Early on in my faith, I wasn’t sure how to read the Bible. 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
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.
How 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.
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.