Why We Must Think Rightly About God

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. — A.W. Tozer

This is the first article in a series called The Knowledge of The Holy in which each article will be based around a chapter from A.W. Tozer’s book of the same name (my review). This is a journey worth taking because not only is Tozer’s book a classic in the spiritual world, but the subject matter is God’s character.

Before Tozer begins to talk through the attributes of God’s character, he lays a crucial foundation that must be considered. He wisely knows that without this foundation, everything else will go awry. That foundation is what we think about when we think about God. That’s because we will never rise above our understanding of the Almighty, and, “we tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our image of God.”

Thinkly rightly about God affects not only our theology, but how we live as well. Tozer speaks of knowing God as being the foundation for worship which, like the foundation for the temple, will begin to collapse as soon as the foundation is found to be inadequate or out of plumb. And surely this has been seen to be true. How many cults, strange offshoots, and shameful pursuits have we seen as we trace the history of the Church?

More than anything, Tozer is calling his readers to think rightly about God; “rightly,” meaning according to what the Bible tells us about Him. As his famous quote from above tells us, this is the most important thing about us. As if that was not heavy enough, he ups the ante, rightly saying,

All the problems of heaven and earth, though they were to confront us together and at once, would be nothing compared with the overwhelming problem of God: That He is; what He is like; and what we as moral beings must do about Him.

This is the pursuit of all of philosophy and theology, and mankind will forever be reckoning with the fact that there is a God, regardless of what they determine to do about it.

But for the person who comes to terms with God and understands and accepts His gospel, he, “is relieved if ten thousand temporal problems,” because he sees that they all pale in comparison to that which God is at work doing in the world. But unless “the weight of the burden is felt the gospel can mean nothing to the man; and until he sees a vision of God high and lifted up, there will be no woe and no burden.” If we don’t think rightly about God, we will not see our need for God and the goodness of His grace and mercy in the cross of Jesus. This is nonsense to those who don’t yet know Him, of course, but it is the power of salvation for those who believe.

Tozer writes with such force because he sees a right view of God slipping away, endangering not only the institution of the church, but the very Truth it stands for. The danger is that, “Low views of God destroy the gospel for all who hold them.” These low views of God pave the way for the most destructive of all sins — idolatry; the essence of which, Tozer writes, “is the entertainment of thoughts about God that are unworthy of Him.”

When considering how much of the New Testament is a rebuke of false teaching or an exhortation for others to correct false teaching, this makes a great deal of sense. False teaching leads to false thinking which leads to false gods. Any entertainment of a god other than the God as revealed in the Bible is idolatry because it epitomizes that which is not actually God. “The idolater simply imagines things about God and acts as if they were true.”

What a message for today when we are so susceptible to wrong thinking. The rampant pluralism, intense social pressure, and increasing secularism of the day make for an ideal moment for the Enemy to attack our understanding of God. This was the first and most dangerous temptation first uttered in the Garden. And our epidemically low Bible literacy makes it like shooting fish in a barrel.

And perhaps this is precisely how Tozer felt when he wrote of his own day that,

The Church has surrendered her once lofty concept of God and has substituted for it one so low, so ignoble, as to be utterly unworthy of thinking, worshiping men. This she has done not deliberately, but little by little and without her knowledge; and her very unawareness only makes her situation all the more tragic.

Surely Tozer was viewed as a doomsdayer by some when he wrote that, and perhaps the same will be said of me. But I cannot help but feel like the situation is even more dire today. Those in the Church are daily giving way to low views of God and His Word, handing over not only the foundation for their convictions, but the very foundations of the faith itself. It feels as if the Devil learned from his reign in Babylon that he can succeed in turning us away from God by simply assimilating the world into the faith, thereby assimilating the faith into the world. This strategy is an ingenious, insidious plot to replace a high view of God with a far lesser and far lower one. This, “low view of God entertained almost universally among Christians is the cause of a hundred lesser evils everywhere among us,” Tozer writes. “A whole new philosophy of the Christian life has resulted from this one basic error in our religious thinking.”

