If you were to ask your average conservative ‘Bible-believing’ Christian what the overall big-picture message of the Bible is you would probably get something similar to this:
- In the beginning God created the universe, mankind included.
- Not long afterward man sinned.
- Sin is bad but God is good – therefore sin separates man from God. Moreover, the wages of is death.
- Jesus Christ died and in so doing took the sin of the world upon himself so that whosoever believes in him shall not die, which is what is rightfully coming to them due to their sin, but they can have eternal life.
Or, to be briefer:
- Man sinned. Sin has consequences, ie death.
- Man can be freed from the consequences of his sin through Christ.
This second version is very much representative of the way the gospel is often preached. With good reason of course, the above is all absolutely true and this is they way in which the gospel was often preached in the New Testament, and since.
Still, I feel that we sometimes miss what might be a slightly more accurate big-picture idea of the message of the Bible. It might run something like this:
- We were created by God to live in a relationship of love and communion with him.
- Through sin we severed this relationship.
- Christ died so that this relationship could be renewed.
- Through Christ we can now live our lives in relationship with the living God.
This second version does not, of course, invalidate the first. In fact, it complements it. I feel it represents a deeper understanding of the message. Sin is not the problem – sin is a consequence of the problem. The problem is the severing of our relationship with God. Sin is only the means through which this occurs. Sin is the wilful severing of ones relationship with God. The forgiveness of sins is not the “good news”, it is the means through which the good news is made possible. The good news is that we can live in true relationship with God once again.
Perhaps sometimes this second version should be the one we preach, centred not on negative aspects such as sin and death, but the positive aspects of love and relationship.
I’m not sure that I’m being entirely coherent about all this. I will post more in the future. But, as an example, consider the parable of the prodigal son. This is often given a simplified explanation as a ‘sin and forgiveness’ story, like so:
- The son sinned by taking his father’s inheritance and not honouring his father.
- Later the father forgave him, even though the son didn’t deserve it.
Now, the parable certainly is about sin and grace, it serves to exemplify the idea of undeserved grace in particular. But consider the terms in which the parable is given. Jesus chose to tell a story about a father and his son – this is a very relational story. Because it is couched in such a relational framework it typifies for me the message of the Bible as a whole. Consider this more detailed outline:
- The father loves the son. They live in relationship together, in the same house.
- The son sins against his father and purposefully severs this relationship.
- Later the son returns asking for forgiveness. It is given, even though undeserved. Because of the Father’s forgiveness the relationship is restored.
- There is great joy and a big party because the Father and son live together in the same house once again, their relationship restored.
I think this way of looking at things has particular relevance for those of us who are Christians. The gospel does not cease being
I will try to refine my ideas on this in order to express myself better in the coming time. Thanks for listening.