"What do you believe?” Many of us can quickly answer this question. In our current, postmodern culture, there are a variety of people with an even greater variety of opinions on a variety of issues. Unfortunately, however, in today’s world, the question “What do you believe” can only get you so far as you strive to grow and mature in your relationship with Christ. With so many people holding so loosely to so many positions, a second, much more penetrating question becomes all the more critical and important: “Why?” “Why do you believe what you believe?” The answer to this question is your “personal theology,” and developing your answer could be the difference between being rooted in Christ and being consumed by the world.
Theology is Attainable and Useful
Theology (the study of God and his relation to the world) has been an important and debated subject throughout Christianity. Whether it was questions over the necessity of old covenant circumcision for new covenant Christians in Acts 15 or debates on the doctrine of the Trinity at the First and Second Ecumenical Councils in 325 C.E and 381 C.E., Christians have continually wrestled to define truth in Scripture. This search to understand “truth” is important for two reasons. First, truth is attainable. Contrary to the postmodern culture of our day, the Bible asserts people can actually know absolute truth (John 8:32). It is true that God is real, it is true that he loves you, and it is true that you can know him. Secondly, truth is useful. In a world full of sin and distractions, it is truth found in God’s Word that can shed light on what Scripture calls the narrow gate (Matthew 7:14). This attainability and usefulness of knowing truth about Jesus is what makes theology indispensable in the church’s quest to follow him.
Everyone is Called to be a Theologian
This is particularly true on a personal level. In Acts 17, we find Paul and Silas fleeing Thessalonica to a town called Berea. When they arrived, the two men entered the Jewish Synagogue and began to teach about Jesus as the Messiah. Verse 11 tells us that the Bereans “received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Luke, the author of the book of Acts, comments on this action of the Bereans as being “noble.” In other words, Luke approved of the people in Berea checking to see if what Paul was teaching lined up with Scripture. By commending their action, Luke sets the precedent here for people to regularly search the Scriptures for themselves. Furthermore, this passage points to the doctrine of the clarity of Scripture, saying that the Bible can be understood by ordinary people who are willing to approach it “eagerly” as the Bereans did.
This is the approach we should take towards Scripture as well. Christianity has never been about simply listening and believing what a pastor or priest tells you. If there were anyone we would say could be trusted on matters of theology, it would be Paul. After all, he did write the majority of the New Testament. Yet the Bereans were not content with merely listening and trusting what Paul preached to them. They wanted to know what they believed and why they believed it personally. This is at the essence of Paul’s statement in Philippians 2:12, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” We as believers should strive to understand Scripture, and the theology that arises from it, more and more every day of our lives. As we do this, we will naturally grow in our ability to love God and love others.
Theology Ends in Worship
When you think about personal relationships in your life, it is often the case that the people you care about the most are also the people you know the best. This is because our love deepens for an individual in proportion to the extent in which we know them. As we grow in our knowledge of a person, we are able to grow in our love for them as well because we find new things about them that we can love. We feel nearer to them.
The same is true of our relationship with God. Our ability to love and worship God deepens in proportion to the extent in which we know him. The more we understand about who God is and how he relates to his creation, the more about him we are able to love. If we do not know God deeply, we cannot love God deeply. God, on the other hand, knows us completely. He knit us together in our mother’s womb, knowing all of our days before we lived a single one (Psalm 139:13–16). He knows the number of hairs on our head (Matthew 10:30). God knows us completely, and with that, he loves us completely. Understanding and growing in your personal theology by reading, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture with prayer is vital to understanding and growing in your knowledge of God, thereby enabling you to grow in your love for him, your faith in him, and your worship of him.
As you grow in an understanding of who God is and how he relates to his creation, you will grow in understanding the very heart and attributes of God. As you treasure God’s heart, you will find he begins to shape your heart to look like his (Matthew 6:21) bringing you to love the things God loves. Naturally this means our hearts will grow in loving, serving, and sacrificing for people. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).
This is what it means to be the church: loving God and loving people. Growing in our knowledge of God will grow our love for God, which grows our heart to be like God’s, which grows our love for others. All of this rests on a willingness to understand what you believe and why (your personal theology) and grow in that understanding by searching the Scriptures “eagerly” just as the Bereans did.