Many Christians blindly claim,
- I don’t need theology. I just believe what the Bible says!”
Theology is now a dirty word, along with “doctrine” and “dogma,” but it’s also indispensable. How else can we know what the Bible teaches? We cannot simply believe one verse in isolation from the others. They all go together and require some diligent theological work in order to rightly relate them together.
Let’s take the example of Jesus healing on the Sabbath. His enemies claimed that He was sinning because He violated the command against working on the Sabbath (Deut. 5:12-15). However, Jesus responded:
- “Now if a boy can be circumcised on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses may not be broken, why are you angry with me for healing a man’s whole body on the Sabbath? Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly.” (John 7:23-24)
Consequently, we cannot judge simply from the appearance of a single verse. Instead, we have to understand how it fits into the immediate context and also the context of all God’s teachings. This is theology, and we do theology all the time, but some aren’t aware of this.
Let’s take an example that goes to the heart of the Gospel. In Psalm 7, David called upon God to judge him according to his righteousness:
- The Lord shall judge the people: judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, and according to mine integrity that is in me.” (Ps. 7:8; KJV)
This sounds arrogant. How can any of us stand before God in our own righteousness! If we ask God for justice – for what we deserve - He will condemn the lot of us:
- Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight: for by the law is the knowledge of sin… For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. (Rom. 3:19-20, 23)
There are many verses that deny that we can deserve anything good from God by virtue of our own righteousness or integrity, apparently contrary to David’s hope. Paul insisted that one sin will kill us and only the free gift of God provides any basis for hope (Rom. 6:23). James, also claimed that one sin will damn us (James 2:10).
If anyone rejects theology, he must suffer with this paradox – that our hope is in our own righteousness, but we can’t place any hope in this righteousness. Believing both of these truths, on face value, is a sure prescription for confusion and uncertainty. Therefore, the paradox must be resolved through some serious study.
Interestingly, David also acknowledged that we are sinners who require the mercy of God:
- Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man unto whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no guile… I acknowledge my sin unto thee, and mine iniquity have I not hid. I said, I will confess my transgressions unto the Lord; and thou forgavest the iniquity of my sin. (Ps. 32:1-5)
Well, if David understood that his blessedness derived from God’s forgiveness and not his own merit, how then could he be so brash as to direct God to judge him according to his own righteousness?
A little systematic theology can reconcile these two truths. In Psalm 7, David had been standing upon his righteousness in terms of his innocence regarding specific wrongdoing:
- Lest he [my enemy] tear my soul like a lion, rending it in pieces, while there is none to deliver. O Lord my God, If I have done this; if there be iniquity in my hands; If I have rewarded evil unto him that was at peace with me; (yea, I have delivered him that without cause is mine enemy) (Ps 7:2-4)
David wasn’t pleading that he was righteous before God, but rather in his conflict with his enemy. He was the innocent party, while his enemy was guilty. Therefore, David was asking for justice in this criminal matter and not before God! He therefore pleaded:
- Oh let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end; but establish the just: for the righteous God trieth the hearts and reins. (Ps 7:9)
There are two different aspects of justice. Before God, we are all guilty. However, before man, there are important distinctions between the innocent and the guilty. David knew he wasn’t righteous before God. However, in regards to his enemies, he regarded himself an innocent man.
Unless theology – a comprehensive study of Scripture – is used, we cannot rightly interpret the Word of truth:
- Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (2 Tim. 2:15)