The Bible is better than basic instructions

Early on in my faith, I started to realize that something was missing. I was growing in my faith without question, but I saw a tension between what I was being taught and what I read in my Bible. Lots of principles—good principles, even biblical ones—commands, and values. There was an idea of this book being, essentially, basic instructions before leaving earth.[1. Sorry, you knew it was coming.]

Now, I’m all for teaching wisdom. I’m all about helping people to grow and live faithfully. But when we only teach wisdom or principles, I have to wonder if we’re missing something. If by taking that approach, we might be a little bit like the Pharisees, the group Jesus often encountered during His ministry.

A better way to read the Bible

The Pharisees, as you may know, were the Bible guys of the Jewish world at that time—they were the ones saying that the people needed to get back to the Word, and do what it says. They loved the Law of God, and made it their aim to know it inside and out and follow its commands to the letter. And where God didn’t offer a command, they added some of their own for good measure.

But as they diligently studied the Scriptures, they missed something important. Something life-changing in the Scriptures. Something right in front of them, if they had eyes to see. Or maybe it’s better to say, Someone who was standing right in front of them.

Their problem is our problem

Listen to what Jesus said to them as they challenged Him in His understanding of and obedience to God’s Word: You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me.” (John 5:39)

Many of us have been taught or fallen into the belief that the Bible is like this. That it is basically a big book of rules, morality tales, and inspirational sayings. And although the Bible does have many inspiring moments, and does have many stories that illustrate a moral truth, and certainly does include rules, if this is all we see the Bible as, we’re missing out. We’ll study the book searching for the secret of eternal life and miss that He was right in front of us the whole time.

The Bible is something greater—one big story, with every text pointing to the One God sent to rescue and redeem His people. And when we get this, it changes everything.

Three ways focusing on Jesus changes everything

Here are three ways focusing on Jesus in all Scripture really does make a difference:

  • It changes how we view the Old Testament, realizing that it is the foundation for the gospel.
  • It changes how we read the New Testament, in that it is not a new Law, but good news.
  • It changes how we live right now because we know the end of the story.

The Old Testament is the foundation for the gospel.

There’s a tendency to view the Old Testament as something wholly separate from the rest of the Bible. That God acts one way in the first two thirds of the Bible, and a totally different way in the other third. But when we see the Bible as One Big Story, we see that the gospel isn’t a response to God’s plans all going wrong up that point, but the fulfillment of everything He had set out to do from the beginning.

When we come to the beginning of the Bible, we see that Jesus was there, in the beginning with God…

So when we come to the beginning of the Bible, we see that Jesus was there, in the beginning with God, and all things were created through Him and for Him. His authority has always existed. When we see the first people cast out of the garden, it is with the hope of a Redeemer coming who would break the curse of sin and crush the serpent.

When we come to the Law, we recognize that God isn’t saying, “Act in this way so that you will be my people.” Instead, He says, “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you out of Egypt. Therefore, you will act in this way because you are my people.”

It even changes how we read Leviticus, everyone’s favorite book of the Bible. It helps us to see the depth of Jesus’ love for us that He fulfilled every command in that book, and makes us give thanks that He said, “it is finished.”

The New Testament is not a new Law, but good news.

We are Law-driven people. We want to make a target for ourselves, even if it’s just so we know what we’re violating. We do it with everything, including the New Testament. Just think about the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the humble, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Matthew 5:3-10

When we read these out of our naturally legalistic hearts, we interpret them as isolated commands; some are poor in spirit, others are pure in heart, and so forth. And so we ask the “enough” questions as a result:

  • Am I poor in spirit enough?
  • How do I get more humble?
  • I need to be more merciful, so I’ve got to get to work on that.

But that’s not what the text says. Instead, the passage collectively describes the sort of person whom God calls blessed. It is a declaration of God’s grace, before Jesus offers any commands.

It’s so easy for us to turn fruit into an end goal—something that we can white knuckle our way toward. But fruit is exactly that: fruit. 

In the same way, think about Galatians 5:22-23: “…the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” It’s so easy for us to turn fruit into an end goal—something that we can white knuckle our way toward. But fruit is exactly that: fruit. It’s not something we can make happen; it’s the result of the Spirit’s work in us as we live faithfully in light of what Christ has done for us.

We do the same with the description of the early church in Acts 2 and 3, where we read that the believers were selling their possessions and sharing all they had with anyone who had need. So where we can too easily go is to assume this is prescriptive—that it is a specific instruction for us to follow. But the description is exactly that—a description—and we need to see it for what it is: a beautiful picture of the gospel at work in the lives of His people.

And that’s the point we have to remember: the New Testament is not a new law; it is good news. In it, we learn how Christ completed the Law for us and by faith, His righteousness becomes ours. God gives us grace, and we live in response to it. That is such good news, isn’t it?

We live in light of the end of the story.

It’s not easy to live faithfully in this world. We can look around at what’s going on socially or politically, and it’s tempting to lose hope. Worse, we can live in fear, looking for signs of the end. But this isn’t what God has intended for us. He has shown us how the story ends—and it is good news!

The story ends with the defeat of sin. Jesus will come back and put an end to the serpent once and for all. Sin will be no more, and death will die, and God’s people will rejoice.

The story ends with comfort for God’s people. When Jesus comes to put the final nail in sin’s coffin, He will wipe every tear from every eye of every one of us. Jesus cares deeply for every single one of His people, and He will comfort each of us when He makes all things new.

We have the opportunity to share this hope with others while we wait for “soon” to become “now.” 

The story ends And the story ends with a promise: “I am coming soon”. This is such good news. We know there’s no question over if Jesus will be victorious. We know that there’s no doubt that He will return. But He gives us confidence that He will be coming “soon.” And we have the opportunity to share this hope with others while we wait for “soon” to become “now.”

That’s what seeing the Bible as one big story does—it changes how we see the Old Testament by giving us a foundation for the gospel; it changes how we see the New Testament, by reminding us that it is not a new law but good news. And it changes how we live right now because we know the end of the story.

It changes everything.

Responding to the Big Story

So how should we respond to this? What can we do, or should we do in response to what we’ve heard today? Let me offer three encouragements as we close:

First, we should repent. We should turn away from our old thinking, our tendency to reduce God’s Word into a book of rules and inspirational stories. He wants us to see something bigger in Scripture—that the gospel is at work from beginning to end.

Second, we should pray. Pray that God would help us to see the Bible for what it is. If all Scripture testifies to Jesus, then we want to see it. So let’s ask the Lord to help us. He will surely do it.

Third, we should pursue. This good news is too good to be kept to ourselves. We want to encourage others to see it as well and join us in this mission we’ve been called to—to make Christ known to people of every tribe, tongue, and nation until there is no one left who needs to hear it.

Posted by Aaron Armstrong

Aaron is the author of several books including the Big Truths Bible Storybook, Epic Devotions, Awaiting a Savior: The Gospel, the New Creation, and the End of Poverty, and Contend: Defending the Faith in a Fallen World. His next book, published by Lexham Press, will release in Spring 2023.

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One Reply to “The Bible is better than basic instructions”

  1. […] Early on in my faith, I started to realize that something was missing. I was growing in my faith without question, but I saw a tension between what I was being taught and what I read in my Bible. Lots of principles—good principles, even biblical ones—commands and values. There was an idea of this book being, essentially, basic instructions before leaving earth.1 […]

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