Becoming God's Spiritual Person
The Big, Deceptive Mistake
“Why study the Bible? Is it not easier just to listen to the messages of the preacher and the class teachers? If you learn the positions of the congregation you attend, should that not be enough? Studying the Bible is complicated! You have to learn about living in situations and cultures you were never in and know little about. You learn about original manuscripts and translations. Eventually you study the meaning of Hebrew and Greek words—my own language challenges me, why should I want to know anything about the Hebrew or Greek vocabulary?” Perhaps the most disconcerting reality is this: If you become a serious student of the Bible, you learn things you never knew. The result: what for you were settled issues are no longer settled.
“An in-depth study of the Bible results in endless questions. I just want to know what I need to know! I want to have someone I trust tell me the important things I need to know! Frankly, I see no compelling reason to be a serious student of the Bible unless you want to be a preacher, a Bible class teacher, or a congregational leader!”
The question “Why study the Bible?” is a good question. Should a person look at the Bible as a manual? Is it a manual that is primarily filled with instructions on how “to do church”? Is it a manual on worshipping God? Is it a manual on Christian procedures? Is it not a manual at all, but a guide to godly motives that result in godly behavior?
Is it purely an ancient document filled with human writings? Or, is it a collection of human writings with human authors who were directed by God as they wrote? If that is the case, how were they directed by God in a way that honored their individuality? Is the objective of the Bible to reveal the living God, to reveal a religion (understanding it presents more than one religion), to reveal a Savior, to reveal the gospel (“good news”), to reveal a church, or to reveal a life? What exactly is the over-all purpose of this collection of writings known to many people as the Bible (the book)?
The question of “Why study the Bible?” is answered by the person’s understanding of (1) the primary purpose of the Bible and (2) the over-all intent of the Bible. Surely, the Bible addresses many things. For example, it discusses God (the principal character), Jesus as a man and as God’s Messiah or Christ, Judaism and Christianity, the gospel, the church, and human godliness. The principal question is this: “How do all those things work together to form God’s intent?” Some would ask, “Does God have one intent? How can anyone suggest God melds all the intents of those individual writings and the objectives of all those human authors into a primary divine objective?”
If you have read this writing to this point, you already know its view: God wants us to become godly people in the resurrected Jesus Christ. What God wants is for us to understand that God wants us to be in partnership with Him. In that relationship, God through Jesus Christ does for us what we could never do for ourselves. Without divine activity in us, we could never be righteous, sanctified, and redeemed from sin in order to be reconciled to God (consider 1 Corinthians 1:30 and 2 Corinthians 5:20, 21). To express our appreciation for what God does in Jesus Christ for us, we (1) obey God and (2) commit ourselves to being a godly person each day in every circumstance.
In fewer than six chapters, Genesis (the Bible’s first book) declared three basic things: (1) Life, including human life, has its origin in God. (2) When human life began, it was designed to be sinless in order to have companionship with God. (3) When human life rebelled against God, sin began a perversion of all God made. Finally, sin completely dominated people. God’s intent for human life was ignored completely by people. From this perversion/sinfulness onward, each writing in some way relates to God bringing a runaway creation back under control and extending salvation to a sinful humanity through Jesus Christ (consider 1 Corinthians 15:24-28). People without God are a disastrous reality. Only by people depending on God is there hope in this physical existence that extends beyond physical death.
The Deceitful Perversion of the Purpose of Spiritual Knowledge
Paul addressed the universal need for people to accept God’s solution for human sinfulness in Romans 2. A part of what Paul wrote was addressed to the Jews who held a common Jewish view. These people went from serving God to judging people who failed God. It is a temptation for people who have knowledge of God to transition from servant of God to judge of people. Such people think God’s objective is not accomplished through allowing their godly knowledge to transform them into God’s servants. Instead, God’s objective is accomplished (1) through identifying those who are ungodly, (2) through condemning those who are placed in the category of the ungodly, and (3) through refusing to associate with those who are in the ungodly category.
