Tag Archives: doctrine

The Need for Studying Theology, a Guest Post by Michael Chadwick

Before I dive into the subject of why theological study is crucial for the Christian, I would really like to address something important. When you read the title of this post, you may have had certain doubts. You might have had one of these reactions: Theology? I don’t want to lose the simplicity of faith! Won’t I substitute thought for action? I mean, theology has caused divisions – theology uses big words, and it just complicates communication. Isn’t theology all based on speculation, and doesn’t theology major on minor truths? 

If you had a reaction similar to this, you’re not alone. You see, a large number of people in the church, unfortunately try to avoid theology and all that goes along with it like avoiding some plague. Most people have strong doubts about theology – but let me encourage you by saying that theology is not a bad thing. In fact, if theology is done with the right motive, it is a most glorious thing. With that said, let’s dive in deeper into why we should study theology and why it is definitely a good thing.

First of all, what is theology? Theology, in its literal translation is the study of God. The meaning of the word comes from two separate words: Theo (meaning God) and ology (meaning study). Essentially, theology is the study of God. Henry Clarence Thiessen gives us an even better way to understand the definition of theology, saying that “we may define theology as the science of God and His relations to the universe.”¹ Why is this? Why is theology the science of God and how He relates to the universe? Because in Christian theology, you have to include many different doctrines. Throughout years of study, we now include every Christian doctrine to this idea of theology. Doctrines such as:

  • the doctrine of revelation (the study of how God reveals Himself to us, etc.)
  • the doctrine of God (this includes His nature, His attributes, His decrees, His works, etc.)
  • the doctrine of humanity (this includes our nature, and our relationship to both sin and a holy God)
  • the doctrine of Christ (includes both the person and the work of Christ)
  • the doctrine of the Holy Spirit (includes both the person and the work of the Holy Spirit)
  • the doctrine of salvation (how it is that we are saved, what does that entail, etc.)
  • the doctrine of the church (how is the church to be led, what is the purpose of the church, etc.)
  • the doctrine of last things (consummation and what will happen when we die)

This was far from a complete list, but it definitely gives a good overview of what we consider to be theology today. It’s not just one idea, or a few scattered ideas – it is a science – the science of God. Theology is important because it deals with every day Christian life, as you can see clearly from the list above.

Why should we study theology? There are four main reasons why it should be important for Christians to study theology. So why should we sit down and enjoy studying theology?

1. Study Theology Because the Bible Teaches That Theology is Important

The first reason is because the Bible teaches us that theology is important. Look at Hosea 4:1-6:

“Listen to the word of the Lord, O sons of Israel, for the Lord has a case against the inhabitants of the land, because there is no faithfulness or kindness or knowledge of God in the land. There is swearing, deception, murder, stealing and adultery. They employ violence, so that bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and everyone who lives in it languishes along with the beasts of the field and the birds of the sky, and also the fish of the sea disappear. Yet let no one find fault, and let none offer reproof; for you people are like those who contend with the priest. So you will stumble by day, and the prophet also will stumble with you by night; and I will destroy your mother. My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest, since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children” (NASB).

In the beginning verse, God tells the people of Israel that there is a case against them – because on top of many other things, there was no knowledge of God in the land. And this is an essential part of theology. We as theological students try to learn more and more about our God. We need the right knowledge of God as Christians. This passage from Hosea calls us to pursue that knowledge, and it does so through one of its many warnings found in verse 6: “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge, because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest, since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children.” If God is unchangeable (which is one of His many attributes), then He can do the same thing to us. We can be spiritually destroyed and reap the consequences without knowledge of God. We as Christians, as God’s people, need to have knowledge about God. Also, similar instruction is found in Malachi 2:7, “for the lips of a priest should preserve knowledge, and men should seek instruction from his mouth; for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts.” In the local church, your pastor(s), deacons, elders, Sunday school teachers, or any other persons in leadership roles should help you in your personal study of the knowledge of God. This study is what we call theology. So first we see that the Bible teaches that study of theology is important.

2. Study Theology Because Jesus Demonstrated That Theology is Important

Secondly, we should study theology because Jesus demonstrated that theology is important. Let us look at Matthew 16:13-16:

“Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, He was asking His disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; but still others, Jeremiah, or one of the prophets.’ He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’” (NASB)

What is pictured in this passage is that they are walking in a line and Jesus goes to each disciple individually and asks these questions. When it says that Jesus was asking the disciples, it has the action of beginning to ask and kept asking. Finally, after he got through all of the disciples, he got to Peter. And Peter said that Jesus was the long awaited Messiah. The point: Jesus wanted to know what people were saying about Him. By doing this, He was demonstrating that theology is important to Him. If we cannot answer this fundamental question right, then we cannot dive further into theology, for if we have an answer any different than Peter’s, anything else we say is as flawed as the “wisdom” of this world.

3. Study Theology Because it is Important for Discipleship

Thirdly, to be a disciple we need to study theology. Remember, if we cannot answer who Jesus is correctly, we cannot begin to go anywhere else in Scripture. To be a true disciple of Christ, we have to know what Christ says, does, and thinks. The only way we can figure this out is by reading our Bibles and by studying theology. We need theology to help us in our walk with God. We need theology to be better ambassadors for Him. The Christian life may start out with a “blind” and simple faith, but God does not want us to stay there. God wants you and I to grow in our faith. God wants us to learn more about Him, and as we do we will be growing disciples.

4. Study Theology Because the Early Church Demonstrated That Theology is Important

Last, the early church demonstrated that theology is important. The early church had to rely on sound theology to safeguard against the all-too-frequent heresies that came about. Many of the major heresies really started after the apostle John died. Soon after his death was when Gnosticism was on its rise. This heresy affected people’s understanding of the doctrine of Christ, the doctrine of God, and the doctrine of humanity. If you ever decide to research Gnosticism, you will see that its impact was so sever that we are still trying to recover from this heresy. On a similar note, you even have to be careful when studying the heresies! Make sure you have a very solid foundation on the Bible before you work through those. There were many other heresies that came about that compelled the early Church to rely completely on sound theology. And that demonstrates the need for studying it.

Conclusion: Study Theology for the Glory of God

As I said in the introduction, if you study theology with the right motive, then it is a most glorious thing. Since we know why we should study theology, then we need to find out what the right motive is for studying theology. So what is this right motive? The answer to that is really the answer to why we do anything. We as Christians do everything to bring praise, honor, and glory to our sovereign King. That is always the end goal in everything that we do. Our motive for studying theology is no different. We study theology for God’s glory. If our motive is anything other than to learn more about our Creator, and to grow in our relationship with Him, then we are wrong and need to desperately repent. There are many who study theology so that they can answer all the questions, and be the smartest person in the room – quite plainly, that is wrong. They need to repent because it is clear that God is displeased with that. Truthfully, they would be better off not studying theology in the first place. So before starting to study theology, ask yourself why you are doing this. If the answer is not so that you can grow in order to glorify God, then wait until you can answer that way.


