On the morning of January 7, 1855 Charles Spurgeon began his sermon like this:
“The highest science…the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of the child of God is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father. There is something exceedingly improving to the mind in a contemplation of the Divinity. It is a subject so vast, that all our thoughts are lost in its immensity, so deep that our pride is drowned in its infinity…when we come to this master-science, finding that our plumb line cannot sound its depth, and that our eagle eye cannot see its height…we understand that no subject will humble the mind of man than the thoughts of God…But while the subject humbles the mind it also expands it. He who often thinks of God, will have a larger mind than the man who simply plods around this narrow globe…this subject is humbling, expanding, but also comforting…in contemplating Christ, there is a balm for every wound and a bandage for every sore. Would you then loose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, and plunge yourself in God’s deepest sea. Lose yourself in His ocean and you shall come forth as from rest, refreshed and invigorated…it is to this subject I invite you now.”
Being that it is the first Sunday of the month we return to our series through the 9marks of a healthy church. Last month we looked at the first mark – expository preaching, today we look to the second mark of a healthy church – biblical theology. While expository preaching dealt with the importance of how the church is taught, biblical theology will deal with the importance of what the church is taught.
I’ve got three points to share with you today:
1) Biblical Theology is Practical
2) Biblical Theology is Practical for Life
3) Biblical Theology is Practical for Life within the Church
Biblical Theology is Practical
2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God might be complete, equipped for every good work.” Since the Bible is God-breathed it is profitable, and because the Bible is profitable there is nothing more practical for your life than what it contains. It will teach you, rebuke you, comfort you, correct you, train you in righteousness, and equip you for the good works God has prepared us to do. Knowing what this passage teaches about the nature of Scripture moves us to ask, not whether or not theology is practical, but ‘are you interested in being trained for righteousness?’ If you’re not interested in training in righteousness you won’t love the Bible and won’t love theology either. But if you are, you’ll love the Bible and will therefore love theology.
Likewise Psalm 111:2 says “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them.” The works of God are great and if we think they’re great our response to these great works will be a deep and rich study of them. But there is more. Not only will the great works of God lead us to study them, but from studying them we’ll begin to grow in our delight over them. Too many people believe the two realities of deep study and deep delight have nothing to do with one another, yet this passage links them together. This is no accident. Studying of the great works of God leads to a deep delight in God. C.J. Mahaney stated the same like this, “Thinking deeply about the gospel is the only way to consistently feel deeply about the gospel.” So naturally a new question comes into view: do you want to delight in God? Do you want to feel deeply about the gospel? Study His works. Where are His works found? His Word.
Of course we could go to all other sorts of places throughout the Bible to see the practical nature of biblical theology and sound doctrine. For example: Rom. 16:17, “I appeal to you, brothers, to watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught.” Eph. 4:14 “…no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” 1 Tim. 1:3, “As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine…” 1 Tim. 6:3, “If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing.” Titus 2:1, “But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine.” So as you can see, sound doctrine, or biblical theology, is ever practical to the Christian.
We can go further and say more…everyone is a theologian. You ever thought of that? Everyone you’ve ever met in your life and you yourself, are a theologian. Let me explain. If you’ve ever had a thought about God: who God is, what God is like, what God demands of us, what God does, what God doesn’t do, etc, you’re doing theology. I hear many Christians say today, ‘I don’t do theology…it causes too much division. I just love Jesus.’ What’s often overlooked in this statement is that it’s a profoundly theological statement because it presents a view of God they not only have accepted, but a view of God they would recommend others to embrace as well; a view of God in which love for God trumps thinking deeply about God. Do you see that to even come up with a view one has to do some deep thinking about the nature of love and thinking, it’s wrong thinking of course, and wholly opposite to what the Bible says, as we’ve just seen. But the point is simple, we can never escape theology. It isn’t just for pastors and elders, it’s for everyone.
So the question before us is not ‘Do you or do you not do theology?’ The question is ‘Do you do theology correctly or incorrectly?’ and that question is answered depending on how you do theology. Do you think about God on your own terms? Do your beliefs about God reflect what you want Him to be like or do you submit to His Word and believe what His Word says about Him, even when it goes against what you would naturally think or want to be true? Doing biblical theology on our own terms is simply humanism wrapped in Christian garb. Doing biblical theology on God’s terms is a rich, life-giving study that delights the soul of all who dive into the ocean of Scripture.
Biblical Theology is Practical for Life
When I was a young boy and our family would go on vacation we would always drive. And somewhere in between getting tired of the Gameboy I brought along with me and asking ‘are we there yet’ I would turn to the big Rand McNally map in the seat pocket in front of me. Maps have always fascinated me. They not only tell you where you are currently, they show you where you want to get to and how to get there. It’s immensely practical. Does it surprise you to hear me say that biblical theology is just as practical? We read maps for direction on trips, and we study sound doctrine for direction in life. We listen to teaching, not to build up our own personal information archive, but for the purpose of living it out. Instruction is for action.
