Faith and the Unfolding Drama

Jim McGuiggan, Author

This brief piece will be very repetitive. It’s abundantly clear to me that God forgave sins from the days of Adam and Eve down to the arrival of Jesus. Forgiveness was always by God’s holy grace and could never be “earned”. God never asked anyone to “earn” it! The NT never doubts that and neither should we. David exults in the truth that there were people whose sins were not credited against them (Psalm 32:1,2 and Romans 4:6-8). But that’s not what the NT is dealing with!

Abraham’s faith in God was as true and as real as Paul’s faith in God. The faith of believers in ancient times (Hebrews 11) was truly faith in God. The NT never doubts that and neither should we. True believers are true believers no matter in what age they live. But that’s not what the NT is dealing with!

The obedience of faith that we read about in the OT (in people like Noah, Hannah, Josiah, Moses’ mother Jochebed or Melchizedek) was as real as the obedience that stemmed from faith in believers in Jesus Christ. The faith-filled obedient people are the same kind of people no matter in what age they live. But that’s not what the NT is dealing with!

The New Testament deals with a specific section of God’s unfolding drama. Everything prior to that, while absolutely essential to the drama as a whole, is prelude. The fullness of times (Galatians 4:4) and the “ends of the ages” (1 Corinthians 10:11) only arrived when God became incarnate in and as Jesus of Nazareth who is called the Christ. The NT era is the time that all the ancient worthies had to wait for if they hoped for the completed drama (Hebrews 11:39-40).

It doesn’t matter that they all didn’t know what the end was to be. It didn’t matter that they didn’t know all that the end would involve. In trusting to God they were looking for whatever it was that God had in store. Prophets spoke things they didn’t really understand and people hoped for things (as we do) that they didn’t understand. “Eye hasn’t seen, ear hasn’t heard nor has it entered into the heart of man the things God has prepared for them that love him.” That is as true today for us as it would have been for ancient believers prior to coming of God in the flesh.

People enjoyed forgiveness and life with God because God in holy grace granted it to them. But that life with God that they enjoyed could never come to fullness in the world as it was and is even now. For the life that God finally intended for the human family when he was creating us wasn’t fulfilled in Genesis 1. That was the beginning of what God had in mind for us but the fullness of what God had in mind for us is revealed in Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:16) who is the last Adam (1 Corinthians 15:47). God gave forgiveness and life in a relationship to Abraham but Abraham would die, as would Moses and Samuel and David and the rest. Death would rob them of embodied life (and a human is not fully a human if not embodied).

Death reigned over the human family even over those that believed in God. Then came Jesus of Nazareth, the death killer! In and by him death was destroyed (2 Timothy1:9-10) and a new creation begun. In him, as a single individual, a new creation actually exists and is experienced and Christians inhabit it by faith in him.

By faith Abraham was as right with God in his day as Christians are right with God by faith in Jesus Christ. But the content of the Christian’s faith is richer and more developed than Abraham’s was.

The shape of his faith bore witness to God within the parameters and boundaries of his place in God’s developing drama. The shape of a Christian’s faith in God through Jesus Christ is a witness to God’s bringing his creation purposes to completion in Jesus Christ. No one’s faith, prior to Jesus Christ, could bear such a witness precisely because pre-Jesus Christ faith could not proclaim what God has now accomplished in the person of Jesus Christ. Christians live at a particular time in the history of the world and have been called to be the body of Jesus Christ in the world.

The forgiveness in pre-Jesus Christ days was real but forgiveness in Jesus Christ carries with it a significance that couldn’t be carried before he came. Abraham’s faith-motivated obedience (Genesis 22 and James 2) was genuine and acceptable with God as righteousness (Romans 4:3). In that respect there is no difference between Abraham’s obedience of faith and the Christian’s. But Abraham’s obedience of faith could not function as a witness that God’s creation purposes had been fulfilled in Jesus Christ, because they hadn’t been! Abraham, along with the other ancient worthies in Hebrews 11, had to wait until the Christian era arrived (11:39-40).

Forgiveness and faith and obedience and life with God in pre-Jesus Christ days were real but they did not have the significance that those realities have in and through Jesus Christ. Christian faith proclaims—on the basis of Jesus Christ—that all that the ancient worthies had looked for (though they may not have been aware of it, and certainly not, at any rate, in full awareness)—all that the ancient worthies had looked for has now come. We look now at Jesus and in him, the individual, we see God’s creation purposes fulfilled, now! All  things HAVE been brought under one head [Ephesians 1:10]; all things HAVE been put in their rightful place under God through Jesus [Colossians 1:15-20]. (This fulfillment that he as a single individual experiences will be made the personal experience of all that are embraced in his redeeming work. The Lord of All chooses that all that he now has dominion over will continue as he chooses until a day of his choosing. His reasons are his own!)