  1. Thiessen, Henry C. Lectures in Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2006), 1-2.
13716047_10153790694491547_9032896755713306761_nMichael Chadwick is the pastor of Jensen Baptist Church in Pineville, Kentucky. He and his wife Kari live in Pineville, where they both study at the acclaimed Clear Creek Baptist Bible College.

QUESTION: How Often Should I Partake of the Lord’s Supper/Communion?

This is what we refer to as a “non-dogmatic” issue. Dogmatic, on the other hand, refers to something that is incontrovertibly true – something that cannot be negotiated, but must be accepted. So when we say that a teaching of the Bible is dogmatic, then it must be accepted and taught, no negotiations or beating around the bush, as they say. A few examples of something biblically dogmatic would be: the gospel, the inspiration of Scripture, the Trinity, the deity of Jesus Christ, and things like this that would radically change the message and validity of Christianity if they were altered even in the least.

But there are also plenty of non-dogmatic issues today. Some of these are: proper church attire, contemporary vs. traditional music in the church, eldership/deaconship, and others like these. Issues that fall into this category can alter and change depending on your local congregation – and they are no more or less biblical than the church that handles those issues differently.  For example, it is just fine if a church allows blue jeans and t-shirts in the worship service. There is no biblical command that says you must wear a suit and tie to worship. But there may be a more traditional church that says you should wear your “Sunday best.” That is also fine. Falling under this category of non-dogmatic is how frequently and individual or church should partake of the Lord’s Supper (or Communion).

The Bible doesn’t specify how often you should partake of the Lord’s Supper, it only specifies that you should partake of it, in a proper manner, and that you understand and apply its meaning. It doesn’t matter if you partake of it once a year, once a month, or once a week. What matters most is that you do it in remembrance of Jesus, understand its significance, and partake of it in the correct manner.

The instructions we have about the Lord’s Supper are found in 1 Corinthians 11, where Paul states: “For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (vv. 23-26, emphasis mine).

Paul quotes Jesus in this passage, and as far as how often we should partake of the Lord’s Supper, Jesus only requires “as often as you drink it.” That is the only time frame we have. This assumes that we are partaking of the Lord’s Supper, and it implies that it should be done time and time again. The tone used in this part of the passage doesn’t indicate that it should only be done once, but it the tone in this passage also doesn’t indicate that it should be done constantly. Only “as often” as you do it.

The important thing to remember is that the Lord’s Supper is a sacred time to remember the Lord Jesus and the significance of His substitutionary death on the cross, and that we have received it. The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the Lord’s Supper, referred by them as the Eucharist, actually becomes the body and blood of Christ. That might be a good example of when a non-dogmatic issue becomes a dogmatic issue. When something that is considered non-dogmatic is altered to the point where it conflicts with other Bible teachings, then it needs to be reexamined and reinterpreted in light of the other teachings of Scripture. Nowhere in Scripture does the Bible teach or even imply that the Lord’s Supper transfuses into the actual blood and body of Christ that we must receive for salvation. When something non-dogmatic conflicts with what is dogmatic, it is no longer a non-dogmatic issue.

The Lord’s Supper is a beautiful symbol, and a time of remembrance and thanksgiving. We eat the bread symbolizing that we have partaken of Jesus Himself, the Bread of Life (John 6:35), and we drink the juice (or wine) symbolizing that we have received His blood as atonement for our sins. Nothing in Scripture about the frequency of doing so, only “as often” as we do it.

The Healthy Church: Principles for True Ministry – Our Character (Titus 1:1a)

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church, on the 25th day of January 2015:

Neglecting Health

There is perhaps nothing more important to the human body than its health. This is due mainly to the fact that good health is necessary to the human body. In fact, this is especially true in our own age. We find that there are more organic and wholesome foods sold today than ever before. Cigarette smoking is at its lowest percentage now among high school students.¹ Fast food restaurants are being questioned about their practices, the way they prepare their food, and what they put into it. This focus on health is evident even in my own life. I went on a search the other day to a few general stores because I was looking for coffee creamer. Sounds strange right? Not quite, if you’re a coffee drinker like myself. The reason I went on this search is because I was looking for coffee creamer that was actually made with real sugar. I never noticed this before, but more and more stores are carrying products that are sugar-free. Every store I went to, the label read, “Sugar-Free” on all the creamers. I was seriously making sure I hadn’t missed the Rapture, because it sure seemed like the start of the Great Tribulation.

So we have this emphasis on health today more than ever before, and there are certain principles we put into practice in order to maintain our own health (at least we’re supposed to). We eat right, we exercise, and I might add—we avoid sickness. Nobody enjoys being sick and unhealthy, expect maybe the guy whose job is to drain out Porta-Potties in the Summer and calls into work sick. Praise the Lord for his days off, right?

But in the area where health should be regarded as infinitely important is where it is nearly totally neglected, in fact I would say, nearly entirely lost—and that is in the church. The church, more than a human body, needs health to have a beating heart. It needs to have health in order for its hands and feet to actually be the hands and feet of Jesus. Simply put, there are certain things that must be done in order to maintain the health and life of the local church.

That’s what Paul’s letter to Titus is all about. It’s all about what we should do in order to have a healthy church, what we should do in order to have healthy, biblical families, and what we should do to have a bold witness before a watching world. All of that is influenced by a healthy church. Those are the three themes in this letter: the church, the family, and our witness before the world. In this epistle, Paul talks about:

1.) Doctrine and duty in the local church (1:5-16)

2.) Doctrine and duty in the Christian home (2:1-15)

3.) Doctrine and duty in the world (3:1-11)

This epistle to Titus is really a bargain book—you get more for less. It is theologically jam-packed, and it goes to show the magnificence of God in inspiring Scripture because He can say so much in just a few words. Paul begins this letter by talking about how we can maintain the health of our ministry here: ministry to one another, and ministry to our community and the world. We will see how Paul put certain principles into practice in order to maintain effectiveness in his own ministry. He begins this letter by talking about his own character, the purpose for his ministry, his message, his proclamation, and then his power.

The Text: Titus 1:1-4, ESV

“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness, 2 in hope of eternal life, which God, who never lies, promised before the ages began 3 and at the proper time manifested in his word through the preaching with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior;

4 To Titus, my true child in a common faith:

Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.”

I. Principles for Ministry

Notice first how formal and drawn-out Paul’s introduction is here. It is the longest of Paul’s introductions in the pastoral letters, and the second longest in all of his letters (Romans being the longest). This passage itself is one long, elegant sentence in the original Greek—in fact, it is just one sentence in the English translation, too. The question we should be asking is this: Why such a long introduction for a letter to a friend in ministry? Was it because Paul had a distant relationship with Titus and had to remind him of who he was as an apostle? Not likely.

Paul had a unique relationship with Titus. Paul traveled with him to do missionary work: “Then after fourteen years I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, taking Titus along with me” (Gal. 2:1). Also, Titus worked with Paul to relieve the problems of the church at Corinth. He is mentioned nine times in 2 Corinthians (2:13; 7:6, 13, 14; 8:6, 16, 23; 12:18, 18). Paul calls him in those places his “brother,” and “partner and fellow worker.”

