The Bible is not a book designed for reading at arm's length, in a disinterested kind of way. It is a book with a personal message and a personal challenge. Not only does it tell of God's plan through the ages and His grand design for the future, it also asks its readers to commit to that future and to prepare for it by the way they live right now. This page explores some of the aspects of this personal challenge the Bible makes.
The Bible is not a book than can easily be read in a detached or disinterested way. For it is not merely written about other people, an ill-defined ‘them’ who lived so long ago in a land so far away that they need be of no personal concern. If it is read honestly and openly the Bible refuses to be read in that kind of way. It draws its readers in, for it is a work with a purpose – designed to involve and engage its readers, challenging them to think about their own spiritual lives and relationship with God. The Bible contains both earnest appeal from God to its readers, and also direct challenge. It affronts us by cutting against the way we might normally like to think about ourselves, but in doing so it shows us a better way of living – and a wonderful message of hope for the future.
The Bible presents God’s explanation of Himself and the world He has made. It presents His plan for the future, towards which He has been working throughout history (more of this in the ‘Get the Message’ tab to the right). But it does not present these things in a way which allows readers to remain aloof from them. Instead it contains an urgent appeal at the individual level to all its readers down throughout the centuries. God is not working abstractly with ‘someone-or-other’. He wants individual people like you and me who might read His word to get involved and make a response.
God’s offer is to save individuals from sin, death and meaninglessness in their lives if only they will turn to Him. He promises them a life filled with direction and peace, and the hope of life in His kingdom when all things will be made new. There will certainly be challenges along the way, but the end-game is clear.
The purpose of this page is not to persuade you what that response ought to be, but rather to emphasise that this appeal and challenge that the Bible throws out is an important ‘So What?’ about the Bible. The Bible does not consist in the abstract presentation of facts. The question it demands of its readers is: ‘So what are you going to do about it?’
It might be worth briefly summarizing what some of the key aspects of the Bible’s challenge are.
A first one might be simply whether or not we dare accept the truth about ourselves as the Bible reveals it! The Bible’s message about human nature – the fact that it is fundamentally astray from God and needs to change – is not a palatable one. Every reader needs to decide whether it fits the facts and whether they can swallow it.
And if it does fit the facts, and if the idea makes sense that God has prepared a way through Jesus by which men and women can return to Him, then one has to decide whether or not to believe in that way. So too with respect to God’s plans to solve the many problems of human civilization in His future kingdom (again, more on all these topics in the ‘Get the Message’ tab). The evidence for all these solutions the Bible presents to human problems has to be carefully weighed, and an individual decision has to be made. This is the bottom line. If it turns out that the evidence holds, then this decision will be one of the most important a person could ever make.
Making a Response: Repentance and Baptism
The Bible’s message is thus a message of belief and repentance – of the need to be sorry and to turn back to God with the resolve to try to live differently going forward. God’s people had to repent of her ways many times in the Old Testament, and the appeal to repentance and belief in Jesus is a clarion call which sounds out through the New Testament perhaps with even greater force.
It is an appeal which is accompanied by a further step: baptism. Consider the following references, for example:
“Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.” (Mark 16:16) (ESV)
“And Peter said to them, Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins....” (Acts 2:38) (ESV)
The Bible is speaking in these passages of a baptism of responsible adults carried out through full immersion in water – a willing association with the death of the Lord Jesus, and through it the hope of resurrection to a new beginning – new life in Christ. There is much more that could be said about baptism, but right now what is key is that it represents a symbolic death and rebirth, the process by which we may be adopted into God’s family, and a new start in life. To decide to take such a step is a great challenge to human pride, and is not something to be undertaken lightly. But it is a crucial step, according to New Testament teaching, which the Bible challenges its readers to consider.
The New Code of Conduct
Then there is a new way of life as the focus of one’s life becomes serving God to the best of one’s abilities. There are many aspects to this new life in Christ, including staying in touch with God and His ways through prayer and Bible-reading, but also in one’s very outlook on life – the ability to decide between what really matters, and what is only fleeting. Jesus summed up the two principles by which we should live as follows:
“And he said to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:37-40) (ESV)
It may be trite, but the analogy has been made between the old-fashioned three R’s (reading, writing and ‘arithmetic), and the three B’s that are necessary to meet the Bible’s challenge:
- Be Baptised
A life lived in dedication to God is not easy. It requires discipline and resolve, humility and self-sacrifice. But the rewards are immense, both in terms of the peace of mind and sense of joy that it engenders (it can fill life with an enormous sense of meaning and purpose), and because of the great hope that it offers for the future.
This offer from God, of forgiveness of sins, of a relationship with Him and His son, and of life with Him in His kingdom, is a personal and individual offer. To live a life striving to serve God is a great challenge, but the Bible explains that it is accompanied with the greatest fulfillment and the greatest reward the world can offer.