A Beautiful Book
The beauty of the Bible rests in its message and in the symmetry of how that message is presented. The Bible is built on a very specific plan. Its first two chapters (Gen. 1–2) present to us a picture of God’s perfectly created world. It is a world in which there is no sin, suffering, or death. God proclaimed it to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31). In this perfect world, God communicated directly with humans. The third chapter of the Bible (Gen. 3) explains the entrance of sin, separation from God, and death. That tragedy brought into human history a world of problems that we daily see reflected in the news and more personally in the difficulties of our lives.
At the other end of the Bible, the story is reversed. The third chapter from the end (Rev. 20) describes the conclusion of sin. The last two chapters of the Bible (Rev. 21–22) tell about God’s creation of a New Earth in which there is peace because all brokenness is healed. There is “no more death” or sorrow or crying or pain, “for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). The Bible thus begins and ends with a perfect world.
The Story of a War
From Genesis 3 to Revelation 20 the Bible pictures a great conflict between the rebellious forces of evil and the kingdom of God. That conflict is demonstrated from the very beginning in Genesis 3, when the serpent/Satan tempts humans to sin against God, and God promises restoration through a Savior, who will destroy Satan and sin. The conflict continues all through the Bible. It shows how Satan worked to destroy the human race and God’s message of salvation. Thus the main story of the Bible has been called “The Cosmic Conflict,” or “The Great Controversy.” It focuses on the coming of God to this world in the person of Jesus Christ to provide a means of salvation for humanity, and shows how Satan worked to destroy Christ and His mission. The conflict climaxed when Christ allowed Himself to be killed on a cross. There, Satan displayed the depth of his horrible hatred and sin and appeared to win the conflict. But the moment of his apparent victory was really the moment of his actual defeat. It was at the cross that God made the ultimate statement of His love for sinful humanity. There Christ defeated Satan once and for all (Rev. 12:9–11). God’s plan of salvation became effective. Christ’s death made it possible for God to rescue a world of lost people who had been enslaved in sin by Satan and were destined to die eternally (Rom. 6:23).
The Good News of God’s Plan
While the cross is the climax of the Bible’s story, the Bible also has much to say about God’s plan of salvation before and after the cross. From Genesis 4, in which one brother kills another, up through Revelation 19, in which Christ comes in the clouds of heaven to put an end to sin, we read about God constantly and patiently reaching out to help humanity with the message of salvation. The Bible tells us how He did this through the aid of patriarchs, prophets, kings, the life of Christ, and His apostles. But the good news of Scripture is that God—through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—is already victorious in this conflict and will restore all things as He wanted them from the beginning. That is what Christ’s Second Coming is all about. This is the gospel or “good news,” because the gospel is about what Christ has done and what He will do. The Apostle Paul defined the gospel, in its simplest form, as the death and resurrection of Christ on our behalf (1 Cor. 15:1–4). Yet the Bible also keeps us looking ahead to the end of the story—to the “blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:13) at His Second Coming. He will rescue His people and take them to His eternal kingdom, put an end to sin, and create a New Earth.
This good news is all that much better when we contrast it with the “bad news” of human life as it is now. All around us, we see wars, violence, disease, and natural and man-made disasters. And in our own hearts we know that sin prompts each of us to greed, selfishness, and hatred. All of these lead inevitably to abuse, broken relationships, sickness, and, ultimately, separation from God in eternal death. The worst part of the bad news is that sinners (rebels against God and His principles) are on the path to receiving exactly what they deserve—eternal death (Rom. 6:23). When sinful people receive what they deserve, justice, from their point of view, is very bad news.
That is where the best of the gospel comes in. Yes, sin means separation from God, leading to eternal death. But because Christ, the Son of God, became God in human flesh, God could accept Christ’s death on the cross in the place of every sinner so that we do not need to receive what we deserve. Christ died in our place. He bore the penalty of our sins in His own body, and absorbed sin’s penalty of eternal death (see 2 Cor. 5:21; Gal. 3:10–13). We don’t have to suffer eternal death. He made it possible for us, instead, to have eternal life in a restored relationship with Him.
