THE BIBLE ISN’T ABOUT YOU
Written by Doug Ponder on February 23, 2013
If you want to understand the Bible it helps to have some idea of what it is, where it came from, and what it’s all about. This is the second article in four-part series devoted to giving you just that. Click here to the first and the second articles in the series.
Two Ways to Apporach the Bible
Reading the Bible is a lot like Robert Frost’s famous poem, “The Road Not Taken.” Many of us who were required to read it in school, can still quote the opening lines:
“Two roads diverged in a yellow wood / And sorry I could not travel both…”
You know the rest. The traveler can’t take both roads, so he examines them each in turn.
Reading the Bible is, in a way, a great deal like that poem. There are basically two ways of approach the Bible. You can approach the Bible as if it were mainly, fundamentally, or centrally about you and what you must do. Or you can approach the Bible as if it were about Jesus and what God is doing through him.
You can’t travel both roads; you can’t approach the Bible in both ways. So which way will you go? Like the traveler conclusion in the poem, the route you take makes all the difference.
Approaching the Bible Like It’s About You
Suppose you think the Bible is mainly, fundamentally, or centrally about you. When you open its pages, you’ll read the following stories in these tragically confusing ways:
- Creation – God loves you so much that he couldn’t wait for you to arrive. In fact, he was lonely without you. So he created you. Aren’t you special?
- Adam and Eve – Look at what happens when you disobey God. Sin is bad, and you’ll get punished for it. So you’d better shape up and get your life together, or else it will fall apart.
- Abraham and Isaac – When God tells you to do something, regardless of whether or not it makes any sense or is completely contrary to his character, you just have to do it. Even if that means killing your one and only son.
- Gideon’s fleece – If you want to know God’s will for your life, put out a “fleece” to force God’s hand. He prefers real wool, but he’ll settle for substitutes. Just be sure to ask for a “sign” when you pray.
- David and Goliath – Life is tough. It’s filled with all kinds of “giant” problems. But God is tougher. He can help you slay those “giants” if only you’ll trust him and do what he says.
- Jonah and the fish – When God calls you for a purpose, it’s useless to resist. So remember Jonah, and always remember to follow God’s calling on your life. Otherwise you might get swallowed by a fish.
- Jeremiah’s Prophecy – “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord (Jer. 29:11). You don’t know what the future holds, but you know who holds the future. So whatever happens to you, it must be part of God’s wonderful plan to give you a comfortable life.
- Jesus calms the storm – When the “storms” of life settle in on the horizon, don’t forget that Jesus is the calmer of the storm. He’ll calm the storms in your life, too, if you’ll just trust in him.
- Jesus feeds the five thousand – Just look at what happened when a little boy gave Jesus all he had: over five thousand people were fed with just two fish and five loaves of bread! If you’d just give Jesus all that you have, he’ll multiply what you’ve got until the baskets of your life are overflowing with blessings.
- Jesus in the wilderness – See what Jesus did when he was tempted? He quoted Scripture back at the devil! Make sure your devotional life is up to par, so that you can succeed against temptation just like Jesus did.
Recipe for Disaster
You may wonder, “What’s so bad about reading the Bible like that?” Well, something happens when you make yourself the main focus of what you think God is doing in the world—suddenly everything becomes all about you. In each of those familiar stories, God either becomes your sidekick to help you achieve your dreams, or he becomes your butler that lives to make you happy and comfortable. But what if you dreams are selfish? What if your plans are misguided? You see, viewing God as our sidekick or butler ignores our desperate need for correction, confrontation, and redirection—not to mention redemption from sin and death and reconciliation to God himself.
All because reading the Bible like that overlooks the person who the Bible is really about: Jesus. From start to finish, the Bible is trying to get you to see that Jesus, the Messiah, is its main character. Reading the Bible this way makes “all the difference,” as Robert Frost would say.
Why Jesus? The author of the book of Hebrews explains, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being…” (Hebrews 1:1-3). In other words, the Bible reveals who God is and what he’s doing in the world by pointing us to Jesus, who is the exact representation of God’s being. Jesus is the “image of the invisible God” (Col. 1:15). Jesus is the one who has “made God known” (John 1:18).
That’s why the whole Bible is about Jesus, just as Jesus himself tells us: “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; yet it is they who testify about me” John 5:39). And again, “Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (Luke 24:27). The Bible points to Jesus, through whom God made us and reconciles us to himself.
Apporaching the Bible Like It’s About Jesus
So what would happen if we read the same Bible stories listed above as if they were about Jesus and what God is doing through him?
- Creation – In the Trinity, God has in triplicate eternal relationships full of love, joy, and beauty. Out of the overflow of this love, joy, and beauty, God created a world to share himself with. You and I are part of this world, which means we will find real love, real joy, and real beauty in knowing this Trinitarian God.
- Adam and Eve – God created people in his image through whom he would reign over all that he made. Even though they rebelled against God, he didn’t give up on them. God promised to send a son—someone born in the image of God and the likeness of man—to rescue humanity from sin and death. That son has come, and his name was Jesus.
