July 23, 2012 I started writing about a chapter of the Bible every day. I was about to enter my senior year at the University of Vermont. On October 24, 2015, the mission was complete. 1189 days in a row certainly didn’t make me into a perfect Christian, but there are a few things that stood out to me on the macro level that I want to share with you now from this journey.
- God is at the center of it all.
I think that there is a certain temptation that we often fall into where the chief purpose of the Bible is to be a self-help book. I need a proverb to give me advice. I’m not sure that is quite true. The Bible is a very helpful book, but it doesn’t seem like that is the chief purpose. Rather, it seems to me that the purpose of the Bible is to tell us the story of God. From the beginning of creation to the end of time, we hear about what God has done, is doing and will do. We hear this in the form of narrative, wisdom, poetry, prophecy, biography or parable.
This stood out to me as I looked at the various tags I have applied to each one of my posts every day. The top two are “God” and “Following God.” The Bible was primarily written to tell us about God.
- We need to respond to that knowledge.
If the Bible was written to tell us the story of God from beginning to end, we need to figure out what that means. God has made Himself known to us, but that could ultimately not make a difference in our lives. After all, the Bible could be nothing more than a piece of fiction. If it is that, maybe it has some entertainment value or some interesting thoughts to consider, but it ultimately will not change our worldview.
However, the Bible itself does not really give us that option. It requires that we make a decision. Whether we are looking at Abraham being willing to sacrifice Isaac or Jesus claiming to be the Way, we are not called to complacency. Rather, we need to decide whether we are going to follow God or not.
God is at the center of it all, but it is not enough to simply recognize that He is the protagonist. Rather, the knowledge that we learned about God necessitates a decision about whether or not He is worth following or not. The Bible was written to tell us about God, but some of the things we learn force our hands. Romans 3:23 brings out the problem and John 3:16 emphasizes the solution. We need to act.
- We need to be willing to work.
One of the top tags as I was writing through the Bible turned out to be “Controversy.” I did not break down how many times I used it as a descriptor of in-house debates between Christians or external debates with other religions, but there is plenty of controversy to go around when talking about the story of God.
I mention that in my highlights here because if the Bible is as controversial as I seem to think it is, then we’re going to run into plenty of people who disagree with us. That should not be surprising. However, what that means then is that we need to be prepared to have these discussions. We need to learn why we believe what we believe. 1 Peter 3:15 speaks about having a reason for the hope that we have as Christians.
If there is controversy, then it also means that there are not always easy answers. We all agree on what color the sky is because the answer is easy. The Bible is a little bit more difficult. However, if the Bible also is the story of God and demands that we make a decision about whether or not God is one worth following, then we need to be willing to do this hard work.
I hope that this blog has helped you out as much as it has helped me out. I know that I have learned more about God by doing this, and I hope it has given you something to think about as well. I really appreciate everyone who has read, commented and shared over the years. You are all such an encouragement, and I appreciate the support.
I’m going to be taking a brief hiatus from the blogging world. As some of you know if you read my bio page, I am currently an online student at Houston Baptist University, and this spring I will be working on my Master’s thesis before I graduate in May with my MA in Apologetics. Given the amount of time that I will need to dedicate to reading and writing for that endeavor, while I will probably still write and post on other outlets occasionally, I don’t know that I will have the time to write on the regular basis that running my own website would require. Down the road though, I am sure I will have a new project, but I am still in the idea stage for anything like that.
If you remember nothing else I have ever written, please remember this:
God is the center of the Bible, and God is the center of history. Jesus Christ is the most important man who ever lived, and He is the one and only Savior. By believing in Him, anyone can have eternal life. It takes a decision, and it is easily the most important decision you will ever make. We all have to answer that same question that Pontius Pilate asked, “What shall I do then with Jesus who is called Christ?” What will you do?
Revelation 20 brings us to the ultimate consequence of our belief in God. We have the judgment at the great white throne.
Rev 20:11 And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
Rev 20:12 And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
Every one of us deserves to be judged by our works. That intuitively make sense. There are consequences to actions, and some of those have eternal repercussions. We all deserve eternal separation from God. If God is perfect, then we, as people who are not perfect, would not generally have access to God. After all, how can something imperfect enter into the presence of someone who is perfect?
Jesus Christ did that. Through his sacrifice, we are able to be saved. We’re justified by our faith.
Eph 2:8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
Eph 2:9 Not of works, lest any man should boast.
That is where we see the difference at play here. We are not saved by our own works. In fact, being judged by our works alone leads to disastrous results.
Rev 20:15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.
We need to be written in that book of life. We are saved through faith. It is so important to understand this concept. It is not enough to be a good person because I know many good people, but all of them have done things that are wrong. No one is perfect, and without the gift of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, we are told that works are not enough. We’re also told that we are going to be judged by our works. It is not as if God has changed the criteria from the time that Paul wrote Ephesians. It is impossible to have enough works, then we need something else are we are not going to see heaven. Faith is still what matters.
Revelation 13 brings us to the beast. I know the interpretation of this can certainly vary depending on your eschatological views, but there is something that stands out to me about who the beast does not have control over.
