In spite of the size and seeming complexity of the Bible, a basic understanding of it can be grasped in a short time. This does not mean you will fully understand the Bible, but at least you will have an overview of its main subject.
God's revelation to us.
The Bible has two messages. One is for Israel, (the Jews) and the other is for the Church, the body of Christ. These messages are not contradictory, but are for different peoples at different times. Attempts to force the two messages into one "gospel" will result in confusion and seeming contradiction.
To whom is the Bible addressed ?
The Bible is all for us -for our leaning -but not all to us. Excepting the letters of the apostle Paul, the entire Bible is addressed to one nation, the descendants of Abraham, through Isaac and Jacob. This people are known as Jews, or Israel. God speaks to Israel in the greater part of the Bible.
The remainder of the Bible, the letters of the apostle Paul, form a parenthesis ( ) where God temporarily turns aside from His chosen people, and calls out His church, a spiritual body of believers who are not related to Israel. They are known as the church, but the Greek name is the ekklesia -the "out called," in keeping with its spiritual character.
The central message of the Bible
The entire Bible, the various books, all of its history, the scrolls written by the prophets and by the disciples of Jesus, the letters of the apostle Paul, all is preparing for one book. That book is Paul's letter to Ephesians. No book ever published, no missive so majestic or so benign, can even begin to approach the sublime truths expressed in Paul's letter to Ephesians. Therein we learn that it is God's intention to have "an administration of the complement of the eras, to head up all in Christ."1 We further learn that this blessing of all God's creation is "for the delight of His will." It is not a grudging matter, but was planned in love, before ever any of creation took form.
Pause and consider for a moment: - What does this tell us about God? What sort of God is being revealed here? Reflect on these two statements - "to head up all in the Christ," and "for the delight of His will."
Elsewhere in this publication we have printed a section from Ephesians. As you read it, imagine you are a believer in Christ, a member of a church in a pagan city in the days of the apostle Paul. Not long ago you had been worshipping and fearing gods made of wood or stone, living in dread of their anger, and seeking to appease their wrath. You wanted to be a better person, but did not have the strength or resolve. Then to you comes this letter from God's apostle ---"Grace to you and peace!" How astonishing! No heathen deity ever uttered such a message with their voiceless lips. No priest ever conveyed such a message.
This is the message from a God Whose very being is love-Who has made a gospel in which He is entreating mankind be reconciled, for He is now at peace with them through the death of His Son. Read these verses from Ephesians again and again. They may seem difficult to understand at first or second reading -but you will very soon become familiar with them, and they will delight your heart. Just look at what they are saying-compare it with the news on the radio or television! Is not this better news? Can you think of anything better ? Is it possible there could be anything better ?
As we progress, we learn that God has justified the believer. That is what is meant by the words 'holy and flawless.' It means He has given us His Own righteousness. Our sins stood between us and our God, but He has removed them, for we could not do so. He has removed every obstacle between us and Himself. This is entirely God's doing, it is not the product of our efforts. God wants our love, and He will allow nothing to come between Himself and those He loves. This is what Paul tells us in verse 4 of this chapter, "we to be holy and flawless in His sight." We urge you to read these verses over and over again, until they become part of your consciousness. These are not our words, they are God's words, and He above all others must be believed. His words bring peace of mind and joy in believing.
What is the rest of the Bible about ?
God's ultimate purpose is that all creation will be reconciled to Himself, and He will be All in all.2 The rest of the Bible is showing the vanity of human endeavour-how humans are not able to live righteously in their own strength. First God makes a simple test, and thereby shows that Adam came short of the glory of God. Next follows an age of conscience, which again shows the failure of humanity. Then God's law is given to Israel -surely this will produce a righteous people? But again the failure of humanity is demonstrated. If perfect conditions could produce harmony with God, then certainly Israel would have produced the necessary conduct. Why then did they fail?
Paul explains what God is doing !
