What Does the Bible Mainly Teach Us?

Index of Lessons in the Westminster Shorter Catechism


What Does the Bible Mainly Teach Us?

Video presentation of this lesson
(Westminster Shorter Catechism Q:3)
by Bob Burridge ©2014

On most of our Florida beaches there are signs warning about the stingrays. They tell you to shuffle your feet in the water so you don’t step on one. They’re not aggressive creatures, but they don’t like to be stepped on, and they defend themselves instinctively.

Every summer I see people who ignore the signs go dashing out into the water. I often see them a little later in the day grimacing in pain while sitting with their foot in a bucket of warm soapy water at the life-guard’s station.

Warnings and helpful directions are there for a good reason. Those who choose to ignore them, or who just don’t take the time to read them, are most likely going to suffer the consequences.

God also warns us and gives us vital instructions in life. But like the tourists who just dash out into the surf, people dash out into life without a clue about what it’s really all about.

The Bible is available for us today in many forms. It’s amazing how few are familiar with what it says, or take its warnings seriously. When asked what the Bible mainly teaches, there are some shockingly ignorant answers.

We often hear people say that it simply teaches us to be good to everybody. Others say it teaches that there should be no distinctions among people. They insist that God wants no one to have more money, better homes, better jobs, and so on than anybody else. There are those who say it teaches that Jesus mainly taught us to respect and tolerate the teachings of all religions. There are some who say that the Bible guarantees that we’re all going to heaven when we die. Still others think that the only important message in the Bible is that you have to be “born-again” so you won’t end up in Hell. There are even some who would say that there is no main teaching in the Bible at all. They see the Bible as a collection of vague and often contradictory teachings mixed together from many different cultures and ancient traditions.

Some of these answers are plainly the opposite of what the Bible actually says. They lack any factual support. Others of these ideas have a little glimmer of truth in them, but are hardly sufficient summaries. Not one of them is a good answer. They all fall short of being a good and accurate summary of what God tells us in his word. None of them is in agreement with places where the Bible itself tells what is most important.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism deals with that in Question 3 which asks, “What do the Scriptures principally teach?”

It’s not just an academic question. The Bible isn’t just a book of information, or a collection of inspirational essays. It’s not the opinions of smart people, or the enlightened insights of sensitive humanitarians.

It’s God’s word, and it unravels the complicated issues that you deal with every day. It reveals the boundaries that separate what’s evil from what’s good. It tells what’s worth living for, and warns against the luring deceptions we face all the time. It explains what’s behind everything, and it pulls together things that seem to be disconnected.

It is helpful to organize what the Bible says so we can better remember and understand the details God gives about living in his world as his people.

You can’t really make sense out of life without knowing its main message. When you start with the wrong focus or with wrong expectations, you’ll draw wrong conclusions. Wrong beliefs effect the decisions you make about important choices in life and simple daily preferences. When you see how everything anchors in God’s basic principles you’re guided in a way that’s safe, good, and truly enjoyable.

The Answer the catechism gives is simple but profoundly accurate and helpful:

The Scriptures principally teach what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man.

This is a surprisingly excellent summary of the main purpose of God’s word. In the Bible God tells us what is true about himself, and how we therefore ought to live. These are the main things God communicates to us in his word. Belief and duty need to stay together. They can’t be separated. You have to know what to do, and do what you know.

People often degrade beliefs as if they are not all that important. They don’t realize that what we believe dictates what we do, why we do it, and whether or not we please God in our thoughts, words, and deeds. Without understanding who God is and his moral law, no one can be sure about what is sinful, and what is good.

The Apostle Paul wrote in Romans 7:7, “I would not have known sin except through the law. For I would not have known covetousness unless the law had said, ‘You shall not covet.’ ”

Our fallen human nature makes us refuse getting help or instructions about what we should do.

There are those who think it’s noble to avoid asking for directions to get somewhere when they’re lost. They would rather lose time wandering around trying to figure it out on their own. I know some say this is a typical male trait — they might be right. But it’s not smart. It’s as if the adamantly self-reliant would try to navigate a minefield without a map of where the land-mines are.

Then there are some who are just too busy to bother reading about warnings and instructions. They struggle to assemble new things for hours rather than read the directions that come with it.

