Strong Language

Continuing the A to Z blog challenge, we come to ‘T’ for which I have chosen theology.

As worshipers seeking God, we must have an understanding of Who He is and what He says. We need words for how He interacts with us and the qualities He displays. Theology provides us with that language, and gives us a much-needed standard (as near to a standard as one can get with matters of faith) which keeps us going straight.

We are to be people of truth – another strong contender for the T blog – since Jesus declared that those who worship the Father must worship in spirit and in truth.

Theology is the active study of that truth, the search and observation of God’s interactions with humanity, the organization and classification of thoughts and concepts about God. It’s the ‘science’ of religion, supplying clear vocabulary, enabling in-depth discussion and further study.

Research by people like George Barna and David Kinneman show a Western Christianity that is dreadful in its lack of theological foundation. There are far too many of our brothers and sisters running around proclaiming maturity after years in church pews, but with little to no grasp of core biblical truths. People would claim to follow Christ and yet hold to teachings that directly contradict Scripture.

It’s like kindergarteners playing house, trying to imitate the grown-ups around them.

I’m talking about myself in so many ways here. If I think I’m above all that, and I have such better understanding, all I’m doing is making myself the spiritual emo kid standing off to the side watching everyone else with contempt while remaining completely uninvolved in anything productive or beneficial to the kingdom. So I’m no better, nor am I claiming to be.

Disciplined efforts to learn more about God – not just through personal experience but through systematic study of the established truths of Scripture – this is part of what I believe it means to worship in truth.

We don’t just rely on haphazard encounters with God. We also benefit from intentionally engaging God’s Word with the perspective of teachers in the Body and the works of spiritual giants in the past. That way, we’re not learning every so often as we go about playing church, we’re building our understanding in the same way that 2nd grade material builds on 1st, and 3rd grade lessons require a grasp of the 2nd grade teachings.

The writer of Hebrews speaks to his audience about their need for basic teachings, and indicates that a discipline of practice will help believers mature properly:

For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you have need again for someone to teach you the elementary principles of the oracles of God, and you have come to need milk and not solid food. For everyone who partakes only of milk is not accustomed to the word of righteousness, for he is an infant. But solid food is for the mature, who because of practice have their senses trained to discern good and evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14 NASB)

In the same way, Paul talks about taking full advantage of the gifts provided to the church:

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, (Ephesians 4:14, 15 NASB)

Strong theology gives us powerful words that fuel our worship. As we realize more and more who God is and what He has done for us, we find more reasons to draw nearer, more cause to praise Him, more passion to help us chase after Him.

And when we find Him, overwhelmed by the reality of His love, we worship in response to the truth.

The Unattainable Goal

During the A to Z, I’ve been writing here about important aspects of worshiping and pursuing God. Now we come to one of the most important – and least comfortable.

Holiness.

“Pursue peace with all people, and holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” Heb 12:14 NKJV

The Message simplifies this thought to “work on getting along… with God. Otherwise you’ll never get so much as a glimpse.”

The word here means purification, sanctification, that state of staying set apart not just from the world but also for God. We can’t merely be on the outskirts of society, weird Ned Flanders types who never participate in anything fun because “that’s of the devil.” Nor can we live two lives, one devoted to God and the other riddled with willful sin.

We’re to be whole people, holy people, healthy and helpful to the world around us.

“May God himself, the God who makes everything holy and whole, make you holy and whole, put you together—spirit, soul, and body—and keep you fit for the coming of our Master, Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 5:23 MSG

So what’s the difficulty with this?

First, there’s no room for compromise. There’s no leeway for blowing it. Christ calls us to an all-or-nothing relationship. For example, in Luke 9:23 we see Christ tell us that His disciples must take up their cross and follow Him. That means essentially dying to ourselves in order to live for Him (2 Cor 5:14-15). Paul tells us our act of worship is to offer ourselves as living sacrifices to God. (Rom 12:1-2).

Holiness isn’t a half-hearted thing.

Second, we never fully measure up to the mark. We can never claim we have arrived at perfection. John writes that “if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). Paul lays out our condition in Romans 7, how we often do what we know is wrong and fail to do what we know is right. And even our very best efforts are like filthy rags before God’s purity and holiness (Isaiah 64:6). “All have sinned and fall short” of God’s standard (Romans 3:23).

There is no finish line in life for this journey.

That can be a weighty realization. We must be holy if we hope to see God, yet we can never attain that goal.

So that brings us to another ‘H’ for today:

Hope.

Every morning brings hope that today we will be better than we were before.

God’s loyal love couldn’t have run out, his merciful love couldn’t have dried up.
They’re created new every morning. How great your faithfulness! (Lam 3:22-23 MSG)

Paul writes of his worldly achievements and merits, then calls them all worthless compared to Christ. And then he makes this comment:

“I’m not saying that I have this all together, that I have it made. But I am well on my way, reaching out for Christ, who has so wondrously reached out for me.
Friends, don’t get me wrong: By no means do I count myself an expert in all of this, but I’ve got my eye on the goal, where God is beckoning us onward—to Jesus.
I’m off and running, and I’m not turning back.” Php 3:12-14 MSG

This is why we can never wink at sin or shrug away our failures… and yet we can rejoice with confidence in God’s great love that transcends our shortcomings. When we’ve failed today, we confess it and start off tomorrow fresh, full of hope, eager to discover and display holiness.

So tonight you get two for the price of one: a reminder that we must be holy if we desire a glimpse of God, and the promise that there is hope every morning as we experience God’s love anew.

What do you think? What helps you strive for holiness? How does new hope each morning affect your thoughts about God?