“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”
– Ephesians 4:31-32 (ESV – Read the chapter)
We have so far covered the fact that we need some kind of a foundation for our efforts to be good beyond simple convenience, and that as Christians, citing the Bible as that source is problematic. It hurts both our walk and our witness. It hurts our walk by making us legalistic since a text doesn’t love you, it just tells you what to do. It hurts our witness by leaving us in a position of having to rigorously defend every single part of the Bible or risk losing all of it. Incidentally, the defense of the Bible is a big industry in Christian circles even as looking at it critically is a big industry in skeptical ones. We need—and have—a better foundation than this. Fortunately, we do have one: Jesus.
So, what does this mean? It means this: The reason we are to strive to be good is not because the Bible tells us so (although it certainly does and gives us a ton of great pointers and examples of what this looks like and how to do it), but because Jesus, who predicted and pulled off His own death and resurrection modeled this goodness for us, and we should live however He did. It means we strive to love our neighbors as ourselves because Jesus, who predicted and pulled off His own death and resurrection commanded us to do it, and we should do whatever He says.
It means that any positive character trait that we would normally associate with the Christian faith should be pursued, not because the Bible tells us to do it, but because Jesus told us to do it.
Now, much to the contrary of what you might be thinking, this doesn’t reduce the position or authority of the Scriptures at all. They are still God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness so that the person of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. Our position on that must not change. But, do you see anything there about it serving as the foundation for our faith? I don’t. The New Testament offers critical applications of Jesus’ teachings and the Old Testament should be taken at face value because Jesus did and you go with whatever the guy who predicted and pulled off His own death and resurrection believes. We obey the New Testament because the Spirit inspired Jesus’ followers to unpack for us what following Him looks like. We draw inspiration, motivation, and information from the Old Testament because Jesus believed it all to be true. We absolutely need the Scriptures to understand what it means to be a Jesus person. But they aren’t the foundation of our faith. Jesus is.
Indeed, look at what Paul says right here. He doesn’t say to be all these things because the Scriptures tell us to do them. He says we should be all of these things because we are committed to following Jesus’ example. Jesus was loving and so should we be. He was forgiving and so should we be. He was gracious and patient and humble and servant-hearted and joyful and gentle and self-controlled and a whole bunch of other things and so should we be. Because He rose from the dead and you just go with whatever the guy who predicted and pulled off His own death and resurrection said and did.
This does a lot of things for us, but there are two in particular worth mentioning here. First, it frees us from the house of cards that is a faith founded primarily on the Scriptures. If our faith is rooted, not in Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and the implications of that, but in the Bible (something Christians in the first three centuries of the church didn’t have), then if someone can find a single unstable card, the whole thing is going to collapse. Not a few former followers of Jesus are former followers of Jesus because they were raised with a Bible-dependent faith, ran into an objection or contradiction they couldn’t reconcile, and ended up abandoning their faith entirely because of it. Notable skeptics like Bart Ehrman fall into this camp. But if our faith is rooted in Jesus, then hard places in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament need not threaten us at all. Jesus took the whole thing at face value and He’s smarter than us. We’ll just go with what the guy who predicted and pulled off His own death and resurrection believed about it.
The other thing this does is that it takes away our wiggle room. If our faith and practice are rooted first in the Bible, we can always find a verse or two that we can take out of context to support whatever we want to believe and do. People do it all the time. But if the whole thing is rooted in Jesus, then the question becomes: What would be the most loving thing to do? When you don’t know what to do, ask what love requires of you, understanding that love is an intentional decision to see someone else become more fully who God designed them to be. Don’t ask what feels good or what the culture says or what they would want. Ask what love demands. Why? Because it’s what Jesus would do and He predicted and pulled off His own death and resurrection so we’ll just go with Him.
If you have any kind of faith in God, make sure that faith is rooted in its proper foundation: Jesus. Read the Bible, study the Bible, obey the Bible, but root your faith in Jesus. He is the foundation that will never shake or crumble.