Is it possible to live a Biblical life?
Usually, the “Big Bang” theory and the Bible aren’t found working together.
But a new American sitcom has been announced, based on bestselling book The Year of Living Biblically and produced by The Big Bang Theory star Johnny Galecki.
First published in 2007, The Year of Living Biblically was written by AJ Jacobs, an agnostic Esquire editor. He spent 12 months trying to “follow the Bible as literally as possible”, focusing specifically on the “more than 700 rules” he found in its pages.
The sitcom spin-off is expected to follow in Jacobs’ sandals of bringing Biblical rules in to modern living. Cue: canned laughter. Pretty safe to expect the sitcom will also match the tone of Jacobs’ year-long project. Although Jacobs admits his Bible-based year was “the most profound and life-changing experiment I’ve done”, the experiment was always expected to fail.
Come on, people. Admit it. It’s impossible to spend a year living Biblically. No-one could possibly live out all of the Bible’s laws. Right? Sheesh.
Yes, it’s true. Trying to follow Biblical rules like Jacobs did is impossible.
But that’s not what it means to live Biblically.
Relationship, not regulations
If Jacobs had really spent a year living Biblically, he would realise that it’s not about rules.
It’s about relationship. The relationship that defines every Christian and empowers them to live Biblically, every year of their life.
Yes, it’s possible to live Biblically. Because it’s possible to live for Jesus, the one the Bible identifies and upholds as “the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6).
The Bible isn’t a rule book. Jacobs treats it like it is but the Bible never claims to be that. So if he — or anyone else — treats it as such, it’s not because the Bible tells them to do so.
While it does contain plenty of laws, instructions and guidance, the Bible is a book chiefly concerned with God and his relationship with people. From the first chapter of Genesis mentioning humans as created in God’s own image (1:27), the emphasis of the Old and New Testaments is keeping in relationship, not keeping regulations. When Jacobs cut and pasted all the rules he could spot in the Bible, he completely missed the beating heart and purpose of the good book.
Jesus is the fine point of the relationship between God and us, the human race of sinful, imperfect people. “For (Jesus) Christ also suffered for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God” (1 Peter 3:18).
The purpose of the Bible, then, is to reveal Jesus as the example AND the reason that any of us can enjoy relationship with God.
The heart of the law
Interestingly, Jacobs’ approach to the Bible is something Jesus shot down in many religious people that he met. The parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) was Jesus’ memorable response to an expert in Jewish Law who cared more for keeping the rules than grasping their underlying meaning.
This expert in rules and regulations wanted to know how to get eternal life. Jesus asked him what the laws handed down by Moses had to say on the subject. The expert’s answer impressed Jesus, who commended the expert’s realisation that all of those laws could be summarised as:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Deuteronomy 6:5)
“Love you neighbour as yourself” (Leviticus 19:18)
But then the Jewish Law expert wanted to justify how he wanted to live, so he asked Jesus: “And who is my neighbour?” That question exposed the legal expert’s self-absorbed heart. It was further exposed by Jesus going on to tell the Good Samaritan parable.
The moral of that story about one bloke helping another is simple: show mercy to others, irrespective of who they are.
On the rule of “love your neighbour”, the expert in Jewish Law had missed the wood for the trees. Seems Jacobs did the same thing, during his so-called biblical year.
Following rules or guidelines given by God is not about doing the right thing for the sake of it. As if keeping the letter of the law is the goal. Instead, God’s laws and directions for people always point back to right relationship with him. Their aim is to help people live best with him and others.
The rules Jacobs’ attempted to follow don’t matter at all if they’re not kept in relationship with God, through The One who enables us to remain in that relationship.
Living out the love
Being the fulfillment of the Old Testament law (as Matthew 5:17-20 famously records), Jesus is the only one who can help us live out what God’s law upholds. The Old Testament laws pointed to the way of living for God that Jesus would usher in (Galatians 3; Hebrews 8-10).
Jesus did say that those who love him would keep his commands (John 14:15). But his commands were not to be followed the way Jacobs tried to do. As dry, cold rules that are totally separate to a redemptive relationship with God, brought about by repenting and believing in Jesus’s salvation offer.
As beautifully revealed by John 14-17, loving Jesus means that we’ll love to keep his commands. Because those commands boil down to exactly what the expert in Jewish law said — love God and love your neighbour.
Those are rules worth living out, in the power of God’s Spirit, this biblical year. And the next. And the next…