Monthly Archives: November 2012

The Necessity of Theology

Theology: the quest to know God. In my view, there is no greater pursuit in this life. Some might speak of the priority of loving God or serving God, but these pursuits are empty in absence of proper theology. Theology is not separate from worship, but informs it. How can we worship a God we do not know? I get the opportunity to talk to a number of students who have not placed their faith in Jesus, and I’ve found that everyone has ideas about God. God is a concept that is explored quite significantly in our society’s music, media, art and philosophies. There are so many ideas about God that it seems our society has decided not to sort through the pile and pick one, but to accept everyone’s interpretation of God. Indeed, one defining feature of Christianity is the belief that there is an absolute truth about the nature of God and it can be known. Yet we are often content with knowing only the basics about God.

I can understand why theology is aversive to us: it can be difficult and complicated. Somewhere within all of us, we have this idea that God should be simple and innately recognized. Many scriptures do point to the Christian’s ability to know God, but the bible also speak of the need to study. Knowledge of God as revealed by the bible goes so much deeper than the truths needed for salvation. Yes God is perfect, but what does that mean? How is His perfection played out in different circumstances in my life? How does His perfection respond to my sinfulness after I become a Christian? Which is more important to God: His love or His justice? We will never completely know God in our lifetime, but getting to know Him more is vital to our growth as Christians.

I would like to explore John 17 to help us understand how knowing God helps us as Christians. In this chapter, Jesus prays for His disciples, present and future. I love this chapter because it gives a glimpse into Jesus’ heart for His followers and what He wants for us. The account of John puts this at the end of a long section of teaching Jesus gives the night He was betrayed. Knowing He was about to die, and being humanly terrified of what was coming, He wanted to comfort His disciples with these final words. The things Jesus taught in these four chapters (13-17) are the things Jesus felt would sustain them in His absence, first during His death and then after His ascension to heaven. There is so much I could focus on here, but I’ll highlight two main ideas: Knowledge of God is necessary for salvation, and knowledge of God is necessary for sanctification.

First, we need to know God to believe for salvation. “For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.” (Verse 8). I don’t want to belabor this point because many Christians will agree on this. The bible tells us we are saved by grace through faith. That means that God’s free gift of salvation- when we have earned only His anger and judgement through our sin- is received by believing in something. Paul, a first century convert to Christianity who wrote half of the New Testament, asks the church in Rome, “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” Knowledge of God is necessary for salvation.

This is why Christians need to tell people about Jesus. Jesus’ final words in Matthew are often called the Great Commission: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Mankind is given everything they need to know about God in nature, but through our sin, we suppress that knowledge. Our desire for things that are against God’s desire prevents us from seeing God in His creation. For this reason, we need to be taught about God and God’s primary vessel for getting that knowledge out is through people who have come to know Him. It’s a remarkable privilege to be used by God in this way, but also a heavy responsibility.

The second point from John 17 that I want to look at is that knowledge of God is necessary for sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which we are transformed by God’s Spirit into the image of His son. To put it simply, we are being brought on a journey towards perfection. But if the work is done by God’s Spirit, what need to we have of knowledge? Jesus prays here, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (Verse 17). God’s Word is one of the ways that He uses to sanctify us. Psalm 119:9 asks, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word.” Again it says, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Verse 11). We need to know God to grow towards godliness.

How does God’s Word sanctify us? Immediately, two key ways come to mind. First, God’s Word teaches us to fear Him. Proverbs 1:7 teaches that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge. Deuteronomy 6 begins a section of commands for the people of Israel going into the promised land. It begins with this admonition, “Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the Lord your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it, that you may fear the Lord your God, you and your son and your son’s son, by keeping all his statutes and his commandments, which I command you, all the days of your life, and that your days may be long.” The fear of the Lord is the beginning of obedience. The New Testament also teaches the fear of God. Hebrews 12:28,29 teach, “Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.” Many other commands are framed in light of fearing God (See 2 Corinthians 5:11, Ephesians 5:21, Hebrews 10:26,27).

Secondly, God’s Word paints a picture of righteousness for us. There are many commands in scripture that we are called to follow. The Word shows us what it means to live righteously. Entire chapters in the New Testament are devoted to instructions for righteous living (Romans 12, Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, 1 Thessalonians 5, James, to name a few). Are we to ignore these because the Holy Spirit is sanctifying us? Our primary aim as believers is not to obey a set of rules, but to live a life of worship to God. Unfortunately, our world does little to teach us what that looks like; God’s Word does. Legalism takes the commands and makes them the ultimate goal; worship looks at these commands as guide for responding to God’s grace. We don’t find our value or righteousness in fulfilling the law, but we obey the God who through Jesus has fulfilled it in us. Indeed, the Word is how the Holy Spirit reveals to us areas of sin in us that He is working on. “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account.” Knowing God through His word is necessary for sanctification.