Paul didn’t write out such a formal introduction because his relationship with Titus was distant. But did he perhaps, write such a long introduction to introduce themes he would talk about in the letter? Not necessarily. Now, the themes of the introduction, like salvation, and knowledge leading to godliness are clearly picked up in later sections of this letter (2:11-14; 3:3-7); and Paul does this often times, mentioning a few things in the introduction(s) that he will talk about later (Paul’s introduction in Romans and Galatians are excellent examples).

It seems that Paul has written such a lengthy introduction here to give unchanging, objective, external principles to guide his own ministry. Paul used these principles in his own ministry, and he was expecting Titus to do the same. Because Titus had an important task: to strengthen the churches in a pagan region of the world. He needed biblical principles for his own ministry that would stand the test of time. Paul was aging and he would soon die, and these principles he lays down for Titus’ ministry could be, and should be used even after Titus passes on. Why? Because these are eternal principles—unchanging, and biblical. These churches still needed a lot of work ( v. 5), they had to work through the bugs—these churches weren’t established Southern Baptist churches with orders of service and Lottie Moon mission offerings. In fact, they were likely the opposite—in need of sound doctrine, elders who would lead biblically, and the proper perspective for Christian families, and a proper perspective of the world. And it begins with the principles he would use for the ministry of the local church. Ministry can’t be done effectively, biblically or even purposefully without scriptural principles guiding, leading, and directing Paul, Titus, and us today on our journey of faith. As we see them, we need to ask ourselves if we have these individual principles in our own lives, and in the life of our local church.

II. Our Character (1:1a)

Paul begins with his own name—characteristic of all of his letters. That is one main reason why Paul is rejected as the author of Hebrews, because his name is absent. In all of Paul’s letters, his name is present at the beginning—it is the first word penned before anything else. When we write letters today, we usually sign our names at the bottom of the page, but in Paul’s day it was the exact opposite. You began letters by identifying who you were. Sometimes the letters were still signed for authenticity reasons (2 Thess. 3:17). And we see that Paul begins this letter by identifying himself in two significant ways: 1) “a servant of God,” 2) “an apostle of Jesus Christ.”

1. A Servant (δοῦλος) of God

Notice first that Paul says he is a “servant of God.” Now, Paul does not casually call himself a “servant of God” here. First of all, this phrase occurs only here in Paul’s introduction to this letter. Never does Paul refer to himself this way except here. Paul sometimes calls himself a “servant of Jesus Christ” (as in Romans 1:1, and with Timothy in Philippians 1:1). Usually, in his introductions he refers to himself as simply, “An apostle of Christ Jesus . . .” On every occasion (with the exceptions of 1 and 2 Thessalonians and Philemon), Paul always calls himself “an apostle of Christ Jesus.” If we are going to be good interpreters, this should cause us to ask why he deviates here, when his normal self-identification is “an apostle.” Every word in the Bible counts, so there’s a significant reason why he does this.

I believe we find our answer in the Old Testament, for the expression “servant of the Lord” is an explicit OT expression. In defining his relationship with God in this way, he draws on the Old Testament pattern established by Moses, David, and other prophets who stood in the special position of those who had received revelations from God. Typically, God’s chosen prophets were described as “servants.” Let’s see a few examples:

“Moses the servant of the LORD” (Deut. 34:5).

“. . . my servant David” (God to Nathan in 2 Sam. 7:5).

“For the LORD GOD does nothing without revealing his secret to his servants the prophets” (Amos 3:7).

And in Jeremiah 7, God says that he gave the Israelites His commandments, but they did not obey. And in an attempt to get them to obey, here’s what God did:

“From the day that your fathers came out of the land of Egypt to this day, I have persistently sent all my servants the prophets to them, day after day. Yet they did not listen to me or incline their ear, but stiffened their neck. They did worse than their fathers” (Jer. 7:25-26).

It seems that Paul is aligning himself with obedient servants of God who preceded him as recipients of divine revelation. Just as the towering figures of the Old Testament were obedient servants of God and received God’s revelations, so was the same of Paul. By describing himself this way, Paul anchor’s his ministry in the story of the covenant God of the Old Testament. Those great characters of the Old Testament served God’s people, His elect (and notice later in this verse that he says that his purpose as an apostle was the exact same purpose for all of the Old Testament prophets).

If this is true of Paul, his authority and obedience to God are not to be questioned. This was important for the Cretan culture that Titus ministered in. They had discounted the teaching of the gospel of Jesus and had devoted themselves to “Jewish myths,” (1:14) and they were an untrustworthy, lying culture that was proud to admit it, too (1:12). So while they would have been taught that Judaism in its various forms was superior to Christianity, Paul was saying that he received revelations from God just as the prophets of old.

But there’s another important reason why he says this. The Greek word for “servant” here is doulos, meaning one who gives himself up wholly to another’s will. This is literally translated “bondservant,” which in this case is someone who has no rights of his own, no will of his own—but his sole desire is to do the will of his master. If anyone in the Bible could say this of himself, it was Paul. In the passage where Paul lists all of his credentials and spiritual accomplishments, what does he say concerning them all? “Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:8). Also recall in Acts 22 where he recounts his conversion and he notes that he inquired of the Lord, “What shall I do, Lord?” (22:10). Paul was a doulos of God—he had no will of his own, no agenda of his own. Paul’s will was to do God’s will and God’s agenda.

And he is laying this down as a principle for Titus, too. If Titus is going to be a successful pastor of his church, a leader of his own home, and a witness in his pagan culture—he must be a servant of God. How would he expect his church to be servants if he wasn’t a servant? How would he expect his family and the families of his church to be servants if he didn’t model it for them by being a servant? And how would he expect for a lost world to be a servant and follow Christ if he wasn’t being a servant?

The same applies to us. If we’re going to be effective in the ministry of our own local church—it begins with this: we must be servants of God—submitting our wills completely and entirely to God. If we want health in our church, we must be servants of God. If we want health in our homes, we must be servants of God. If we want a healthy, bold witness to our world, we must be servants of God. The Bible already says we are slaves of God, we just need to act like it. For instance, Paul in Romans 6 says, “But now [you] have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God . . .” (v. 22). We just need to become what we are already—slaves of God. What about you? Are you a slave of God? If you want a healthy church, here’s where it starts. This is where it started for Titus, and this is where it must start for us.

