Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation
When a person gives their life to Christ, they become the recipient of many promises given in the Bible. Of course the most notable promise is that of eternal life after death; for John 3:16 reminds us “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” This is an everlasting promise just as coming to Christ is an everlasting act. Likewise, the Israelites entered into a promise with God when they took the land given to them by God. We can read about this in Joshua 24:22-24,
Then Joshua said, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen to serve the Lord.”
“Yes, we are witnesses,” they replied.
“Now then,” said Joshua, “thow away the foreign gods that are among you and yield your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.”
And the people said to Joshua, “We will serve the Lord our God and obey him.”
One should take note that what the Israelites agreed to is pretty much the same as what a Christian agrees to. For Paul explains the Christian salvation like this,
That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved (Romans 10:9-10).
Basically this is what the Israelites did in the above passage; they confessed that God was the one true Lord in their lives. Seems pretty simple- and it is. However, there is much more that came with (or will come with) your salvation than most preachers and evangelists will let on.
Now, before I go on, let me stop and say right now, I don’t believe in “Jesus and,” salvation comes only from our Lord Jesus Christ, and upon receiving him into our hearts, just like the above scriptures tells us, we are promised to never die but to have eternal life. Having said that, making Christ our Lord brings with it a whole heck of a lot of stuff that we implicitly agree to; for if one accepts Christ as King, then one should follow what the King orders. Joshua makes sure to tell the Israelites what is expected of them before they agree,
Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now (Joshua 23:6-8).
The Israelites were told that they were to follow all of the laws that were given to Moses from God. Also, they were not to associate with foreigners and to definitely avoid other gods. Most Christians will agree that it is probably not a good idea to live like non-Christians do, and to not get involved with any other form of worship other than that ordained by the Lord. However, when the topic of the Law comes up, there is quite often a lot of resistance from Christians. However, the Bible makes it pretty clear that the Law is a very important part of how we worship the Lord. Take a look at this passage from Psalm 119,
May your unfailing love come to me, O Lord,
Your salvation according to your promise;
Then I will answer the one who taunts me,
For I trust in your word.
Do not snatch the word of truth from my mouth,
For I have put my hope in your laws.
I will always obey your law,
For ever and ever.
I will walk about in freedom,
For I have sought out your precepts.
I will speak of your statutes before kings
And will not be put to shame,
For I delight in your commands
Because I love them.
I lift up my hands to your commands, which I love,
And I meditate on your decrees (Psalms 119:41-48).
According to this, we’re not only to follow the law, we’re also to delight in doing so, and actually be thrilled about reading it. How many Christians do you know get excited about reading stuff like Leviticus? From my experience: not many. Instead, Christian’s are generally resistant to the laws of the Lord, citing that Jesus was the fulfillment of the Law, which is true, as it is written in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Note, that even while he is fulfilling the law, Jesus does not advocate their abolition. He reminds us in the next line,
I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:18-19).
Now if Jesus is preaching the Law, then we as followers of Christ need to very much consider where we stand in our obedience to the Law. Since Jesus is our Lord and King, his orders rein supreme- and he believes in following the law. Obviously, since Christ has come, some laws have been repealed or replaced- in this case, we should diligently study the law in order to understand how these laws can continue to have meaning in our lives. But there’s more! Oh yes Christian (or non-Christian reading this), Jesus doesn’t only advocate adherence to the law, he also adds to it. For Christ tells us, “In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:33). Whoa whoa J-Man, I don’t remember Moses telling me I had to give up everything, just that I had to be a good person. But Jesus actually calls us to do more than just be good from a legalistic stance; we’re called to be perfect in Christ. This includes being ready to give up all that we have just to become closer to our Lord.
This Lord we serve is not a Sunday-only God, and we’re called to be more than Sunday-only people. And this book, the Bible, from which all of our theology and life lessons and laws originate, it is a dangerous book. It is a dangerous and wonderful book. First and foremost, it is a wonderful book filled with promises that are always kept. We read about the Israelites and their journey,
The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as he promised. So be very careful to love the Lord your God (Joshua 23:9-11).
