The Bible is a wonderful book. God speaks to you through the Bible. But when you read the Bible, it is clear that God does not speak in the same way in every book and chapter. There are a lot of stories in the Bible, both of wonderful and of terrible things. It has prophecies. It has laws. It has poetry and songs. It has letters. Some of the Bible was written before Jesus was born, and some of it afterwards. In some parts of the Bible God speaks, in other parts people speak, and yet other parts are descriptions where no-one speaks. So how do we know whether and how these different parts apply to us today?
God speaks to you in the Bible
All of the Bible is God’s Word. 2 Timothy 3:16 says “all Scripture is breathed out by God”. This means that what we read in the Bible is not just human words, but that the Spirit of God used people to write His Word. This leads to the first important thought: there is no part of the Bible that we can just dismiss. All of it is useful, as the same verse continues, and “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”. So, the simple answer to the question “what parts of the Bible apply to us today?” is: all parts. But how they apply is not the same.
God speaks to us through history
A lot of the text of the Bible is historical. The importance of this is that it shows you who God is. We get to know the character of God through how He acts in history. This is true in the Old Testament, and even more so in the New Testament. In the New Testament you can read the story of Jesus’ life, and in Jesus we see the fullness of God. You can also read the history of the first church, showing how God works in this world by building His church.
God speaks to us through prophecy
Other parts of the Bible contain prophecy: predictions of what will happen later. Many of these prophecies have already been fulfilled. In a sense, they become history. They teach us that we can trust God, because He will do what He says. They also can give more depth to our understanding of history, as we understand God’s plan behind it. There are also prophecies that have a double or even triple fulfillment, partly in the future. Other prophecies are only concerned about the future. These help us prepare for and look forward to the future that God prepares for all who believe in Him.
God speaks to us through laws
Yet other parts of the Bible contain laws, mainly in the books Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Some of these laws are moral laws: they apply equally to all people at all times. An example of this is: you shall not steal. Other laws are ceremonial laws. Examples of these are laws about sacrifices. These laws point towards Christ and are fulfilled in Him. We do not have to obey these laws anymore, but they teach us about the worth of Christ. Finally, some laws are civil laws. These were like the civil law book for Israel. An example of this is that you someone’s sheep getting lost, you are obliged to take it back to the owner (Deuteronomy 22:1). These laws contain a lot of wisdom but do not directly apply to us.
The remark that not all laws apply to us anymore, is not an excuse. It is clearly taught in the New Testament, e.g. Hebrews 7:12: “For when there is a change in the priesthood, there is necessarily a change in the law as well.”
God speaks to us through promises, warnings, invitations and demands
The Bible contains promises, warnings, invitations, and demands by God. Some of these are general in nature, some are directed to a certain group of people. So, you should always carefully study how it applies. A good example of this is one of the most popular verses in the Bible: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and hope” (Jeremiah 29:11). If you put that on a tile and hang it on the wall, it is easy to forget the context. First, this was a promised given to Israel in exile, not to all people at all times. Second, there is a condition connected to it: they will have to turn to God first.
God speaks to us through doctrine
The Bible also contains doctrine, most of all in Paul’s letter. God’s truth is explained, and this is relevant to our lives. It is important to understand important issues like who God is, how bad sin is, why Jesus is a wonderful Savior, and what the role of the Holy Spirit is. Faith is trusting and loving God, but to do this we also have to know some things. The doctrinal parts contain eternal truth that therefore are directly relevant to us today.
It’s all about Jesus
You see that God speaks to us in different ways in his Word. Therefore, it is important to prayerfully study God’s Word so you understand it well and can obey it. It is not enough to just pick a verse from the Bible and say “this is God’s Word for me today”’.
One important insight that you should never forget, is that in the end, the whole Bible is about Jesus. He is the center of everything. He told the people who had walked to Emmaus with Him after His resurrection: “Everything written about Me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44). The whole Old Testament was written in preparation for the coming of Jesus. And the whole New Testament explains the importance of his coming.
What parts of the Bible apply today?
The whole Bible is relevant today. There are no portions that we can throw out. But we need to make an effort to understand how each part applies to us. When you focus on what is said about Jesus, and how the whole Bible glorifies and explains Jesus and our need of Him, you can’t go wrong.