How To Understand God

Theology is the study of God. Unfortunately, theology has mostly become “speculation about God based on our goofy thoughts.”

Theology, as it has been codified, is partially helpful, partially a complete waste, and increasingly destructive.

Bad definitions of theology focus on our own thinking. Good definitions talk about a “science” or “study of God.” This is good, as long as the textbook is Scripture.

Science in our day, although widely celebrated, is not done often in the public sector. Bill Nye is who most think of when we think science. That is too bad.

Much of science today is tied in with politics and philosophical axes to grind.

Much good science is being done today, you just won’t ever hear about it. Most publicly consumed science is sensationalist philosophy in a lab coat. One might say the talking-head in a lab coat is the modern day wolf in sheep’s clothing.

I would like to give you some quotes from an actual real scientist. Richard Feynman was one of the scientists working on the Manhattan Project. He was a formative thinker in the development of the computer among other sciency things.

If theology is a science, let’s do it the way a scientist would do science. Observe:

“Science is a way to teach how something gets to be known, what is not known, to what extent things are known (for nothing is known absolutely), how to handle doubt and uncertainty, what the rules of evidence are, how to think about things so that judgments can be made, how to distinguish truth from fraud, and from show.”

“Our freedom to doubt was born out of a struggle against authority in the early days of science. It was a very deep and strong struggle: permit us to question – to doubt – to not be sure. I think that it is important that we do not forget this struggle and thus perhaps lose what we have gained.”

“Learn from science that you must doubt the experts. As a matter of fact, I can also define science another way. Science is the belief in the ignorance of experts.”

I like his approach. Feynman is not a Christian, that I know of. He thinks that religion is what people do to avoid dealing with doubt.  He said, “Religion is a culture of faith; science is a culture of doubt.”

Religion, according to Feynman, is what you go to in order to resolve mysteries, thus it eliminates curiosity, wonder, and science.

Although I’d probably disagree with that notion, I see why he views things that way.

One of the things Feynman warns against is pseudoscience and the proliferation of popular science dressed up to impress and push an agenda. He died in 1988 and would be in shock as to where science has gotten today.

Anyway, back to our point, theology at its best is a science. Feynman says science only works when we doubt experts and long-held assumptions.

Theology should be the same. yet we see the same thing happening in theology as we do in most areas of science: authority figures answering all questions, immediate repercussions if you question long-held beliefs, group think, more philosophy than faithfulness to truth, etc.

This underlying doubt of experts should drive you to examine your doctrine. Are you believing what the Bible says, or what a bunch of dead guys thought up?

The Reformers have Five Solas. We’ve examined several of these solas and come to the conclusion that they don’t make much sense unless you buy into their underlying philosophy.

If you doubt theology and doubt experts, questioning their conclusions will be as natural as breathing.

If, however, you trust authority and think they are smarter than you, then you won’t question and you’ll go on believing people’s opinions until you die.

Faith comes by hearing God’s Word. Notice faith doesn’t come by hearing people’s opinions about God’s Word.

Think. Examine. Question. Doubt. Test the spirits. The Scientific Method was actually invented by the Apostle Paul hundreds of years before it was codified in science books:

Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.

“Prove” means to test. Test stuff. Start by testing what all the theological authorities have been spouting for hundreds of years. Hold to what passes the test. Know the Scripture. Rely on the Holy Spirit. Do the work. The unexamined faith is not worth believing.

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What is Theology? And Why You Should be Skeptical of it

Theology is a word that needs to be examined. Here are some brief definitions of the word:

Webster’s dictionary defines theology as “the study of religious faith, practice, and experience; especially: the study of God and of God’s relation to the world.”

“Saint” Augustine said theology is  “Rational discussion respecting the deity.”

A. H. Strong, theologian and creator of Strong’s Concordance, said that theology is “the Science of God and of the relations between God and the universe.”

Charles Ryrie, author of the Ryrie Study Bible, says theology is “thinking about God and expressing those thoughts in some way.”