- Abraham and Isaac – God tells Abraham to sacrifice his only son—foreknowing that he wouldn’t—not to teach us a lesson about trusting God blindly. Rather, God was testing Abraham’s faith in the promise that God had already given him: that one of Abraham’s own descendants would bless the entire world. Only, when he finally came, he wasn’t spared like Isaac. Instead, God gave up his only Son in order that we might not taste death.
- Gideon’s fleece – God had already told Gideon to do something, but he didn’t listen. He was weak and afraid. Twice he tested God with a fleece, but God was patient and merciful to him. He used the weak and cowardly Gideon to defeat a mighty enemy. Thus God demonstrates that not even the weakness and failure of people like Gideon could stop his ultimate victory, just the like the one he wins in Jesus. (P.S. If you really want to know what God’s will is, don’t follow Gideon’s example. Just read the Bible. It’s pretty clear about what God calls us to do in light of what he is doing through Jesus.)
- David and Goliath – The Israelites faced an impossible enemy in Goliath. But God raised up his servant David to win a battle they were unwilling and unable to win. The moral of the story isn’t about trusting God for his help. It’s about the need for God to win the battle that we can’t win, the battle against sin and death. God does this in Jesus, who defeats sin and death on our behalf, and we reap the benefits of his gracious victory (just like the Israelities reaped the benefits of David’s victory).
- Jonah and the fish – Jonah was supposed to tell the Gentiles in Nineveh about the Creator God and his plan to set the world right. But Jonah was a self-righteous bigot. So God forced Jonah to go preach to the Gentiles, and the Gentiles repent—unlike Jonah. When the story ends, Jonah is mad at God because he showed mercy to “those sinners.” Are we any better than Jonah? Do we feel that we have earned the mercy of God while others get what they deserve? Jesus is proof that none of us get what we deserve. And thanks to Jesus, we receive grace upon grace (like Jonah and the Ninevites).
- Jeremiah’s Prophecy – When the prophet Jeremiah recorded God’s message, he was speaking to the nation of Israel. “For I know the plans I have for [Israel],” declares the Lord. “Plans for plans for welfare and not for evil, to give [Israel] a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11). The context of these words is the exile, a time of captivity when every good Jew would have been wondering, “How can God’s promises be true if we’re stuck all the way out here?” So Jeremiah reminded them of the God who is powerful and faithful to keep his promises. Jesus is proof of that, by the way. He was the one Jeremiah was speaking about (just keep reading until you get to Jeremiah 31). Jesus was Israel’s “hope” and “future.” (And he’s your future and hope, too—not that college you wanted to get into, or that job you applied for, or that girl you hope to marry.)
- Jesus calms the storm – Jesus didn’t calm the storms to remind you that he can calm the “storms” of your life. He calmed the storms to demonstrate to his unbelieving disciples that he is Lord of heaven and earth (Mark 4:40-41). As Lord of the cosmos, Jesus has a lot bigger plans for your than making sure you have a comfortable life. So every storm won’t be stopped, but you can rest assured that when it’s all said and done, Jesus the Lord will take care of you in the end. (That’s what the cross and resurrection are all about.)
- Jesus feeds the five thousand – Jesus didn’t feed over five thousand people to teach us an object lesson about “giving our all to Jesus.” He fed them because they were hungry, and Jesus cares about the physical needs of others. He “had compassion for them” because they were “helpless” (Matt. 9:36). Jesus was bringing the kingdom of God into the world (Mark 1:14-15; Luke 17:21), which means that his will would be done “on earth as it is in heaven.” The world is broken and out of joint now, but Jesus came to set it straight. His work continues still, through the hands and feet of his body, the church.
- Jesus in the wilderness – Jesus didn’t venture out into the wilderness to teach us about resisting temptation. He could have done that without all the hype. Instead, Jesus faced off with Satan to show that, unlike us, he can resist even the strongest temptations. That’s the point of the story. Where we fail—as Adam did in the garden, as Israel did in the wilderness, as we do every day—Jesus succeeds. He succeeds where we can’t succeed, and he wins the battle against Satan for people who have no hope of doing it for themselves.
Not About You, But Still For You
Do you see a theme emerging here? The Bible isn’t about you; it’s all about Jesus.
Perhaps you might object at this point, saying something like, “Won’t people think the Bible is boring if it’s about someone other than them?” Well, they shouldn’t. Not if they really understand who it’s about.
Think it about it like this. Occasionally my wife tells me a story involving an event from her life before we were married. I treasure the stories not because they’re about me, but because they reveal more to me about the person I love most of all. You see, her stories aren’t about me, but they are for me. It’s the same way with the Bible. The Bible isn’t about you, but it is for you. The point of the Bible is to introduce us to Jesus. He’s your Creator and Redeeming Lord. Read it to meet him, treasure him, trust him, give thanks to him, and obey him. If you read it that way, your life will never be the same.
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.