I don’t remember when I first heard this refrain but I think it was in junior high or high school. From my experience, it’s popular in youth groups and Christian camp circles as a reminder for young people that how they conduct their lives will influence the witness that they have for Christ. It’s one thing to tell someone the Good News; it’s another thing entirely to live in such a way that the reality of the Gospel is evident in your life.
While I’ve been aware of this phrase for years, it’s only recently that I’ve contemplated an underlying truth of this statement. If I could in fact be “the only Bible someone reads” then it is important that I know what the Bible says. After all, it’s not just my actions that determine people’s perceptions of Christ. It’s the words I say, the attitudes I convey, and the treasures I value that will also be a representation of Him. If I don’t know what His Word says, if I don’t make it a regular practice to not only read, but study Scripture, then there is no way that I can be an accurate representation of His Word to those who may otherwise never pick up a Bible.
Another way to think of it is this – when an ambassador is sent out to represent a government, they are given instructions for how they are to live and interact with the people that they are sent to. These instructions form the basis for their time spent in a foreign land. In a similar way, Scripture contains the instructions for how we are to represent Christ to those who don’t know Him. If we don’t know what the instructions say, when people “read” us, they will not have an accurate representation of our King. They won’t know what is important to Him, what He expects, and what having a relationship with Him really means.
When the Israelites were sent out of Egypt and given the commandments by which they were to live, God told them to that not only should His Word be in their hearts, but it should surround them in such a way that wherever they went, they would remember His instructions (Deut 6:6-9). If we are to be the a representation of His Word to others, we would do well to do the same.