Millard Erickson, a  Baptist theologian says theology is “the study or science of God.”

Theology is the study of God. The question comes in: what are we studying since we can’t see God?

This is where I’d have some problems with a couple of these definitions above, primarily Augustine’s.

Theology to Augustine is rational discussion about God. Another word for “rational discussion” would be “philosophy.” Some might even start talking about “Blowing Smoke,” or other such things.

Theology derails once we start basing it on our thoughts about God. I’m definitely not saying that theology is irrational. What I am saying is that our thoughts are not the basis for an understanding of God.

Revelation is our foundation for theology. We know things about God to the extent that God has told us things about Himself.

Augustine has a ton of philosophy in his theology, which makes sense based on his definition of theology.

I think Augustine had more philosophy than revelation in his conclusions.

To be frank: I do not care what your rational thoughts about God are. Nor do I care about Augustine’s rational thoughts.

What I care about is knowing God’s Word.

Theology then is bound to lead you into philosophy and speculation, things the Bible warns us not to get into (where “vain deceit” means “speculation”).

In my opinion, the Bible itself has warnings about theology (if theology means our “thinking about God”).

If one comes to theology with an underlying skepticism, one will be able to make more sense out of it, and will be able to avoid theological pitfalls that have been falling the church into pits for years.

Theology should give you the willies. It should make you physically feel weird. If you read Augustine and come away feeling just fine, you either didn’t actually understand him, or you don’t understand the Bible.

“Theology” is not a word in the Bible.

Pro Tip: When talking about biblical things, watch out for the constant use of a word that is not used in the Bible. Examine those words. I bet there’s a lot of excess baggage hanging on them.

Do I Need Church to Know the Bible?

Everyone has beliefs that are swayed by others. The desire to conform is strong within us.

That being said, wouldn’t it be better to isolate ourselves with our Bibles? If we’re not around people, we won’t ever conform to people! Genius solution!

It would seem that way. The Bible is able to fully equip a person for every good work. We have the Holy Spirit within us who teaches and reminds us of God’s Word. We are each of us priests, not needing the intercession of another human.

All that being said, Ephesians 4 says God spiritually gifted people in the church so that we would be perfected, grown up into the perfect man Christ Jesus, and not tossed about with every wind of doctrine.

Ephesians 4 sure makes it sound like not going to church will keep you in a state of spiritual immaturity.

So, how can both be true?

In my pastoral experience, I know many people who decided they didn’t need church. They spent time alone thinking. And without exception, each of them got weirder and weirder theologically.

Once you actively decide to reject the Church (not the institution per se, but the spiritual body of Christ that edifies itself in love), you are going against something God has given for your benefit. You are resisting His gracious gifts toward you.

You will end up weird.

You will.

You’ll be tossed about by every wind of doctrine. We’re all influenced by stuff around us. We’re all susceptible to be blown in the wind. That’s why it’s vital to find a church with people who have the Spirit and then spend time with those people. They’ll help keep you going the right way.

At the same time, you should spend plenty of time with yourself, the Holy Spirit, and the Bible. How will you be able to identify spiritual people if you don’t know who the Spirit is or what He says?

We’ve been given many things to help our minds be transformed. Church is one of those things. It’s an important thing, so important Paul says if you’re not in it, you’ll be immature.

You must be in fellowship with Spirit-filled believers. Allowing them to come along side you, help you, warn you, comfort you. Your faith will flourish in a good church.

But showing up to church is not the entirety. You have to do your part in the Body to benefit from being in the Body, not just warming a chair in a different building on Sunday mornings.

The Church has a role and you have a role. Your maturity level is not entirely dependent upon your church! You are the main player in your own maturation. Use the Word of God, the Holy Spirit, and Christ’s Body, the Church.

You’ve been given much. To whom much is given, much is required. Act accordingly.

8 Thoughts on the Problem of Why Christians Still Sin?

One of the biggest problems and discouragements for the Christian is: why do I keep sinning?