These people are certain they know God and His desires. They declare that God’s true objective is reached by judging the ungodly, not by serving God to bless all people. They are certain it is not serving God that transforms people. It is judgment that transforms people. Paul disagreed! He said God was pleased when people were devoted to serving God’s will, not when people were devoted to condemning and classifying others.
Paul declared that the results of the “judgmental” commitment to godliness would be (1) to invite God’s judgment on themselves; (2) to ignore the true nature of God; (3) to “store up” God’s wrath for the self-declared godly person; (4) to be a misdirected guide for those who need leadership; (5) to cause God to be blasphemed by people who need Him; and (6) to become the people God opposes.
This does not suggest that evil be accepted or condoned. It declares that those enslaved to or ruled by evil are impressed by examples of service to God’s will, not by declaring judgment on those who reject God’s will. It is not opposing evil with evil that conquers evil, but the doing of good that conquers evil (Romans 12:17-21). However, opposing evil by doing good has prices: (1) opposing evil with good is hard; (2) opposing evil with good is costly; and (3) opposing evil with good involves time—often a lot of time. An appropriate illustration is Jesus’ crucifixion.
It is easier—often much simpler—to oppose evil with force. If Christians resort to force to oppose/conquer evil, ultimately they transform godly commitment to the status of evil acts and evil thoughts. The question: Does the judgmental approach to godliness work, or does it only postpone the inevitable until the Christians’ superior force ceases to exist? Is there a shortcut to the triumph of good, or will the triumph of good always involve sacrificial commitment and time? How does one measure the triumph of good—by the immediate impact on people’s physical lifestyle or by the values governing people’s life and death?
It quickly becomes evident that the Christianity requiring Jesus’ death and Paul’s sacrifice never was for people who refused to find strength and courage in God (consider 2 Corinthians 11:21-33 and Hebrews 11). In early Christianity, physical sacrifice was NOT considered unreasonable if the person sought hope that went beyond physical death. Increasingly, American Christians seek the benefits of Christianity without Christianity’s costs.
The deceit is found in a person declaring his (her) goodness by citing someone else’s badness. In Jesus’ day this concept was the deceitful weakness of a major segment of Judaism—if you were a Jew you were good because all people who were not Jews were bad.
The same concept exists today among Christians. This approach gives the following instructions: Find a standard of godly moral practice or a godly ethical position to which you subscribe. Declare that all those in a group that (as a group) do not practice this morality or subscribe to this ethic are bad and to be condemned. Then consider yourself good because that group is bad. You can even be humble in considering yourself good. You can say, “I am not perfect, but I am not as ungodly as ‘X’ group.”
Commonly, this deceit exists for several reasons. First, the deceit exists because the person is convinced (a) evil is always obvious, and (b) evil is always in conflict with my standards of godliness. (No person who believes in Jesus Christ thinks the standards of his (her) faith could be incorrect.)
Second, this deceit commonly exists because the “godly person” is convinced godliness is measured and demonstrated merely by not being as bad or evil as someone he (she) considers to be below him (her). Goodness exists because another’s failures exist. Consequently, there would be no way to measure or demonstrate good if bad, evil, or sinfulness did not exist. Thus, goodness is primarily the absence of what is “bad.”
Third, this deceit commonly exists because goodness never measures or demonstrates itself by comparing itself to a superior form of goodness. As an example, consider this: When people thought only evil in Genesis 6:5-7, God’s goodness still existed. People were not “bad” because nothing worse existed to use as a comparison. They were “bad” because they were in total rebellion to the highest standard of goodness.
The man or woman devoted to good uses God to understand what good is. He or she does not compare himself or herself to an expression of evil. No one is good because the person can find another person who “is worse than I am.” A person is good because he (she) practices good. A person is good because good is actively pursued, not because good is absent in another person. If an expression of good is absent in people but present in God, people look to God, not to evil people. Godliness imitates the goodness of God, not the ethical or moral deficiency of a person or group of people.