How awesome is that? Our God is so strong to fight for us that when we’ve got him on our side, we can fight off a whole gang of people ourselves. In the same way, when any troubles befall us, our Lord has promised to fight for us. We’re told that when we follow the ways of the Lord, he will fight for us and he will always help our cause. For it is written,
He who walks righteously
And speaks what is right,
Who rejects gain from extortion
And keeps his hand from accepting bribes,
Who stops his ears against plots of murder
And shuts his eyes against contemplating evil-
This is the man who will dwell on the heights,
Whose refuge will be the mountain fortress.
His bread will be supplied,
And water will not fail him (Isaiah 33:15-16)
This is an amazing promise for those who are with God and actively try to follow his commands. We’re promised to have our needs met as long as we follow the Lord. The Lord came through for the Israelites in other ways as well,
Then you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho. The citizens of Jericho fought against you, as did the Amorites, Perizzites, Canaanites, Hittites, Girgashites, Hivites and Jebusites, but I gave them into your hands. I sent the hornet ahead of you, which drove them out before you- also the two Amorites kings. You did not do it with your own sword and bow. So I gave you a land on which you did not toil and cities you did not build; and you live in them and eat from vineyards and olive groves that you did not plant (Joshua 24:11-13).
As Christians, the Lord will shower us with the things we need, things we haven’t worked for, and things we probably don’t even deserve. Most notably, we’re given everlasting life when we come to Jesus, this is something that is completely undeserved (as God demands perfection, which we cannot achieve here on earth) and something we haven’t worked for (as Christ did the work for us). This is not all though; we read in Psalms 119:49-52,
Remember you word to your servant,
For you have given me hope.
My comfort in my suffering is this:
Your promise preserves my life.
The arrogant mock me without restraint,
But I don’t not turn from your law.
I remember your ancient laws, O Lord,
And I find comfort in them.
By reading the Word, we are promised peace and comfort from it. Most people have their favorite verses for when things get hard, but the writer of the psalm suggests that even the Law, which many Christians run from, brings peace. It is a supernatural thing that anyone who hasn’t read the Bible won’t understand without trying. And of course, we’re promised restoration after trials, a promise that the people of the world do not have. For the Lord’s Word says, “And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast” (1 Peter 5:10). If the God who can help me to fight off a thousand guys single-handedly is the one to personally restore me, what a restoration I am in for!
Indeed, the Bible is a wonderful book, but it is also a dangerous book, and the Law is a double-edge sword (which is why it is so important for Christians to know what they’re getting into when they promise their life to God). The Bible tells us that we are to be separate from the other peoples (as we’ve already read). Furthermore though, if we do choose to live as the world does, then the Lord will treat us as worldly. For the Word says,
But if you turn away and ally yourself with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns for your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you (Joshua 23:12-13).
If you don’t give up your old habits and your old ways, don’t expect much to change in your life. If you follow the ways of other people, people who are far from God, you will come under the same curses as them. The Lord will drive the hornet into you, and drive you from the good land that he had promised you. But, some people choose to live however they want. Paul wrote on this saying,
By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).
What Paul is saying is this: the foundation for a Christian is already laid as Christ. That is to say, no matter what, a follower of Jesus will go to heaven. However, how one lives their life determines the quality thereof, both here and in the afterlife. If we build our lives with the Law of God, which is more precious than gold (“How much better to get wisdom than gold, to choose understanding rather than silver!” [Proverbs 16:16]) then what we do will be proven right; both here on earth and rewarded in heaven. However, if we build our house of straw, when the fire comes, we’ll make it to heaven, but with singed hairs and no roof over our heads (and who knows what kind of troubles we may experience during our time on earth!).
This is why the Gospel has always been presented as a choice; for with the great rewards of being in Christ come great expectations on our end. We’ve got a whole book of rules and regulations mixed in with promises and curses for obedience and disobedience. Joshua knew this when he led the Israelites into the Promised Land. He reminded the Israelites after the land had been captured and the people were settling down of this choice in Joshua 24:14-15,
Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away all the gods your forefathers worshiped beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.
Going with God is not the easiest way to live. It might not even be the most fun way to live depending on what gives you pleasure. There are rules, there are regulations that the Lord will hold you to, and likely he’ll hold you to a higher standard than nonbelievers. If you don’t like the idea of serving the Lord, then don’t, that is your choice. As for me and my family though, Jesus is the only way to go.