His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, – 2 Peter 1.3
My mother is the type of cook that can throw things into a pan…mix it up…and when she’s done, she ends up with a delicious red velvet cake. I like to cook, but I’m not that kind of chef. I need a recipe. If the recipe is good, then usually I can pull off a pretty good meal myself. If the recipe is bad, then the end result is usually bad.
I recently attempted to make, what my family calls, a no-bake cheesecake. However, when I purchased the ingredients, I mistakenly bought light cool whip instead of regular. It didn’t end well. The recipe is simple. There are 4, maybe 5 ingredients. If the right ingredients are mixed together, there’s always success. However, as I learned, an unworthy substitute rendered unflattering results.
Our growth as believers requires the proper ingredients as well. The recipe isn’t complex, but these ingredients are essential. The ingredients are: biblical faith and good theology. A combination of these two ingredients results should result in a savory biblical growth.
Why Biblical Faith?
For most of us, this is an absurdly silly question. Faith in Christ is the beginning of our spiritual transformation. It is, after all, the key ingredient! Without it, there is no spiritual growth, because we would still be spiritually dead (Ephesians. 2), unable to put on our new self (Eph. 4.20-32). Let’s be clear. Faith, and faith alone, in the substitutionary, sacrificial death of Jesus Christ is what makes us a Christian. It is not faith in Jesus plus a perfect theology. Does theology play a role in biblical faith? Absolutely! We can’t place our faith in a Jesus that we conjure up within our minds, it must be the biblical Jesus and a biblical faith (Rom. 10.9-10). But if you asked me if there were a bunch of people going to heaven with poor theology, I’d be inclined to answer that question with a ‘yes’. At the end of the day, there is a difference in poor theology and wrong theology. Christian theologians have long referred to these as primary, secondary, and tertiary doctrines. In order to be a believer, it is paramount to grasp and believe those theological principles we hold as primary. We can disagree on other dogma. If perfect theology were also a heavenly requirement, who’d be allowed to enter heaven? Calvinists or Arminians…I think we all know the answer to that question.
Why Good Theology?
Consider the following verses (note the emphasis):
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge,” – 2 Pet. 1.5
“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and their knowledge of the truth, which accords with godliness,” – Titus 1.1
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding,” – Col. 1.9
Knowledge, within these contexts, can be thought of as spiritual knowledge or understanding. In other words, theology. These references are understood either as spiritual knowledge which, in turn, is lived out (2 Pet. 1.5-15; Col. 1.9) or a “defined body of truth” as Paul used the term “knowledge of the truth” in Titus 1.1. Notice the direct correlation Peter and Paul make between knowledge and various elements of what we deem as godly living.
- Knowledge and virtue (2 Pet. 1.5)
- Knowledge of truth and godliness (Titus 1.1)
- Spiritual wisdom (knowledge) and knowing God’s will (Col. 1.9)
We can find this connection over and over again throughout God’s Word. We must not, we cannot separate the two. Though often believers are guilty of this very thing.
Jesus also makes the same connection. In Matt 20:20-28, the mother of James and John approaches Jesus and asks for her sons to have favorable positions as Jesus’ right and left hand men. This, in turn, causes a bit of dissension among the disciples. Jesus responds to their error and self-centeredness with teaching which argues that greatness in His kingdom is found in serving, not in titles or positional authority given by another. As an illustration of his teaching, Jesus upholds that a correct understanding of the substitutionary atonement (theology) is the basis for serving others (godly living)…“the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” – Mat. 20.28.
Ingredients For Christian Growth:
The recipe that I’ve proposed is simple. Biblical Faith + good theology = godliness. We should strive to build both in our lives.
Recipes For Disaster:
1. No Biblical Faith + Theology = Self Righteousness
When a person approaches life in this manner, righteousness becomes a matter of one’s own personal doing. Individuals become pharisaical and salvation becomes a matter of one’s ability to live, what they, themselves, deem as a moral life.
You may see this point as largely unneeded, or superfluous. However, every religious system apart from Christianity seeks to be made right in this way. Righteousness, for them, is achieved through their ability to heed the commands of God/their god. Others even claim Christianity, might have some decent understanding of the Bible, and still possess no faith in Christ for the forgiveness of their sin. They seem themselves as inherently good and will enter heaven based off of their own goodness.*
There are several problems with this approach. 1) Morality becomes subjective and there must be an assumption that one’s approach to right a wrong supersedes another. 2) It assumes God’s standard of righteousness changes regarding the individual. This has major flaws when we consider the nature of God’s character. 3) It assumes God’s grace is either not needed or that it is freely given despite one’s failure to receive it in the way in which He has prescribed (faith in Christ’s substitutionary atonement).
Jesus’ interaction with the rich young ruler deserves a brief mention concerning this point (Matt. 19.16-30). In this passage, a young man approaches Jesus and asks, “what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” From this point Jesus launches into a discussion with the young man, emphasizing that he has a horizontal form of righteousness in regards to his relationship with people, but he has not vertical sense of righteousness with God. After Jesus informs him that to enter eternal life, he must keep the commands, the young man responds, “Which ones?” highlighting his subjective understanding of morality (see point 1 above). In response to his question, Jesus lists the 6 commandments which deal with our relationships with other men (v. 18-19).** The young man enthusiastically affirms that he has kept all of these. When the man inquires about there being anything else he might be missing, Jesus tells him the only thing he needs to do is sell everything he has and follow Him. The man leaves in sorrow, because of the possessions he has. In this, Jesus reveals to him that he is violating the very first commandment and that a moral person is not a redeemed person. Salvation is a matter of dependence, not effort; and morals without Christ’s imputed forgiveness has a disappointing outcome.
2. No Biblical Faith + Theology = Heresy
If we took a lack of saving faith with some combination of theology, as poor as it may be, to its end, you potentially arrive at heretical thought. This could be in a formal setting, like a cult, or personally where an individual ends up with some type of heretical belief.*** Heresy can be defined as persisting in theological error, even when the church has offered correction (this definition is from the noted article). The difference in theological error and heresy lies in the heart of the individual. Theological error may occur because of ignorance, heresy occurs because of pride and a lack of submission to God’s Word.
3. Faith + Poor Theology = Lack of Godliness
Many people attempt to move from saving faith to godliness without sound theology, however, their faith has no foundation on which it can stand. Faith without good theology may result in a number of flaws. Two we will mention here. Inconsistent living and subjective theology. These two are essentially different sides of the same coin. They most often go together.
- which ultimately explains why so many are absent on Sundays,
- why so many graduate school and abandon church and a gospel centered life.
- why so many makes some sort of religious commitment, which fizzles shortly there after.
Which means there is a problem
- 1)with a person’s faith or
- 2) with a person’s theology
- Consider Jesus’ words in Matt 7:24-27 as He discussed wise and foolish builders.
Why Biblical Faith + Good Theology Is Important
- clarifies and corrects error and ignorance
- ensures faith is biblically grounded
- builds trust and appreciation for the work of God in your life
- leads to consistent sanctification
- bolsters Christian vitality
*This worldview seems prevalent within the Bible Belt in which I live.
**Scholars have often made a division within the 10 Commandments, the first four dealing with our vertical relationship with God and the last six concerning our horizontal relationship with men.
***For an interesting article differing theological heresy and error click here.