Most of the time, our plans are rarely God’s plans, but Paul was someone whose whole life was changed because of submission to God’s will. Living in submission to God’s will is perhaps the greatest thing on this present earth for a ChristianGod wants us to be His servants, and He will give us strength and grace daily if we will only surrender. This is so important because not only was being a servant characteristic of Paul, but of our own Savior—in Philippians 2 Paul says that Jesus “emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men . . .and [became] obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (vv. 7-8). And Peter, speaking in Solomon’s portico, defending the messianic Jesus before the peoples, says this: “The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, the God of our fathers, glorified his servant Jesus, whom you delivered over and denied in the presence of Pilate, when he had decided to release him” (Acts 3:13). Jesus is our supreme example—He was a servant of God. Paul was a servant of God, and this must characterize us as individuals and us as a local church. If we can’t honestly say that we are servants of God, maybe we need to get our hands dirty and out into the action, pull up our bootstraps and get to work—empowered and motivated by a passion to serve God because of who He is and what He’s done for us in the gospel. Motivated not because we want God to love us—but motivated because He already does love us. We need Paul’s attitude: “What do you want me to do?”

2. Messenger/Apostle of Jesus Christ

We’ve seen the first way that Paul identifies himself, as a doulos of God, and as we expect from Paul, he defines himself secondly as his usual designation, “an apostle of Jesus Christ.” To further confirm his authority as an apostle, not only is he in the spiritual line of prophets who received revelation from God, but he was a special messenger of Jesus Christ Himself. That’s what it means to be an apostle. The word apostle literally means a messenger, a representative, or envoy. This is the usual way he describes himself, because that’s what he was.

During Paul’s conversion, the Lord Jesus says of him, “[He] is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel” (Acts 9:15). He was Christ’s instrument. In Romans, Paul says in introducing himself, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God” (Rom. 1:1). And Paul defends his apostleship in Galatians:

“But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles . . .” (Gal. 1:15-16a)

But I just want to make you aware of something at this point. We have really elevated the term apostle in our language. Yes, Paul being an apostle meant that he was given revelation from the Lord and of course, penned 13 letters of our New Testaments. But the word apostle is really nothing lofty—it just means to be a messenger. Someone is an apostle simply because they carry a message. If I have a message I need to send to someone, say across the street, and I get someone to take it for me, then they would be my apostle—my messenger.

The same is true of us. We are ambassadors for Christ, we are His messengers—and having a healthy church starts here too. We must realize that we are His messengers in this world. I love Paul’s description of this in 2 Corinthians 5:20, where he says, “Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” We may not have the gifts Paul had, and we certainly will not be agents of divine revelation—but we have a responsibility to be messengers.

True ministry begins with our character—we must understand who we are; slaves of God and messengers of God. It is our birthright; when we become believers, we have the responsibility to live every day in these ways.

Let me add something in closing. Being servants of God and being His messengers are not simply things we need to be, but they are things we can be. This is not legalism; God has all the empowering, motivating grace we need to be servants and messengers. To reinforce this point, what does Paul crave for Titus in v. 4? He says, “Grace and peace to you from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior.” Paul couldn’t be a servant or messenger without the grace of God, Titus couldn’t either, and neither can we. Without the grace of God, we are powerless, lifeless, and useless. But because He has “lavished upon us” the “riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7, 8).


1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Cigarette Smoking Among U.S. High School Students at Lowest Level in 22 YearsJune 2014.

3 Important Reasons to Study Church History

“If you don’t know history, then you don’t know anything. You are a leaf that doesn’t know it is part of a tree.”—Michael Crichton.

Studying the history of any field or subject is important. For Christians, there is perhaps no historical study more important than the study of our Christian heritage and history. For several reasons, studying church history is important, and I would argue necessary to truly appreciating and understanding the Christian faith. What then, are the reasons for studying church history?

1. Christianity is a historical religion. As I said above, knowing the history of any field is important – especially the history of Christianity. It can be confidently said that Christianity has made many positive contributions to the world we now live in. More in fact, than any other movement, religion, or individual in the history of the world. Further, the waves made by the towering individuals of church history have rippled into our own theologies and practices, and they deserve a hearing. That’s where church history comes in. In this field of study, we can sit with individuals such as Irenaeus who combated early heresies, Tertullian who contributed to the doctrine of the Trinity, and Basil of Casearea who strengthened peoples understanding of the Spirit. We can be discipled by the greatest theologians who ever lived like St. Patrick, Thomas Aquinas, Augustine, Martin Luther, John Calvin, and many others. Christianity didn’t begin yesterday. It has a history, like everything else, and it deserves to be studied, or what it is today will not be appreciated to the full extent that it could be.

2. To correct mistaken views about what has happened in history. This is, perhaps, one of the most vital reasons for studying church history. There are many concepts in theology and many practices in churches of different denominations that have not always existed. Many seem to have the understanding that our denominations, beliefs and practices have always been what they are today. However, Baptist churches have not always existed. Neither have Pentecostals been around for centuries, along with Methodists, Presbyterians, and other mainline denominations. Also, Roman Catholicism was not the first form of Christianity; it has not always been what it is today. It was, by no means, the dominant form of Christianity since the time of the apostles. These are only a few examples, and if church history is actually studied, these mistaken views can be corrected.

3. Spiritual Nourishment. This is a very practical reason for studying church history. God spoke throughout church history, just as He does today. God has never been silent. God revealed many things to individuals of church history, and it would be foolish to think that we are more intelligent than they were. For the most part, they read the same Bible that we have today. Charles Spurgeon remarks about the ignorance of not studying what God has revealed to them: “It seems odd, that certain men who talk so much of what the Holy Spirit reveals to themselves, should think so little of what he has revealed to others.“¹ The theologians of church history will serve spiritual nourishment to us today through their defenses of Christian doctrine against the earliest heresies, their rich interpretation of Scripture, and their brilliant philosophies.

Church history deserves our careful consideration and study. There are several other important reasons for studying church history, but these three cast the net widely, and I think rightfully so. Would you agree? What would you add to the list? What would you change or take away?


1. Cited in Rediscovering the Church Fathersby Michael A. G. Haykin (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2011), 14.

John D. Hannah on the Centrality of the Gospel in Christian Proclamation

As a Bible-believing Christian, it is my conviction that there should be doctrinal unity among Christians in the local church (Eph. 4:1-6). There are, of course, things we can differ on. There are minor issues that we can hold differing views on, that should not divide us. If we can’t accomplish the mission of the church together because of our differing views on minor issues, something had better change; either our character or conviction(s).

I have been reading Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrineby scholar John D. Hannah. It has been a great read thus far. It is an exhaustive read on the history of the development of doctrine. But what makes this book different from any other book on Christian history, is that it contains practical applications about what we can learn from church history and it’s developments. I am finishing up this 395 page book, and read something about doctrinal unity that caught my eye, and I felt it was worth sharing with you. Here is a lengthy portion from John D. Hannah’s brilliant book:

“Doctrines are not all created equal; some are more important than others. Consequently, the Christian theologian finds it useful to talk of gradations of convictions. Think of three concentric circles.

First, in the center ring, there are the essential beliefs of Christianity. These are the core doctrines of Christianity—those beliefs without which there can be no Christianity; those beliefs so central that one should have willingness to die for them. Among these, in my view, are the existence of God, the deity of Christ, the atoning sacrifice of Christ, and salvation by grace without any human merit.