Rev 13:7 And it was given unto him to make war with the saints, and to overcome them: and power was given him over all kindreds, and tongues, and nations.
Rev 13:8 And all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.
Rev 13:9 If any man have an ear, let him hear.
Rev 13:10 He that leadeth into captivity shall go into captivity: he that killeth with the sword must be killed with the sword. Here is the patience and the faith of the saints.
The world is going to fall in love with the beast, but those were following the Lamb will not be following this beast. In other words, it is not possible to be committed to two masters here. If you are following the beast, that is where you are putting your hope. If you are following Jesus Christ, your hope is in a different place.
Spoiler alert. God wins. As we recognize that there is this ultimate divide between those who are following what is right and those who are following what is wrong, think ahead to the end of the story even though we had not read it yet together. God is going to ultimately triumph and it is not going to end so well for the beast.
Therefore, we are faced with a choice. If what the Bible says is true, it should be rather obvious what side we want to be on. Don’t we want to be on the one that leads to eternal joy rather than the one that leads to destruction? It seems rather clear to me.
Trust is difficult for so many people. They are so many instances of betrayal all around us. Look at the recent news about Ashley Madison. Clearly, this type of violation brings about a lack of trust in everyone and everything. There are very few oaths greater than the marriage vows, so when a man or woman violates that agreement, trust undoubtedly becomes more difficult.
Hebrews 6 talks about trust, but it talks about our trust in God, and it demonstrates how different that type of relationship is.
Heb 6:18 That by two immutable things, in which it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strong consolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope set before us:
Heb 6:19 Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and stedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil;
Heb 6:20 Whither the forerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for ever after the order of Melchisedec.
God cannot lie, and because He is our hope, we can have unmeasured confidence. People very well might let us down from time to time. That is natural with imperfect people. However, when you think about God giving us this promise that He will not break, that is truly something amazing.
This promise is not insignificant either. It promises a hope of life after death. It promises an eternity in the presence of our perfect Lord and Savior. It promises eternal joy and peace. This is not something to disregard. It is much more important than any other promise that you or I could make here on earth.
Clearly, as Christians, we ought to follow through on our promises. It is wrong not to. However, even with the best of intentions, sometimes we are not able to do what we said, and there are plenty of times where our intentions are not perfect. However, think about God and His promises. They will not fail, and they sound pretty amazing.
Galatians 2 gives us a look into an early church debate between Peter and Paul. After recounting what went down between them as early church leaders, Paul has this to say.
Gal 2:20 I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.
Gal 2:21 I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain.
If we can get to heaven in some other way apart from Jesus Christ, then all that Jesus did was in vain. After all, what would be the point? The entire purpose is that Jesus was the only one who could be the perfect sacrifice. He was the only one who could bridge the gap between God and humanity that had been broken by our own decisions.
As a result, Paul made the decision to be crucified with Christ. He was going to live by faith in Jesus who loved Him first. Paul has a good perspective on what a valuable gift he had been given. He understood that he was going to follow Jesus because Jesus was the only way, and He was the answer.
I think this should mean a lot to us as well. It is important that Jesus is the only way. It is a fact about the world. If there was a way to work our way to heaven, then Jesus would not nearly be as significant. I don’t want to reduce Jesus to economics by any means, but if you think about the value of resources, scarce resources are more valuable. If Jesus is the only way to God, then He is by default the most valuable resource in the universe. If there are many ways, then He still might have some value, but it would be greatly reduced because He would not have that exclusivity.
Of course, this brings up the question. Can we indeed find righteousness in the law? I think our own consciences can testify that we are not righteous on our own. If it seems to be the case that we cannot find righteousness in the law, then there was a reason for Jesus coming to earth. He was reconciling what we were not able to reconcile on our own.
It is hard for us to comprehend the type of sacrifice that it was for Jesus Christ to come to earth and be crucified on the cross. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul explains that Jesus was experiencing a lot more than the excruciating physical pain that accompanied his torturous death.
2Co 5:20 Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ’s stead, be ye reconciled to God.
2Co 5:21 For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.
Jesus never experienced sin on earth until this point. He was the perfect human, and He made no mistakes, but He was made to be sin. That darkness went with Him to the grave, but when Jesus rose again, He proved that He was able to do what no one else could. He triumphed over sin, and because of that victory, we are able to become righteous through Him.
It doesn’t mean that we are perfect right now. It should be relatively obvious that we still sin here on earth even after we put our faith in Jesus Christ. However, Jesus paid the price for all of that. It is really remarkable. All that debt is paid for, and we get the righteousness of God as a result.
I think it is important to reflect about the amazingness of this. Jesus did not need to die. God had have said that humans made their own decisions, and they messed up. However, the mercy of God shines through. Because God loves us, He sent Jesus Christ to pay the penalty that we would never be able to pay. He didn’t have to, but He did it out of love.
Christians seem to have one of two reactions to the free gift of salvation that we have received from God. One reaction is to be incredibly grateful for what God has done. Of course, that is the preferable one. It is good and right for those of us who have put our faith and trust in Jesus Christ to appreciate everything that he has done for us.