There is only one way out of this mess. I’ll let Tozer himself explain:

The heaviest obligation lying upon the Christian Church today is to purify and elevate her concept of God until it is once more worthy of Him — and of her. In all her prayers and labors this should have first place. We do the greatest service to the next generation of Christians by passing on to the undimmed and undiminished that noble concept of God which we received from our Hebrew and Christian fathers of generations past. This will prove of greater value to them than anything that art or science can devise.

Why You’re Not Being Transformed

“In many cases our need to wonder about or be told what God wants in a certain situation is a clear indication of how little we are engaged in His work.” – Dallas Willard, Hearing God

I talk to people all the time who are frustrated with where they are spiritually. They want to be “better.” They desire to grow more like Christ. But they just aren’t getting anywhere.

They’re doing things to try and address it, and many times even good things. They’re trying to read their Bible. They’re going to church every weekend. They’re even in a small group. But still, they’re not seeing any transformation. So what’s going on?

What they’re really saying is they’re not being transformed. That the power of God isn’t evident in their everyday life.

How transformation happens

Many of us have misconceptions about how we’re transformed into the likeness of Christ. We think we can just read different books or listen to different radio stations or go to church every week and somehow we’ll change into godly people.

The Bible teaches something very different, though. In terms of transforming the human heart, it teaches that we’re actually powerless to do anything. That left to ourselves we are incapable of being righteous before God. And that’s the glory of the gospel — that we are offered salvation and eternal life solely through the magnificent grace of God.

But when it comes to transforming how we live, the Bible’s teaching is that God transforms us through His Spirit by the power of His Word, and that we are to make every effort to strive to live godly lives. Most believers and their churches have at least a basic understanding of how God’s Word transforms and renews us. When it comes to making every effort to live godly lives, though, it seems that many of us are less clear.

Make every effort

The language of “make every effort” comes from 2 Peter:

“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” (2 Peter 1:5-7 ESV)

We’re told that we should be exerting effort to supplement our faith with actions. That’s what the list that follows the command is referring to, these qualities of living that display on the outside how we’ve been changed on the inside. Now, notice that Peter says these efforts only serve to supplement, not replace, our faith.

Perhaps nowhere is this same teaching seen as clearly as in the opening chapter of the book of James, where we’re told simply to,

“be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.” (James 1:22 ESV)

What James is saying here should shock us, because he’s saying that listening to the Word of God is not enough. Through James, the Holy Spirit is saying that listening to sermons and podcasts, reading Christian books, and even reading the Bible itself, all of these things are not enough on their own. All of those those must be accompanied by doing something, otherwise we’re just deceiving ourselves.

John 8:44 tells us that Satan is a deceiver, using all kinds of schemes to distract us from obeying God. If we listen to the Word but never do anything with it, then we are doing his job for him. We are deceiving ourselves if all we’re doing is sitting through a church service on Sunday or even attending a group during the week, while not doing anything with what we’ve heard.

Lack of exercise

Think about this in terms of physical exercise. When someone badly breaks their leg and they aren’t able to bare weight on it for a significant amount of time, they have to do physical therapy when it’s time to walk again. That’s because their leg muscles have atrophied. They’ve shrunken from not being used. So they then have to strengthen those muscles through exercise.

When you exercise, you’re actually tearing muscle tissue. Muscle is being built up by continual tearing that is then healed by scar tissue. As that happens more and more, muscles begin to grow.

This is exactly what has happened with so many of us in the church. We’ve spent so much time taking information in that we’ve forgotten how to exercise what we’ve learned, and now our spiritual muscles have atrophied from lack of use.

What’s needed now is to start putting those muscles to use. And yes, it’ll be difficult, it may even be painful. But it’s only through the hard work of exercising our faith that we begin to see transformation.

Exercise may tear your spiritual muscles, but the grace of God acts as scar tissue that will heal the wounds and build you up into something more perfect along the way. Or, put another way, exercising your faith leads to sanctification, which most teaching on the subject seems to miss.