Paul’s statement in 1 Corinthians 8:1 (NASV) in reference to idolatrous backgrounds is troubling.
Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.
Regarding the context, first, the statement has to do with Christian-Christian treatment of each other. Second, it relates to pre-conversion backgrounds. Third, it relates to how a Christian reacts to a “wrong” standard in a Christian who does not understand his (her) standard is wrong. Fourth, it focuses on an ungodly Christian attitude.
The statement declared, in regard to God’s concerns, that knowledge by itself is destructive. To a movement that declares God’s objective is reached through knowledge, that is a troubling concept. The movement has long said or implied that correct knowledge results in correct answers with a correct focus. Does that conviction reflect God’s priority and objective in the lives of His people?
Paul said that knowledge combined with love results in spiritual growth because it understands God’s focus. This does not champion ignorance. Nor does it champion merely the existence of “positive feelings.” It asks us, in following God and devoting ourselves to His ideals, to seek to make knowledge a godly pursuit. However, the Christian is to understand that more is involved in being godly than merely knowing.
Human arrogance never captures God’s purposes. If love as defined by God is not a part of all our pursuits, God’s purposes are not served. Whatever Christians do, love must be an obvious part of our motivation. If it is not, we are the deceived as we seek to save ourselves.
Study for Your Own Learning and Practice
As a Christian, I do not study in order to discover your flaws. I study to grasp and understand my own flaws. I seek to lead others to God by my devotion to who I am and what I do. Good preaching is not preaching that quotes many verses. Good preaching is not preaching that challenges me (or you) to focus on everyone else’s failures. Instead good preaching challenges me to rise to a higher level of personal holiness as I seek to use my life to glorify God.
When Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, he powerfully used an act to teach a “never to be forgotten” lesson on the power and meaning of humility (John 13:15). Paul’s commitment to be an example in order to keep from distorting the gospel is phenomenal (1 Corinthians 9:1-12)! When Paul taught Christians at Corinth what to do in taking the Lord’s Supper (which they did inappropriately previously), he presented the Lord’s Supper as an occasion for self-examination. (1 Corinthians 11:28). When Paul wrote the Philippian congregation, it was distressed by quarreling members. He asked the Christians (1) to follow his example, and (2) he noted with weeping that some Christians were enemies of Christ’s cross because of the way they behaved (Philippians 3:17-19). The Thessalonian congregation was troubled by many misunderstandings about Jesus’ second coming. Paul asked them to use his past presence with them as an example because he deliberately modeled the Christian work ethic (2 Thessalonians 3:6-12). Paul’s message to the preachers Timothy (1 Timothy 4:12) and Titus (Titus 2:7) was to be examples.
Telling or proclaiming God’s work through Jesus is not enough to produce spirituality! To reduce the sharing of the gospel to words, to issues, or to “stands” and “positions” mars the message of God’s “good news.” Christians must combine saying with showing! What God did in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection cannot be conveyed with only words! The gospel is far more than issues and positions! It is far more than a declaration of facts! It is far more than an algebraic formula reduced to a rote response in people’s lives! Yes, it is declared, but it is also lived. When the facts of the gospel are separated from the acts of those who trust the gospel, ruin of God’s gospel occurs. The question is much more than “What do you believe?” The question also includes “How has that changed the way you live?” “Both tell me and show me.”
The Christian never stops growing in understanding and practice. It is not unusual for a Christian to find no one who has his or her exact understanding or sees life precisely as he or she sees it. That is okay! Remember Romans 14:4! God knows what you do and why you do it. If you are ready to explain what you do to God (Romans 14:12), all is well. Just be true to your conscience, and let every other Christian be true to his or hers. Remember, you are not God’s police over other Christians. You are God’s servant—and so are other Christians!