Everyone is a theologian, because everyone thinks something, rightly or wrongly, about God. But we don’t want to think on, believe in, or commit to the wrong ideas about our Lord. The study of God (theology) is, therefore, a necessary undertaking for Christian discipleship.
So why is it that when we hear the word “theology,” we start to yawn? Or imagine musty, old books? It’s partly because we often don’t connect what we think about God to how we function in everyday life. So, what can we do to connect these two things? I want to make three suggestions.
- We Need to Address a Common Excuse
When I was in college, I was a Christian, but, I’ll admit, annoyingly argumentative about theology. You know the type. Well, I was that guy. One night, I remember trying to start a debate with a friend who responded by saying, “Man, I just want to follow Jesus. All this theology stuff is a distraction.” That was the first time I remember hearing that, but it has not been the last. In fact, I would bet that that’s a common sentiment in our churches.
Now, while God used my friend’s comment to help me understand that I was being immature and acting a fool, the quote has not aged well. Because what those words imply is that thinking theologically runs counter to following Jesus. And nothing could be further from the truth!
Who is Jesus? And how do you know? Why should we follow Jesus? How? These and a thousand other similar theological questions require ongoing consideration if we are going to follow Jesus the right way. Theology is not some stuffy-headed distraction from the pursuit of Christ. Quite the contrary: theology fuels Christian living.
It’s not enough to say that we need only an experience with God in order to live for him. As JI Packer showed us in Knowing God, it’s a mistake for Christian discipleship to separate knowing God from knowing things about God. The two kinds of knowledge enhance and inform each other. This is why the New Testament regularly brings together the dynamics of experiencing God in relationship (Philippians 3:10) and understanding God in the doctrines of religion (2 Timothy 1:13–14).
- We Need to Embrace a Common Responsibility
We are commanded by the Lord to pursue him intellectually. Mankind’s greatest commandment is to love the Lord with our heart, with our soul, and with our mind (Matthew 22:37). Therefore, it’s simple negligence for a believer to shirk the summons to the study of God. We have a sacred joy and responsibility to learn the Lord.
- We Need to Remember Some Common Benefits
Consider three different benefits that come from the knowledge of God.
It leads to godliness.
It is certainly true that knowledge can puff up (1 Corinthians 8:1) and that some people can continue to learn but never come to the knowledge of God (2 Timothy 3:7). So, there’s nothing inherently sanctifying about learning facts about divine things. Pagans can parse Greek verbs just fine.
Scripture does, however, teach us that there’s a connection between what those who want to obey God know of Him and their blamelessness (Philippians 1:9-10), their firmness of hope (Ephesians 1:18), their likeness to Him (Ephesians 4.20), their success in pleasing the Lord (Ephesians 5:10; Colossians 1:10), their avoidance of apostasy (Galatians 1:6–8), just to name a new. In other words, the Bible teaches that if you want to grow in godliness, you’ve got no choice but to pursue the knowledge of God.
It prepares you for headwinds.
Paul warns Timothy that in latter days, “difficult times will come” (2 Timothy 3:1), and people will turn aside from true doctrine to “myths” (2 Timothy 4:4). What Paul doesn’t tell us is what those difficulties and myths will be exactly. So how do we best prepare ourselves for them?
We have to know and hide in our hearts a rigorous understanding of divine truth (1 Timothy 3:9). Then, when “another gospel” threatens to dislodge us from obedience to the Lord, we can detect, dismantle, and defend ourselves against it (Galatians 1:6–8).
Most often, people are not led away from God by outright perversions of Christian truth. They are led away by close counterfeits. And those are much easier to discover when we are diligently pursuing the right knowledge of God.
It makes you a blessing.
If you’re reading this, it’s likely you’re involved in some kind of ministry. Perhaps you’re a long-time Sunday School teacher. Perhaps you’re a pastor and you’ve completed a Bible degree or MDiv. It’s also likely, then, that you know that you can coast. You already know ten times more than anybody you’ll ever minister to, and, if you wanted to, you could rattle off twenty-five minutes of Bible talk every Sunday for years and nobody would notice that you stopped learning years ago. I met a guy once who told me that very thing: “I don’t really study,” he said. “I know more than anybody I’m preaching to.”
But, whether you’re a pastor or layperson, if you’re going to be a blessing to your church, then you should begin by safely assuming you don’t know all there is about the infinite, triune God. And you should set your will to learn, teach, and obey the counsel of the Most High (Ezra 7:10). This will help you to serve as a more effective conduit of sacred knowledge. Too many brothers and sisters choose to coast when God is inviting us to discover more of his innumerable thoughts (Psalm 139:17–18). Be a blessing. Build a treasury of knowledge. Make a lifetime pursuit of the knowledge of God.