So how do we go about knowing God through His Word? This is one area in my life where I’ve seen so much growth over my last three years in university. I’ve been surrounded my many men and women who have taught me a lot about who God is and how to see His nature through the scriptures. I suppose that would be the first piece of advice I would give. Hang out with mature believers who are able to see God’s heart in scripture. We as humans are always learning from those around us. If you are someone who is skilled at studying scripture, look for opportunities to serve younger believers who may need some help in developing this skill. Hebrews 10:24,25 encourages us, “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Secondly, begin to ask questions as you read the bible: “Why is this detail provided? What is the purpose of this command? What is the context of this passage? Why is this instruction placed next to this other one? God is not afraid of our questions and the process of finding answers helps build our faith and knowledge of God. My final and most important advice is to pray. God delights in making Himself known to any who seeks after Him. Jesus says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” (Matthew 7:7) James 1:5 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” If you want to know God, feel free to ask Him.

I want to end off with one final caution, and I will speak from my own experience. I remember when I first became interested in theology. Some friends of mine brought up a theological topic for debate and I found myself unable to keep up with the discussion. So I went home and began to study up on literature on the topic so that I could effectively debate my opinion using scripture. There are two main things wrong with that approach to theology. First, theology is all about learning about God, not defending your view of Him. I have changed my mind on a number of opinions I held about who God is because of things I’ve seen in scripture. I don’t inform theology, theology informs me. Secondly, theology is for the purpose of worshipping God, not glorifying ourselves through knowledge. Any theology that doesn’t result in deeper worship, I believe, is sinful pride. 1 Corinthians 8:1-3 teaches us that knowledge puffs up, but love edifies. Knowledge that isn’t centered on glorifying God will make us big in our own eyes. It makes us unpleasant to Christians and non-Christians in our lives, and it doesn’t please God.

For anyone who has come to know God through faith in Jesus, we need to pursue deeper knowledge of God. God has revealed Himself to us through His word. Let us be faithful to study it and learn how we are to live a life of worship to Him.

Bless The Lord O My Soul

Bless the Lord, O my soul, O my soul
Worship His holy name
Sing like never before
O my soul
I’ll worship Your holy name

This is one of my favorite worship songs. The entire song is a call to worship God. The opening verse describes the dawn of a new day as a time to renew worship towards God. The prayer of this song is beautiful: “Whatever may pass and whatever lies before me, let me be singing when the evening comes.” I was reflecting on the message of this song and was brought me to Psalm 103. This psalm, like the song, is a call to bless the Lord. In wonderful poetry, we are reminded of God’s works that are worthy of our praise. The whole Psalm is definitely worth a read, but I’ll focus on the first five verses.

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me, bless His holy name”

I love that this psalm is framed as a command to the self. The fact is, I don’t regularly want to “bless the Lord.” I want to complain and whine. It makes me feel good. I get a sense of justification when I express the unfairness of my situation, or get some sympathy from others for how overworked I feel. I regularly don’t want to put that aside and begin to offer praise to God; that requires work. The psalmist here recognizes that. He commands his soul to bless the Lord. He makes it an intentional act of the will. Not only is he going to bless the Lord, but he commands himself to do it with fervour. He is determined to engage everything he has in this act of worship such that no aspect of his being is allowed to remain complacent or apathetic towards God. I’ve had times where I’ve been singing songs to God or intentionally reflecting on God, and my full mind is not into it. I’ve become unfortunately good at singing familiar songs in church as my mind wanders, or repeating empty words in prayer as my focus strays. This is not the sort of praise we are called to give to God. Everything within us must be passionately attuned to worshipping God. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.”

“Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits”

No Christian is excluded from the obligation to praise God, because God’s nature and His activity in our lives are absolutely worthy of praise. Again, I’m not always inclined to be thankful and offer praise to God. It’s always easier to focus on what I’m not seeing or experiencing in my life. But I find my faith built up so much when I take the time to reflect on God’s blessing. I find mood lifts and my doubts fade when I remember God’s past faithfulness. When I think of His goodness to me, it’s easier to go out and serve Him as He commands me to. After all, our service to God is not a perquisite to earn God’s love, but a response to God’s love to us. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.”