Apart from Christians the ancients—whoever they were—could not be made perfect. Forgiveness and faith and life with God all have a different complexion now that Jesus has come. Those glorious realities function with a finality that wasn’t possible for even true faith in pre-Jesus Christ times.

I’m sure we’re on the right track when we say that there are differences between Paul’s and Abraham’s faith and forgiveness and relationship with God. But the differences have nothing to do with quality or with their reality! But since they lived at different points in the divine drama their faith and life with God contributed to the entire drama in different ways. Ray McClendon helpfully summarises the matter like this:

“For example, the reference to an unfolding drama enables us to ponder Hebrews 11:39-40 in this light: What does it really mean that, though faithful, they didn’t receive what was promised and only together with us are made perfect?

We could put it this way. At the end of the second act (of, say, a two-act story), all of the actors come out, join hands, and bow. Receiving the accolades of the honor and glory of the completed story they presented. They all occupy (finally and in the end) the same stage; regardless of where their part was in the Story; regardless of whether it came in the first act or the second act and regardless of whether their part was small or large. The actors in the First Act didn’t come out after the first act to receive all of the honor and glory because that wasn’t fully revealed or known until the second act! It couldn’t possibly be fully understood or appreciated because the story was still being told and the finale had not yet come. The Abrahams, Melchizedeks, and Rahabs were all in supportive roles; they weren’t the stars nor did they appear in the final and critical stages of the story.

But when the Star appears and the climax plays itself out, all the act 1 players take their rightful place beside the act 2 players and together with them receive all the honor and glory (compare Hebrews 11:39-40 and 12:22-24). They’re entitled to share in the glory that comes to the act 2 players because without them there could be no act 2 players and no completed drama. In addition, it wasn’t until the whole story was told/known that everyone’s role could be fully understood and appreciated. Nevertheless, everyone’s place in the Story, in his or her own time and circumstances, was crucial and served the will of God who, in every generation, dealt faithfully with all the players that had a place in the drama.”


Jim McGuiggan, Author

Our Story is his Story. If we are to tell it faithfully—an embodied telling as his People—we must make it his Story that we tell. Only when it is his story can it be our story if indeed we are “his body”. Some other “body” may embody some other story but the “body of Christ” has no other Story to tell, no other Story to re-enact, no other Story to re-tell and sing and Supper in its public and corporate worship.

As sure as Israel had no other Story to tell about its God, its deliverance, its Exodus, Red Sea crossing, its Sinai covenant, its Spirit-guided journey through the wilderness [Isaiah 63:11-14] and its inheriting “the land of promise,” that surely the NT People of God has no other Story than the Story of Jesus: the incarnation of God in the virgin birth, the sinless life, the death, the resurrection, ascension and exaltation of Jesus and his sending of the Spirit to indwell a new temple, a new People, a new priestly Nation and his coming again.

If the Story the NT people tell is his Story it’s a Story of suffering and then glory. That aspect of the Story is not hinted at in a few verses here and there. It’s the Story developed in and by the entire message of Moses, Psalms and Prophets; at least that’s what Jesus told the two men on the way to Emmaus and then to others later [see Luke 24:25-27 and 44]. Read those texts for yourself!

This is the Story the People of God embody before the world! Romans 8:17-39—the entire section—is one of suffering and then glory. In 8:17 Paul says that we will be glorified with him providing we suffer with him [as the People of God that suffers through its individuals]. The Greek text says we are, joint-heirs, jointly-glorified if we are “joint-suffers.” Romans 8:29 is the link between what the creation and the children of God hope for and the fulfilment of that for which they hope. 

This suffering was no ad hoc arrangement it was an eternally purposed part of God’s eternal purpose. The blessed Lord Jesus modeled the way to human redemption and God purposed that Jesus’ brothers/children re-enact and embody the way of Christ, existing and living in “his image”—suffering on its way to glory as did its Head and Lord. That’s the Story it preaches [1 Corinthians 1:18-24 and 2:2]. To this day it remains a fool’s message preached by weak and powerless fools [1 Corinthians 4:9-10] and preached to a Church that often wants to reign like kings and lords [4:8-13].

 This is the Story too in 2 Corinthians 4.5-12. There the glorious treasure of the gospel is carried in earthen vessels that are fragile, easily broken, constantly suffering breakage. This isn’t talking about moral weakness but about suffering and death, about an embodied Story that means suffering and death for the People of God [the Community of Witness that images Jesus] and life for others. Read the entire section for yourself!

The way to glorification and reigning with the Lord Jesus is: The Cross and the Glory to follow. [1 Peter 1:10-11 and elsewhere in Peter with Luke 24:25-27, 44 and see Matthew 21:42, Acts 4:11; 1 Peter 2:5-8]. The rejection of Jesus continues in the rejection of his new Temple, his new People.

