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Your best life now?
There’s a pervading fallacy in Christendom that’s been left to fester for far too many years. I believe, among other issues, this is one of the chief problems that plague Christians. I’m speaking, of course, on how we read our Bibles. You’d think this privilege of God’s beloved to read their Lord’s words would garner more attention and would be the supreme aspect one learns growing up. But it’s not, and, therefore, generations of redeemed believers have grown up, and are now functioning adults, but don’t know how to read their Bibles. This isn’t a diatribe against illiteracy, but against the fallacy of narcigesis, that is, reading yourself into every text of Scripture.
This is a grave issue, one that should be given the prominence it deserves. As the holy hoodlums of God, made righteous by grace through faith, our only foundation is the Lord Jesus Christ. And we’re made aware of all that he is and all that he’s done through his Word: the Bible. Too often, though, Scripture is neglected and rejected as fallacious, when so often it’s been proven, over and over again, to be accurate, trustworthy, and infallible. Christian reader, don’t neglect the importance of God’s Word in your life. It must hold a place of supremacy and direction and excellence for every endeavor you engage in.
But how does one read their Bible properly? This is an important question, one that can change the entire outlook one has on their “walk with God” as a whole. Believe it or not, if you want to find out how to read your Bible properly, the way God intended, the way Jesus delineated, go no further than Luke 24. Really? Yes, believe it or not, this portion of scripture teaches the beloved of God how read his Word, and read it rightly.
Missing the point completely.
“But,” you might say, “I’m a Christian, of course I know how to read my Bible!” Well, do you? Because, as we’ll see, there’s two other Christ-followers who thought they had it all figured out too. In Luke 24, we come to the scene where two of Jesus’s followers were walking on a road to the city of Emmaus. “That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened.” (Lk 24:13–14) What “had happened”? Well, it’s been three days since the crucifixion and death of Christ (Lk 24:21), and these followers, who were not part of Jesus’s initial group of disciples (Lk 24:18), are trying to figure out what had just happened. Why had Jesus come? Why had he died? What’s going on?
“While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?’ And they stood still, looking sad.” (Lk 24:15–17) Jesus himself suddenly appears in the midst of them, and inquires of them, “You guys look really sad; what’s got you so down?” And these guys are astonished! “Where have you been for the past three days? Have you been living under a rock? Don’t you know?” Just look at these disciples’ reaction:
And he said to them, “What things?” And they said to him, “Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. Moreover, some women of our company amazed us. They were at the tomb early in the morning, and when they did not find his body, they came back saying that they had even seen a vision of angels, who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but him they did not see.” (Lk 24:19–24)
You see, these guys were banking on Jesus to the be the one who was to come and overthrow Rome and restore Israel to its former glory. To raise their nation back to its height of political and militarial dominance and supremacy. They ascribed to the “Zealot” tradition that the prophesied Messiah was a coming conqueror with the mission to lead a massive coup d’état on the Roman government. So, when Christ died, their hopes died as well. But their hopes were too low, too small.
Look at Jesus’s response: “And he said to them, ‘O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?’ And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” (Lk 24:25–27) Jesus calls them fools: “Haven’t you been reading your Bibles?” he asks, “Don’t you understand that this is precisely what was prophesied and predicted of the Messiah throughout all the Old Testament?” Their view of God was too low.
It’s here that Jesus reveals a startling truth, one we often forget: that he is the focal point of the Bible! All the pages of Scripture point to him! They tell one story and point to one figure: the Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God. These disciples on the road to Emmaus were interpreting their Bibles wrongly, “narcigistically,” as if it were all about them, as if they were the center and crux of the story. And so often, we’re guilty of the same.
A good snapshot of our culture is what we’re reading, for instance, Sports Illustrated, Fifty Shades of Grey, Game of Thrones, etc. Actually, you could say, a good representation of our society is what we’re not reading, that is, the Bible. The three most popular or best-selling genres amongst publishers are children’s literature, romance, and self-help (or inspiration and advice). And it’s that last one that’s most telling because mankind inherently knows that something’s wrong, something’s missing, but they wrongly assume that to fix the world, they need to “fix” themselves. They’re caught in the trap of “your best life now” and “become a better you” — that if we can only fashion a “better” version of us, a wealthier version of us, a more successful version of us, a version of us with a better body, or bigger house, or a nicer car, that they can “achieve” happiness, and, therefore, find peace. “Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” right? But the truth is, these pursuits are nothing more than really crummy “God-replacements.” They’ll only end up leaving you emptier and more dissatisfied than before. Mankind doesn’t realize that “this infinite void [that void, or chasm, or hole, and longing for “something more”] can never be filled by any but an infinite and immutable object” — that is to say, only by God himself.1 Nothing else will work!
More depressing, though, is that this philosophy has crept into the church and infected the way we live and talk and act and think. We’ve begun to read our Bibles in the same horrible manner, as if it’s nothing more than God’s “divine self-help manual” for Christian living. We read God’s Word as if it contains some “secret” or “code” for “becoming a better you” or “having your best life now.” The startling reality is that we can read the Bible and miss the entire point of it completely. We can read the Bible, cover to cover, memorize the verses, and know the doctrine, and simultaneously miss the whole point of the Bible. It’s possible to read the stories and miss the story. To read the Bible as if it’s primarily about you and what you need to do, makes you lose sight of the forest for the trees. In so doing, you’ve failed to see the big picture of Scripture! To read the Bible as if it’s fundamentally about you is to fundamentally miss the entire point of the Bible!
What the Bible isn’t.
