Believing and Living
“Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.” (John 20:30-31, ESV)
“He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8, ESV)
Shorter Catechism Question & Answer # 3:
Q. 3. What do the Scriptures principally teach?
A. The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.
What is the Bible all about? Most professing Christians, at least those of an evangelical and Bible-believing persuasion, regard the Bible to be the authoritative Word of God, infallible and without the least error in all that it teaches (whether that teaching pertains to spiritual matters and saving truth, or whether that teaching touches upon temporal matters of historical detail or even the physical realities and origins of the cosmos). And certainly that is correct, for the Bible is indeed God’s inspired (“God-breathed” – 2 Tim. 3:16), authoritative, self-authenticating, infallible and inerrant Word. All biblical Christians are agreed as to the nature of Scripture as written Divine revelation, God’s very own Word communicated to us under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit through human authors employing human language and human words, those authors being “carried along” by the Holy Spirit (2 Pet. 1:21) to write precisely what God intended for them to write, yet in such a manner that the Spirit employed the personalities and writing styles of those human authors (contrary to the so-called “dictation theory” of inspiration) to convey His Word-revelation. Most professing biblical Christians (at least those of a Protestant variety) will also confess the Bible to be the only infallible rule for Christian faith and practice, the ultimate, final Norm that norms all lesser, subordinate norms (such as the creeds and confessions of the church). That, too, is the correct view. It is because of Scripture’s nature as the Word of God that it necessarily functions as the church’s final norm and only infallible rule for faith and practice. But while many professing Christians today will agree as to the nature and function of Scripture, there are widely different perspectives in the generic Christian world about the purpose of Scripture in terms of what God intends to teach His church through those Scriptures, and thus how the Scriptures are to be read, taught, preached and practiced. It is this question of “What do the Scriptures principally (or chiefly) teach?” that I will address in this article.
The Westminster Divines (= “theologians”) offer a wonderfully concise yet biblically rich answer to the question, “What do the Scriptures principally (chiefly) teach?” Their Bible-based answer to that important question is, “The Scriptures principally teach, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.” Abundant Scripture proof could be brought forward to support this assertion, such as the passages quoted at the beginning of this article. The Bible does indeed teach us what we are to believe about God, and what duty God requires of us. Another way of putting this is to say that the Bible teaches us both doctrine and duty, theology and ethics, what God wants us to believe and how He wants us to live. But does that mean that the Bible is given to us in the form of a systematic theology or an ethics textbook? Even a superficial acquaintance with the Bible demonstrates such a view to be in error. Even the superficial Bible reader will notice that the Bible is filled with large segments of historical narrative (for example, the historical books of the Old Testament, the Gospels and the Book of Acts in the New Testament). While the Pentateuch (= first five books of the Old Testament) contains large sections of Divine law (God’s commandments, statutes and ordinances), and while New Testaments books such as Paul’s epistle to the Romans contain a wonderful, logically-flowing exposition of the major doctrines of the gospel message; at the same time most of God’s Word is revealed to us in the context of history. The point I wish to make here is that God in Scripture reveals what we are to believe and how we are to live in the context of a progressive, unfolding redemptive revelation that finds its center, climax and culmination in the Person and saving work of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Bible is the Divinely inspired record of what God has done in history to rescue and redeem lost sinners through Jesus of Nazareth, Messiah, Lord and Son of God. It is in the context of this unfolding Divine drama of redemptive history as recorded in Holy Scripture that God teaches us what we are to believe about Him, and how we are to live for Him.
Now, the reader may wonder why I stress the truth that the Scriptures are a progressive, unfolding redemptive revelation? I do so because understanding this truth will powerfully impact the way we read the Bible, and the way the church teaches and preaches the Scriptures. Quite frankly, many Christians today use the Bible in either a sentimental or a moralistic manner, and a great deal of preaching and Bible teaching today can be classified as either sentimental or moralistic. For example, many believers will view the Bible as a resource (THE resource) for personal inspiration. To them the Bible is basically treated as a Divinely-inspired version of “Chicken Soup for the Soul.” It is their resource for personal inspiration and positive thinking. However, if we approach the Bible in this manner (as if it were a therapeutic resource for positive thinking, like much of the literature in the “self help” section of a bookstore), then we will inevitably misunderstand, misinterpret, and twist the true meaning and intent of Scripture in a pharisaical direction. Another example is the prevalence of what I call “life principle preaching.” This kind of moralistic preaching predominates in conservative churches, just as moralistic “social justice” preaching predominates the pulpits of liberal churches. Life principle preaching is searching the Bible for “practical” life principles to help listeners “live their best life now.” Such sermons often address issues like marriage, finances, meaning and purpose in life, etc. Now, certainly the Bible touches upon these things, and God’s Word is indeed eminently “practical” in terms of giving us Divine direction (i.e., the duty God requires of man). However, the Bible is not primarily a Divinely-inspired resource of “life principles.” Rather, the Bible is primarily a book of redemptive history, revealing the mighty works of God to redeem and rescue His people, culminating in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. A so-called “sermon” that does not center upon Jesus Christ (either directly or indirectly) is not really a sermon at all; it is merely a moralistic pep-talk, rather than an authoritative proclamation of the Word, and those whose preaching involves an emphasis on “life principles” are guilty of starving their congregants of the riches of the redemptive Word.
The Bible teaches us what we are to believe about God, and what duty God requires of us. It teaches us these things in the context of an unfolding drama of redemptive history which points to and climaxes in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. As we read the Bible let us understand the kind of book we are dealing with. And as we listen to sermons, let us expect that those who preach the Word to us center their preaching upon the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.