September 3, 2015

Tools In the Toolbox IV: Chasing Holiness Not Happiness

As I stated in the first post in this series the premise is pretty simple. Paul Tripp made a list for an article on The Gospel Coalition website found here. It was an article on advice to young pastors. So this is the fourth question in a continuing series about things a person of God can add to their relational repertoire to properly help themselves and others in the church. 

What is the level of their biblical literacy and theological knowledge?

When a person does not fully understand why suffering and discomfort enter their life I have personally witnessed the internal struggle that ensues. People cannot understand why God hates them or plagues them with discomfort. Had they read the Bible, some of the answers would come through clearer. The Bible does not teach instant gratification nor smooth sailing all throughout life. People that believe life will be this are often the first to drift away from the Faith or their faith falters outright.

When false teachers and prosperity preachers constantly preach a message that everyone should be having their best life now, people start to think that they have not prayed enough, gave enough or loved God enough. At the root of all these misunderstandings is either an over-reliance on others to interpret Scriptures for them or they are Biblically illiterate. When one is biblically illiterate, they do not even know when others are illiterate. The blind end up leading the blind and people get hurt, some permanently and irreparably. Sadly, I have seen people walk away from the Faith due to not understanding the Bible properly. Reading and understanding your Bible matters. Contrary to the emotive squishy study groups, theology matters.

Theology matters because it shows an omniscient and omnipotent God that sees things over the long haul. It shows a holy God that is concerned with our eternal destination in salvation, not a constant focus on our immediate physical needs that often make us lose sight of the eternal. In other words God is primarily interested in us becoming holy not necessarily happy. When we frame the two as opposites (holiness and happiness) we do a horrible injustice mostly to holiness. We pit an eternal state of being against a transient  and often capricious emotion. Holiness in God’s eyes is happiness because it sets us on the path to eternal life with Him. If we align our happiness to holiness, our happiness will take on eternal attributes because we've anchored it to that which is God's and God's alone: Holiness.

Psalms 1:1-3 ~ “Blessed is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers, but whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night. That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither—whatever they do prospers.

Those that are truly happy are those who are in some measure, truly holy, and it’s a theme that is all throughout the bible. Those that are wicked or plagued by sin…waste away.

Psalm 32:1-5 ~ Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit. When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy on me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer. Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.” And you forgave the guilt.

In this last passage we see a tremendous truth in why the preaching of a happy life and plentitude all the time (prosperity preaching) is so horribly detrimental to believers. Teaching that a person’s life should be good all the time promotes a mentality of entitlement and expectation. The entitlement and expectation comes at the cost of the truth.

The entitlement mentality that says a person is deserving of the reward of blessing nearly all the time evades a painful reality of being human. Blessing assumes one is righteous. Blessing comes through righteousness. Righteousness is the product of holiness…and an absence of sin. Biblically and theologically sound teaching tells us that the root of our humanity is wickedly depraved and sinful. The reality is that we are not deserving and it is only through God’s grace that we receive God’s righteousness for ourselves. What we feel about ourselves, is interesting but mostly irrelevant to the biblical and theological conversation.

This is why we need to establish the level of theological and biblical literacy in our brothers and sisters. It will help us gauge how spiritually mature they might be. Biblical illiteracy equals spiritually immaturity. Conversely, biblically literate does not always equate to spiritual maturity. Biblical head knowledge needs to seep into the heart to be effective. I myself knew a ton of information about the bible and went to seminary to build on it but until I truly humbled myself and turned my life over to God in a contrite manner recently…I was head smart and heart dumb. There is a balance.

When the bullets start flying and life starts to grind away at us stripping us of things we believed we needed, we end up left at a loss not understanding what is actually happening to us.  The difference between giving up completely and giving it to God is often what we understand about God and the Scriptures. If we had read the Bible properly and understood it we would have noted that oppression and trials come upon everyone, even those that were most blessed by the Lord. In actuality, trials specifically came upon those the most blessed and those trials were usually the most vicious and hardest to overcome. David’s life is a perfect example. He was the anointed of God but was pursued by Saul for years. His own son Absalom turned against him and he had to endure the loss of his son, the rape of his daughter and forfeited the right to build the Temple to his son due to his sin. Yet David was one of the most blessed men to ever have walked the Earth, then or now.

When things get really horrible it is our character or what the Bible knowledge has made us into that allows us to overcome the intense trial periods. If you don't have the Bible in you, it will clearly show in a faulty character under duress. How we react under severe duress is who we have become in the Spirit of God and the knowledge of Scripture. It isn’t so much thinking at that point…it is a matter of living it out and doing. Soldiers in the heat of battle are not really thinking so much as they are reacting in a manner in which they were trained in and conditioned to. The training has conditioned them to react in a positive manner under fire. So too the Christian under the weight and oppression of trials and temptations. What we do and how we react is a product of our Biblical and Theological training. We’ve become what we learned. We’ve embodied the Word. We’ve embodied the teaching and character of Christ who Himself was tested and never failed.


Shawn said...

This is very good, thank you!

Andy Pierson said...

You're welcome Shawn :)

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