When it comes to reading the Bible there is one thing that I hear more than anything else. People have trouble understanding some parts of the Bible. My conviction is that a significant part of this is rooted in the way that we view the Bible. Rethinking how we view the Bible is an important first step for knowing how to understand it and apply it.
When I was younger I was reading the Bible looking for things that I could do. I saw the Bible as a big book filled with stories and rules that were telling me how to live. In a sense this is true. God's word shows us how to live but I was approaching it completely from the wrong perspective. Because of this I found myself frustrated and confused at times. I could get into the Proverbs because that gave me clear ideas of how to live and to have wisdom. The Ten Commandments were clear cut for me. So were the portions of Paul's epistles that were telling his readers how to live. My understanding of the story of the flood was that Noah was righteous and so God saved him. My application was to be like Noah and not like the people taken in the flood.
What confused me were when the stories didn't fit the way that I thought they should. Noah was a righteous man but after he gets off the ark, he is getting drunk. Abraham, the man who left idolatry at the command of God, has his wife go into the harem of Pharaoh to protect himself. David, the giant slayer whose courage I thought I was to mimic, commits adultery and has a man murdered. How does all of this fit? Are these stories in there to show us how not to live or is there something deeper going on in the pages of scripture?
Over time, through gifted Bible teachers, I was able to get a better understanding of how to read the Bible. The Bible is more than an owners manual for life, giving me instructions on how to perform tasks or fix problems. It is the story of God redeeming his people. The Bible is the story of Jesus. Not from Matthew to Revelation but the whole of Scripture. From Genesis to Revelation the story is about Jesus and his saving work for us.
As we open to the first page of our Bibles we see that God created the world in six days and he rested from his work. He calls it very good. If we were to stop reading right there we would end up being very confused. While there is great beauty in the world there is also a lot of bad in the world. There is disease, war, bloodshed, and death. How can God possibly call this world good?
As we keep reading we see that through the sin of Adam and Eve this world fell into sin. Ever since we have suffered the consequences of this rebellion against God. How we understand our world and the Bible hinges on what the next part of the story is. Right there in the garden in Genesis 3:15, God made a promise. Someone would come from the seed of the woman to crush the head of the serpent.
This head crusher is Jesus. From that point forward the story of the Bible is about this savior. The book of Genesis follows the line of his ancestry. Noah was not simply a righteous man, he was a righteous man descended from Seth. He was in the line to the Messiah. He couldn't perish in the flood because God had made a promise that the head of the serpent would be crushed. All humanity cannot drown in the waters of judgment. That would make God a liar and worst of all this fallen creation would remain broken. The serpent would have had the last word.
The story of David and Goliath is not that David has courage and we should have courage too. David is the one in the line to the Messiah and he sees the people of God under threat by the forces that oppose God. They are representatives of the serpent. David stands up and defeats the forces of the serpent by defeating Goliath and cutting off his head. What a beautiful picture of the gospel! David, the ancestor of the Messiah, crushes the head of the serpent. He defeats Goliath just as Jesus would one day defeat Satan at the cross.
You can see the difference. To talk about having courage like David treats the story as though it is a fable. A story to teach me how I should behave. While we should have courage like David that isn't the story in 1 Samuel 17. It is the story of God rescuing his people from their sin. That is so much deeper and richer than approaching the Bible as an advice book.
Still, this approach to reading the Bible does show us how to live. By understanding God's amazing love for us in Christ, we are motivated to live our lives for him. Knowing that we have been rescued from the wrath of God, we love God by serving our neighbors. We also share this good news with others. We are motivated by God's love to keep God's law.
We are saved by grace alone through faith alone on account of Christ alone. This not only directs how we live our lives but it also helps us to understand scripture. The gospel needs to be our interpretive lens as we open up God's Holy Word. When we understand the great big story, God's Word opens up for us.
I encourage you to pick a book of the Bible. Dig into it and read with Jesus and the gospel in mind on every page.