The Bible's Primary Teaching

If you’re going to read a book, a basic question you want to ask before you begin reading is, “What is the book about?” Often the title or subtitle of a book will give you enough information to answer the question. But when we come to the Bible (a word that originally meant “book”), we don’t get much help from the title. So in catechism question 6, we ask, “What does the Bible primarily teach?” The answer is:

The Bible primarily teaches what man must believe about God and what God requires of man.

The Bible teaches a lot of things, of course, but what it primarily teaches is God. It is a book by God and about God. He is the central actor, not us. So many people think the Bible is just another religious text written by humans and about humans, giving us advice on how to live our lives. But it is important for us to remember that the Bible is primarily about God.

It is not, however, an autobiography of God. The Bible doesn’t intend to tell us everything about God. There aren’t enough books in the world to hold that much information anyway (Jn 21:25). So what the Bible primarily teaches are two things about God.

First, it tells us everything we must know about God. If we were left to our own imagination about God we would not be able to know him correctly. So what God has done is given us his book to tell us who he is and to require us to think and speak and believe about him what he has revealed to us in the Bible. Second, the Bible tells us what God requires of man. The knowledge of God is a practical knowledge that cannot be believed without being lived out. At the same time, what God requires of us is never an arbitrary set of rules but always a call for us to live in accordance with the character and priorities of God himself. What God requires of us humans, made in his own image, is to live like we see him live, to “be holy” even as God himself is holy (Lev 11:45).

The Bible teaches what is true about God and what God requires of us, but it is our failure and total inability to do what God requires of us that teaches us the most glorious truths we must believe about God. The gospel story is not a secondary teaching to what we’ve been saying here; it is the main way in which God reveals himself to us. That’s why Jesus came. Jesus came to save us, but he saves us by revealing to us who God truly is. “And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent” (Jn 17:3).

This means that the way God intends to teach us who he is and what he requires of us is by rescuing us from our unbelief and disobedience. Jesus is the one the Father sent to rescue us. And in the story of redemption we come to know the one true God and in love to obey him as well.

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