Second, moving outward by ring one, there are beliefs that are reckoned to be important but about which there is legitimate debate among Christians. Examples of these convictions might be particular views of baptism or the Eucharist, church polity, or the chronology of last things. While Christians may hold such convictions with a significant degree of fervency, they are nonetheless subject to a variance of opinion and are not issues that should divide the fellowship of the saints in the broadest sense. Nor should such doctrines hold center stage in our discussions of the Bible. The central things, the topics that should be our most frequent, fervent topics are those in the center circle.

Third, in the outermost of the concentric circles, there are distinctly personal beliefs. They are neither core doctrines of Christianity nor those embraced in a creedal statement by any particular Christian group. They are simply private, personal views that arise from the study of the Bible and the experience of life. Traditionally these have been defined as adiaphora, “things of difference.” They might have to do with certain moral issues that are neither prohibited nor propounded by the Scriptures.

While it is useful to think of concentric circles of beliefs, these three categories are often blended in practice. Sometimes, for example, mere personal beliefs are treated as core truths. My plea is that these distinctions be recognized and that our Christian pastors, teachers, missionaries, and laity make sure that the central truths be foremost in our proclamation of Christianity.

The most important person in all of history is Jesus Christ; he must always be the passionate message of the church. Without Christ, there can be no gospel that is really good news. While there are teachings that are important, greatly adding to the maturity of the church, Christ is the keystone of all.”

Very powerful and practical.

What do you think about doctrinal unity, and the centrality of Christ in our beliefs?


1. John D. Hannah, Our Legacy: The History of Christian Doctrine (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2001), pp. 342-343.

 

Charles Spurgeon on “Walking in the Truth”

Charles H. Spurgeon (1834-1892) was born in Essex, England. He became a Christian in 1850 and a year later he was the pastor of a small Baptist church. In 1854 he was called to the pastorate of New Park Street Baptist Chapel in Southwark, London. His preaching attracted great crowds, so much so that a new building, the Metropolitan Tabernacle, was erected. During his ministry, he built up a congregation which numbered about 6,000. As well as being a popular preacher, Spurgeon was involved in several charitable organizations, including an orphanage at Stockwell. ¹

Spurgeon’s influence is still affecting millions of lives even today, and one of the ways his influence has been spreading is through his classic devotional, Morning and Evening. This is one of the best devotionals you can buy even today (and it’s offered in a variety of formats: leather-bound, paperback, hardback, Kindle and eBook, etc.). In this devotional, you can read Spurgeon’s writings, sermons, and deep reflections on various Scriptures. One for morning, and one for evening. Now there are some excellent classic devotionals out there, like My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, but none compare to Morning and Evening by Charles Spurgeon.

I was reading today’s devotion, and I was struck by Spurgeon’s description of “walking in the truth,” and wanted to share it with you. Enjoy:

Scripture: ‘For I rejoiced greatly, when the brethren came and testified of the truth that is in thee, even as thou walkest in the truth’ (3 John 3)

Spurgeon: “The truth was in Gaius, and Gaius walked in the truth. If the first had not been the case, the second could never have occurred; and if the second could not be said of him the first would have been a mere pretence. Truth must enter into the soul, penetrate and saturate it, or else it is of no value. Doctrines held as a matter of creed are like bread in the hand, which ministers no nourishment to the frame; but doctrine accepted by the heart, is as food digested, which, by assimilation, sustains and builds up the body. In us truth must be a living force, an active energy, and indwelling reality, a part of the woof and warp of our being. If it be in us, we cannot henceforth part with it. A man may lose his garments or his limbs, but his inward parts are vital, and cannot be torn away without absolute loss of life. A Christian can die, but he cannot deny the truth.

Now it is a rule of nature that the inward affects the outward, as light shines from the centre of a lantern through the glass: when, therefore, the truth is kindled within, its brightness soon beams forth in the outward life and conversation. It is said that the food of certain worms colours the cocoons of silk which they spin: and just so the nutriment upon which a man’s inward nature lives gives a tinge to every word and deed proceeding from him. To walk in the truth, imports a life of integrity, holiness, faithfulness, and simplicity – the natural product of those principles of truth which the gospel teaches, and which the Spirit of God enables us to receive. We may judge of the secrets of the soul by their manifestation in the man’s conversations.

Be it ours today, O gracious Spirit, to be ruled and governed by Thy divine authority, so that nothing false or sinful may reign in our hearts, lest it extend its malignant influence to our daily walk among men.” ²

Wow. As a student of the Bible, and a Bible college student, I think I have easily recognized the importance of doctrine and truth in the life of a Christian. But up until today, I have never heard such a picturesque description of how it truly affects the Christian life. Get a copy of Morning and Eveningand start growing in your faith.


1. This introduction is adapted from Morning and Evening(Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 1994).
2. Charles H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening, (Scotland, UK: Christian Focus Publications, 1994), 694.

Theological Reflections: Why Studying Theology is Absolutely Necessary

“Many Christians expect the world to respect the book they neglect.”— E. C. McKenzie

Theology matters. It’s the study of God. It’s been said before that, “What you believe about God is the most important thing about you.” Every Christian in the world is a theologian. That sounds overboard, I know—but think about it for a moment: every believer has an idea of what God is like. Every believer has an idea of the nature of God and what He requires of us. And that is the essence of theology: it is the study of God.

It seems today, however, that if you mention the words theology or doctrine that you get quite a few negative reactions. Few, it seems, want to be seen as “theologians.” Aren’t theologians, after all, just impractical people given over to fussing over Bible trivia, and engaging in doctrinal hair-splitting? If you have harbored such thoughts like that, then what I am saying may be a surprise to you. But as children of God, it only makes sense that we should strive to know all we can about our heavenly Father, His ways and His will for our lives. Taking a casual approach to our beliefs nearly guarantees frustration and misunderstanding in our relationship with God. That’s why theology is important. “If you do not listen to theology, that will not mean that you have no ideas about God. It will mean that you have a lot of wrong ones—bad, muddled, out-of-date ideas.”—C. S. Lewis (1)

With that being said, why is studying theology absolutely necessary? (2)

1. The Basic Reason

Theology cannot “improve” on the Bible by doing a better job of organizing its teachings or explaining them more clearly than the Bible itself has done. We get our theology from the sufficient Word of God. Still, Jesus commanded His disciples and now commands us also to teach believers to observe all that He commanded. He said, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age” (Matt. 28:19-20).

In order to teach all that Jesus commanded, is simply to teach the content of the teaching of Jesus as recorded in the gospels (Matthew-John). But in a broader sense, “all that Jesus commanded” includes the interpretation and application of His life and teachings, because in the book of Acts it is implied that it contains a narrative of what Jesus continued to do and teach through the apostles after His resurrection: “I [Luke] have dealt with all that Jesus began to do and teach” (Acts 1:1). “All that Jesus commanded” also includes the Epistles of the New Testament, since they were written under the inspiration and supervision of the Holy Spirit and were also considered to be a “command of the Lord” (1 Cor. 14:37; John 14:26; 16:13; 1 Thess. 4:15; 2 Peter 3:2; Rev. 1:1-3). So in a larger sense, “all that Jesus commanded” includes all of the New Testament.

