Is the Bible a Book of Rules on which to earn God's favor?

So the other day someone wrote me a message with this question: “Tyler, I want to ask you a question when I read the Bible I see it as a warning if you do this this will happen and if you do that that will happen it's kinda like a instruction Book for us to follow. You know like if you do bad things, bad things will happen and if you do good things good things will happen. What do you think?” Below is my reply. So much could be said, I know. I don’t want to be too long because then it will not be read. And I don’t want to be too short because then I am not saying anything. How to be helpful in a message if there is such a thing? Below is what I wrote, hopefully it was helpful. In the end all we can do it try to be as faithful as possible to God’s word and pray with all our might that God the Holy Spirit might see fit to give the increase. We can be the best possible word smiths with the most compassionate intentions doing great acts of love and in the end, God “will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and will have compassion on whom he will have compassion.” (Romans 9:15) Oh the devastating-ness of this as well as the freedom it gives to minister, knowing it is not all up to us … the weight of the world or even one person’s soul is not on us … Oh yes, we have a responsibility and a duty. But there is freedom within that responsibility and duty to let God be God and you be you. Do you want to love God and love people? Well then, we must do it. There is no law against loving God and loving people. And yet there is much freedom within boundaries God has set in doing it. As well as much God has promised to do through those that faithfully obey Him out of love for Him and fear of Him. More on that later. Here is my attempt to be faithful to that question above posed in a message and responded to in a message where so many things could go wrong and be taken wrong: Hello _________ _… one of the problems I see with reading the Bible mainly as an instruction book is that it becomes more like a religion of works righteousness or like the prosperity gospel. That is if you do this, this will happen and if you do that then that will happen. Well, that is works. The problem with that is if God really treated us by the standard to our works, or according to what we deserve…. each and every one of us would go to Hell. We actually don't want God to treat us according to what we deserve or what we earn. What we want is grace. Anytime God deals with us … besides casting us away from His presence forever … it is grace. More than that … any time any one knows God through Christ, which is the only way to be reconciled to Him, all of a sudden all of life becomes grace. And everything he does for us becomes for our good…. even hardships and suffering are mercies and grace and love because though we might not fully understand … we can know that being one of His it is for our good. "And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28) When the son of God has died for us, there is no one left to judge. “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be[i] against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God's elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. (Romans 8:31-34)

You see the Bible is not mainly about us. It is mainly about God and who He is and how He redeems sinful people to himself, for himself and by himself. You see when people are saved, what they are saved from is most ultimately is God. People's main problem is not most ultimately sin, nor is that devil, nor is a wrong way of living, it is God. Though we can be saved from many things. It is most ultimately God who people have sinned against and rebelled against and therefore it is God's wrath people are under and will remain under unless they repent and come to the safety and refuge found in Christ.

"Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." (John 3:36)

So yes, living right is important, but it is never the reason we are saved or stay saved, and it is never the basis for us being blessed.

The reason we are saved and stay saved and the basis for all the blessings found in salvation are because of and on the basis of who Christ is for us.

He is our champion who kept all of the law for us. He is the one who never sinned. He is the one, the only one who has ever done everything that God requires. And he did it on the behalf of God’s great name and on behalf of those who surrender their lives to Him in believing. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16) “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Romans 3:25-26)

And right living, following God’s commands, or more importantly, following Jesus … only ever actually matters after we receive Christ (His finished work on our behalf) and then we come to Him, surrendering our will to His. And again, we do not follow Christ, as the basis for our blessings, nor as the reason for our salvation but more out of thankfulness for what he has already done for us, as a worship offering to Him. No only could we never earn our salvation, but we could also never pay Him back for it. So the lives of those who know God and have been adopted into His family are to be most importantly worship offering to Him. “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (Romans 12:1-2) A worship offering to the one who loves us, and to the one who gave himself for us, and to the one who now lives inside of us, keeping us and molding us more and more into His likeness. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:18) Think of the commands of God that way. The first command being the most important to us is to repent and believe on Christ. There is no way to love God and love our neighbor with out first repenting and believing on Christ. None of his commands actually matter until that one is obeyed. And then all of His commands afterwards that are applicable to us are for our joy, for our worship. Through hardship and suffering and everything in between this is true. God’s commands are a path to joy. All of His commands, from repent and believe and every command that comes after are meant as ways to enjoy Him. God’s commands are a path to walk on in worshipfully enjoying Him not a way to get things from Him. “You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.” (Psalm 16:11) Think about it, if following Christ is a way to get things from God, isn’t what we are worshipping those things instead of worshipping God? In all reality if that is the case, we might have to ask ourselves if we never have, really, and truly repented of our sin and self-trust and surrendered our lives and wills to Him in the first place.

Salvation and life in Christ is all part of God’s promise to provide life under the tender care of His gracious rule, which is how it was always intended to be.

Man is sinful. God is holy. And the biggest problem is, how can a holy and just and loving God reconcile sinful man to himself and still be holy and loving and just?

That is the dilemma the Bible sets out to lay before us and also solve. The answer is Jesus Christ. At the cross, both love and justice meet. God did not sacrifice his love for his justice. And he did not sacrifice his justice for his love. All that God has done, is doing and will do is done by all of God …. This is most clearly seen in the person and work of Jesus Christ. God the Father sent the Son. And God the Holy Spirit points to and reveals the Son.

Jesus is the main story line of the Bible. Jesus is the center. The Bible is mainly about him. Every story. Every Psalm. Every part of wisdom literature, every prophecy. It is our job when reading it, to see how it points to Christ and how it can draw us closer to Him. The Bible is a story of redemption. The gospel, the good news of who Jesus is, and how God redeems and is all about restoring everything to the way He originally intended it to be, but better. Without reading the Bible with the gospel of Jesus Christ in mind we are missing something. Christ himself after his resurrection said the whole Bible was about Him… so I think we should believe him. (Read Luke 24:13-25) “For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory.” (2 Corinthians 1:20) Jesus Christ and His gospel, the gospel of God should shape how we read the Bible. “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

The Old Testament foreshadows this, the New testament proclaims it and now we are on mission telling the good news. You see. We don't want people to follow us and our good works. We want people to trust in Christ and follow Him. Our good works then do matter. First because like I said before, we worship God, and second, because we do not want to hinder people from receiving Christ but rather do our best to commend Him. So our lives matters. Perhaps, we may by God’s grace, find, like he has promised to do, be used to introduce others to the wonders of who He is. Oh that, that would happen! But at the end of the day we must know with everything in us that it is not our lives that are the reason for our salvation, nor are our lives that which God uses to save others, it is always His gospel that is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). What God has done in Jesus Christ and the connection to Him through faith is always the determining factor. Try reading the Bible with these thoughts in mind. I hope this helps. Blessings!

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