I’ve been under the lordship of Christ for nearly 18 years now. I say that not for a “pat on the back”, but as a little background to help shape the following reflection. The longer I’ve been in the Faith, the more I’ve noticed times in my walk where I may grasp Christian teachings in a theoretical/academic sense, but not in the full concrete/spiritual/applied sense.
Case in point…I’ve always known that I’ve been called to love my wife like Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5). I’d heard it taught a million times over my short Christian life. Yet for a long time, I didn’t connect the dots from this bedrock teaching to the action of walking into a house with a tired wife and taking on the responsibility of relieving her of whatever duties she had left no matter how I felt. That in and of itself is loving her like Christ loved the church! It’s not simply that I didn’t have the will to do it, but rather, I was completely blind to the reality that such an act was living out the doctrine I had always heard. As a matter of fact, I’m still learning the full implications of this teaching and will continue until the Lord calls me home.
Connecting the line between the teachings we hear and all the implications that spring from those teachings isn’t always immediate.
We’re part of the Internet generation, the Facebook age; we live in a time where Bible nerds across the world (like me) can hear a whole semester of lectures on Systematic Theology in less than a week. We can take a sermon series that a pastor has labored over for years and consume it in a matter of weeks. We can carry a whole library of books in a tablet that fits in our back pockets. Today, biblical knowledge is vast, everywhere, and mobile, and as a result, the acquisition of that knowledge is accelerated.
With all that said, the acquisition of biblical knowledge may be accelerated, but let us not make the mistake of assuming sanctification always moves at the same pace!
We sometimes like to equate sanctification with the number of books we’ve read, the hours of thought-provoking sermons we’ve heard, or the days of power-packed conferences we’ve attended. Lest some reader takes this post to be an undermining of these gracious gifts, let me say that these all carry the ability to bring growth, wisdom, and ultimately, sanctification to us. However, sanctification also has another side to it, one that is more slow burning, one that is a lot more “Selah” and a lot less internet, blogs, and sermon mp3s; one that, if ignored, will only result in a young pompous arrogant Christian who can rebut every argument against the Doctrines of Grace, but can’t seem to speak lovingly to his wife.
The imbalance I’m speaking of here is subtle, but nevertheless visible. Take, for example, how we give all the praise to our theological heroes, the heavyweights who can preach from the Hebrew and Greek manuscript, the 20, 30, or 40-year-old peers who can show you how every verse in Ruth points to Jesus. We highly esteem them, and we rightfully should. But at the same time, we can take the 60-year-old who has walked with Jesus for 30 years but can’t spell “amillennialism” and treat him like a total loser because he’s not a theological genius. There is a grave tendency for us to value knowledge while devaluing the Spirit-led process the wiser and elder Christians among us have experienced in shaping and using knowledge. It is probably this kind of knowledge accumulation Paul had in mind when he wrote to Corinth that “knowledge puffs up”.
So, what can we do to be on guard against this dilemma?
Think through the Biblical Knowledge you’ve acquired vs. merely accumulating it
We often quote those great Christian thinkers that we admire so much, but why not strive to think like those great thinkers! To devote time not just to consuming biblical content, but processing it. Take Jonathan Edwards, for instance, who was known to contemplate Heaven for hours at a time. A stark contrast from our rushed ‘million thoughts a minute’ treatment we give so much rich biblical content. Paul tells Timothy to think over the things that he said to him (i.e. the Scriptures) so that the Lord might bring understanding to Timothy concerning those things (2 Timothy 2:7). It is one thing to read a book on it, it is another thing to hear a sermon on it. It is an entirely different thing to actually think through it! To ponder the significance a teaching has on your life, on your family, on your view of the church, on your view of Christ. As you read through the scriptures, are you pausing long enough to allow the Spirit to grant deeper understanding? What about the books you’re reading or the sermons you’re listening too? Don’t rush the process. Welcome it!
Respect those who have lived a little while
There is a reason why Paul tells the older to train the younger (Titus 2). Sure, that older guy at your church may not be named John Macarthur, but it certainly doesn’t mean he doesn’t have significant amounts of wisdom to pass on. Open your ears when you’re in the presence of older saints. Treasure men and women who have lived long enough to raise children to love Jesus or to see their best efforts fail. Who have lived long enough to see churches flourish and fade, who have lived long enough to see Christian fads come and go. Consider their counsel prayerfully and carefully. Honor their insight even when it is not filled with all the theological vernacular. I’ve found myself in the presence of many of my elders that may lack the words, but who more than make up for it with pure unbridled wisdom, passion, and love for Jesus. Those are people that we should value.
Live A Little While
I’ve heard it said a million times, “Live long enough and you’ll learn”. I used to consider the saying trite and superficial, but as I’ve LIVED I’ve LEARNED to appreciate the statement much more. A great deal of Christian growth will come as we simply live life under the grace of Christ. I understand a little better the Fatherhood of God as I have been blessed to live long enough to have children of my own. I understand a little better the significance of being called the bride of Christ now that I’ve lived life with a bride of my own. The Holy Spirit, through these and other examples, has connected the dots for me between biblical teaching and the teaching’s implications.
While we may impress ourselves or others with our ability to retain theological concepts, our sanctification does not ULTIMATELY rest there. It rests first in what Christ has done on the cross. It rests secondly in the power of the Spirit to take those concepts and transform them into real, on-the-ground, joyful, loving, gracious, soul-stirring application. And yes, it also rests in our passion to grab a hold of robust Christ-exalting, biblical theology. So, as you take in more knowledge, let that knowledge always rest upon the solid foundation of Christ Crucified, and seek prayerfully the help of the Spirit to empower you to live an increasingly sanctified life in light of those learned theological truths. When our lives are so governed, the knowledge we gain will lead to worship not haughtiness, to humility not pride. It is here that we find true enduring sanctification in Christ!
Servant of the amazing Jesus Christ, Husband of the astonishing Candi Crawford, Father of the adorable Brian II (B.J.) and Elijah James (E.J.), and Pastor of the awesome Joshua Generation Church (Tallulah, LA). Learn more at raanetwork.org/author/bcrawford or follow him on Twitter @bcis4jc.