanted more notes). The notes it contains make me think about the gospel. They lead me to reflect on Christ. Every day I read this Bible, my heart is challenged to live in light of the gospel and to know and enjoy Christ more.
Again, Theilman’s notes in Matthew illuminate this:
Learning from Jesus is more like rest than work because Jesus, unlike the scribes and Pharisees, is meek and humble. This passage is the only place in all four Gospel accounts where Jesus tells us about his heart—and he says it is “gentle and lowly” (v. 29). He is ready to help all those who are themselves humble enough to admit their need of his mercy and grace. Indeed, he delights to do so.
There is great hope for sinners in Matthew’s account of Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension, and that hope is not only for new disciples of Jesus but for his seasoned followers also. The proper response to sin, however grave it may be, is not despair. It is instead trust in Jesus’ willingness to forgive and restore the sinner to full fellowship with himself and to useful service in the kingdom. What rich hope for those who want their lives to count for Christ, yet who are painfully aware of their inadequacy and failures.
PATTERNS FOR DISCIPLESHIP
The best use of the Gospel Transformation Study Bible I've found is reading Scripture in community. For the last several years I've had a "Fight Club"—a handful of men in my church who gather once a week to engage and discuss our individual readings from God’s Word. The notes from the Gospel Transformation Study Bible have been helpful in answering our questions, developing understanding, and directing us to Christ in our spiritual formation.
If you want to utilize the Daily Bible Reading Plan that is supplied in the back of the Bible, you’ll find a helpful course through the entire Bible in a year. Reading the notes along with the Scripture text will “show readers, passage by passage, how each particular book carries forward God’s redemptive purposes in history, culminating in Christ. These notes enable readers to see how the gospel of grace is the overarching message of the Bible, and how it transforms the human heart.”
WHO IS THE GOSPEL TRANSFORMATION STUDY BIBLE FOR?
We would recommend the Gospel Transformation Study Bible for anyone. It fits right in line with our mission at GCD: “to make, mature, and multiply disciples of Jesus.” I assure you that you’ll find it to be a means of gospel-centered discipleship and growth for your own life and the lives of others.
And thanks to the overwhelming generosity of Crossway Books, we’re giving away three hardback copies! You can enter to win a copy below through the giveaway app. Winners will be selected Wednesday, March 20 and notified shortly thereafter.
Jeremy Writebol is the lead campus pastor of Woodside Bible Church in Plymouth, MI and the Executive Director of Gospel-Centered Discipleship. He is the author of everPresent: How the Gospel Relocates Us in The Present and a contributing author to several other publications. He writes personally at jwritebol.net.