Additionally, when we consider that the New Testament writings entirely endorse the absolute confidence Jesus had in the authority and reliability of the Old Testament Scriptures as God’s words, and when we realize that the New Testament epistles also endorse this view of the Old Testament, then it becomes evident that we cannot teach “all that Jesus commanded” without including all of the Old Testament (rightly understood, that is) as well.

The task of fulfilling the Great Commission includes not only evangelism, but also teaching. And the task of teaching all that Jesus commanded us is, in a broad sense, the task of teaching what the whole Bible says to us today. Therefore, for us to learn what the Bible says, it is necessary to employ theology (the study of God). The basic reason for studying theology, then, is that it enables us to teach ourselves and others what the whole Bible says and teaches, thus fulfilling the second part of the Great Commission (which cannot be divorced from the first part).

2. The Benefits to Our Lives

Of course, the basic reason for studying theology is that it is a means of obedience to our Lord’s command. But there are some additional specific benefits that come from such study:

1. First, studying theology helps us overcome our wrong ideas. If there were no sin in our hearts, we could read the Bible from cover to cover and, although we would not immediately learn everything in the Bible, we would most likely learn only true things about God and His creation. But with sin in our hearts we retain some rebelliousness against God. At various points there are, for all of us, biblical teachings which for one reason or another we do not want to accept. The study of theology helps us overcome those rebellious ideas. It is helpful for us to be confronted with the total weight of the teaching of Scripture on a particular subject, so that we will more readily be persuaded even against our initial wrongful inclinations. So studying theology helps us overcome our wrong ideas.

2. Second, studying theology helps us to be able to make better decisions later on new questions of doctrine that may arise. We will not know what new doctrinal controversies will arise in the churches in which we will live and minister ten or twenty years from now. But they will arise, and when they do, Christians will be asking, “What does the whole Bible say about this?” Whatever the new doctrinal controversies are in future years, those who have learned theology well will be much better able to answer the new questions that arise. For example, if you read the older books on systematic theology, there is no addressing of the sinfulness of same-sex marriage. There would be a defining of what the Bible teaches about right marriage, but for the days of older theologians writing these books, same-sex marriage was just not an issue. Today however, you cannot avoid the obvious problem of same-sex marriage. There are denominations even today who have shaky, wrong theologies, and thus approve of same-sex marriage. Who knows what doctrinal controversies will arise in the coming decades/years? Because the Bible is related to every area of life, those who have studied theology well will know what the whole Bible teaches on these controversies.

3. Thirdly, studying theology will help us grow as Christians. The more we know about God, about His Word, about His relationships to the world and mankind, the better we will trust Him, the more fully we will praise Him, and the more readily we will obey Him. Studying theology rightly will make us more mature Christians. If it doesn’t, then we aren’t studying theology rightly. In fact, the Bible often connects sound doctrine with maturity in Christian living: Paul speaks of “the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness” (1 Tim. 6:3), and says that his work as an apostle was “for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness” (Titus 1:1).

Conclusion

The greatest commandment, Jesus said, is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). He did not give options, as if we could love God with heart or soul or mind; the command requires all of the above. Loving Him with our minds will naturally entail finding out as much as possible about Him. Just as in any relationship, love compels us to know and understand what He is like, how He works in the world and in us, what He loves, what He desires, what offends Him, and what delights Him. Doing so requires our full attention and our diligent study of theology.


1. Cited in David Horton, The Portable Seminary (Bloomington, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2006), 18.
2. This is adapted from Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), 27-30.

 

You’ve Got Questions: What is the Incomprehensibility of God?

You’ve Got Questions: What is the Incomprehensibility of God?

Scripture teaches that we can have a true and personal knowledge of God, but this does not mean we will ever understand Him exhaustively. The Bible is clear that God is ultimately incomprehensible to us; that is, we can never fully comprehend His whole being. The following passages show this:

“Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm 145:3 ESV)

“Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26:14 ESV)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:33-34 ESV)

Others are Job 42:1-6; Psalm 139:6, 17-18; 147:5; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11; 1 Timothy 6:13-15). These verses teach that not only is God’s whole being incomprehensible but each of His attributes–His greatness, power, thoughts, ways, wisdom, and judgments–are well beyond human ability to fathom fully. Not only can we never know everything there is to know about God, we can never know everything there is to know about even one aspect of God’s character or work.

Why is God Incomprehensible? The main reasons for God’s incomprehensibility are: (1) God is infinite and His creatures are finite. By definition, creatures depend on their Creator for their very existence and are limited in all aspects. Yet God is without limitations in every quality He possesses. This Creator/creature, infinite/finite gap will always exist. (2) The perfect unity of God’s attributes is far beyond the realm of human experience. God’s love, wrath, grace, justice, holiness, patience, and jealousy are continually functioning in a perfectly integrated yet infinitely complex way. (3) The effects of sin on the minds of fallen humans also greatly inhibit the ability to know God. The tendency of fallen creatures is to distort, pervert, and confuse truth and to use, or rather abuse, it for selfish ends rather than for God’s glory (Rom. 1:18-26). (4) A final reason God can never be fully known is that in His sovereign wisdom God has chosen not to reveal some things: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). Many would label it unloving for God to decide to withhold some information from His people. Yet, as with all good fathers, God’s wisdom leads Him to refrain from answering all the questions His children ask Him, and this contributes to His incomprehensibility.

In heaven, God’s incomprehensibility will no doubt be lessened when the effects of sin no longer ravage minds and when He will most likely share some of His secrets. However, God will always be infinite and humans will always be finite, so He will always be beyond human ability to know exhaustively.

What are the implications of God’s incomprehensibility? Well, because God can never be fully known, those who seek to know God should be deeply humbled in the process, realizing that they will always have more to learn. The appropriate response to God is a heart of wonder and awe in light of His incomprehensible greatness! God’s incomprehensibility also means that beliefs can be held with firm conviction even though they may be filled with inexplicable mystery. The Trinity and other core teachings of the Bible are profoundly mysterious; believing them requires that you have a robust affirmation of the incomprehensibility of God.

The Holy Spirit at McDonald’s

The following message was delivered at Ohio Valley Baptist Church on the 26th day of May, 2013:

Great Horror

I was sitting in McDonald’s parking lot one afternoon right after I finished eating a crispy chicken BLT and I was in the car with my Bible. I had just finished reading a chapter in the Book of Acts and as I sat in my car, I had this thought cross my mind:

“In my judgment, Revelation is not the scariest or most startling book in the Bible. Though it is quite graphic in its description of judgment, I believe the Book of Acts is the most startling. Why? Well after reading it for so long, I have been truly astonished. Chapter after chapter, verse by verse, letter by letter, constantly I am left wondering, ‘Have we missed something in the church in America?’ Why isn’t the body of Christ living like this? After pondering this, I realized quickly that it isn’t something we have missed, but rather Someone: the Holy Spirit. And then great horror begins to build within me because I fear where our churches are going to be if we continue to neglect the Holy Spirit. What will be their condition if we continue to do so?”

