The following is a responce to Brian McLaren's favorite Bible passage, the Sermon on the Mount (namely the pieces that agree with him).
I am always weary of the chapter/verse break-ups in Scripture, as they are not God-ordained and in several occurences quite poorly placed. For example, see the breakups between Hebrews 4,5,6 and especially the breakup between Genesis 1,2. Certain verses seem like they can stand on their own, like John 3:16, but we have seen a cult grow out of that beautiful verse because it has been taken without context.
So it is difficult for me to choose a few verses or even a passage to call my favorite. When I think of one, such as the passage of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16), I realize that it needs the context of the rest Bible in order for me to exposit on it.
While Ephesians 2:8-9 are a succint summation of soteriology, without the accompanying chapter 2 and the entire letter to the Ephesians, it is hard to know if you can understand the intended meaning.
Paul beautifully gives a brief summation of the Gospel in the beginning of Galatians, but as Paul is wont to do, he backs up the beginning with the rest of the letter.
I could go on and on, Acts 12, Luke 18, Genesis 3, Genesis 1, Genesis 6, Job 40...insert also the other 1183 chapters of the Bible.
There is one passage that I feel is a beautiful command, it does not contain the full Gospel or strong basis for theology, but it is written to the saints and is one of the most powerful verses in scripture. It is found at the end of Chapter 2 in the 2nd letter to a Pastor named Timothy, Paul's last Epistle.
"And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will."
This passage could consume the mind for days if not weeks if not months. The theological themes written into it are as deep or as shallow as you look. I will do my best to summarize it in a pithy article without losing too much.
The beginning is not particularly important to unbelievers, but lays out a lifetime of growth for the child of God. The most important phrase in this verse for unbelievers is "oppose themselves".
This is similar to when Christ asked Saul of Tarsus why he kicked against the prods, symbolizing Saul as a beast of burden prodded forward but being stubborn. Saul's Rabbinical teaching and his knowledge of God's Law should have driven him towards repentance and the Messiah, but his pride kept him opposing himself and his knowledge.
These Law's are still in place today, they were written in stone and are unchanging. Ask yourself if you kick against the prods,
-Have you ever told a lie? If so, then God sees you as a Liar.
-Have you ever taken something that didn't belong to you? If so, then God sees you as a thief.
-Have you ever taken God's name in vain? If so, then you are a blasphemer and God will not hold him guiltless that takes His name in vain.
-Have you ever committed adultery? Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount, "Whosoever looks with lust has committed adultery already in their heart."
-Have you ever looked with lust? God sees this as adultery of the heart. He is concerned with the intentions of the heart, not just the actions.
-Have you ever killed anyone? Similarly Jesus said that if you are angry at someone, you are in danger of just as much judgment as if you had murdered them.
These are just five of the 10 Immutable Commandments. If you have broken them then the Bible says that your punishment is Hell. To quote one verse, Revelation 21:8 relegates lawbreakers to the fire, ending in "all liars will have their place in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone."
It is the God's servants' duty to attempt to show you the truth of this impending judgment; that there is none good but God, that whoever says they have no sin is a liar, and does not have the Truth abiding in them.
The Bible is adamant that if you have not been purchased into the family of God, then you are a child of the devil, a child of wrath. A popular colloquialism is "I would sell my soul to the devil for..." But this verse in 2nd Timothy informs us that our soul is not ours to sell, that it has been freely given to the devil through transgression. Not only so, but in our unbelief and acquiescing from the truth, we do the will of the devil, which is to keep souls from being redeemed to God.
The beauty of this passage lays in the middle. "That God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth." There is a way to life, even after all of the damage we have done to God's creation and kingdom with our transgressions and pride.
Paul tells us that there is a repentance that leads to life. If you'll approach God with sorrow for transgressing His laws, confess every sin you can remember, and cry out to Him for mercy, He will forgive you, because He can, because He will lead you to a knowledge of the Truth.
The Truth being that God became manifest in the flesh, as the man Jesus Christ, He was born of a virgin and lived a perfect, sinless life. He was tempted but He didn't succumb, He was beaten but He didn't break. He offered Himself up on a false charge to be the propitiation for our sins. He hadn't earned a single lash of the whip, but took your punishment upon Himself. He was hung on a cross outside of Jerusalem, a punishment so heinous that it was soon outlawed. Upon that cross He suffered not only earthly pain, but the pain of being abandoned by His Father in Heaven. His death paid the debt that our sins had amassed.
Pray to God that He grant you repentance leading to the knowledge that in Christ's death you are absolved, you are redeemed, you are forgiven.
And it will be so.