The cost of all this for us is another remarkable part of the gospel. It’s free! God offers salvation from sin and its death penalty to every individual. That free gift is what the Bible means by grace. “For by grace you have been saved …; it is the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8; compare Rom. 3:21–26).
The Gospel Changes Lives
And how do we receive that gift? The Bible says that we accept it through faith, a God-given ability that makes it possible for each of us to fully believe what God has promised. When we accept God’s grace through faith, we are counted righteous (justified) in His eyes (see Rom. 3:24–25; 4:6). We will be counted righteous before God as long as we continue by faith to accept His grace to forgive our sins and save us from the ultimate result of sin—eternal death.
By accepting God’s gift, believers are freed from slavery in Satan’s army in the “cosmic conflict.” Now they join the side of Christ. The Bible calls that shift of allegiance “conversion” (Matt. 18:3; Acts 3:19). And at the time of conversion God makes the believer a “new creation” (2 Cor. 5:17) in harmony with His ideals and the principles of His kingdom. The entire process is called a new birth in John 3 and is carried out through the power of the Holy Spirit (vv. 3, 5).
At the time of their conversion to Christ, people not only have new hearts, minds, and attitudes, but they also have a new orientation in the real world of their daily lives. The Bible often describes their new way of life as walking with God. Whereas they once were slaves of Satan, they now walk freely in the way of Christ. They learn to live by the principles of God’s law of love, which was written on their hearts at the time of their new birth (Heb. 8:10; 1 John 2:3–6). That new walk means living a life of commitment to God (a sanctified life), in which people grow in God’s love—a constant process of becoming more and more like Him in character (1 John 4:7). They choose by the power of the Holy Spirit to follow Christ’s model of loving God with all their hearts, and loving their neighbors as they love themselves (Matt. 22:37–39). They do this by pursuing a mission of helping, healing, teaching, restoring, and delivering those oppressed by Satan.
Many other things take place at the time of people’s conversion. They are, for example, adopted into the family of God (John 1:12–13; Rom. 8:15–17) and given assurance of their salvation (Rom. 8:31–39; 1 John 5:13). The list goes on and on. You will enjoy adding elements to your personal list as you read the Bible for yourself.
So new Christians have been born again and desire to walk in God’s ways. But in daily life they find that things don’t always work out the way they would like. Some days they lose their focus on Jesus, become rebellious against God’s way, and revert to their old sinful ways of thinking and treating others. A converted Christian will feel sorry for such actions and perhaps even feel that all is lost. But that is not so. God knows our weaknesses and problems, and He has made provision for our less-than-Christlike actions and attitudes. “Come to Me,” Jesus advised His first followers (Matt. 11:28). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Fortunately Christians are in the hands of a truly gracious God.
The Gospel and the Future
The good news of a Christian’s life on earth gives confidence for challenging times in the future. Always remembering that Christ has already won the conflict with evil at the cross, the Christian understands, through prophecy, how Satan will make a last bitter effort to win the cosmic conflict by deceiving the whole world to follow him to his inevitable ruin. The book of Revelation shows how God has always had, and will always have, a faithful people who follow Christ wherever He leads, and keep His commandments no matter what. Just before the Second Coming of Christ, those faithful people will, despite amazing worldwide deception and enormous persecution from Satan, still remain faithful to “the commandments of God and the faith of Jesus” (Rev. 14:12). They, along with all those God has judged as His followers who have lived and died throughout history, will meet their Lord at the Second Coming of Christ in the clouds of heaven. He will rescue His people from this sinful world and complete their restoration and healing. At that time He will provide them with immortality and a new body to go along with their new minds. He will then recreate this world into a perfect home in which the troubles and terrors of this life will soon be forgotten (1 Cor. 15:51–54; Rev. 21:1–5). And His people will live with Jesus Christ, their Lord and Savior, in that perfect world forever and ever.
That is the message of the Bible.