I just finished A. J. Jacobs’ New York Times bestseller, The Year of Living Biblically: One Man’s Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Jacobs is a secular Jew who vows to live according to both the Old and New Testaments every day for an entire year. Despite what you may think of his quest, his humorous (and often poignant) reflections on the challenge of putting the Bible into practice are well worth the read. (Not to be missed are how he stones an adulterer in Manhattan and how his wife cleverly subverts his attempts to adhere to Old Testament laws concerning menstruating women!)

Applying the Scriptures to life—your own or another’s—seems like a fairly straightforward task until you really begin to think about it (or try to teach others to do so). As a biblical counselor, I’m constantly seeking to connect people with the life-giving message of Scripture. I seek to do that in my own life as well as I read and study the Word. Certainly, unless the indwelling Spirit guides me, I’m sure to misfire. We depend on God’s Spirit as we set about this task. But how exactly should we approach “application”?

In the past, I might have simply asked, “What general principle does this text teach and how does that idea work out in my life today?” (Of course, even to do this, I should have some sense of the intent of the passage for the original audience.) Now that’s not inappropriate, but it is incomplete. Why? Because it’s the equivalent of focusing on one scene in a movie without understanding its relationship to the plot line of the film. How can you make sense of the scene without understanding the whole story? The same is true of Scripture. The Bible is God’s revelation of his redemption to his people over the course of history, which culminates in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and the outpouring of his Spirit upon the church. Jesus tells his disciples that everything in the Old Testament points to him (Luke 24:44–47). This is not to say that every passage speaks explicitly about Jesus Christ, but rather that the story of God’s unfolding kingdom, centered on Jesus, is the backdrop against which any passage must be understood and applied.

So, when I think about application now, I ask, “What is God communicating to his people at the particular point in redemptive history when he spoke? How does it relate to what comes before and after it in the story?” Then I am better primed to ask, “How should this passage, now understood in light of Jesus’ first and second comings, shape my motives, thoughts, emotions, words, and actions?”

This redemptive thrust is sorely missing in A. J. Jacobs’ book. His approach is devoid of the triune God who tells his story so that people might turn to him and find forgiveness from their sin and comfort in their suffering as they await the renewal of the entire cosmos. Unfortunately, even Christians, as we use the Bible, can do so in a way that minimizes the person and power of Jesus Christ. How about you? What’s your approach to biblical application, both personally and in the context of ministry? Is it gospel-centered? What have you found helpful in your quest to “live biblically”?