This will probably be the last in this series of posts on Understanding the Bible in the 21st century.
When it’s all said and done about the Bible, sometimes more is said than done. But the purpose of the Bible is not to simply read, but to lead us to action. What does the Bible call us to do if we choose to follow Jesus?
A script for living in the kingdom of God
So many people, believers and unbelievers, think the Bible should be giving us rigorous information about all sorts of things, and rules to live by. But we have seen that the Bible has far more stories than a rule book would have, and the Holy Spirit can use it in a creative way to teach us new things. So it is more than just information, and more than a rule book.
Some people say that the Bible is a love story – of a loving God reaching out to his own creation, people who too often turn their backs on him. And this is surely true. But it is more than that.
“The Bible is a script for living in the kingdom of God”
God doesn’t just reach out to us in love, he calls us via Jesus to join in the work of building the kingdom of God on earth – making God’s rule more evident. And the Bible is the script for us to read from, and which the Holy Spirit interprets to us.
The Bible shows us Jesus
Jesus lived his life, and died, to establish the kingdom of God on earth. God “could” have forced everyone to do his bidding, but that isn’t the way he wanted it. We humans are in charge on planet earth, so God works through humans – people who will voluntarily serve in the great mission of God’s kingdom, where wrong things are put right. First Jesus, then those who choose to follow him.
The historians confirm that we get a reliable picture of Jesus in the gospels – as EP Sanders said: “We know who he was, what he did, what he taught, and why he died. ….. what Jesus was out to accomplish …. what he said”. There is enough there for us to decide whether we believe he was telling the truth, we believe in his mission, and we choose to follow him in that mission.
That choice is the key to everything. Christians who don’t feel drawn to Jesus and drawn to making that commitment to join his mission, but believe out of fear or family tradition, or whose understanding is more about doctrine and rules, are sadly missing the main point. They may even end up dropping out because Jesus wasn’t the beloved leader they were following, but just the name of a religion they were part of. And unbelievers who miss this will likely find themselves rejecting something that is a long way from what believers are committed to.
The Old Testament too
We have noted some difficulties with the Old Testament – uncertainty about which parts are historical and which are not; uncertainty about how to understand some of the more violent aspects. But this isn’t the whole story. The OT concerns a covenant that is no longer current, but it still shows us God interacting with people to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus, and the Spirit still can teach us from it.
The Bible shows us how to start the adventure
We can enter the kingdom by believing what Jesus said, asking for forgiveness for previous wrong attitudes and actions, putting our own agendas aside and resolving to follow the way of Jesus in the way we live.
It’s really as simple as that.
But the start is not the journey
Some christians act as if starting the journey – committing ourselves to following Jesus – is the main game. It’s an important part (all journeys begin with the first step), but Jesus wants us to endure to the end. And not just endure, but to run the race wholeheartedly all the way. The Bible helps us follow in his footsteps.
Bible and Spirit show us Jesus’ values
- Wholeheartedly loving God and his creation, especially our fellow humans.
- Putting the work of the kingdom ahead of our own wants and needs, which means asking God to guide our choices.
- Allowing God to develop a new character in us.
- Recommending the good news of Jesus and the kingdom to others, in both word and action.
- Not holding grudges, but forgiving those who hurt us, as God has forgiven us.
- Taking opportunities to help the disadvantaged, and put injustices right.
- Being truthful and sensitive to others, and not trying to always come out “on top”, but to serve.
This is where the rubber hits the road. Living out these values has led christians to compassionate caring for women and children in the Roman empire, starting schools and hospitals at home and in poorer overseas countries, ending the slave trade in the UK and elsewhere, fighting injustice, helping fight the effects of famine and drought, caring for the homeless and the suffering, promoting peace and reconciliation and running social services such as addiction rehabilitation and aged care. We can each find a place to serve or support.
Bible and Spirit show us we are not alone
- Believers don’t go it alone. Jesus promised that God’s Spirit (not just an influence, but as much God as Jesus was himself) would lead and empower his followers.
- Jesus-followers are part of a new community, with a whole new family of brothers and sisters, and a new way of living, together.
- We learn as we go.
Just do it!
And so let us be people who follow Jesus in life as well as in word. Let us allow the Bible and Spirit to guide us into “the good works God has prepared for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).
There is a time for investigating the truth and sifting the evidence. There will always be things we don’t understand, just as in the rest of life. There may even be time for doctrinal dispute, though I hope we don’t waste too much time in that little side-track. And there will always be doubts along the way that have to be investigated.
But once we have decided to follow Jesus, the main game is action more than talk. “Let us be doers of the word, and not hearers only.” (James 1:22)
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As you said, God has also given people a Comforter (John 14:26) I think its more about how we live Christs teachings rather than looking for proof. Maybe this validation only comes through actively following. Thanks for this series.
Thanks for your interest. I think different people need different reasons to believe – for some it is mainly intellectual, for others it is mainly experience. But I don’t see how anyone can do any harm living out Jesus’ teachings!
Great summary to the series, unkleE. On the Bible’s purpose, I’d say chiefly it’s to reveal God to us, glorifying him and bringing us to a better understanding of who he is. Many things then flow from this, of course, but that seems to be its chief or central purpose.
And as for living out Jesus’ teachings, I think Jesus taught us that he’s the one who wants to live out his life through us. (John 15.) Ut’s may be a subtle difference in verbiage, but it’s a world of difference in who is doing the living in my life.
“And so let us be people who follow Jesus in life as well as in word.”
Spurgeon sets a great example of where the rubber meets the road: ” it is a dangerous state of things if doctrine is made to drive out precept,”
Where do you think the fear of God comes into it? the fear of God is not necessarily unfounded is it? Although perfect love casts out all fear?
would be interested to read a post on this
Thanks for the suggestion. I dunno if I have enough to say to make a post, but I’ll think about it.
I must admit I don’t think much about fearing God these days, because I believe we see God best in Jesus, and he was someone to respect and love, but not (I think) fear. The OT says that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”, but I note that:
1. It was the Old Testament, not the new.
2. Fear has connotations of awe or even respect.
3. It is the beginning of wisdom, but not the end, for as you say, God’s love removes fear.
So God is someone deserving of awe and respect, and in an ancient culture that might even mean fear. But revelation is progressive, and so today we have a revelation of God’s love. But we should still fear the consequences of refusing to accept God’s love offered in Jesus.
ok, I understand I think where your coming from
“But we should still fear the consequences of refusing to accept God’s love offered in Jesus.”
unkleE, that is exactly how I explain the fear of the Lord under the New Covenant!
Perhaps I should add that I don’t think God wants to scare people into his kingdom, and we don’t find that much (if at all) in the New Testament. The consequences we should “fear” are missing out on the wonderful gifts God offers freely to us.
If I weren’t a Christian and I still understood God, I’d fear hell.
Is that why your a Christian?
Tim: my view may be different to yours.
1. I believe Jesus’ teaching on hell is misunderstood, and the traditional christian view is mistaken – see Hell – what does the Bible say?.
2. I note Paul never talked about hell, and never used it in evangelism.
Portaloo1, not at all. It’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, not his wrath. (Romans 2:4.) And we love because he first loved us, not because he demands it. (1 John 4:19.)
If you want to know what my life was like as an atheist and how I became a Christian, you can read about it here: http://timfall.wordpress.com/2013/01/07/life-as-an-atheist-my-story-of-salvation-part-one/