We all must learn how to do properly plan things out in order to be successful in accomplishing whatever we set out to do. Understanding biblical doctrine is no different.
For example, if a cross-country trip is in order, there is a fair amount of planning that must be done to ensure a route is identified, that enough supplies are gathered or stops are available, and that incremental goals for resting each night along the way are spaced out in achievable intervals.
On a larger scale, if one is majoring in a certain subject at a college or an institute for higher learning, then the correct courses of study must be achieved incrementally in order to reach the desired goal of ultimately graduating and attaining a degree.
We may take for granted that these types of investments of time and energy are necessary to achieve larger goals, yet many times we view learning about the Bible differently. It’s as if different rules seem to apply and it is expected that even believers who are very young in the faith should somehow instantly understand deep theological ideas.
However, we need to recognize that our faith is (or should be) a constantly growing body of knowledge. The more we learn about the history and culture from which the Bible has been produced should expand our perception of how to appropriately apply the precepts of biblical wisdom.
The psalmist writes about the freedom that is derived through constant study:
Psalm 119:45 – I will walk freely in an open place because I study your precepts.
Yet he also cautions about the dangers of being uninformed:
Psalm 119:155 – Salvation is far from the wicked because they do not study your statutes.
When we neglect a regular intake of God’s Word, we run the risk of making poor spiritual or moral choices or operating on unreliable doctrine. Having a holistic understanding of the context of all of the Bible and not just a few cherry-picked ideas or pet concepts is critical to having a correct worldview.
Even Timothy, a direct student of the apostle Paul, was encouraged by Paul to continue in his studies to ensure his teaching was valid and appropriate for those whom God had entrusted to his care.
2 Timothy 2:15 – Be diligent to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who doesn’t need to be ashamed, correctly teaching the word of truth.
This vigilance in doctrine should be the standard operating procedure for every believer. We should always be checking our facts and seeking to understand the overall sense of the challenging ancient documents that make up the Bible. We have to recognize that they were not written in an environment of our current culture, but that the human authors were immersed in a reality that was vastly different than our own.
The good news is that with God as the ultimate author of his Word, and this same Spirit available within believers today, we have the necessary resources to correctly discern the truth.
The apostle John speaks to this principle when he writes:
1 John 2:27 – As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you don’t need anyone to teach you. Instead, his anointing teaches you about all things and is true and is not a lie; just as it has taught you, remain in him.
John was directing his first-century audience to the inner witness of the truth of the Spirit so they could avoid false teaching. This was not to say they no longer needed any type of exposure to God’s Word, but that they were to take responsibility for their own learning by recognizing their inner discernment.
- 1 John 3:19-20 – This is how we will know that we belong to the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows all things.
- 1 John 4:1 – Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see if they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world.
This ongoing testing of doctrinal accuracy is a practice that has fallen by the wayside in much of contemporary Christendom. It has done so largely because it requires effort and study to know the principles of God’s Word and not just sharing popular memes or biblical-sounding rhetoric.
1 John 5:2-3 – This is how we know that we love God’s children: when we love God and obey his commands. For this is what love for God is: to keep his commands. And his commands are not a burden…
We cannot keep his commands, that is, abide by his Word, if we don’t know them. This involves diligent study and ongoing understanding to ensure that we are operating from a correct biblical worldview. When we do so, we have the corroborating inner witness of the Spirit to guide us into all truth. This is the discipline and responsibility of every believer.
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