On Monday, I suggested a five-fold system, a Gospel-Positioning System (GPS), to get you from obscure passages in the Law through the Prophets to Christ and the Gospel. These five-steps are listed again.
2A. Prophets: Judgment
2B: Prophets: Salvation
4: Gospel Response
5: Spirit-Empowered Action
Today, I want to suggest four common errors that plague evangelicals today. Four ways we misread the Scriptures.
1. We skip from 1 to 5. In pursuit of application and life-change, we read a command, a law, even a story, and we immediately move to application. Instead, of asking how the said pericope fits into the flow the Bible (i.e. textual, epochal, and canonical horizons), many of us move straight to activity. This is wrong. It misses the power of the law, the promise of the gospel, and the person of Jesus. In effect, it makes the Bible about us, and no longer about Jesus. The solution? We must move from law through the prophets to Jesus Christ and then to us. Personal application is vitally important but only after we encounter Christ.
2. We are afraid of 2A & 2B. The prophets frighten us. They are strange. They don’t talk normal. They are hard to understand. I get this! I remember reading Isaiah 13-20 one time. As I read the pronouncements against Babylon, Damascus, and Moab, I got upset. Not because God was punishing these sinning nations, but because, “I needed a word from God, and this was not it”–so I thought. I closed the Bible (for that day) upset, because I hadn’t seen how those words related to the rest of the Bible or my life.
If you have had an experience like that with the Prophets, it makes it hard to be a regular reader of that challenging genre. Yet, to neglect the prophets is to neglect the greatest section of the Bible for fueling Christ-centered hope.
Maybe this will help: The prophets get a lot easier if we remember two things. First, they are speaking a word of judgment, based on the law against sinners like us. Their words condemn covenant-breakers, social injustice, and unfaithful worship. They speak to us about our sin.
Second, they are speaking a word of Messianic hope, based on the gospel. They give us glorious images of the Christ who is to come. They offer salvation to sinful people, and the reality that God is going to bring recreate the world. If we remember these two things and tie a rope from the law to the gospel, we can learn to walk thru these strange books.
3. We minimize 3. This may sound strange, to minimize Jesus, but I have heard countless evangelical, Baptist preachers (and you have too) who preach and never mention Him. Instead they list moral instructions from the life of Joseph or Caleb, and at the end say, “Unless you are Christian you cannot do what I just said. So become a Christian.”
Friends, this is Christ-less preaching. It has no power and I can hardly believe that a message without the content of Christ, will bring anyone nearer to our Lord and Savior. In fact, it is disingenuous, to tell anyone to become a Christian after you have spent 40 minutes preaching moral lessons and not telling them about Christ. Yet, this happens all too often.
4. We divorce 1-4 from 5. If we are tempted to skip Jesus, we are more culpable of divorcing the gospel from application. In other words, we read the Bible for application, and we find all kinds of commands that say—Make disciples. Love one another. Be unified. Forgive your enemies. Turn the other cheek.
Yet, those commands have ZERO POWER, in and of themselves. These biblical commands are good, but in Scripture they are always set in relation to gospel promises. To say it another way, imperatives are always grounded in gospel infinitives. Why? Because laws never produce godliness! Grace produces godliness (Titus 2:11-13).
Jesus commands his disciples to be witnesses to all the nations, but he commands them to stay in Jerusalem until the Spirit comes so they will have power to do what he commands. Paul tells us to forgive one another as Christ has forgiven you. The power is in the gospel. Failure to couple commands with Christ’s antecedent work, will lead earnest Christians to live the Christian life in the power of their own strength.
Instead, we must move to application and action, but as we do so, we must continue to walk in faith, loving others out of the love that has been poured into our hearts.
This is my prayer and hope! That as we read Scripture, our minds are not just informed. Rather, our eyes are opened to behold Christ and to become like him. Indeed, Jesus prayed that we would be sanctified by his word (John 17:17), and that comes to fruition when in his word, we see Jesus (2 Cor 3:18).
Open our eyes, Lord to see the wonder of Christ in the pages of Scripture, dss