I’m reading through the New Testament in conjunction with the New Testament Challenge. It’s been really interesting. The idea is to read through the entire New Testament in a short period of time. This helps us see the “big picture” and resists the temptation to put too much emphasis on specific verses or issues. I’ve really enjoyed reading the Bible in this way because some of the major themes start to jump off the page. Things like the gospel, faith and love are present in almost every reading. These themes are often discussed in modern Christian circles as well. However, there are a few themes that are prevalent in the ancient writings but not quite as prevalent today. For example…
Sin. The New Testament has a lot to say about sin. The teachings of Jesus and Paul contain constant exhortations to avoid sin and live righteously. Yet, many believers today don’t like to use the “s” word. I think that’s partly due to recent history. Many of them grew up with a good dose of teaching on sin (along with extra helpings of guilt, shame and fear). The assumption being that fear was proper motivation for obedience and that guilt and shame produce righteousness. They didn’t. The New Testament uses a different motivation for avoiding sin. The gospel. As I read through Paul’s letters I was struck by how he usually began with the gospel and ended with encouragement to live morally upright lives. The gospel is our motivation for obedience and the love of Christ produces righteousness. Sometimes in the past we’ve gotten that backwards. The New Testament sets things straight.
The Resurrection of the Dead. We hardly ever talk about this one. As I matter of fact, I know of no modern Christians (aside one) who regularly use this language when describing eternity. Yet, if you read the New Testament this phrase keeps coming up. It’s also present in many of the earliest creeds of the Christian faith. The Bible teaches that the dead in Christ we will be resurrected at the second coming. What does this mean? I’m not exactly sure, but I take it to mean that the dead will be resurrected in much the same way that Jesus was resurrected! That’s a powerful thought but you won’t hear it preached in many churches today. We tend to think of eternity more in terms of formless souls floating above the clouds. I’m not so sure of that anymore. Read 1st Corinthians and 1st Thessalonians and see what you think.
The Second Coming. We don’t mention this one much either. Of course, I’m excluding all those who mention it in a pre-tribulation rapture sort of way. They talk about it a lot, but that’s mostly because of the Left Behind series. I’m simply talking about the fact that Jesus is coming back and our time on earth is limited. We don’t know when its going to happen or exactly how its going to happen, but we do know that its going to happen. The teaching of Scripture is clear in this regard. Jesus is coming back so you better get ready! Repent and prepare for the Day of Lord! I don’t think you hear that as much in the 21st century church as you would have in the 1st century church. Maybe its just that too many years have passed and he hasn’t come back yet. Of course, he has a good reason. God is patient and wants everyone to to come to repentance (2nd Peter). But his delay is no reason for silence. If anything it’s all the more reason to emphasize this important teaching.
That’s a few of my observations thus far and I’m only halfway through. More later.