We live in a culture of sound-bytes and tweets, where everyone seems to want the TL;DR version of everything.
But when everyone wants their information in the form of a thumbnail sketch–it’s very easy for important information to be lost, and reality distorted.
Such is the case with defining the Bible. It’s popular to hear the Bible defined by an acronym: BASIC INSTRUCTIONS BEFORE LEAVING EARTH.
That sounds more like the title of a training manual for astronauts, than what the Bible declares itself to be: the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 3:15 CSB).
Indeed, if you were to pare down the Bible to nothing but instructions, it would probably be a tenth of its size–perhaps even less–but you’d have no context for the instructions.
But worse than that–you’d have no Gospel. After all, the Gospel of Christ is good news to be believed, not an instruction to perform. Gospel means good news, not good advice.
In other words–if the Bible were really only basic instructions before leaving earth, it would not be able to make you wise for salvation through Jesus Christ. Which is the very thing God has given us the scriptures for. Or at least the main thing.
After all, what did Christ Himself say? You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me (John 5:39 CSB).
Likewise, after His death and resurrection, what did Christ tell His disciples? Everything written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets, and the Psalms must be fulfilled. After Jesus explained that every page of the Bible is meant to point us to Him, Luke says: Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures (Luke 24:44-45 CSB).
You can only even begin to have your mind opened to the Bible once you realize it’s all meant to point us to Christ.
Scripture always points us to Christ, who is for believers wisdom from God for us—our righteousness, sanctification, and redemption (1 Cor. 1:30 CSB). In other words, we are not wise, but Christ is God’s wisdom in the flesh. We are not righteous, but Christ is, and by faith we are clothed in His righteousness. We are not holy, but Christ is, and He has sent His own Holy Spirit to dwell in us. We could never redeem ourselves by following all of God’s “basic instructions”–but Christ has redeemed us by living and dying in our place.
To give basic instructions before leaving earth as a thumbnail sketch of what the Bible is, and what it does, not only distorts reality–it simply is not true. Because it leaves out the most important part. Namely, that: the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people (Titus 2:11 CSB). In other words, God sent Jesus to save us because we have not and cannot follow even the basic instructions. And that salvation is not just for a certain class of people, but for all kinds of people: men and women, young and old, rich and poor, from every nation, race, and language under heaven.
Nevertheless–there are instructions in the Bible. In the very next verse, we are told that the God who saves us by grace, also by His grace instructs us to deny godlessness and worldly lusts and to live in a sensible, righteous, and godly way in the present age (Titus 2:12 CSB).
So, aside from the most vital thing it does–proclaiming the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ–what else does the Bible do?
To this, let’s look to 2 Timothy 3:16-17 for a fuller picture.
All Scripture is inspired by God
This means God breathed it out, by His Holy Spirit. It is God’s own words, and they are alive and active (Hebrews 4:12). Just like God breathed life into a lump of clay, and made the first human a living creature.
The Scriptures are not just dead words on a page. They are living words, with the power to condemn, convict, declare, promise, to kill and make alive, to save, sustain, comfort, and guide. Moreover, because Scripture is God’s own Word, it is not only active and able, but also authoritative.
and is profitable
Everything in scripture is useful. You may come across something in the Bible and say: This is not useful to me. When that happens, I assure you–the problem is not with the Bible. It may not be useful to you right now. Or perhaps you have not understood it. Or perhaps it is saying the exact thing you do not want it to say. But every word is useful and relevant–even if it does not seem useful to you right now.
If you’re going to be a hoarder or pack-rat of anything, may it be the Word of God.
Older translations say for doctrine. Because this isn’t just teaching in the sense of a practical “how-to” lesson. The Bible does not work like WikiHow.
The teaching of the Bible includes very practical, “relevant” everyday life type instruction.
But it also teaches us grand doctrines, like the Trinity; the hypostatic union (the doctrine of how Christ is both fully God and fully man); and salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, to the glory of God alone.
Now, certainly a Christian doesn’t need perfect understanding of all of these doctrines to be saved. Otherwise, no one would be saved, since human understanding is always imperfect. We are saved by our faith in Christ, not our perfect knowledge of doctrine.
However, it is useful to know these doctrines, because where they are neglected, ignored, or twisted, terrible tragedies always follow. Our souls are starved, the Christian life is impoverished, and we are vulnerable to abuse and manipulation by spiritual predators.
Where doctrine is uncertain or distorted; or where ethical instruction is divorced from the person and work of Christ–it always and inevitably results in impoverished faith that cannot sustain the saints, and spiritual abuse by wolves who feed upon the weakened flock of God.
The Law of God–the instructions parts of the Bible–does two things:
- It condemns us all as law-breakers by showing us clearly that we have sinned against God, and cannot by our own efforts overcome this. For no one will be justified in his sight by the works of the law, because the knowledge of sin comes through the law … For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God … For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse, because it is written, Everyone who does not do everything written in the book of the law is cursed … For whoever keeps the entire law, and yet stumbles at one point, is guilty of breaking it all. (Romans 3:20, 23; Galatians 3:10; James 2:10 CSB) The Law of God not only rebukes us for our sin; it also rebukes all of our own efforts to be made right with God by our own merit.
