IT IS UNFORTUNATE that so much controversy exists regarding the New Testament and the teaching of Christ. The message of the New Testament books is really not difficult, and it is not hard to understand. Sometimes those who are seeking something complex find it hard to understand because they stumble over its simplicity. Those who want an elaborate system of thought or a high-sounding and mysterious philosophy miss the point of the New Testament.
The plain point there is that God loves man (whom He created but who had gone wrong through sin), and that He loves him so much that He gave His only Son to death in order to bring man back to Himself (John 3:16). Salvation through Jesus Christ is not basically a matter of brilliance or keen logical abilities, but a matter of devotion, trust and obedience. God will not judge man with an achievement test but by his heart and life. Serving Christ is not a matter of trying to solve a spiritual algebra problem, or finding one’s way through a crazy maze which God has given to trick or trap man. It is not that at all.
The New Testament is not complicated. We should not look for difficult and hard-to-understand theories or doctrines. The message may be divided into two basic parts. There is the story of what God has done for man in Christ. And there is what this story means in the life of the man who believes it when it is told to him. The first part may be called preaching, or the proclamation. It is the “gospel,” proper. The second part is equally important, but follows man’s acceptance of the gospel. It is called teaching, or instruction. It is practical in nature.
Jesus commanded both kinds of teaching when He commissioned the apostles (Matthew 28:18-20). They were to do two things. They were to tell the world what God had done through Jesus Christ of Nazareth — that by His life, death, resurrection and ascension it was now possible for man to be put right with God. Man did not deserve this. He did not earn it. He did not accomplish it. But because of the righteousness of Christ — because of HIS perfect life of obedience to God’s will for man — God had been able to forgive man’s sins (II Corinthians 5:18-21). Sin certainly was not overlooked. Jesus died to pay the penalty for it (I Peter 2:24; Isaiah 53:10, 11). But so far as man was concerned, the gospel said that he did not have to accomplish salvation on his own. Christ had made it possible for him, a hopeless sinner, to be saved.
But Jesus told His apostles to teach something else. Those who believe the good news and are baptized, He said, are then to be taught more. They are to be told that God’s grace demands a change in their lives. They are to know that the blessings Christ brought are only the beginning of their responsibilities to live holy lives before God. Jesus was the sin-offering, and a complete and perfect one for all time. But man is to present his life as a thank-offering to God, in a grateful and humble and obedient life and heart.
Many times good people approach the New Testament unaware of this simple two-part message, and come away confused. Sometimes they use the Scriptures as a vault of proof-texts, finding one verse here, another there, combining
all these into a sort of theological system around which they then rally. Sometimes they even filter all the rest of the Bible through this particular system or framework, and miss the true teaching of many passages because of it. This is how almost every Protestant denomination began. This is how almost all the sects started. It is a possible danger for the Christian even now.
We should not view the New Testament as a mass of confused and disconnected ideas and regulations. Certainly it contains ideas, and most assuredly it involves a number of regulations! But these ideas and regulations need not be confusing, and they are very much related to each other — if we understand the story that the New Testament is telling and the demands it makes of those who hear that story and believe it. First there is the good news — the story of Jesus Christ and His work on behalf of mankind. Then there is the teaching which Jesus said should follow — the regulations, if you please. These tell how men are to conduct themselves as Christ’s men in the world. They are to live in a newness of life. And these regulations also involve the relationship of these believers to one another, as together they make up Christ’s body or church.
The New Testament is not like books written by men. It does not give a human system or wispy philosophical ideas. It is all very concrete. It is actually quite simple. It is absolutely true. It is beautiful. And it is intended for your benefit. It just might be that most problems which confront Christians today — in their daily living, their relationships with the world and their dealings with one another — would gradually disappear if they would spend a great deal of time in the presence of the New Testament Scriptures. The Bible is the Word of God. Pure and simple.