We’re simply not prepared to accept that until Jesus returns he chooses to rehearse his Story—his embodied Story, his Story which is a message of, first the cross and then glory! And he chooses to re-enact that Story in his Body the Church for the blessing and life of the world. In this world his Story is not reasonable, respectable, neat or well adapted. His Holy Father could not be tamed or domesticated by his people Israel and nothing has changed. We can’t have the glory without the cross. The hymn, The Way of the Cross Leads Home isn’t just about the truth that we get forgiveness of sins by Christ’s death—it’s also about the only way to faithful obedience and gospel imaging. The hymn: Must Jesus Bear the Cross Alone isn’t as popular as it used to be and that’s the case for more than one reason. But, then again, such a hymn wouldn’t have suited Peter when Jesus was right there beside him. 

There’s something sobering about that section in Luke 14:25-35 where three times [three times!] the Lord Jesus said, “If you’re not prepared to do these you can’t be my disciples.” Go on, read the text for yourself and feel its weight! 

If we won’t accept co-crucifixion with him as our lot until we are vindicated by our coming Vindicator we cannot belong to the Christ. Taking up our crosses [Matthew 16:21-25] is only another way off saying: “Make my cross your cross.” We know that that’s true because there aren’t two crosses/two deaths. There is only one and we make it that cross, that death—his and by faith we make it ours [Romans 6:3-4, his death, Gal 2:20; 6.14]. His cross is ours. Not the kind of death we choose. His death and his alone is the death we must be incorporated into. It only becomes our death IF it is his death we’re baptized into!

Paul doesn’t see himself crucified on a cross alongside Jesus—he sees himself crucified on Jesus’ cross [Galatians 6.14]. “God forbid that I should glory in anything except the cross of Jesus Christ by which the world was crucified to me and I [was crucified] to the world.” I’ve emphasized “by which” to make the obvious point that it was by Christ’s cross that Paul was crucified. What is true of Paul is true of Peter and everyone else.

By being baptized into the crucified and resurrected Jesus [Romans 6:3-5] by faith we make Jesus’ cross and the resurrection ours. We would say with Paul [in Galatians 2:20, “I have been crucified with [co-crucified, one Greek word] Christ.” In saying that he is saying he did what Jesus called Peter and whoever to do, “Make my cross yours!” 

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.


Jim McGuiggan, Author

Curs Deus homo? A Latin phrase meaning: “Why [did] God [become] human?” This was and is a basic theological question related mainly to the atonement.

I won’t take the time to develop what believers from NT times until the modern era have insisted on but I want to state it clearly.

The atonement for sin and the reconciliation of the world to God is the work of God and not man!

Shelving for now any discussion about the physical and non-human aspects of creation let me say that God became human to deal with the sin of the human family so that the human family could be restored to life in fellowship with God.

It is God who deals with human sin so that it is rendered powerless to be and to sustain what alienates humanity from God.

It’s a central truth of the NT that it is in and through the man Jesus that such a restoration is brought about—that is beyond reasonable dispute. But that is where the doctrine of the Incarnation enters with peculiar force. Jesus is the incarnation of God!

God didn’t come to us merely in and through Jesus; he came to us as Jesus. Jesus is God being a man—the man, Jesus! So, while the reconciliation of the world is accomplished through the man Jesus it is only accomplished through the man Jesus because the man Jesus is God being the man Jesus. It is God incarnate in and as the man Jesus who reconciles the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:18).

It isn’t that the human family produced a man that did the job. Jesus is certainly a human, fully a human and nothing less than a human. But Jesus is God being a true human in order to do for the human family what it could not do for itself. To stress the truth that Jesus is God being a man is not to deny the true humanity of Jesus but it is to stress that we didn’t produce of ourselves the answer to our awful need. Jesus is truly “one of us” but he is one of us because God chose and chooses to be “one of us”.

God came in and as the man Jesus to be the champion of humans against the powers of darkness which, in whatever form they take, are too powerful for us. He didn’t come to condemn us because we had done a perfect job of that all by ourselves—he came to save and give us life (John 3:17).

©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.

Recognize the Bible’s Central Purpose

To study Shakespeare as a way to learn geography is to waste your time and miss Shakespeare. To approach Poetry as you would Maths is to miss poetry’s beauty, point and power. We must recognise the kind of literature we are dealing with and it’s equally important to recognise the purpose of that literature. (We don’t understand a tool until we know what it is designed to do. The same is true of literature. Until we know both what a writer said and why he said it, we don’t understand him!)

The Bible has a central purpose. When asked what the Bible was for, James Packer said: “It was written to make friends!” That’s too simple, of course, but it is profoundly true! The Bible is written to lead people into life with God through Jesus Christ. This life involves pardon from sin and devotion to the Saviour! The Bible’s central aim is unashamedly religious. It’s goal is to produce and sustain faith in God through Jesus Christ so that people might return to and remain with God!

