If you have ever been to a church retreat, you may remember hearing at least one person on the way home from a retreat say, “Don’t let the fire dwindle when you go home. Don’t come down from this spiritual high.” It was a time in my life when “spiritual maturity” was tied to an emotional event. If I was excited about Jesus from a retreat, then I was doing well in my Christian walk. When that feeling would inevitably fade, I would be in another “spiritual drought.” I did not realize it at the time, but now looking back I understand my “spirituality” was tied to church events. I would come down from “the mountain” of a retreat thinking I was at the peak of my Christian walk, not realizing it was totally driven by the overflow of my emotions. It was not grounded in the unchanging, infallible, inherent, sufficient word of God. My feelings weren’t a result of the proclamation of the truth. Inevitably, it would always fade away and I’d be back in the valley of my emotions. I would be upset with myself that my desire for God and reading my Bible would fade. The only remedy I could think of was to get back on another retreat to “light the fire” again. I wanted something more but I could never figure out what it was. It was as if Christianity was meant to be some sort of drug you get a high from and then come off of. I was like a yoyo, bouncing up and down in my affections for Christ. How I felt about God, Christ, my spiritual life, and my church were dictated solely by my emotions. Before you lose your shirt with thoughts like “emotions are critical to humanity and thus Christians” or “Christ drives us to our greatest and deepest emotional states,” I am not trying to dismiss having emotions. Our emotions are a part of living life but we cannot be driven or controlled by our emotions. Emotions must be tethered to the truth of God’s Word and the gospel.
When I left my parents church in the rear window and went to college as a truly born again Christian, I was eager to learn about Christ and naively thought having experiences was how I would learn Him. At the time, reading my Bible was more of a chore, rather than a delight. Then, one day, I stumbled upon Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem as I was browsing the internet. I started to read some of the chapters and could not believe what my eyes were reading. Learning about theology, the study of God, did not puff me up and cause me to become prideful. On the contrary, it actually did the exact opposite. I finally had a true understanding of my sin and depravity. I learned about God’s overwhelming holiness. I finally began to think less of myself and more of God. Once I learned that the Gospel was not just that Jesus loved me and died for me, my view of God became so much deeper. Learning about God’s characteristics, namely His holiness, righteousness, and justice revealed to me how incredibly sinful I am. These precious doctrines brought clarity to my Biblical understanding. When I learned these precepts, it was as if I had gotten saved all over again.
Looking back, this quote by Dr. James Montgomery Boice perfectly encapsulated how I felt prior to knowing anything about theology, “The church has lost its soul because it has abandoned theology.” The church and my spiritual condition felt soulless to me; which led to the severe lack of depth in my love for Christ. I had finally discovered that knowing God and loving Christ were synonymous. The true treasure of the church is Christ and this was the very thing that was missing. The Scriptures say of Christ, “…Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” Colossians 2:2-3. Nevertheless, the mainstream church has put Christ on the back-burner and replaced him with “worship experiences” and pragmatism. Pastor-teachers are commanded in Titus 2:1 to, “teach what accords with sound doctrine.” However, the focal point of the church is now on how the church looks and feels to the world rather than the preaching of Christ and sound doctrine. The modern church stands in stark contrast to the expository preaching of John MacArthur, R.C. Sproul, Paul Washer, and John Piper; all men I began to listen to as my hunger for Christ and theology grew. The preacher is supposed to proclaim Christ, “Him (Christ) we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ” Colossians 1:28. For whatever reason, our modern day church has pinned “spirituality” up against theology, creating yet another false dichotomy. Theology literally means the study of God. However, knowledge of theology and doctrine is made out to be the enemy because it’s “too rigid, boring, and offensive”. We don’t want to think, we just want to have an experience. Christians are left to ask themselves “how can I worship a God I do not know?” Imagine if I said that I loved my spouse and yet made no effort to get to know him and continue to learn things about him, would you really think I loved him? It is the same with God. If we just use Him and the church for an experience and never care to know the characteristics of God we will find ourselves either self-deceived or severely lacking in our faith. We are just using God as a means to our own end as opposed to the true treasure in whom we can be fully satisfied. If I don’t aim to learn about who God is, my faith will only ever be a fraction of what it was meant to be. It will all feel “soulless.”
The knowledge of God will directly result in love for God and obedience to His commandments as stated in John 14:15. The study of God should be appealing to every Christian. The knowledge of God should fill us with wonder and joy. My story is this: theology stabilized my spiritual life. It gave me a constant desire for Christ. I pray that you would roll up your sleeves and find this also to be true: that through the study of God your love for Him and obedience to His word will grow. Paul said it like this “May the Words of Christ dwell richly within you” (Colossians 3:16 paraphrased).
Rachel is a wife and mother of four young children. She has a love for listening to expository preaching, theology, and doctrine. She desires to make Christ known through her marriage, parenting, and in every word and deed.