We could also liken this to the work of a doctor. Doctors spend years studying the whole of human anatomy so that when a patient comes to them with a particular problem, they know what to do. In a very similar way, the Christian life deals with the same things. We have to make complicated decisions in real time, decisions that sometimes carry a lot of weight. And just as there’s no easy formula for practicing medicine, there’s no easy formula for living the Christian life. We need wisdom greater than our own for all that God brings to us in life. Where can we gain such wisdom? In biblical theology. There we learn who God is, who we are, where we’ve come from, what went wrong, how God is mending all of it, and what the ultimate end of it all will be. If we’re to live lives pleasing to God we must know these things. And praise God, 2 Peter 1:3 tells us God has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of Him. True, all of Scripture does not speak to all we will face in life, but it will give us guidance and principles we can apply to all things in life. For example, the Bible won’t tell you how to get from Tampa to Tokyo, but it will tell you how to walk wisely on the journey. The Bible doesn’t tell you who to marry but it does instruct us on what a godly spouse looks like. The Bible won’t tell you what clothes to put on in the morning, but it does give us principles about how to use our bodies to glorify God.
We can make this point in many different ways. We have already said ‘biblical theology is practical for life.’ We can also say it like this ‘sound doctrine is for sound living’ or ‘right doctrine leads to right living.’ This is why J.I Packer says, “Ignorance of God, of His ways lies at the root of much of the Church’s weakness today…Knowing God starts with knowing about Him.” Just as a good map is essential on a road trip, so too biblical theology is essential for navigating the turbulent waters of this life.
Biblical Theology is Practical for Life within the Church
When we take a step back from books in the Bible to look at the whole book, we often see things that stand out. The book of Romans makes this especially clear. In Romans, the first 11 chapters give us some of the richest, deepest, and thickest theology in the entire Bible. Paul deals with many things in the first 11 chapters which we ought to give long attention to. But when we get to Romans 11 we see something that acts as a bridge. After writing this glorious treasure trove of theology in Romans 1-11 Paul explodes into praise and says this in 11:33-36, “Oh, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways! For who has known the mind of the LORD, or who became His counselor? Or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen.”
This praise from Paul has often been called the bridge in Romans because of where it comes from and where it leads to. It came from the rich theology in chapters 1-11; and it leads to the vast application in chapters 12-15. Why is this important? Does it surprise you to see that deep biblical theology leads to deep praise, and deep praise then leads to deep application of that theology? Imagine Paul writing this as a pot of water getting hotter and hotter as he is approaching the end of chapter 11. Chapter 11:32 brings him to the boiling point, and he then explodes in praise in 11:33-36 because of all the robust biblical theology before. Then what? This praise leads Paul to describe what? How our everyday relationships with one another in the Church are transformed by that very theology. Chapter 12 deals with how we do life with all the varying gifts present and active among us. Chapter 13 deals with how we do life with our authorities. Chapter 14 deals with how we do life with the weaker brother and sister among us. Chapter 15 deals with how we do life with one another in encouragement and harmony, helping one another to endure to the end by glorifying God together.
What does all of this mean? What’s the lesson here? Everything Paul mentions in the biblical theology of chapters 1-11 leads to the praise of God, and what does a theologically induced praise of God lead to? It leads to a rich and thorough application of how we do life together within the Church. Biblical Theology is not only practical for us individually, it’s practical for us as we are doing life together as the Church.
Perhaps you’ve tracked with all this and still think biblical theology feels like dissecting a frog in a cold science lab. If that is you be encouraged. Studying who God is and what He is like doesn’t have to be that way. Joshua Harris gives good counsel to this when he says, “You can study God the way you study an ocean sunset or sunrise that takes your breath away. You can study God the same way a husband studies his wife, knowing exactly what she likes and dislikes, her joys and sorrows.” So Church, the study of God doesn’t have to be cold and lifeless, in fact, it was never meant to be like that. We don’t want a lifeless orthodoxy – the pattern throughout Romans shows us true biblical theology leads to a fervent orthodoxy. Truth isn’t just for the head, it’s for the heart as well. R.C. Sproul makes this point well saying, “A truth can be in the head and not the heart, but a truth cannot be in the heart without first being in the head.” Therefore I believe those who set themselves to studying deep theology are the happiest people on earth.
And you know what is the happiest of all doctrines to study? The Everest of all theology? The gospel, where the wisdom of God, made a way to satisfy the wrath of God, without evading the justice of God, to make much of the glory of the grace of God. Thinking lightly of what God has done in Christ on our behalf will cause us to grow cold toward the things of the gospel. But thinking deeply about what God has done in Christ on our behalf will cause us to burst out in song.
Church we’ve seen much today. Biblical theology is practical, biblical theology is practical for life, and biblical theology is practical for life together within the Church.
Let me end with quote from John Newton and then Hosea 6:
“Fading is the world’s pleasure
All his boasted pomp and show;
Solid joys and lasting treasures
None but Zion’s children know.”
“May you know, may you press on to know the Lord.” (Hosea 6:3)