The Bible isn’t a “recipe book” for “Christian living.” You can’t just mix the “ingredients” of Scripture and hope to become a resilient saint of God. Unless we go to the Bible to see Jesus and his work for us, even our Bible reading can become about us and our improvement. We become intensely “narcigistic” when we deem that God’s revealed Word is all about our betterment. In actuality, it’s a “revelation book of Jesus who is the answer to our un-Christian living.”2 The Bible isn’t just a list of rules and regulations for us to adhere to. To read the God’s Word as if it’s a list of rules and expectations that must be kept in order to consider yourself a Christian is only setting yourself up for total failure. You can never live up to the expectations of God! (Mt 5:48) Jesus was our perfect example; our goal is to imitate him, but to base success or failure by exemplifying Christ will only lead to spiritual fatigue. The rules are there for a purpose, namely, to show us our desperation, our innate need of salvation! God’s Story is the story of divine redemption and deliverance. To pursue God we must first let go of our performance, drop our egos, let go of our constant striving, and rest in Jesus’s performance for us.
The Bible isn’t just good advice. The Bible is the Good News (Lk 24:44–47) — the best news, as it reveals the very heart of what Jesus came to do, which is: to die on the cross, to rise again, to call people to repentance, and to forgive sins. The Bible, from beginning to end, tells of how God fulfills his plan of redeeming grace and salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ. (Jn 5:38–39) “The Bible is the portrait of Jesus”3 — it shows us who Jesus is! The Bible isn’t about you.
The Bible isn’t a list of heroes or a catalog of the “best” Christians that we should all try and emulate. The plotline of the Bible is Jesus-centered, and he alone is the Hero! (Heb 12:1-2) The Bible isn’t about your “best life now!” The Bible is all about Jesus. The whole Bible is about Jesus, the God-sent Rescuer: the Old Testament predicts Jesus and the New Testaments presents him. “Jesus claimed ‘all the prophets’ as his witnesses,” comments Alexander Maclaren. “He teaches us to find the highest purpose of the Old Testament in its preparation for himself, and to look for foreshadowings of his Death and Resurrection there.”4
The big picture of Scripture.
All of Scripture, every page, points towards Jesus. It’s about the Redeemer, not the redeemed. Everything in the Old Testament points to Jesus: the stories and prophecies and ordinances and victories and failures are but shadows and echoes of the true and better King, Sacrifice, and Savior yet to come. Jesus is the climax of every theme in the Bible . . . He’s the promised Seed. (Gn 3:15) He’s the brazen serpent. (Num 21:9; Jn 3:14–15) He’s the greater Prophet. (Dt 18:15) He’s “God with us.” (Is 7:14) He’s the promised heir of David and the ruler of Israel. (Mic 5:2) He’s everywhere in your Bible! And, as Tim Keller so eloquently points out, he’s the true and better version of every character in the Bible.
Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is imputed to us. Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood now that cries out, not for our condemnation, but for acquittal . . . Jesus is the true and better Isaac who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was truly sacrificed for us . . . Jesus is the true and better Joseph who is at the right hand of the king, forgives those who betrayed and sold him and uses his new power to save them . . . Jesus is the true and better David whose victory becomes his people’s victory, though they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves . . . Jesus is the real Rock of Moses, the real Passover Lamb, innocent, perfect, helpless, slain so the angel of death will pass over us. He’s the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the true lamb, the true light, [the true vine,] the true bread. The Bible’s not about you — it’s about him.
Consequently, every subject of every sermon should be Jesus. As Charles Spurgeon says, “When I cease to preach salvation by faith in Jesus, put me into a lunatic asylum, for you may be sure that my mind is gone.”5 Or, furthermore, where Spurgeon similarly declares: “The motto of all true servants of God must be, ‘We preach Christ and him crucified.’ A sermon without Christ in it is like a loaf of bread without any flour in it! No Christ in your sermon, sir? Then go home, and never preach again until you have something worth preaching!” The “Big Picture” of Scripture is that God loved you when you were his enemy (Rom 5:8), so much so that he sent his only-begotten Son to take our sin and die for us, the truest display of love in the world. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (Jn 15:13) The Bible is a story of grace, an intricate retelling of God’s perfect redemption plan and his persevering love for his people.
I’ll leave you with one last quote, a profound one from a profound theology book by children’s author, Sally Lloyd-Jones. This is from the introduction:
Now, some people think the Bible is a book of rules, telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. The Bible certainly does have some rules in it. They show you how life works best. But the Bible isn’t mainly about you and what you should be doing. It’s about God and what he has done. Other people think the Bible is a book of heroes, showing you people you should copy. The Bible does have some heroes in it, but . . . most of the people in the Bible aren’t heroes at all. They make some big mistakes (sometimes on purpose) . . . No, the Bible isn’t a book of rules or a book of heroes. The Bible is most of all a Story . . . The Story of how God loves his children and comes to rescue them. It takes the whole Bible to tell this Story. And at the center of the Story, there is [Jesus]. Every Story in the Bible whispers his name. He is like the missing piece in a puzzle — the piece that makes all other pieces fit together; and suddenly you can see a beautiful picture.6
Blaise Pascal, Thoughts, translated by W. F. Trotter (New York: P.F. Collier & Son, 1910), 219.
Tullian Tchividjian, One Way Love: Inexhaustible Grace for an Exhausted World (Colorado Springs, CO: David C Cook, 2013), 31.
John Stott, Understanding the Bible (Valley Forge, PA: Scripture Union, 2011), vii.
Alexander Maclaren, The Gospel According to St. Luke: Chapters XIII to XXIV (New York: A. C. Armstrong & Son, 1909), 340.
Charles Spurgeon, The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit: Sermons Preached and Revised During the Year 1880, Vol. 26 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1881), 391.
Sally Lloyd-Jones, The Story of God’s Love for You (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2015), 2–3.