I believe the Holy Spirit has been forgotten. I’m not joking. “From my perspective, the Holy Spirit is tragically neglected and, for all practical purposes, forgotten.” (Forgotten God, Francis Chan with Danae Yankoski. 2009 by Francis Chan) I know you wouldn’t dare deny His existence, but I’m willing to bet that there are millions of church-goers (and maybe even you) who cannot say confidently that they have experienced His presence or action in their lives over the past year. That is a tragedy.

One of the greatest problems in presenting our faith to people and especially in preaching is overemphasis and under-emphasis. In other words, placing too much importance on one issue and not enough importance on another. Balance is essential. I am not saying that the there should be more emphasis on the Holy Spirit and less on other important issues, but I am saying that He is clearly being tragically neglected. My focus through this message is to explain the person and work of the Holy Spirit and to show one of the most significant ways we are respond to Him. I hope that within however long we are here in this meeting together, that we will allow God to reverse our tragic neglect of the Spirit. Without Him, people work, think, plan and operate in their own strength and only accomplish human-size results. But when believers operate through the power of the Spirit, the evidence in their lives is supernatural. Only when we work through His strength will we accomplish God-sized results.

The Text

“16 But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. 19 Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. 22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.

25 If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit. 26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.” (Galatians 5:16-26 ESV)

Vital Statistics

It is always important and necessary to look at a few facts about the entire letter before we dig into this specific text. Why is that? Because Galatians (like the rest of the Bible) was written in another language, in another culture, in another time, to another people. Before Galatians has meaning for us, it had meaning for someone specific. When we discover these facts, great insights are made available to us and we can then properly grasp the meaning of this text.

So who was the author? The Apostle Paul. He was originally writing to the churches in southern Galatia, founded on Paul’s first missionary journey. This church was a problem church. It isn’t like the church “in Ephesus” (Ephesians 1:1) or “at Philippi” (Philippians 1:1). When Paul was writing to those two churches (at different times) he doesn’t mention any heresy that he is trying to confront and doesn’t call out any problem within the churches. But as for the Galatians, a crisis has hit the church. The church came into being as a result of God’s Spirit at work in Paul’s proclamation of the gospel (3:1-5; 4:13-15). But within the short space of time since Paul left (1:6), the church has been visited by false teachers whom Paul calls those “who trouble you” (1:7) or “those who unsettle you” (5:12). And Paul was writing to refute these false teachers called “Judaizers.” The Judaizers basically taught that Gentile believers must obey the Jewish law in order to be saved. Paul also was writing to call Christians to faith and freedom in Christ.

Paul’s Declaration

This passage that we are looking at isn’t the first mentioning of the Holy Spirit in the letter to the Galatians (3:2, 14; 4:6), but it is Paul’s declaration to live by the Spirit’s power. However, I think it is important to get a firm grasp on who the Holy Spirit is, what He does, and what He is like before we see how we can respond to Him by keeping “in step with the Spirit” (5:25).

  1. The Trinity

Now before we begin to grasp the Holy Spirit, it is important to make sure you have a clear understanding of what the Bible teaches about the Trinity. I have heard all of the popular descriptions of the Trinity. The egg: the shell, the white stuff, and the yolk. I have heard about the three forms of H2O (water, ice, and steam). While these serve as simple metaphors for an unexplainable mystery, the fact is that God is not like an egg, or three forms of water. God is not like anything. He is incomprehensible, incomparable, and unlike any other being. “He is outside our realm of existence and, thus, outside our ability to categorize Him” (Forgotten God, Chan with Yankoski. p.66). Two concepts that will help you grasp the Trinity are the Incomprehensibility of God and the Knowability of God. You might think I am riding on a hobby horse right now and you may be right. But I hope to clear up any misconceptions you may have about the Holy Spirit and the only proper way to do that is to correctly define the Trinity, and to correctly define the Trinity (carefully and biblically) we must first examine certain concepts that will help in our understanding of this great doctrine. I am not attempting to completely explain the Trinity; the church in times past has been severely embarrassed due to oversimplifying something that cannot be oversimplified!

a. The Incomprehensibility of God

The more you know God, the more you want to know God. And in the quest to know God, it is vital to understand just what it means to really know Him. Methods, expectations, and attitudes in studying theology are determined by one’s definition of “knowing God.” Central to understanding this is the fact that God is both incomprehensible and knowable.

Scripture teaches that we can have a true and personal knowledge of God, but this does not mean we will ever understand Him exhaustively. The Bible is clear that God is ultimately incomprehensible to us; that is, we can never fully comprehend His whole being. The following passages show this:

“Great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised, and his greatness is unsearchable.” (Psalm 145:3 ESV)

“Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” (Job 26:14 ESV)

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV)

“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” (Romans 11:33-34 ESV)

Others are Job 42:1-6; Psalm 139:6, 17-18; 147:5; Isaiah 57:15; 1 Corinthians 2:10-11; 1 Timothy 6:13-15). These verses teach that not only is God’s whole being incomprehensible but each of His attributes–His greatness, power, thoughts, ways, wisdom, and judgments–are well beyond human ability to fathom fully. Not only can we never know everything there is to know about God, we can never know everything there is to know about even one aspect of God’s character or work.

Why is God Incomprehensible? The main reasons for God’s incomprehensibility are: (1) God is infinite and His creatures are finite. By definition, creatures depend on their Creator for their very existence and are limited in all aspects. Yet God is without limitations in every quality He possesses. This Creator/creature, infinite/finite gap will always exist. (2) The perfect unity of God’s attributes is far beyond the realm of human experience. God’s love, wrath, grace, justice, holiness, patience, and jealousy are continually functioning in a perfectly integrated yet infinitely complex way. (3) The effects of sin on the minds of fallen humans also greatly inhibit the ability to know God. The tendency of fallen creatures is to distort, pervert, and confuse truth and to use, or rather abuse, it for selfish ends rather than for God’s glory (Rom. 1:18-26). (4) A final reason God can never be fully known is that in His sovereign wisdom God has chosen not to reveal some things: “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law” (Deut. 29:29). Many would label it unloving for God to decide to withhold some information from His people. Yet, as with all good fathers, God’s wisdom leads Him to refrain from answering all the questions His children ask Him, and this contributes to His incomprehensibility.

In heaven, God’s incomprehensibility will no doubt be lessened when the effects of sin no longer ravage minds and when He will most likely share some of His secrets. However, God will always be infinite and humans will always be finite, so He will always be beyond human ability to know exhaustively.