Some are like those infamous lemmings who follow the crowd wherever it’s going, even over a cliff to their own death.

As it turns out, Lemmings aren’t really that stupid. However, they’ve become a metaphor for those who follow others to their own destruction. Rather than knowing God’s word on their own, some blindly follow trends and fads in worship, missions, and morality. Many popular pastors and writers have hijacked evangelical Christianity and made many segments of it into something that actually offends the God who reveals himself to us in his written word.

There’s a lot of expense put into warnings about storms and freezes here in Florida. Up in places more tothe north there are signs reminding drivers that bridges freeze before the roads do. Those who ignore those warnings are foolish and dangerous.

The same is true about what God warns us in his word. What he says is serious. God is real. He’s not just a figment of our own imaginations. He’s not an undefinable force of the universe that can be understood in contradictory ways. What we believe about him is the foundation of everything we do.

Psalm 19:7-8 explains the great value of the content and teachings of God’s word:

“The law of the Lord is perfect, converting the soul; The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple; The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes”

What God says to us in the Bible can’t be ignored or known only superficially. If we’re to see our souls transformed, if we’re to be truly wise, if our hearts want to truly learn to rejoice, and if we’re to be enlightened in our outlook on life, then we need to know that word very well.

It might be that Paul had that well known Psalm in mind when he wrote to encourage Timothy.

2 Timothy 3:15-17, “and that from childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

This means that the wisdom we find in the Bible, God’s own word, is profitable for us because:

  • It teaches us what is true.
  • It reproves us when we do things that are wrong.
  • It corrects us about what we should believe and practice.
  • It trains us in how to live so that we please the God who made and saved us.

This verse links believing the right things with doing the right things. It’s not enough just to believe certain facts to be true. We need to live by them and see the duty they impose upon us.

Beyond teaching us what we should believe about God, the Bible makes it clear that our responsibilities as God’s people aren’t undefined either. It’s easy to say what you think your duties should be, but it’s quite a different thing to actually perform those duties consistently and seriously. We need to know and to do what God tells us is our duty.

In James 2:19-20 it says, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?”

It’s a dead faith that thinks it can just believe good things, but not be concerned to do them. It’s not a faith that really trusts in God’s warnings and advice. It hypocritically says it does, but obviously there’s really no trust there if it lives in ways that ignore those warnings and instructions for life.

How well do you know your Bible? Do you know what it principally teaches about God, and about our duties here on earth? Do you know the details of what the Bible says and promises about every area of life? It’s your text book and manual for living.

God’s word is not just something comforting to read when you need a lift. It’s what you need to know and understand to live as you should in God’s world. It’s how you learn about the work of the Savior who alone makes you able to understand and to do what God says. Some books are just written to entertain you. Some try to impress you. Some are published to inform you. The Bible will do all that, but it will also change you.

Since it’s God’s word and comes with his power and promises, it can transform your life. Psalm 119:11 says, “Thy word have I treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee.”

Do you memorize parts of God’s word? Do you think about it throughout the day, and apply it as best you can?

The Scriptures tell what we need to know about God, and how he made things to be. It tells about our duties as we live here on earth as God’s people. The Psalmist says in Psalm 119:105, “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, And a light to my path.”

Don’t be one of those sad people who thinks he can live without a serious commitment to read and to know personally what God advises. Don’t be so arrogant that you think you can live well by following popular trends and be only generally acquainted with the Scriptures.

Read it and think on it every day. Pray that God will help you to live consistently in the ways it teaches. At the end of each week, ask yourself what have you turned to that has informed you about life the most? Was it the daily news? TV shows? commercials? Movies? popular music? social media? or is it the Bible? Have you read it and thought about it for as long as you spend time with these other sources of influence?

The Bible is where you learn how to glorify God and to enjoy him both now and forever.

(Note: The Bible quotations in this article are from the New King James Bible unless otherwise noted.)

About Bob Burridge

I've taught Science, Bible, Math, Computer Programming and served 25 years as Pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church (PCA) in Pinellas Park, Florida. I'm now Executive Director of the ministry of the Genevan Institute for Reformed Studies
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