How doing is linked to sanctification

After James makes his case that believers should be doing things based on what they hear from God’s Word, he says something very interesting:

“But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.” (James 1:25 ESV)

That last phrase, “he will be blessed in his doing,” points out something that’s so often overlooked: that our sanctification happens as we minister to others. Our sanctification, our being transformed into the image of Christ, happens as we put our faith into action.

Most of us think we need to be transformed before we minister to other people. But what the Bible teaches is that we’re transformed as we minister to other people. It is in dying to ourselves, taking up our cross, and being obedient to Jesus that we’re transformed into the image of Jesus.

And that’s really what being “doers” of the Word means — being obedient to Jesus.So if we want to experience transformation, we need to ask ourselves if we’re being obedient to Jesus’ commands. This is the reason we were created!

How obedience to Christ brings freedom

Ephesians 2:10 tells us that,

“we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10 ESV)

We are God’s workmanship. Another translation is that we are his masterpiece. And He created us as masterpieces for a reason, which is what? For good works.

We were saved by Christ that we might do good works in Christ. Which means we won’t fulfill God’s purpose for our life outside of obedience to Jesus. But in that obedience there is outlandish freedom.

That’s why James uses that paradoxical phrase, “the law of liberty.” He knows that if we’re obedient to Christ then we are free from the law and, ultimately, our sin. If we are obedient to Christ, we are free in Christ. Which is why Jesus said,

“If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free…So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:31, 32, 36 ESV)

Why You Don’t Read Your Bible

Over and over again, studies show that the most important thing for spiritual growth is reading the Bible. Yet it’s the one thing most people in the church aren’t doing.

Only 45% of those who regularly attend church read the Bible more than once a week. For each church attender who does read their Bible every day, there’s someone else who doesn’t read it at all. Biblical illiteracy really is an epidemic.

I say this not simply as someone who is researching the topic, but as a pastor who talks to people every week inside and outside the church who have next to no biblical knowledge. The most concerning thing is that there doesn’t seem to be a distinction between those who are new to the faith and those who have been a Christian for several years, sometimes even ten or more.

Why is it that despite the evidence, despite our sincere longing to grow spiritually, that we aren’t doing the one thing most capable of producing that growth?

In my experience, there are two main reasons people don’t read their Bible. The first is that people honestly don’t understand that the Bible holds transformational power. They may think so intellectually, but they don’t believe it. And second, they don’t read the Bible because they don’t know how to find delight in reading it. Both of these are worth understanding in more detail.

Understanding the transforming power of God’s Word

Why do people always tell you that you should be reading your Bible more? Seriously, why do pastors and writers and bloggers go on and on about being in the Bible each and every day?

Besides the overwhelming research indicating Bible engagement is crucial to spiritual growth, it’s because the Bible itself tells us that the Word of God is the only thing powerful enough to transform the human heart.

Nowhere is this seen in more vivid detail than the prophet Ezekiel’s vision from God of the valley of bones:

“The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD.” (Ezekiel 37:1-4 ESV)

Ezekiel knows he’s helpless to bring this bunch of skeletons to life. He says, “God, I don’t know, but you do.” Good answer.

God then tells him what it takes to bring the bones to life — His own words. Ezekiel then speaks the Word of God over those dry bones and the unthinkable happens:

“And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.” (Ezekiel 37:8-10 ESV)

God spoke and enfleshed these piles of bones and then breathed into them the breath of life. All through the power of His Word.

The power of His Word

And that’s not all. The book of Hebrews tells us that all things are held together by the power of His Word.

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power… (Hebrews 1:3 ESV)

That same life-giving, universe-sustaining power is still wielded through the Word of the Lord. But these days, we don’t have to hear from prophets or judges or priests. The opening of the book of Hebrews tells us,

Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… (Hebrews 1:1-2 ESV)

The Son (Jesus), then, is how we hear the Word of God today. And where are his teachings and commandments recorded? In the Bible.

How to get started understanding the power of the Bible

If we want to be brought back to life, if we want to see a new heart made of flesh beating in our chest instead of the cold, hard one we have now, then we will be students of the living, breathing, active Word of God (Heb. 4:12).

