Years ago I was teaching a study of Genesis in my church when one of the discussion-group leaders, a godly older woman, came and sat by me. “How come I’ve never been taught this before?” she said with tears in her eyes. She was beginning to recognize that, despite many years studying the Bible, she had never seen how the story of the Bible centers on the person and work of Christ from Genesis to Revelation. Her tears were for all of the lost years of approaching the Bible in lesser ways. And I could totally relate.

I grew up having all of the answers in Sunday school, studied Bible in college, had a career in Christian publishing, and spent years in Bible Study Fellowship as an adult. But when I began to hear preaching and teaching that was saturated in biblical theology, I realized I needed to go back to kindergarten in my understanding of God’s Word.

In the years since then, I’ve been on a mission not only to understand the Bible this way myself, but also to introduce and infiltrate Bible studies—especially women’s Bible studies in the local church—with biblical theology. Here are some ways biblical theology transforms personal and group Bible study.

1. Biblical theology makes Bible study Christ-centered, not me-centered.

So many ways of approaching the Bible move oh so quickly to “how am I going to apply this to my life?” without considering the intended message for the first audience, and what difference the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus makes in understanding and applying it. It is only after we do these things that we’re really ready to draw application for our lives. And it is biblical theology—knowing and therefore recognizing major themes of the Bible that arise in a passage—that often helps us to get to how a passage connects to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

2. Biblical theology teaches us the larger story of the Bible, not a collection of disconnected stories.

For most of my life I could not articulate the basic storyline of the Old Testament—the line of the patriarchs, slavery in Egypt, redemption from slavery, entering the land, establishing the kingdom, division of the kingdom, exile of the northern 10 tribes, exile of the southern two tribes, and return to the land. I just had a mishmash of people and battles and stories in my head with no real sense of how they fit together. It especially fell apart with the divided kingdom, exile, and return.

When we study or present stories from the Bible disconnected from the larger story, historical narratives become little lessons on trying to have faith or live like the person in the story.

When we study or present stories from the Bible disconnected from the larger story, historical narratives become little lessons on trying to have faith or live like the person in the story.

But something changes dramatically when we approach the stories of the Bible—both New Testament and Old Testament narrative—with biblical theology. All of our disconnected bits of Bible knowledge come together to deepen our understanding of what God is doing in the world through Christ.

3. Biblical theology helps us make sense of the whole Bible, not just parts of it.

Without grasping the Bible’s historical timeline, we tend to focus on highlights that seem “practical” or filled with imperatives, ignoring sections or chunks that we simply don’t know how to handle. I think this is especially true with the latter history books or the major and minor prophets. Biblical theology opens the whole of the Bible to us even as it trains us to see how every part of it reveals something important about what God is doing through Christ to bring about his kingdom.

4. Biblical theology leads us to what we most need to know, not just what we want to know.

So many people approach the Bible to find instructions for what to do, insight into the questions and issues that are important to them. But the Bible answers the questions we don’t know enough to ask.

The Bible answers the questions we don’t know enough to ask.

As we grow in our ability to see the themes the divine author has written into his book, we allow the Bible to set the agenda. Coming to us in various genres—historical narrative, wisdom sayings, prophecy, discourse, poetry, apocalyptic—the Bible requires something of us to reveal its wisdom to us. We have to slow down. We have to have ears to hear.

5. Biblical theology focuses us on consummation, not merely going to heaven when we die.

For most of my life I would have told you the Christian life was about me making a decision for Christ, trying really hard to live for him, and then going to heaven when I die. And all of that is true. But it is so diminished from the reality of what we enter into when we are joined to Christ by faith. The story of the Bible is headed toward consummation, toward glory, not solely a spiritual existence somewhere away from this earth. This has so many practical implications for believers—especially as they face their death or the death of someone they love. Yet how can we expect believers to live (and face death) out of this story if they don’t know it?

6. Biblical theology urges us toward union with Christ, not merely imitating Jesus.

Somehow, for most of my life, I missed understanding that union with Christ is the very essence of what it means to be a Christian. Biblical theology serves to show us the beauty, the necessity, and the sufficiency of being joined to Christ by faith—not as an add-on evangelistic appeal, but organically from whatever text we’re in. Just trying to follow his example won’t suffice. We need something far more miraculous.

7. Biblical theology stirs up affection for Christ.

There is often a desire for group studies or teaching to be “practical.” We tend to want simple, manageable, consumer-friendly tidbits about God that we can use in our faith walk.

I understand wanting to find something practical. But let me tell you what I think is the most practical thing that can happen as we study the Bible on our own or with a group: that it would cause us to love Christ more and long more for his return. That is the foundation each one of us needs for any life-transforming obedience and faith.

As we grow in our understanding of the larger story of the Bible, become better able to identify biblical themes that arise in whatever passage we’re in, and then as we grow in the skill of tracing that theme through to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to what will happen when he comes again and establishes the new heaven and new earth, we see the beauty, worth, sufficiency and necessity of Jesus from all different angles. It moves us to love and wonder. And that is what we so desperately need.