The other option is what Paul speaks against at the end of 1 Corinthians 6.
1Co 6:19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?
1Co 6:20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
We forget that we have been bought with a price. We forget that we need to be thankful. We take salvation for granted, and we almost take our motto of “you get what you pay for” literally. We think that because salvation is free, it is cheap. That could not be more wrong. It is free, but it is also infinitely valuable.
What does that mean for us? I think it certainly calls us to think about our own behavior. Do we try to glorify God in all areas of our lives? Do we just go to church on Sunday morning but then follow a different master the rest of the week? I hope not, but I do think all of us are guilty of that on some level. We all create idols that we follow occasionally.
Maybe that should be our goal. We should try to remember where our priorities should lie. If we make that our target, we can develop the attitude of gratefulness that Paul seems to be encouraging in this passage.
The other night I was at a Bible study, and we were talking about the strong words that Paul uses to address those who cause division among the church in Titus. Today in Romans 16 there is another example of Paul stressing the problems of division among Christians.
Rom 16:17 Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
Rom 16:18 For they that are such serve not our Lord Jesus Christ, but their own belly; and by good words and fair speeches deceive the hearts of the simple.
First of all, an objection. Does this mean that Christians need to be blind followers? Absolutely not. We should avoid people who cause division, but we should also avoid people who teach the Bible incorrectly to serve their own purposes. In situations like that, then it seems to be the case that a division or parting of the ways is justified.
However, we have thousands of churches all over this country, and there are some legitimate differences between denominations which are fine. After all, we don’t have to agree on everything, but in our disagreement, we do not want a division. We ought to still recognize that we are family and are one day going to participate in the largest worship service together whether or not we do that here on earth. For example, I am certainly not a Methodist, but I fully intend to be hanging out with plenty of Methodists for all of eternity. Do we agree on all issues here on earth? Probably not. However, are there plenty of Methodists who have called upon the Lord for their salvation? Absolutely.
Also, we don’t want division within any particular church body. Again, we might not agree on everything. However, we don’t want that to become a division that causes discord among the family of God. The Bible never tells us that we cannot have differences of opinion (except on certain spiritual truths such as the resurrection and deity of Jesus Christ among others). Nevertheless, it does tell us that we should not cause division. It might seem like a subtle difference, but when Paul brings it up multiple times to multiple churches or individuals, perhaps it would be wise for us to take notice.
Romans 8 starts to tell us all about the good news for those who believe in Jesus Christ. However, one thing stood out to me in particular.
Rom 8:17 And if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we suffer with him, that we may be also glorified together.
Rom 8:18 For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us.
I know that a lot of people experience a lot of bad things that happen in the world. Life is by no means easy for anyone, but for some people, it is particularly difficult. Verse 18 ought to be quite a bit of comfort. It certainly does not deny that difficult times exist. Paul himself had some type of physical issue that he had to deal with as well. Everywhere he went, he was persecuted, and he was ultimately killed for his faith. However, all of those sufferings put together and not even capable of being compared to the eventual glory that we are going to experience as children of God in heaven.
It is an interesting indicator that points to the existence of God. It is obvious that the quality of good is on a continuum. Some things are better than other things. Therefore, if there is a continuum, then there has to be the top of that continuum. In this case, the ultimate good is what we call God. God obviously has other attributes as well, but He is the ultimate good.
Thinking about this all together then in kind of a mathematical way, if God is infinitely good and our time in His presence will similarly be infinitely good, then any amount of suffering that we have in our lives were still mean that the net outcome is going to be infinitely good.
It can be hard for us in the midst of our suffering to recognize that in the long run, for those who trust in God, all of the good that we will experience will simply overwhelm all that we have experienced so far.
Romans 5 brings us to one of the most countercultural thoughts in the entire Bible.
Rom 5:8 But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Rom 5:9 Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.
We live in a world where the overarching model seems to be that you get what you pay for. That does make sense on some level. After all, think about job performance. You go to the office, you do your job and you get paid. If you don’t do your job, you don’t get paid. It is pretty simple. Every cause has an effect. The effect follows logically from the cause that comes before it.
As people who have violated the law of God, we don’t deserve salvation. If it is true that all have sinned, and it seems to be pretty obvious that every person in the world has done something wrong, then we have fallen short of the glory of God. If we have fallen short of that target, then what we deserve is death. That is the effect that necessarily follows the cause. It is the logical consequence. If we are separated from God, then we will remain separated from God for eternity.
However, that gap was bridged. Jesus Christ died for us. Now, we’re justified through Him, and we’re going to be saved because of Him. It is nothing of our own, but it is the power of Christ who is able to conquer the grave. We can now freely receive that gift.
The old cause and effect was modified. There are still two possible effects. We’re still fallen human beings. That has not changed. However, we don’t need to have the necessary effect of eternal separation from God. We now had the option to accept this gift from God. There is an option there that we would never be able to get on our own.
It is really remarkable. Something else was put into the system. There is a higher path to be taken. It goes against what we seem to see in the world normally, but it shows how amazing our God truly is.