My understanding of the essence and direction of biblical christianity is a constantly evolving, challenging and shaping experience. This has been especially true in the past year and a half as I have sought to understand the mind and intention of Paul as he wrote his letter to the Ephesians in about 62 A.D.
One of the biggest reasons that I am personally drawn to the christian message is because of its uniqueness, and its challenging nature. As I push harder to understand what biblical christianity is all about, I see more and more how the message that it presents has some key characteristics and aims that cause it to stand out profoundly from other religions and ‘truths’ that fill this world.
One such characteristic is something that I like to call ‘gospel identity’.
Very often christians (and those interested in christianity) come to the Bible as a book of answers to all the various problems of life. We approach it as a book that will offer us specific solutions to the specific challenges of life that we face, thereby making life easier and better.
Many christians go even further than this and whittle the Biblical message down to a moralistic code that one must live up to in order to have a ‘good life’. In other words, many christians (or those interested in Christianity) seek to see how the message of the Bible does or does not fit their life.
But if we take a step back and take a big picture look at the whole Bible we could see that the Bible itself does not present as a book of questions and answers, nor does it seek to accomplish that one specific goal alone. If that was the goal, the author(s) could have aimed more at writing a book comprising of topics and subtopics which systematically address the issues of our lives. But this is not at all what we see in this aged and powerful book.
Instead, the Bible is a book that presents to us the dramatic story of the work of God with humankind. It presents to us stories, conflicts, people, poetry, prophesy, letters and so on. It incorporates many details that we might and might not like, or have a hard time agreeing with, but if one takes a simple step back and looks at the big picture, it becomes clearly that there is more to this book that a jumbled work of different people at different time periods.
The Bible clearly presents a powerful metanarrative; it shows us one, clear, overarching story of creation, fall and redemption, or what the Bible itself calls the gospel. Thus, the goal the Bible is to present a colorful and rich picture of the story of God’s work with humanity, and in that, to demonstrate his identity and nature. Where then do we come in?
Our goal as we approach this book, should not be to just get a few quick fix instructions for life. Rather, it is to be to understand the story of the Gospel of Christ and his supremacy, and to see what this gospel has to say about how we fit into God’s story. Before we can ever ask about the specific solutions that we need to incorporate, we need to let this book speak about its central purpose.
It is a sad fact that many..MANY christians (or those interested in christianity) miss this concept. By approaching the Bible as a book that will help improve their life, they cripple their own ability to see the foundational, central message, and thus cripple their ability to understand the christian life and think correctly about it. We’ve all heard that age old observation that the answers that you get are greatly shaped by the questions you ask.
It is only after the identity of the gospel is instilled in the mind of a christian can they truly understand what the Bible seeks to say to them, and they are to live life and react to the challenges they face. Any other approach will miss the central message of the Book, and therefore skew any christians ability to live the christian life, or even understand what it is.