Not long ago, I saw a pastor holding a leather-bound copy of the New Testament. It was, if one pays attention to such things, a great book. It was nicely sized, well bound, and looked like it was a very comfortable book to use.
As lovely as it was, I could not help remind myself that, without the Old Testament, the New Testament offers only a part of God's message to humanity. Indeed, a nice study version of the New Testament is a great tool! But to overlook the text of the Old Testament is like reading the last book of a series without reading the ones that come before it.
Over-simplified and taken as a whole, the Bible represents God's plan for being in relationship with humanity and how humanity, in response to a right relationship with God, might be in relationship with each other. Beginning with Adam and Eve, we can see repeated cycles of "R" words that represent God's relentless pursuit of a relationship with humanity.
For this discussion, we'll jump into the cycle at Right Living. There are places in the Bible where we see humanity doing well and living rightly. This is what God hopes for and for what humanity was created to do. We are meant to enjoy our relationship with God and let that relationship lead us to Right Living.
Inevitably, however, we will see that Right Living is followed by humanity's Rejection and Rebellion. From Adam and Eve and onward, the Bible demonstrates that the people God created will turn away and pursue those things outside God's will.
The consequences of this always lead to less than ideal circumstances for the one who rebels. Consider as an example the "Prodigal Son" whose rejection and rebellion led to his demise. The nation of Israel shows us repeated examples of the consequences of falling away from God's will.
Humanity's hope lies in the truth that, even in rebellion, God continues to pursue relationship. God seeks out humanity, waiting on us to turn back. At the lowest of lows, Repentance (humanity's action) and Redemption (God's action) converge to put humanity back on the path toward Right Living.
Following Repentance and Redemption, God and humanity join in the process of Restoration. The people of God return to living in accordance to God's best plans for them. In time--sometimes slowly, sometimes suddenly--the people of God resume Right Living.
Thus, we see the cycle repeated:
God, seeing humanity fail over and over again, ultimately took action to establish a final process of redemption, and we see that in the closing chapters of the Gospels with the crucifixion, death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Then, from the first chapter of Acts and through the rest of the New Testament, we are shown how humanity should, therefore, live rightly in response to that once-and-for-all act of redemption.
We see this cycle repeated in various New Testament writings. For instance, Romans can be roughly (and over-simply) broken down into six chapters about humanity's rejection of God and the consequences, six chapters of God's act of redemption, and from chapter 12 onward, how humanity should rightly live in response to relationship with God.
There are many ways to apply what we see in the Bible, but the most direct application is to us as individuals. Our aim is to reside in Right Living--to live in relationship with God and let that reflect in our relationship with others.
Locate yourself on the cycle and do what you must to get back to Right Living.