There are two ways to read the Bible. We can read it as law and threat, or we can read it as promise and assurance.
If we read the Bible as law, every page will feel like God glaring at us: “If you ever . . . .” And since we are all law-breakers at heart, the Bible will crush us. Even the promises will come across as law: “God will bless sinners—well, the ones who deserve it.”
If we read the Bible as promise, every page will be hope from God. It will breathe new life into us. Even the commands will be sweetened with grace: “God will bless sinners—yes, sinners who break these laws.”
Which way of reading of the Bible is correct?
The apostle Paul explains: “The law, which came 430 years afterward, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to make the promise void. . . . God gave it to Abraham by a promise” (Gal 3:17-18).
Here is Paul’s point. If we want to know whether we should read the Bible through the lens of law or promise, we can start reading on page one and see which comes first. And in fact, promise comes first—God’s covenant with Abraham in Genesis 12. The law is a later sidebar, in Exodus 20. The category “promise” is the larger, wraparound framework for everything else.
The deepest message of the Bible is the grace of God for sinners. The Bible presents itself this way. The laws and commands and examples and warnings are all there. Let’s revere them. But we can read them with this as our foremost thought: “Jesus obeyed it all. He died for all my failure. And now he is changing my heart. I can read this page of the Bible with hope in his grace.”