“who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases”

One key reason to give thanks to God is because He forgives all our iniquity. I’m taking a course at McMaster that studies the books of prophecy in the bible. One thing that becomes very clear is how seriously God views sin. Our culture sometimes likes to think of God as a loving, nice guy who understands that we sometimes do wrong and is willing to let things slide. One read through any of the prophets quickly shatters that perception. Here is a line from Nahum that I love: “The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies.” (Nahum 1:2). If you still have doubt, read Deuteronomy 28:15-68, where God lays out the punishments for His people when they disobey. Even the New Testament describes God’s hatred of sin: “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18); “…but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek” (Romans 2:7); “…in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:8, 9).

God desperately hates sin and judges it. Ephesians describes that we were once “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind” (Ephesians 2:3). But God in His great love determined to take upon Himself His wrath and fury which we deserved and gave us grace through Jesus (Romans 3:23-26, 1 John 4:10) God forgave us at great cost to Himself; our salvation was not cheap. We stand righteous before God, assured of our salvation and eternal unity with Him because He took upon Himself the cost of reconciliation. Isaiah prophecies that it is by the stripes- or suffering – of Jesus, we find healing. I don’t want to delve into the topic of physical healing, but our spiritual brokenness before God is cured in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.”

“who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy”

Before we knew Christ, we were dependent on ourselves to take care of our lives. Anything we wanted to accomplish or achieve in life, we had to make it happen. We were responsible for ensuring our present joy and our future hope. We were in charge of fixing ourselves and making us better people. In grief, pain or trials we needed something external to motivate us to be happy. But now we have been adopted into the family of God and are recipients of God’s promises: “Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5); “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28); “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:5); “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13); “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:23); “And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)

Not only are we redeemed from a life lived purely on our own strength, we are crowned with God’s steadfast love. I love experiencing God’s love, thinking about God’s love, singing about it and reflecting on it. I rest in the knowledge that no matter what, He loves me. His love is not conditional, but is being renewed towards me daily (Lamentations 3:22, 23). I remember the first time I heard the song “How He Loves” by David Crowder. What an amazing expression of a truth that all Christians need to meditate on. “He loves like a hurricane/ I am a tree/ bending beneath the weight of His wind and mercy.” We experience God’s love, not only in His person, but also in His church. A congregation of Christians living in obedience to God is a place where we get to engage in, and experience God’s love. I have been incredibly blessed over the course of my life as a Christian to have been surrounded by other people who loved God and helped me to experience this love. People have given to me, encouraged me, served me, forgiven me, and prayed with me. Friends have listened and prayed for me through hard times, and rejoiced with me in good times. The love of God expressed through Himself and His church is a blessing which demands gratitude. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.”

“who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s”

Everyone has something they count on to make them happy: family, success, wealth, relationship, escape, revenge, etc. We often hear of the American Dream, which is the ideal lifestyle that people sometimes spend their whole lives chasing. We see pictures and images of perfection in movies, TV shows and magazines and think to ourselves, “If ever I could attain this, then I would be satisfied.” Unfortunately, sometimes we demand that God to provide these things to us so that we can be happy. I have heard many sermons on receiving breakthroughs or growing in righteousness as though these are the ultimate pursuits of a Christian. An American preacher I respect greatly opened my eyes to a truth in scripture: “God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.” Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” Jesus says, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, ‘Out of his heart will flow rivers of living water.’” (John 7:38, 39). God is the ultimate desire of the human heart. We were created to know Him and worship Him (Isaiah 43:21, Colossians 1:16). And so God, in reconciling us to Himself satisfies us by allowing us to praise Him. In the book of Revelation, and all anyone seems to do in heaven is praise God and marvel at His works. I love the experience of musical worship. I thank God that over the years, He has given me an imagination that gets inspired by the lyrics of songs as they declare God’s majesty. I love talking about God and using the English language to extol His virtues to the best of my ability. These are some of the ways I find my satisfaction in God Himself. God saved me to worship Him and find my ultimate joy in Him, and His joy is my strength. “Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name.”

In closing, I want to ask some questions that were posed at a retreat I recently went to:

  1. Is God good?
  2. Is God good enough?
  3. Is God good to you?

Honestly reflect on these. Do you really believe God is good enough to come through in your life? In those times when the answer is “no”, take some time to look back and see the times He has been good, and pray for your faith to grow. We are never going to be perfect in trusting God as our human nature will always be inclined to doubt. We can grow in trust though when we see the times He hasn’t let us down. “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8).