- But for believers in Christ, the Law still rebukes us when we sin. We are no longer under the Law in the sense that the Law can no longer condemn us (Romans 6:14; 8:1). But the Holy Spirit in us does convict us of sin by referring to the Law of God, now written upon our hearts (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
Again, if all the Bible is can be summed up in basic instructions before leaving earth, we are in a world of trouble, because we have not and cannot even follow the basic instructions.
There is only one true correction for sinners–for all of us who have not obeyed even God’s basic instructions. Which again, is everyone.
In faith, we must cast ourselves upon the mercy and grace of God, in Christ Jesus.
- For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus … For we conclude that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law. (Romans 3:23-24, 28 CSB)
- For God loved the world in this way: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (John 3:16-17 CSB)
- But to the one who does not work, but believes on him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited for righteousness. (Romans 4:5 CSB)
Scripture teaches us that the only way to correct our situation is to turn from ourselves, and by faith to turn towards Christ. This turning away from self and towards Christ is called repentance, and it is what believers do every day for the rest of our lives. If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me (Luke 9:23 ESV). It is not only a one-time act of faith, but the daily posture of a Christian.
The Westminster Confession of Faith defines confession as follows:
Repentance unto life is a gospel grace … By it a sinner–seeing and sensing not only the danger but also the filthiness and hatefulness of his sins, because they are contrary to God’s holy nature and his righteous law–turns from all his sins to God in the realization that God promises mercy in Christ to those who repent, and so grieves for and hates his sin that he determines and endeavours to walk with God in all the ways that he commands.Of Repentance Unto Life, 15:1, 2
Repentance is not a one-time course correction. Because our repentance is always imperfect and incomplete. Believers will still sin every day, in word or thought or deed. But again, in scripture, we find this promise that through Christ, God will continue to correct what we cannot:
If we walk in the light as he himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say, “We have no sin,” we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:7-9 CSB)
for training in righteousness
Even though Christians are no longer condemned by God’s Law, and therefore not under the law but under grace (Romans 6:14 CSB), God Law–His instructions–still orders our lives.
How do sinners know what righteousness is without the Law of God to show us?
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40 ESV)
The Law of God is summed up in these two great commandments; made explicit in the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17; Deuteronomy 5:6-21); applied practically in the case laws of the Torah; preached by the Prophets; and confirmed by Christ and His Apostles. The Law is the believer’s instruction in righteousness.
The Psalms, the Proverbs, the other Wisdom books (like Job and Ecclesiastes), and the narratives of scripture also instruct us in righteousness, by helping us think rightly about God’s Law; how to use God’s Law lawfully in a way that conforms to the Gospel (1 Timothy 1:8-11); and learn by example from those before us who either ignored God’s instructions, or strove by faith (albeit imperfectly) to obey them (1 Corinthians 10:6; Hebrews 11).
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says: whatever you want others to do for you, do also the same for them, for this is the Law and the Prophets (Matthew 7:12 CSB). He did not say, Do this instead of the Law and the Prophets. Rather, the Law teaches us to love our neighbor as ourself. Thus, the Law of God is our training in righteousness (see also Psalm 119:45; Romans 13:8-10; Galatians 5:13-14; 6:2; James 1:22-25; 2:8).
But for those who believe in Christ, who no longer fear the Law’s condemnation, the Law is not on tablets of stone, shouting instructions, and threatening wrath when we fail.
Rather–the Law of God is now engraved upon the very depths of our being by the Holy Spirit, who has quickened our hearts with faith in Christ and love for God. In us, the Law is a living, breathing Word that dwells in a living heart of flesh. As the Bible tells us:
I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will place my Spirit within you and cause you to follow my statutes and carefully observe my ordinances. (Ezekiel 36:26-27 CSB)
so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
The Bible gives us both the Law of God–His instructions–and the Gospel of God–His grace to save us, even though we have not followed even His most basic instructions.
Without both the Law and the Gospel, the believer is not complete.
For without the instructions, we would never see that we had completely and irreparably destroyed our lives, our future, and all hope by our sin. The Law makes us aware of our sin (Romans 3:20; 7:7-13), and our need for a Savior. Without the Law, we would not even know we need the Gospel!
But without the Gospel, the Bible would only be God barking instructions at us. And that would be sad indeed.
Sadder still, much of what passes for preaching is really just that–just the instructions. Some preachers believe if they lower the standards of the Law, or if they preach it with a pleasant voice or hide it inside heart-warming stories or dad jokes–like you hide a dog’s medicine inside a treat–that is grace and Gospel.
But no. Such preaching can only produce lopsided, incomplete Christians. Without the Law of God, we are not equipped for every good work. And without the Gospel of Christ, we are not equipped for any good work: For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot (Romans 8:7 ESV).
The Bible is clear that we are not saved by how well we follow the instructions–or as the Bible says it, by good works. But we are saved for good works. God has saved us in Christ so that we might at least begin to make a go at following the instructions, with the assurance that even though we fail–there is always forgiveness in Christ:
For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time for us to do. (Ephesians 2:10 CSB)
The Bible is so much more than basic instructions before leaving earth. Rather–it is God’s living Word, which gives us the Gospel to make us alive, and the Law which instructs us in righteousness. So that God’s people will not be unbalanced, immature, or vulnerable to wolves.
And hey–in the end, it’s not really even about leaving earth. For based on [God’s] promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13 CSB). But that’s a post (or even a series of them) for another day. This one is long enough already.