What are the implications of God’s incomprehensibility? Well, because God can never be fully known, those who seek to know God should be deeply humbled in the process, realizing that they will always have more to learn. The appropriate response to God is a heart of wonder and awe in light of His incomprehensible greatness! God’s incomprehensibility also means that beliefs can be held with firm conviction even though they may be filled with inexplicable mystery. The Trinity and other core teachings of the Bible are profoundly mysterious; believing them requires that you have a robust affirmation of the incomprehensibility of God. Now rest a moment and take all of that in.

b. The Knowability of God

The incomprehensibility of God could lead to despair or apathy in the quest to know God, but the Bible also teaches that God is knowable. While God can never be exhaustively understood, He can be known truly, personally, and sufficiently. God is personal, has definite characteristics, and has personally revealed Himself so that He can be truly known. The multiplication of grace and peace in our lives is dependent on knowing God (2 Peter 1:2-3), and this knowledge provides sufficient resources for life and for becoming the people God wants us to be.

Knowledge of God in Christ should be our greatest delight (Jeremiah 9:23-24; 1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 6:14). It is the basis of attaining eternal life (John 17:3); it is at the heart of life in the new covenant (Heb. 8:11-12); it was Paul’s primary goal (Phil. 3:10); and it leads to godly love (1 John 4:7-8). God will never be known absolutely, but we can know things about Him that are absolutely true, so much that we can be willing to live and die for those beliefs. God has provided knowledge of Himself that is personal, relational, and sufficient for fruitful, faithful, godly living. No one will ever be able to say He lacked the necessary revelation to know God and to start living as God intends.

What are the implications of the knowability of God? Well, God’s personal and sufficient revelation of Himself should foster solid conviction among believers. We need not to live in ambiguity and uncertainty about who God is and what He demands of His creatures. This increasing influence of Eastern religions on the West, certain postmodern views of truth, and religious pluralism all emphasize God’s incomprehensibility so much that He is eventually made to seem unknowable. It then becomes impossible to say anything definitively true or false about Him, and people then think that the only heresy is claiming that there is heresy at all! On the contrary, because of His gracious revelation and illumination, God can indeed be known. God’s knowability should lead to eager, diligent, devoted study of God’s Word so we can understand Him as He has revealed Himself and avoid any false view of God that will dishonor Him. We should never grow apathetic in seeking to know God because we are in fact able and equipped to know Him and please Him with our lives.

The Trinity (continued)

Now that those concepts are hopefully grasped, let’s proceed to the doctrine of the Trinity. The biblical teaching on the Trinity embodies four essential affirmations:

 There is one and only one true and living God.
  1. This one God eternally exists in three persons–God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.
  2. These three persons are completely equal in attributes, each with the same divine nature.
  3. While each person is fully and completely God, the persons are not identical

(At this point, if you are still angry with confusion, re-read the concepts on the Incomprehensibility and Knowability of God above)

The differences among the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are found in the way they relate to one another and their role each plays in accomplishing their unified purpose. The unity of nature and distinction of persons of the Trinity is helpfully illustrated by this diagram:

Scripture attests to the Trinity. Look at Matthew 3 where Jesus was baptized. You have the [God the] Son, Jesus, being baptized. You also have the Spirit “descending like a dove and coming to rest on him” (Matt. 3:16b) and the Father saying from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (v. 17). Look at the formula for baptism in Matthew 28 when Jesus gives the Great Commission. And there are many other Scriptures (Deut. 6:4; 2 Cor. 13:14; John 14-16). Here’s the bottom line: the doctrine of the Trinity is well beyond human ability to ever fully comprehend. However, it is central to understanding the nature of God and the central events in the history of salvation, in which God is seen acting as, in effect, a tripersonal team. Biblical Christianity stands or falls with this doctrine.

Holy Spirit 101

The Holy Spirit is a fully and completely divine person who possesses all of the divine attributes. God the Spirit applies the work of God the Son. The Spirit’s distinct role is to accomplish the unified will of the Father and the Son and to be in personal relationship with both of them.

The Spirit comforts (John 12:26; 14:16, 26; 15:26; 16:7). The Spirit teaches (John 14:26; 1 Cor. 2:13). The Spirit speaks (Acts 8:29; 13:2). The Spirit makes decisions (Acts 15:28). The Spirit grieves over sin (Eph. 4:30). The Spirit overrules human actions (Acts 16:6-7). The Spirit searches the deep things of God and knows the thoughts of God (1 Cor. 2:10-11). The Spirit determines the distribution of spiritual gifts (1 Cor. 12:11). The Spirit interprets and brings human prayer before the throne of the Father (Rom. 8:26-27). The Spirit assures believers of their adoption (Rom. 8:16). The Spirit bears witness to and glorifies Christ (John 15:26; 16:14). The Holy Spirit is eternal (Hebrews 9:14). He is omnipresent (Psalm 139:7-10). He is omniscient (1 Cor. 2:10-11). The Holy Spirit is omnipotent (Luke 1:35-37) and He is holy (Rom. 1:4).

Walk in the Spirit

Now that you hopefully have a grasp on the Holy Spirit, how are you to respond to Him? Our text in Galatians tells us of one significantly important way to do so. “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (5:16) The only way to conquer the flesh is to yield to the Spirit. Walk by the Spirit implies both direction and empowerment; that is, making decisions and choices according to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and acting with the spiritual power that the Spirit supplies. To “walk” in Scripture regularly represents the pattern of conduct of all of one’s life.

“For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do.” (v. 17) Paul acknowledges that the Christian life is a struggle–a war between the flesh and the Spirit. He describes two forces at work within us–the Holy Spirit and our evil inclinations (the flesh). Paul is not saying that these forces are equal. The Holy Spirit is infinitely stronger, but we are weak. If we rely on our own wisdom, we will make wrong choices. If we try to walk to in the Spirit by our own human effort, we will fail. Our only way to freedom from our natural evil desires is through the empowering of the Spirit.

Now let me give you a bold warning: This “walking in the Spirit” thing will cause you to make some serious changes in your life. You’re going to have to turn off that TV and open your Bibles. You’re going to have to walk away from that argument and get in your closet and pray. You’re going to have to shut off that computer, get off of Facebook, and study your Bibles. You’re going to have to get up an hour earlier to pray in the morning before you rush off to work. I’m not against any of the activities that we consider “normal” in our generation today, but if we want God to do something big in our lives, we’re going to have to submit to Him more than we do now. You won’t get anywhere with God without submission. The problem is that most of us are okay with Jesus doing some touch-ups in our lives, but He wants to completely transform us. Anything that is in your way of fully surrendering to the Spirit and walking in Him, you need to abandon it. Recklessly abandon anything that may hinder you from allowing God to do all that He has purposed to do through you.

Conclusion: Acts 4:13

Looking at Galatians 5:16-26 we can clearly assume this fact: what you feed will live and what you starve will die. Feed the life of submission and allow God working-room within you and Christ-like characteristics will flow through you (vv. 22, 23). Starve sin and “walk in the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.” (v. 16). Feed the life of rebellion and sin and your light will be hidden under a bushel (Matthew 5:15). Now a few books earlier in the New Testament, we have the book of Acts. It is all about what God can do through Spirit-filled believers. Read through it sometime and just drink in every word.

My prayer is that your changed life would produce this kind of astonishment: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13 ESV, emphasis mine).