Of all the writers of the Bible, only Paul explains what God is doing, and tells us of the Purpose of God. No other writer mentions it, indeed, it was concealed from them. Paul shows us, in his letter to the Romans, that "God has concluded all in unbelief that He might be merciful to all."3 He surveys all humanity, and comes to the final conclusion that "there is none righteous, no not one." Even the law, though holy and just and good, could not make people righteous, for it was weak through the flesh.4 Though law could point the way to righteousness, it could not give the strength to live righteously. So if righteousness is to come to us, it must come from outside of ourselves -it must come from God, for He alone is righteous. Thus God supplies the great need of humanity, and thus prepares the way for Him to be their All.
The whole course of human history will only show the failure of the flesh and the vanity of human endeavour.
God is known to mankind as the Provider. He is known as the Preserver, but how few know Him as the Reconciler! Our daily needs are always before us -health and strength, food and shelter, comfort and safety. Yet none of these, though essential to our well being, will bring us to find our all in God. If any of these benefits are withheld, it may cause a crisis, and an appeal to God that they will be restored. But when they are restored, how soon we forget, and continue on our way, unmindful of God.
Why reconciliation ?
God will ultimately reconcile all to Himself. When that takes place, then will we come to realise fully His love, His wisdom and His righteousness. The pattern of our lives, though woven in dark as well as light colours, will show that every event, every experience, no matter how disagreeable it may have been, was preparing us for a full realisation of God's love. The religions of mankind fail to make us fit for God's presence and fail to solve the problem of sin, for they can not justify -but God's evangel can ! This is at the very heart of the gospel of which Paul declared he was not ashamed, for it satisfies every need of an estranged and sinful universe, and satisfies every requirement of God's love, righteousness and wisdom.
Only reconciliation can satisfy the heart of God, and reconciliation is only possible when God has removed every trace of sin. There can not be reconciliation without peace, and there can not be peace without righteousness. In the evangel, God has given to us His Own righteousness -for only He is righteous. This comes to us through the death of His Son, Who was given up for our offences and was roused because of our justifying.5
Why Not Cleansing, Pardon or Forgiveness?
Not good enough!
These words belong to a different era, the era of the law. Under law, a person who had transgressed a commandment was required to repent, and to repent before any pardon was granted, for pardon requires a proper state of mind -an attitude which agrees that the law is righteous and that the law breaker is unrighteous and subject to the law's penalties. Forgiveness is a higher form of the word 'pardon.' In the original language it has the same basic meaning, but with added force.
Both these terms fall far short of what God has achieved for the believer in Christ Jesus. If we take an illustration from a law court, we can perhaps reach a better understanding. A prisoner is charged with an offence, and is found guilty. He can either be punished as law requires, or pardoned if there are grounds to grant a pardon. But sometimes a judge will halt a trial because it has become evident that the charge against the prisoner cannot be sustained -the case should never have come to court! In that case the prisoner is justified and freed without a stain on their character ! A lawyer would never seek to get a pardon for an innocent man, for that man is just. A pardoned, or forgiven sinner is not a just person, and would always remain one who had been subject to penalty, but shown mercy.
In justification God makes us fit for His presence by giving to us His own righteousness. This is a final and complete matter, and is His Own action, not the result of any repentance or works on our part. Our life is hid with Christ in God.6 He now sees us in Christ, and in Him we are "Holy and flawless and unimpeachable."7 Take special note of "unimpeachable." So complete is God's justifying that the matter will never come to court !
We have shown that God's purpose is controlling all. We have seen that God has made a gospel which is able for the needs of all mankind. No one is outside the scope of God's gospel. God has made provision for the removal of every trace of sin from the universe -not just the sin itself, but the effects of sin. The broken hearts and broken lives, the estrangement and mistrust -all are the result of coming short of the glory of God.
God is not a disinterested Bystander. He did not intervene to remedy a catastrophe which has occurred beyond His foreknowledge and outwith His wisdom. His ultimate purpose is to bring a reconciled universe back to Himself, in full knowledge and understanding and realisation of His love, wisdom and righteousness.
Is anything better?
Anything better ?
Tell us it then !
1 See Ephesians 1:9,10.
2 See 1 Cor.15:28; Eph.1:10; Col.1:20.
6 Colossians 3:4.
7 Col. 1:22. Rom. 8:29.