Imagine that you have been given a large jigsaw as a special present and you have been told to put it together. You unwrap it expectantly and look to see what wonderful picture you are supposed to create, only to see there is no picture on the box. You spend a little time trying to put it together, but it’s no use. So you go back to the friend who gave it to you. He gives you a few hints, and maybe a few clues about the picture, but it’s no use. No matter how much effort you put in, you still can’t see how it all fits together.
It seems to me that’s exactly the problem a lot of folk have when it comes to reading the Bible. They know it’s a special book, they know they ought to read it. But it seems a confusing jumble of lots of different pieces. They try to make sense it and apply to it their daily lives, and they are reminded almost every Sunday that they need to keep on at it, but somehow it just doesn’t seem to all connect up.
Last week I went on a conference on “reformed theology”. It sounds quite a heavy subject, and there were certainly parts that were quite intense. But actually the theme of the conference was very simple, to show how all the parts of the Bible fit together, from the promises made to Adam in the garden at the beginning of Genesis, to new city in paradise at the end of Revelation. Because what connects every part of the Bible are the promises given freely by God to show us not only His rule over us but also how we might live under that rule and respond to His grace and mercy. The technical term for these promises are covenants, and the ones in the Old Testament all point forward to Jesus Christ and the new covenant made through His death on the cross. If you like, the covenants – with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and David – are the framework and the cross of Christ is the centre and focus of the jigsaw. Once you get this in place, then the Bible is no longer a puzzle but a wonderful means of acquiring knowledge of God and His saving power, and wisdom for daily living.
Even though I knew a lot of the material in a kind of theoretical sense, it was wonderful how these truths came alive in a new and thrilling way through this conference. At the same time I have been reading an American book written over 30 years ago by an author called Richard Lovelace which puts understanding the cross right at the heart of spiritual renewal. His basic premise – and I believe he’s right – that when you truly understand the cross, then everything else falls into place. The good news is that through the death of Christ “you are accepted, you are delivered, you are not alone, you have authority”. Not just at the time of conversion, or when you feel close to God. But always. Daily. Hour by hour. So this is for me where it gets personal. Do I live in the security that “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)? Or in the security of my job, my family life, my academic ability or what other people think of me?
In my head I know the right answer. But I am becoming more conscious than ever that I need the Holy Spirit in order to be able to live it as a life-changing, life-enhancing truth.