Here are several thoughts on the subject:

  1. We sin because we’re still in the flesh.
    Although we have been given the Holy Spirit and have been raised up to newness of life, we still have a flesh body. The flesh body doesn’t want to die. It is selfish and wants to satisfy it’s appetites no matter the cost. Although the believer can grow and can see victory over sin, sin remains persistent and temptation will always rear its head as long as we’re in this flesh body in this fallen world.
  2. Sin is a problem.
    If the fact that you still sin doesn’t bother you, you’re doing doctrine wrong. I’ve been around Christianity long enough to know all the “doctrinal” reasons why sin is OK. But sin isn’t OK, never has been, never will be. Sin is bad. We’re not supposed to do it. If the fact that you continue to sin does not make you feel guilty, occasionally doubt your faith, make you weep and fast, etc., then I think you need to read larger portions of the Bible. There are even righteous people in the Bible who were disturbed to the point of tears by observing sin around them. Sin should bother you; that’s actually a good sign if it does.
  3. God knows our frame.
    Our sin does not take God by surprise. He knows our frame. He knows we are dust. He knows the temptations of the flesh (remember He was in the flesh being tempted before). God has made many beautiful, wonderful, and tasty things down here. Our flesh really enjoys them. Our flesh goes crazy and turns the beautiful and the good into ugly sin. God is aware of the struggle and the pull. He is also a faithful and sympathetic High Priest.
  4. God is gracious.
    God is slow to anger, merciful, and willing to forgive. This is a blessed thing. If God is not these things, then there’s really no point to feeling any given way about sin, because it matters none at all if God doesn’t forgive. We’d all be condemned and done with. If God is not good, He’s the last place you’d go with your guilt, shame, and sin. But God is good, this is what leads us to repentance.
  5. Confess your sin.
    Many evangelicals shy away from this idea to avoid the Catholic notion of confession. Confession is a rather simple thing. To “confess” means to “say the same thing as.” It’s to see your sin the way God sees it. To acknowledge that it’s there, that it’s a problem, and that only God can truly deal with it through Christ. To not confess your sin is to say you don’t have sin. And he who says he has no sin is a liar. Deal with reality. When you sin, admit it. Deal with it. Talk to God about it.  He already knows it anyway; He’s waiting for you to wake up about it.
  6. Your good aint all that good.
    Paul says, “When I do good, evil is present with me.” All our goodness, while being truly good, gives our flesh opportunity to sin. We get pride, self-righteousness, judgmentalism and comparison going. We can truly do good things. But doing good creates it’s own pitfalls. Our flesh is so messed up, it can even turn righteousness into evil. Let not your good be evil spoken of. Be aware of your flesh and it’s power to taint.
  7. Sin is a bigger problem than we’ll ever know.
    There are times the Holy Spirit gives us a glimpse of who we truly are. It’s ugly. Often one or two big sins in our lives will capture our attention. It’s not until we deal with those that our eyes are clear enough to be able to see other sin in us. The older I get, the more I realize how much of my habits and natural responses are actually sin. I had no idea. I can only assume that the more I progress in the faith, the more clarity I will have about my sin.
  8. Be humbled.
    We sin. We sin even when we don’t know we’re sinning. We can sin even while we are doing good. Sin is ugly. It put Christ on the cross. Humility is  huge. God knows you. He sees you for who you are. Nothing is hidden from Him. Humble yourself under the mighty hand of God and let Him lift you up. Humility brings peace. I don’t have to defend myself, or protect my stuff, or maintain an image or reputation. I can rest in the humble knowledge that I’m nothing without Christ. Be humbled by sin. Humility is a virtue our world despises, but one our Lord and Savior fully embraced when He humbled Himself in the form of a servant to become obedient unto death on the cross. Sin even humbled our Savior, and He didn’t even do any of it! How much more should we, who actually sin, be humbled?