The following verses (from among many) tell us plainly why the word of God is given to Man. Please be sure to read them!

There is 2 Tim 3:15 which tells us the Scriptures make us wise unto salvation. John 20:30-31 says the Book was written that people might have eternal life through trusting in Jesus Christ. 1 Peter 1:23,25 says that the word was preached so people could be ‘born again’. Psalm 19:7 says the scriptures revive the soul. Deuteronomy 30:15-16 teaches that God’s laws are given that people might have life rather than death, prosperity rather than destruction. 2 Tim 3:16-17 tells us that the scriptures are valuable because they thoroughly equip the man of God for every good work!

Now, what has all this to do with the study of Scripture? To ignore the Bible’s central purpose is to misunderstand it! We must listen to it as to the voice of God calling us into loving fellowship with him. We are not to read it as mere observers of some ancient drama, we are to recognise our place in the ongoing drama. We are to recognise its history as Man’s history, and ours in particular. If we fail (and we could!), to hear the voice of God in the Bible, calling us and challenging us, we have missed the Bible’s message and purpose. It is ‘bread’to be eaten rather than simply analysed! To be fed on, more than to undergo constant inspection!

And the Bible is not a substitute for God! To confuse a love letter from our husband or wife with our husband or wife is to violate the purpose of the letter. The love letter is not intended to come between the two lovers. Its aim is to bring the two persons closer together. To substitute the letter for the person is a fundamental error. To confuse God’s covenantal law or his message of Good News with God himself is to err at the most crucial level. We must study the Scriptures with open hearts, seeking his friendship. It is a tragedy beyond words to search the Scriptures and miss God (see John 5:39-40).


The central purpose of the Bible is to bring us to life with God and that life is found only in Jesus Christ, Because this is so he is the central character in God’s purpose. Therefore, how we stand in relation to Jesus Christ is the issue which must be understood and settled before any other question is given serious consideration.

Our Bible study should begin with the New Testament scriptures. With those which deal most directly with God’s liberating work in Jesus Christ and how God wants us to respond to it. We must begin with him and not in the Old Testament. In olden times, says the New Testament (Hebrews 1:1-2), God spoke to the ancients in “fragmentary and varied fashion”. In Jesus Christ he has spoken in a final and completed way. God’s fullest and clearest revelation has been made in Jesus Christ and that is why he must be the centre and focus of our Bible Study. Read John 14:6, Acts 4:12 and 1 Timothy 2:5 on all this. 

Begin your study, then, in the New Testament. Especially the GOSPELS (the first four books of the New Testament) and ACTS. Don’t neglect the NT EPISTLES (letters) for they help us immeasurably to understand the GOSPELS. And don’t completely avoid the Old Testament. But, in the beginning, make the GOSPELS and ACTS the centre around which your studies revolve. And do so with a view to finding freedom and life with God in Jesus Christ. This is the grand purpose for Bible study!


All truths are important but some are more important than others. The Bible itself confirms what commonsense tells us. Here are just a few verses which make this truth clear.

  • 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 where Paul said some things were “of first importance”.
  • Matthew 23:23 where Jesus rebuked people for neglecting “the more important matters” of the law.
  • Matthew 5:19 and 22:38 where Jesus speaks of “the least” and “the greatest” commandments.
  • 1 Samuel 15:22-23 where the prophet insists that the Lord delights more in obedience than in the offering of religious sacrifices.

These scriptures say some things mean more to God than others, some truths are more important than others. If we keep this in mind we will give special attention to the more important matters. We will not spend a great deal of time on little questions when major issues stare us in the face. We won’t spend a lot of time on obscure verses when plain words demand a response from us. We will gladly tolerate differences on minor issues but we will stand firmly on foundational truths.

As you gain experience you will be able to distinguish more easily between what matters tremendously and what does not, between what is essential truth and what there can be room for honest differences on.

Does the Bible link the subject with salvation or forgiveness? Does it link the subject to life in Christ? Is the topic related to faithfulness to God and our neighbour? Does it seriously affect the ‘truth of the Gospel’ or how we view an honourable life before God? If it does, the subject is fundamentally important. Learn well the things that are plainly stated, obey the things that are plainly called for and remain open to receive the rest as you continue to gain more experience. Treat no truth as unimportant but follow the Bible when it teaches that some matters “are more important” than others (Matthew 23:23 and 1 Corinthians 15:3-4).


  1. To understand the Bible we must understand its nature and purpose!
  2. Its central purpose is to bring us life with God!
  3. Christ himself brings us life with God so we must make him the centre of our thoughts!
  4. Our study must centre around the GOSPELS and ACTS!
  5. Some truths are more important than others!

 ©2004 Jim McGuiggan. All materials are free to be copied and used as long as money is not being made.