“All Scripture is useful . . . for training in righteousness” (2 timothy 3:16)
Why does reading the Bible rightly matter? Jesus makes clear what matters most to him is his Great Commission: “Make disciples of all nations” (matthew 28:19). A disciple is a follower. Christians are followers of Jesus. To follow Jesus, we must follow the biblical story that describes his way, truth, and life. We make disciples by teaching people how to read, follow, and enter into the biblical story.
Simply reading books about dieting will not help you lose weight. Simply having a high view of the Constitution doesn’t make you a good citizen. And simply admiring Jesus does not make you a follower. Jesus wants not only hearers or readers but doers. “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (matthew 7:24). Reading God’s word without following it is like building a house on the sand. “And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it” (7:27).
All Scripture is useful for training disciples in righteousness—for being right with God and doing what is right. Both discipleship and heavenly citizenship depend on reading the Bible rightly. We follow Jesus and therefore become disciples by inhabiting his story. To “inhabit&rquo; Jesus’s story means living in it in order to live it out. When we enter into the biblical story, we learn how the kingdom of heaven has come to earth, in Jesus. To understand the Bible means grasping that Jesus now reigns, not simply in the story of the Bible, but in and over the physical world. To be a disciple is to practice the presence of the kingdom that is in heaven here on earth.
Reading the Bible well is one way disciples practice the presence of Jesus as Lord. The Bible is profitable for training Christians to become the kind of people who understand the big picture: what God is doing in the world, in Christ, through the Spirit, to renew creation. To live out Jesus’s story in the story of our own lives is to learn how to live out on earth our citizenship in heaven.
John Calvin puts it beautifully: “Scripture is the school of the Holy Spirit.” Readers are the pupils. What they are learning is wisdom—how to live in the world, along the grain of the Creator’s intentions, to the glory of God. Readers and doers never graduate from Scripture, but they do learn how to embody the mind of Christ in their daily lives.
All the Bible’s stories, commands, poems, exhortations, teachings, and visions of the future have the same final purpose: to tell the story of the mighty acts of God that culminate in Christ, and so shape the people of God into citizens who represent well their holy nation and king. The Bible is the disciple’s curriculum for wise living. It provides everything one needs to know to “put on” Christ (romans 13:14; galatians 3:27), the Word and wisdom of God made flesh (john 1:14).
The gospel forms sinners into saints, and saints into members of the body of Christ. Local churches represent the one body of Christ that stretches over time and space. A church is a local assembly set apart for worshiping and witnessing to God. Reading the Bible forms congregations whose life together announces, celebrates, and displays the lordship of Jesus Christ. When local churches live out their role in the biblical story, they become living parables of the kingdom of God.
The gospel is the good news that Jesus did what Adam and Israel could not. Jesus has established the kingdom of heaven on earth.In Christ, there is a holy nation. Paul asks the local church at Philippi to do just one thing: “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel” (philippians 1:27). The verb Paul uses here is built on the word polis, meaning “city.” We can translate it “live as citizens.” To live out our gospel citizenship, we first need to know what the gospel is. Then we need to conform our lives to gospel truth. The Spirit empowers believers to walk in the truth of God’s word, as “children of light” (ephesians 5:8).
To understand the gospel, we need to know the big story of Scripture. We’ve seen that it’s all about what God does to form a people to be a holy nation of kings and priests, vice regents who do God’s will on earth as it is in heaven.
Nothing is as important as learning to read the Bible rightly, because nothing is as important as knowing the God whose story it is and becoming players in it,citizens of his gospel. The church exists to make disciples, and this means teaching them what every person needs to know in order to be competent and responsible citizens—not of ancient Athens, but of the (heavenly) eternal Jerusalem.
Both the story of Scripture and its right reading have everything to do with forming people into citizens of the gospel—people whom the Spirit is conforming to the mature new humanity that is in Christ. May all Bible readers become competent citizens of the gospel—disciples who in their own time and place know how to follow the words of their master and king, becoming increasingly more like him in the process.