If you are a Christian and still sin and this doesn’t bother you, make sure you’re actually more than a Christian by name. If you are in Christ, sin will bother you. If sin is not a problem in your mind, then you have bigger problems than you know.

Face the problem. Deal with the problem. Be humbled by the problem. Look forward to the day when we will be released from the problem of sin and will be made like Him when we see Him as He is.

Even so, come quickly.

The Two Extremes of Assurance of Salvation

Salvation and assurance are two different things.

Salvation is a concrete reality: you either are or you aren’t saved.

Assurance is a feeling. There are many who are saved who don’t feel assured of their salvation. There are also many who are assured of their salvation who are not saved.

Satan, the Deceiver, wants to make those who aren’t saved feel like they are, and make those who are saved feel like they aren’t.

Human intellect is susceptible to deception. Several times in Scripture we are warned “be not deceived.” We are warned about this because too often we are.

There are many days I can observe my behavior and condemn myself to hell. There are other days I can solidly justify myself into heaven.

The question is: on which day am I most right?!

There are two kinds of people on this issue who are in serious trouble.

  1. The guy who knows 100% with no doubt that he is saved
  2. The guy who knows 100% there’s no way he is saved.

If you are in group 1, you probably don’t take sin seriously. I know, you’ll chalk it up to taking God’s grace seriously, but really what you mean is that your sin isn’t that big of a deal. Of course God loves me, it doesn’t matter what I do. Plus I do good stuff too.

If you are in group 2, you either don’t take sin seriously because you’re truly not saved and you don’t care, or you take sin so seriously you doubt the effectiveness of God’s grace, mercy, and the power of the Gospel.

People in both camps are largely consumed with themselves. If you are 100% assured you are saved, you aren’t viewing you and your sin from God’s holy perspective. Sin should shake you. It should make you question your love for God. Guilt is a real thing and should cause you to pause and examine yourself. People who don’t feel guilt (another way of saying you are 100% assured of salvation) might just have hardened hearts. Remember the Pharisees? They had 100% assurance of salvation. They were constantly thinking about themselves and their own awesomeness.

People who are always gloomy, doubting God could love them, and assuming they lose their salvation every time they think a bad thought, are also consumed with themselves. All these people see is their mess; they don’t have any confidence in Christ. These people arrogantly assume they are the exception to God’s grace. Even God’s power is not more powerful than I am.

I think the healthy believer avoids both extremes, and also knows there’s a time and place for both.

When I sin, I should feel guilt. I should be aware of God’s opinion of it and wonder how can I, who am dead to sin, walk in it like this? I should confess my sins and ask for mercy. I should examine myself to see whether I’m in the faith, to see if there’s any growth, any fruit of the Spirit. We are easily deceived and our Adversary spends his time deceiving us. Are we taking 1) our own fleshly weakness to be deceived and 2) Satan’s power to deceive into consideration in our assurance?

At the same time, when I do good, I need to keep an eye out for pride and self-righteousness. Many flippant statements of assurance sound more like Pharisees than Christians. Remember Paul was not ashamed to describe himself as the chief of sinners. He was very aware of his sin.

But bashing yourself into the ground over sin does no good either. We can have assurance in the grace and mercy of God, in the power of His Gospel, and His willingness to forgive. We know we have forgiveness granted to us freely in Christ Jesus and we can be cleansed from all ungodliness.

But this forgiveness does not mean we run around doing whatever our flesh feels like. We don’t take the grace of God in vain. We don’t turn God’s grace into lasciviousness. Sin bothers us primarily because it is contrary to who God is, because it is what put Christ on the cross, because it does belittle God’s amazing grace.

There are times, when we are brought low by our sin, that we need to be like Joshua who was told by God to quit moping, get up and take care of the sin! There are times we need to be brought low like Peter when he saw reality when Jesus asked him three times if he loved Him.

I would much rather have someone doubt their faith and be examining themselves to see whether they are in the faith than have someone assure themselves of salvation all the way into hell.

