This guide is designed for Sunday school teachers, home Bible study leaders, and the Christian who is trying to be faithful to read and apply the Bible on a consistent basis. Though I am a seminary professor and a pastor, this article is not written for an academic or technical audience and it seeks to avoid all technical vocabulary. My goal is for you to gain a Jesus-centered, gospel-focused mentality while reading the Scripture. Every Christian is called to read, interpret, and apply the Bible to honor and glorify Jesus Christ. I hope that many find this a helpful tool to that glorious end, and if so, they use it to help others as well.
Find the Bad Guy—You
One of the problems many people have in rightly interpreting and applying the Bible is that they immediately attempt to identify with the hero in the text and not the bad guys. We should personally identify with the bad guys in the text. Simply coming to the text and asking, “How am I like the people in the text who are doing the wrong thing” is transformative and beneficial in gaining a gospel perspective in understanding the text. This approach helps us to remember that the Bible is not a book of rules or a manual on morality; it is a story of God’s grace to sinners, and ultimately, the only perfect hero of the story is Jesus.
- Who is this text saying is out of order with the purposes of God?
- In what ways am I prone to be out of order with the purposes of God in a similar manner?
- What is this text saying about what must be done, or who we must be, to abide in the purposes of God, and how do I fail to do what it says?
Find the Heroic—Sinner
In most biblical texts we can identify a heroic person or a heroic action that points to Jesus, but we must also notice that none are just like Christ, the ultimate hero. Just as we personally identify with the bad guys in the text, we should identify the heroic action in the text with Jesus. Who in the text is walking in line with the purposes of God and brings him glory? It is important to remember though, as we seek to understand Scripture, the person or people displaying the heroic actions are also sinners who also need the ultimate hero and savior Jesus. As Paul urges, we want our conduct to be in step with the truth of the gospel (Gal 2:14), but we must never think our conduct can take the place of the gospel. One of the glorious things about Scripture is the way it reveals the flaws of key figures in redemptive history. The temporal saviors and heroes in the biblical narrative all need the ultimate Savior and Hero in order to be adopted into God’s family, forgiven, and saved from the penalty of their sins.
- What heroic person or heroic action is walking in line with the gospel in this text, and how does he or she (or the action) remind me of Jesus?
- What are the flaws of the heroic person or action in the text that remind me that everyone needs Jesus and that only he can walk perfectly in line with the purposes of God?
Find the Hero—Jesus
We must also identify how Jesus is the ultimate hero of the text. Jesus is the only one who fully obeyed every Scripture and walked perfectly in line with the gospel. Jesus taught that all of the Scriptures were about him, his kingdom, and his gift of salvation (Luke 24:25-45). He said, “you search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me” (John 5:39) and “for if you believed Moses, you would believe me; for he wrote of me” (John 5:46). The apostles follow the teaching of Jesus and interpret every passage in the Bible with him as the hero of the text. The entire story of the Bible centers on him, points toward him, and is summed up in him (Eph 1:10). Thus, we should want to know what the text tells us about Jesus and what he has done for us that we could not do for ourselves.
- What is the relation of this text to the character and work of Christ?
- What does Jesus perfectly do or fulfill in this text that we could not do for ourselves?
- How does Jesus resolve the redemptive theme of this text?
- How does Jesus complete the story of this text?
- How will Jesus’s return complete the story of the text?
How Can I Obey in Christ?—Faith
We must seek to know how, through Christ, we can walk in line with the gospel and render the obedience of faith? No obedience apart from faith is true obedience, and only walking in line with the truth of the gospel is the obedience of faith (Rom 1:5, 16:26). Not only are we declared righteous by faith alone (justification), but growing in likeness to Christ is also by faith alone (sanctification). Thus, what every person needs from Scripture, believer and unbeliever, is the gospel. 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. Paul tells us, “all the promises of God find their Yes in him” (2 Cor 1:20). We want to understand from the text how we can walk in line with the gospel through Christ.
- Why did Jesus have to be crucified and resurrected for this text to bring me joy?
- How can I conduct my life in line with the gospel and render the obedience of faith?
- How can I apply my life to the gospel truth of this text?
Over the next few days, we will post some examples on how to read the Bible properly (with Jesus as the Hero) and how to read the Bible improperly (with us as the hero).