‘In the beginning God.’ The first four words of the Bible are more than a way of launching the story of creation or introducing the book of Genesis. They supply the key which opens our understanding to the Bible as a whole. They tell us that the religion of the Bible is a religion in which God takes the initiative.
The point is that we can never take God by surprise. We can never anticipate him. He always makes the first move. He is always there ‘in the beginning’. Before we existed, God took action. Before we decided to look for God, God had already been looking for us. The Bible isn’t ab out people trying to discover God, but about God reaching out to find us.
Many people imagine God sitting comfortably on a distant throne, remote, aloof, uninterested, a God who doesn’t really care for our needs and has to be badgered into taking action on our behalf. Such a view is completely wrong. The Bible reveals a God who, long before it even occurs to men and women to turn to him, while they are still lost in darkness and sunk in sin, takes the initiative, rises from his throne, lays aside his glory, and stoops to seek until he finds them.
This sovereign, forward-looking activity of God is seen in many ways. He has taken the initiative in creation, bringing the universe and everything in it into existence: ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’ He has taken the initiative in what we call revelation, making known both his nature and his will to humanity: ‘In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son …’ He has taken the initiative in the rescue operation of salvation, coming in Jesus Christ to set men and women free from their sins: ‘God … has come and has redeemed his people.’
God has created. God has spoken. God has acted. These statements of God’s initiative in three different areas form a summary of the religion of the Bible. It is with the second and third that we shall be concerned in this book, because basic Christianity by definition begins with the historical figure of Jesus Christ. If God has spoken, his last and greatest word to the world is Jesus Christ. If God has acted, his noblest act is the redemption of the world through Jesus Christ.
God has spoken and acted in Jesus Christ. He has said something. He has done something. This means that Christianity is not just pious talk. It is neither a collection of religious ideas nor a catalogue of rules. It is a ‘gospel’ (i.e. good news)—in the apostle Paul’s words ‘the gospel of God … regarding his Son … Jesus Christ our Lord’. It is not primarily an invitation for us to do anything; it is supremely a declaration of what God has done in Christ for human beings like ourselves.
John Stott, Basic Christianity, New edition. (Nottingham: Inter-Varsity Press, 2008), 17–18.
I have just finished a study of this fantastic book. It is available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Question Subscription Service.