Keeping the Gospel at the Center of Your Bible Study

Abraham and Isaac before the Sacrifice, Jan Victors, 1642; from  Wikimedia Commons

Abraham and Isaac before the Sacrifice, Jan Victors, 1642; from Wikimedia Commons

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Do you struggle to connect the dots in your Bible reading? As you work through the Old Testament into the New Testament, does it feel like there’s a gaping hole between them of stories, events, and laws that don’t seem to fit together?

Maybe you read the Bible like this: The Old Testament is law and wrath, but when Jesus finally appeared in the New Testament, everything became about grace and good news. Then the Bible ends with some rules and promises and a terrifying and cryptic picture of the end times and eternity.

The best we can do is say that we’re not really sure what this means. Perhaps God was angrier back then; Israel is special; you’re David and your problem is Goliath; Jesus saves; follow these rules; and you’re unsure how it will all go down, but you’ll be walking on gold pavement. Sound accurate? Can you relate?

That’s how I understood the Bible. I avoided the Old Testament because I couldn’t make sense of it, and I really didn’t like how angry God seemed. There were times when the New Testament left me baffled and with more questions than answers (for example, the entire book of Hebrews). This disconnect begins when we forget the narrative arch of Scripture: the gospel. We need to read our Bibles with a bird’s eye view that sees how the gospel stretches over the pages of Scripture from beginning to end.

Jesus is revealed from Genesis to Revelation.

After Jesus’ crucifixion, the disciples were downtrodden. They thought the Messiah had finally come—they were so certain that they had left everything behind to follow him. Yet, three days prior he was crucified and placed in a tomb. Then something strange happened. The women went to the tomb and found it empty, and an angel announced that Jesus was alive. Peter and John checked the tomb themselves and found only the grave clothes. 

Two of these downtrodden and perplexed disciples were walking on the road to Emmaus when their Savior (though with his identity veiled from them) approached them. When they explained their sadness over the events that had taken place, he rebuked them.

“O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27).

The thick thread that binds the entire Bible together is Jesus himself.

“Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.” What does this tell us about the Bible? Jesus doesn’t enter at the New Testament—Jesus is present throughout the entire Bible. Jesus isn’t the climax or falling action of the story—he is the entire story.[1] That thick thread that binds the entire Bible together is Jesus himself.

Eden wasn’t simply a foiled plan A and the gospel plan B. Before the foundations of the earth, the gospel was already in place. As Michael Brown and Zach Keele write in Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored

Before the creation of the world, a plan was already in place to send the Son as the second Adam to remedy the disastrous results of the first Adam’s failure to fulfill the covenant of works in the garden of Eden and bring humankind to glory. The covenant of redemption was not a ‘plan B’ to fix the mess Adam made, but the original blueprint for the work of Christ and the plan of redemption.[2]

The Bible is not a handbook for life or an encyclopedia to which we turn when we don’t know what to do. The Bible is not a love letter from God. The Bible is one continuous story of God bringing about the gospel. As Jen Wilkin puts it in her book Women of the Word, “The Bible purposes to tell us this Big Story in a thousand smaller stories, from its first page to its last.”[3]

Learn to see Jesus on every page.

The redemption narrative is known as creation-fall-redemption-restoration. We are each walking a condemned life before God because of our sin (Rom. 3:9-20). We inherited sin from our first parents, Adam and Eve, who committed the first sin in the garden of Eden. If they had obeyed, they would have entered God’s rest forever—eternal life with him. But instead they plunged all humanity into sin. This is the creation and fall. But following that first sin is the first promise of the gospel: One (Jesus Christ) will bruise the serpent’s head (Satan and sin), though the serpent will bruise his heel:

“I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen. 3:15)

From here the story unfolds of people wondering and waiting for this promised Savior to redeem them. We are given laws that further condemn us and show us how desperately we need this redemption. Many people come who foreshadow and image the Savior, though each of them fails.

In the Gospels we learn the Savior was born in the flesh. He lived the perfect life, fulfilling the law we couldn’t. Yet, he was treated as a criminal, not only bearing physical suffering as he was crucified on the cross, but also bearing the wrath of God for every sin his people did and would commit. In this, he exchanged their condemnation for his righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21). Though his body lay dead for three days in the tomb, he rose to life victorious over sin and death. When he ascended back to his place in heaven, he promised to return to raise each of us glorified and freed from sin to eternal life. This is redemption and restoration.

Where does our current place in Scripture fit into God’s story of redemption?

As we read the Bible, we need to ask ourselves where our current place in Scripture fits into this story of redemption. Where on the binding gospel-thread of the Bible does this take place? How does this passage point us to or remind us of the redemption story? What themes of this redemptive narrative are present in the text? How can we see the creation-fall-redemption-restoration story play out on a smaller scale? Jen Wilkin writes,

It follows, then, that our purpose in studying must be to look for that Big Story each time we go to the Scriptures. We should study asking not just what a particular portion of Scripture wants to tell us, but how that portion of Scripture is telling us the Big Story of the Bible as a whole. Studying the Bible with purpose means keeping its overarching message in view at all times, whether we are in the Old Testament or the New, whether we are in the Minor Prophets or the Gospels.[4]

This may sound so simple, but it takes time and practice to see. Studying the Bible doesn’t come naturally. We need to work hard to know the word. Our brains may ache, but that’s okay. As you seek to faithfully study the word in community with other believers (and the work of believers from the past), seeing this display of the gospel throughout Scripture becomes easier. 

The gospel is our cornerstone—for Bible study and life.

I used to live as if the gospel were solely the door to my faith. It’s how I became a Christian, and it’s how I helped others into Christianity. Yet, once I was through, I left it behind me. The gospel, however, is the necessary foundation, the chief cornerstone, the whole of our faith. The gospel must be the central part of everything for Bible study and life. As Michael Horton writes, 

When we rifle through the Old Testament narratives for moral examples (‘Dare to be a Daniel’), as if they were Aesop’s Fables, we miss the point. In most cases, the lives of “Bible heroes” are quite mixed, morally speaking. Above all else, in these narratives, God is the real hero. David slays Goliath because the Spirit comes upon him, in contrast to Saul, whom the Spirit has abandoned. In each instance, the purpose is not to provide life lessons that we may apply directly to ourselves, but to see how God is fulfilling his purposes, which lead history to Jesus Christ.[5]

Today as you come to God’s word to learn and grow, remember to take a step back, take your eyes off yourself, and look at the grand overarching narrative of the gospel.

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Lara d’Entremont is a wife, mother, and biblical counselor-in-training. You can find more of her writing at laradentremont.com.

Recommended:

Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored (Second Edition) by Michael G. Brown and Zach Keele

This point in Scripture was shown to me in The Gospel Coalition podcast episode "Nancy Guthrie on Developing the Skill of Seeing Christ in the Old Testament"; https://www.thegospelcoalition.org/podcasts/help-me-teach-the-bible/nancy-guthrie-developing-skill-seeing-christ-old-testament./

Michael G. Brown and Zach Keele, Sacred Bond: Covenant Theology Explored, 2nd ed. (Grandville: Reformed Fellowship, 2017), 25.

Jen Wilkin, Women of the Word (Wheaton: Crossway, 2014), 50.

Wilkin, 50-51.

Michael Horton, Pilgrim Theology: Core Doctrines for Christian Disciples (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2011), 61.