The goal of learning any biblical truth is that, through Christ, we can walk in line with the gospel and render the obedience of faith (Rom 1:5, 16:26, Gal 2:14). No obedience apart from faith is true obedience: “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom 14:23). Thus, we are not only declared righteous by faith alone (justification), but we grow in likeness to Christ by faith alone (sanctification) as well. What every person needs from Scripture, believer and unbeliever, is the gospel.
Apply Your Life to the Biblical Gospel Story
We cannot claim any of the promises of God apart from Christ and his gospel because there are no promises of God apart from Christ and his gospel. Paul tells us, “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor 1:20). Conducting ones life in line with the gospel is not simply a matter of pulling isolated truths out of the Bible to apply to our lives; but rather it is determining to apply our lives to the biblical gospel story. When someone abstracts a biblical truth from the Bible, attempting to apply that truth to his or her life by fitting it into his or her existing story (personal metanarrative), the biblical truth is always misapplied.
I would suggest a simple change to the way we think and speak about applying the Bible. Think about applying our lives to biblical truth, as it is understood within the biblical story rather than applying an isolated biblical truth to our lives. Biblical application is evoked by a confrontation with the truth of the particular portion of biblical revelation. To understand and apply that particular truth, we must understand that portion of revelation in its immediate and epochal context but also in the context of Christ-centered redemptive history. We must learn to think within the biblical storyline. Without this structural gospel unity, biblical history becomes a chaotic jumble of people and places with little transformative power for our present lives.
Adopted Children Learn Their Family Story
Think about how adopted children adjust and apply the truth of being in a new family. How does familial transformation happen? It does not happen by some bullet-points of new information but by embracing a new identity as beloved children, no longer orphans. The children start learning, thinking, and living a new story. This transformative process involves facts but not isolated facts, children begin living and envisioning the world within the boundaries of their new familial story. Their new story gives them a new identity. Adopted children are not simply being helped by a family—they are family. As they learn their new family story, they place all facts and information within that story. They apply their lives to that story.
There is a world of difference between reading Scripture while rummaging for facts to fix self-defined problems and reading Scripture as adopted children of God who desperately want to know their history and family identity as a child of God. We must not simply attempt to learn information from the Bible but to live within the story of the Bible—the gospel story. Paul asserts the story of “our adoption as sons through Jesus Christ” (Eph 1:5) began before the foundation of the world and extends into eternity (Eph 1). In Christ, all of the stories in biblical redemptive history are our stories. We must long to develop a familial gospel identity and accent and to walk in line with our new family story, finding our identity in Jesus, who is not ashamed to call us brothers (Heb 2:11).
Finding Our Lives in Jesus
The differing ways of approaching biblical application have profound consequences. Isolated moral facts and life principles wrenched out of the totality of the biblical storyline can easily be assimilated into ones own personal metanarratives. When this happens the truth claim presents little challenge to the “wisdom of the world.” Faithful biblical application involves finding our lives in Jesus and applying our lives to his story so that we are transformed by our gospel identity. Thus, obedience is never a matter of performance but is “the obedience of faith” (Rom 1:5, 16:26) as adopted children who have their identities formed by their familial gospel story. As Peter writes, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Pet 2:10).