Herald Journal Columns
July 18, 2005, Herald Journal
Pastor's Column

The Bible is more than a ‘how-to’ guide

By Rev. Eric Nelson, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Lester Prairie

What is the purpose of the Bible?

For many, the purpose of the Holy Scriptures resides in the Law. What results is that the Bible becomes a how-to guide that teaches us how to have better and more fulfilling lives.

For example, Christian books have been written to explain the Biblical principles of parenting or managing our money. Sermons have been given to expound the Biblical guidelines of being an effective leader, or the Biblical steps to obtain peace.

Certainly, the Law has its place in Scripture. The Bible does indeed teach us how we should conduct ourselves.

However, the Law is not the star of the show. It is not the central teaching of Scripture. Rather, the Law ultimately serves the Gospel.

It is important to understand that Holy Scripture contains this dichotomy of Law and Gospel. If the Bible is to be properly understood, these two teachings should not be confused or mingled.

Making the distinction between these two teachings is essential for any Christian. As Martin Luther stated in his New Year’s sermon of 1532, “This difference between the Law and the Gospel is the height of knowledge in Christendom. Every person and all persons who assume or glory in the name of Christian should know and be able to state this difference.”

Both the Law and the Gospel serve a proper function for the Christian. The Law teaches us what God demands of his people. In contrast, the Gospel proclaims what God does for his people. In other words, the Law requires action from us, while the Gospel describes the actions of God.

This means that God did not give Moses the Law at Mount Sinai simply to teach the Israelites how to have a better family life or how to gain financial freedom. The purpose of the Law runs much deeper.

The Law not only instructs, but it also reveals. It reveals a holy and righteous God who demands obedience. In addition, it also reveals our true condition.

Therefore, the Law is harsh and painful. It confronts us and exposes us for who we really are. And who we are is not very appealing; we are sinners. This is why Paul states, in his letter to the Romans (3:20), that through the Law, we become conscious of sin.

By convicting us of our sin and revealing our guilt, the Law points us to Jesus. The Law shows us that we need this deliverance Christ has earned for us by his death on the cross and resurrection from the grave.

If the truth of our corrupt condition was not manifested to us, we would not see the need for this Savior that God has sent to the world. We would not realize what a tremendous gift we have in his redemption.

Thus, Jesus is the central message of Scripture. It is because of Jesus that we are no longer burdened with guilt. No longer do the demands of the Law lead us into despair. No longer do we need to fear facing the justice and punishment of God.

God has sent his Son to fulfill the demands of the Law for us. He has satisfied the justice of God by his sacrifice on the cross. That is why righteousness from God is found in Christ alone, not in our works. This should be the message that is consistently proclaimed from our pulpits and in our publications.

Sermons and books that instruct us of the Biblical guidelines and principles for daily living may be helpful, but they do not address this central message of the Bible.

The Bible was not written merely to dispense helpful tips. The Bible was written to proclaim our salvation in Jesus Christ.

Scripture declares righteousness from God comes by faith in God’s Son. As John states in his Gospel (20:31 NIV), “But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing, you may have life in his name.”


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