Question:I just wanted to know if reading the Bible is the best place to start. I've never been religious. I remember going to church and getting baptized as a kid, but I never understood what it was about, and my family stopped going to church so I just forgot about it. I try to live my life the way I feel is right, but it doesn't feel like that's enough.
Twice in the book of Proverbs is the warning, "There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12; 16:25). The problem is your standard is yourself. If each person lived by that creed, we would have mass chaos. After all, the murderer feels justified in taking another person's life. The adulterer feels it is right to sleep with another man's wife. We need a standard that is above us, for which we can aim. Therefore, the standard cannot originate with us. "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; It is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23).
Learning the Bible (not just reading it like a book from the library) is where everyone must start. God created the universe and put man on this world, but He did not leave us without guidance. "As His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue" (II Peter 1:3). As we learn what God has taught us, it creates faith (trust in God) within us. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). The concept of "hearing" is listening with retention. In other words, you can't just absorb it through osmosis in a pew; you have to put forth some effort. "Therefore lay aside all filthiness and overflow of wickedness, and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls. But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man observing his natural face in a mirror; for he observes himself, goes away, and immediately forgets what kind of man he was. But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does" (James 1:21-25).
It is a joy to know you want to improve yourself and your life. And I can understand the daunting task of starting from scratch. The Bible contains a lot of information, so where do you start? Actually, that is the primary task of preachers, to help people learn the message. "How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: "How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace, Who bring glad tidings of good things!"" (Romans 10:14-15). Usually I sit down with people and try to figure out where they are at in their journey and then direct them to passages in the Bible that will help them grasp what they need to learn next.
You said that you had attend services in the past, but I don't know how you view the Bible, God, Jesus, sin, and the concept of salvation. With everything wide open, I'm going to ask that you do a very simple reading assignment. Find the book of James in the New Testament and read the first chapter. Read it through once just to get a feel for what it contains. Then read it through a second time, but have a notepad at your side. As you run across ideas that you don't understand (and there will be a lot of them), jot down your questions. Then send them to me. What you don't understand will tell me a lot about what you need to learn. If there are particular topics you want to look at, let me know and I will tell you where you can read to gain better understanding.