For too long the Church has turned Once Saved Always Saved or Perseverance of the Saints (both of which I think are true) into an excuse to take it easy and live in sin.

The question is not: Once I’m saved, do I stay saved? The question is: are you saved?

Guard your heart. Watch and pray. Walk circumspectly. Redeem the time. Fight the fight. None of these phrases make sense if what the Bible is saying is, “Hey, you said the prayer when you were 6, don’t worry about it, do whatever you want.”

Satan is active and deceiving many in the Church today. I think it’s time we wake up to this.

How to Study the Bible

Here are some tips for studying the Bible on your own.

–Read the Bible a lot. Over and over. Cover to cover. Try at least once to read it as quickly as possible, like under a month.

–Question everything. Write down questions as you read it, then when you read it again, see how many more questions you get and how many old ones you can now answer. Don’t be afraid to question anything and everything.

–Ignore formal theology. Don’t read merely to find verses to back up or attack doctrines. Just read what it says. Otherwise you’ll miss half the message because your brain is arguing theology.

–Avoid dumb Bible study questions like, “what does this mean to me?” or “how can I apply this to my life today?” They tend to make the Bible all about you. One of the points of the Bible is that it’s about no longer you but Christ. Focus more on God’s/the author’s point, on aspects of human nature, what is God like, etc.

–Context. Context. Context. If you don’t know the whole flow of the Bible you won’t know the context of each book. If you don’t know the context of each book you won’t know the context of the chapter, thus you won’t know the point of any given verse. Concordances, although helpful when used right, have been one of the most destructive biblical tools ever invented. One word can be used in many contexts. Not all contexts mean the same thing. A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text.

–Think critically. Why does God say what He says? How does this relate to what He said before or after? Examine it to know what’s going on. Get past Sunday School level thinking. Be real. Be honest. Think about all of it.

–Explain passages to people. The best way to understand a passage is to explain the passage. If you can’t explain it; you don’t understand it. This doesn’t have to be formal, it can just be talking to your wife. Write it out or speak it out. It is best to explain it to someone to get feedback and input. The Body of Christ edifies itself. You can’t understand the Bible in isolation—that’s why there’s a Body of Believers. Spiritual gifts in other people are there to help you, just as your gifts are there to help others. People who study the Bible alone get very weird ideas. Avoid weird ideas by not avoiding other believers.

To summarize:

Read it
Question it
Think on it
Explain it

Why Is Theology Confusing?

Biblical doctrine is much simpler than human theology.

Most confusing doctrines are confusing because they are someone’s idea of what the Bible says, not what the Bible says.

The problem is that biblical doctrine is straightforward. A little too abrupt and real. It tends to mess with life.

Theologians enter the picture to “clean up the mess” by telling you the Bible doesn’t mean what the Bible simply and clearly says.

The main job of a theologian is to impress you with their theological astuteness. In other words, they prove their doctrinal superiority by being confusing.

“You’re too stupid to understand, that’s why you need us smart theologians.” Is the attitude. We go along with them because they tell us why we don’t have to listen to all those parts we wish weren’t there, which suits our flesh fine.

You know you’re dealing with human theology when you are reading quotes of people more than quotes of Scripture. When you are using multiple, giant theological words that don’t appear in the Bible. When the word “theory” is used, as in The Theory of Substitutionary Atonement. When more time is spent telling you why the verse doesn’t mean what it says than is spent telling you how to apply what the verse does say.

If you’re confused by theology, that’s OK. Theology is confusing. Most confusion that believers have is trying to bring together what that guy said with what that other guy said.

Good luck.

It’s best just to forget the guys and read the Bible. Don’t worry if having five Solas is confusing. Don’t worry if there are verses that interfere with established church doctrine. Go with the verses.

You don’t need seminary to understand the Bible. You might need seminary to understand human theology.

I suggest you understand the Bible. It’s up to you whether you want to try understanding human theology.

But I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ.
–2 Corinthians 11:3