This post is part 2 of the previous post: Why In-depth Bible Studies Don’t Equate Gospel Maturity!
A Minister of Law or Grace.
After I graduated from TCU, I was ready to take on the world. Here I was, excited to preach the Gospel. I was not only pursuing my identity in ministry, I was headed for a disaster. I had not known it then. I wish I had friends who would be brutally honest with me; and told me back then. This is rather embarrassing, but I sincerely thought I was some kind of a theological giant. I confess. What delusions of grandeur! To a great degree, this is still true of me today at times. I fall into religious pride all the time. God’s truth is performing a surgery in my heart; and His grace is healing me gradually. If you can identify with my weakness, I hope God’s grace will overwhelm you and me as we follow Jesus on this often less traveled road (Matt. 7: 14).
As I’ve emphatically noted earlier in my previous post, pride, in the human heart expresses itself in subtle ways and in various forms. And one of the things that evokes in me a sense of religious superiority among my peers is my limited theological knowledge. There are times (even for a split second) I’m like that religious Pharisee who sincerely believed he was “not like other men” (Luke 18: 11) or even like the tax-collector that was praying beside him. There are times, I really think “I am not like” this religious Pharisee. But if I were to be brutally honest, I know this nature is in me. I struggle with righteous-relativism. There are moments when I sincerely believe that “I am not like other men” in so far as theology is concerned. I think I’m right and others are almost always wrong. I know I’m forgiven in Christ. I know I am declared righteous by God (2 Cor. 5: 21). But in reality, there are many moments I’m distracted from the Gospel. I default to my own righteousness. I become a theological pharisee whereas the purpose of my knowledge was to help me love others more. I am often one of those that Proverbs 30 describes: “There are those who are clean in their own eyes but are not washed of their filth. There are those—how lofty are their eyes, how high their eyelids lift!” (v. 12, 13). So, if there is anything in our Christian experience that makes us feel elated above others (no matter how great a cause it may appear), we are in danger of becoming Pharisees. I pray we will not reproduce the next generation of Christians who can sing Christian songs, and give biblical answers but don’t live Christian lives.
“There is a danger in thinking that the well-educated and well-trained seminary graduate is ministry ready or to mistake ministry knowledge, busyness, and skill with personal spiritual maturity” (Paul Tripp)
Other times, I’m like the elder brother in the famous parable (Luke 15), avoiding Jesus by obeying the law. I am often frustrated with those who fail to keep them. But other times, I’m just like the younger brother (the prodigal son)- subtly rebelling against the Holy Spirit’s inner promptings; and often choosing to walk in disobedience; often resisting the Father’s loving authority. Oh, how amazing God’s grace is! Only in brokenness before my own sinfulness can I truly give grace to fellow rebels and fellow Pharisees whom God has called me to minister. And only when our identity is firmly rooted in Christ will we truly find freedom from seeking to get our identity out of the ministry God has given us.
Biblical Literacy Does Not Equal Spiritual Maturity.
Dr. Paul Tripp writes:
“Since seminary tends to academize the faith, making it a world of ideas to be mastered……….. it is quite easy for students to buy into the belief that biblical maturity is about the precision of theological knowledge and the completeness of their biblical literacy. So seminary graduates, who are Bible and theology experts, tend to think of themselves as being mature. But it must be said that maturity is not merely something you do with your mind (although that is an important element of spiritual maturity). No, maturity is about how you live your life. It is possible to be theologically astute and be very immature. It is possible to be biblically literate and be in need of significant spiritual growth” (* p. 25, Headed for Disaster).
Further more, he adds:
“Knowledge is an exercise of your brain. Wisdom is the commitment of your heart that leads to transformation of your life” (* p. 26, 27 Headed for Disaster).
Lastly, I’m neither against theological education nor biblical literacy. I have spent sometime on that in the previous post (here). And one of the many reasons that so many Christians are biblically illiterate today may be rightly owing to the fact that “many churches today de-emphasize the need to thoroughly teach the scriptures.” But, as Tripp rightly points out, we don’t have to be afraid of what is in our hearts, and we don’t have to fear being known, because there is nothing in us “that could ever be exposed that hasn’t already been covered by the precious blood of your Savior king, Jesus.” We don’t have to be afraid of taking off our religious masks which we often use for covering up our insecurities. Much grace is available in Christ. There is no hiding from God, because “all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4: 13). It is a fearful thought to think that “we who teach will be judged with greater strictness” (James 3: 1). May the grace and truth of God lead us to a heart-changing and life-altering experience.
Note: * Download the 1st chapter for FREE: “Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry.”