The Bible, the Holy Book of Scripture, the love letter from God…
The Bible is the most published book in the world. Look at the number of Bibles sold. In the past fifty years, 3.9 billion copies have been sold. The next most published book sits at 820 million and the third most published book has 400 million in that fifty year span.**
Even though it sells the most, many think it is one of the most difficult books to read. Parts of it seem to be confusing, especially if we try to read it without some guidance*** from others. Parts of it seem boring, especially books like Leviticus and Numbers (all those detailed laws!). Bible reading can get stale; familiar parts can get too familiar and readers can go on “auto-pilot” as they read. Bible reading can also be intimidating. The Bible is a pretty imposing collection of God’s Words. How can I wrap my mind around God’s message to man?
J.I. Packer has a suggestion. If you struggle to read the whole Bible, read the part of the Bible that sheds light on the entire Scripture.
He writes that Bible readers need to concentrate on one book: Paul’s letter to the Romans.
Packer is not trying to encourage laziness or make life easier for all of us; he is trying to make the point that our God is truly adequate: God is capable of meeting all our needs. “All roads in the Bible lead to Romans, and all views afforded by the Bible are seen clearly from Romans, and when the message of Romans gets into a person’s heart there is no telling what may happen” [Packer, 253]. Romans is a powerful exposition of the role of God in man’s life.
He tries to make his case by asking what do you look for in the Bible?
“If we are wise, we will have our eyes open for several things and Romans is supreme on them all” [Packer, 253-54].
Christian doctrine: doctrine means the teaching or explanation of the Christian message of the Gospel and the faith that flows from that Gospel. The idea of God is the main theme of the Bible, but not everyone is sure about the meaning and significance of sin, the law, judgement, faith, works, grace, creation, redemption etc.etc. Yes, these ideas matter and sometimes Christians take them for granted or just skate through life hoping no one asks them a fundamental question. Also, Christians don’t always agree on doctrine. This past week for example I have heard three Christians ask the same question: Why do we have so many denominations? Why don’t we have just one church? The quick answer is that all churches do not agree on the details of doctrine. Even though every Christian does not agree on what I call “secondary” aspects of doctrine, we are all bound together by belief in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. We are all in agreement on the sinful nature of man and our need for God’s grace. Jesus Christ came to this earth to make it possible for us to have a relationship with God through His death and resurrection and to show us how to extend God’s love to other people.
Bible as a book of life: Packer writes that all of us need explanation about how to serve God. All of us need explanation about how to find God, especially in times of tribulation. Paul gives us not only exposition in his book, he provides examples (many of them personal examples) of his struggles with sin, grace and faith. Packer writes that the book of Romans is the “fullest cross section of the life of sin and life of grace, and the deepest analysis of the way of faith, that the Bible gives anywhere” [Packer, 254].
Bible as the book of the church: What is the church? Packer relates that the church is “the true seed of faithful Abraham, Jew and non-Jew together, chosen by God, justified by faith and freed from sin for a new life of personal righteousness and mutual ministry” [Packer, 254]. Many outside of the church don’t understand this but the church is really the family of God. It is a community of people who are trying to carry out the work that Christ intended us to carry out, the work that can help redeem the world.
Bible as a personal letter to His children: You can read Romans and feel its unique power to reach within you and search out your soul. We all have our sinful habits and attitudes, a penchant to be hypocritical, a tendency to be self-righteous and a need to rely on self [not God]. We all have moments of unbelief, moments of frivolous behavior, and half-hearted attempts at repentance. We get caught up in the world; we get fearful, depressed, conceited and insensitive. Romans has it all, just as we have it all, but Romans also has “joy, assurance, boldness, liberty and ardor of spirit which God both requires of and give to those who love Him” . We need truthful balance; man is not all devil and not all angel.
Yes, we can all agree that Romans encapsulates many things: doctrine, book of life, book of the church and personal letter, but not everyone appreciates a short cut. Packer writes that getting to the top of Mount Everest can be accomplished more than one way. Some think the thrill is in the climb, the long slog up the mountainside. These people feel that the impact of Romans depends on what has gone before, the diligent dedication to years of Bible study If a reader digs into the Bible as a whole, the more they will appreciate the intellectual problems of being a Christian that Paul presents in Romans. The morality of the Christian life will be more appreciated, the “weakness and strain” of being a faithful follower of God will be felt. Indeed the “long slog” through the Bible will allow you to get even more out of Romans. Others may just need that short cut to the top of the mountain; standing on that spot at the summit is enough to stimulate Christian growth and encourage further study. Packer likens a close reading of Romans to a helicopter ride to the top of Everest, skipping all the arduous work to get there. He argues the result may be the same.
Why concern ourselves with long slogs or short cuts? Should we care that a Bible reader starts at Romans and even stays there for some time? Might they deepen their faith and understanding more than a person who tries to read the whole of God’s word?
The end result could be a deeper understanding of the adequacy of God. Martin Luther writes that Romans is the “clearest gospel of all.” John Calvin states that “If a man understands it [Romans], he has a sure road opened for him to the understanding of the whole scripture.” William Tyndale describes Romans as the “light and a way in unto the whole scripture.”
Let Paul usher Scripture into your life with his letter to the Romans.
The high peak of scripture.
*explaining how important knowledge of Romans is, is Packer’s way of beginning his last chapter in Knowing God, entitled the “Adequacy of God.”
** “The Ten Most Read Books in the World” From the “Business Insider” website accessed on August 24, 2020.
*** devotion guidance, online guidance from a Bible scholar, book guidance from some respected Bible scholar etc.