If you’ve never understood that, don’t stop until you do. Many people have never been walked through the truths of Scripture about the power of the Word in a way that made them see the importance of Bible reading. Don’t feel bad. Just get started.

If you’re not sure where to look, start by reading this chapter of Multiply, a discipleship curriculum. It will help you understand why we should be studying the Bible in very clear language. (This chapter is in part 3 of the book, which is all about how to study the Bible. It’s well worth the time. In fact, the whole book is great. And free! The site linked to has all the material, and it’s also available as a free app.)

The goal of using any of these resources is for you to see the transformational power of the Bible. I’m reminded of these words from Rick Warren:

“Reading the Bible generates life, it produces change, it heals hurts, it builds character, it transforms circumstances, it imparts joy, it overcomes adversity, it defeats temptation, it infuses hope, it releases power, it cleanses the mind.”

May you and I know those things to be true through our own experience with God’s Word.

Finding delight in reading the Bible

An even more common reason for not reading the Bible than not understanding the power of it is not knowing how to find delight in reading it.

Try to imagine yourself sitting down to a table with fresh white linens draped over top. Several pristine utensils sit before you. The napkin is folded into some beautiful but unknown geometric shape. It sits just above a clean, white plate. And on that plate is a big, black leather Bible.

As you look down at that Bible, does it look like the desert you can’t wait to dig into, or does it look more like the brussel sprouts you shove aside so you can get to the good part?

The answer to that question means everything.

Too many of us look down and see a strange, foreign book that we want to love, but just don’t know quite what to do with it. It’s just never tasted good, so we move it around on the plate and pretend to enjoy it.

That is not what God intended.

The majesty of the God’s Word

Look at the majesty of what God’s Word should be like to us from Psalm 19:

The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. (Psalm 19:7-11 ESV)

In just five verses, we’re told that the Word of God is perfect, trustworthy, good, clear, eternal, true, and sweet. Is that how you feel about the Bible?

If those stats mentioned earlier are true, probably not. So what do you do?

How to start finding delight in reading the Bible

Well, for starters, you don’t find delight in reading the Bible until you start reading the Bible. Like any other discipline or practice, the more you do it, the more natural it becomes and the more you’ll start to enjoy it.

If you’ve never really given daily Bible reading a shot, of course it’s difficult in the beginning. Of course it’s hard to do and hard to understand. But that doesn’t mean you should stop; it just means you’ve got work to do.

The best way to jump in is to pick a yearly reading plan through the free YouVersion app, one of the many websites, or, my current favorite, the Read Scripture plan. It’s available as a free app or PDF that has helpful videos to better understand each book and major theme of the Bible. There’s also a weekly podcast with Francis Chan where he talks through the week’s readings and helps you better understand and apply it.

Those are some good options, but which plan you choose is really not the point. It matters less how you’re reading through the Bible, and more that you’re actually doing it.

What to do if you hit a road block

If you’ve tried to build a daily habit and failed miserably (like I did many times), or you just can’t seem to get into it, there is something that will help. First, pray for the God to give you a heart for the Bible. If you’re seeking His truth, He will answer you.

But second, talk to someone or listen to someone who loves God’s Word. Nothing has been more catalytic in my own delight in God’s Word than this. If you’ve never really seen someone who loves God’s Word, then you have no picture of how it can transform your life and bring joy to the core of your being.

If that’s you, then I’d suggest listening to or watching this series of videos on how to study the Bible (and following along with the notes they have). It’s a big investment, but so, so worth it. The teacher, David Platt, loves God’s Word, and it’s evident in his voice and demeanor. I’m in seminary, so believe me when I say that what he takes you through is a seminary-level education for the everyday person. And it’s all free, like the other resources mentioned here.

Don’t put this off

At the end of your life, you will give an account to God for how you spent your time (Rom. 14:12). At that time, all the ways you wasted time on Netflix, Facebook, or whatever else will be abundantly clear. Please, see the reality of what’s at stake now. Don’t put this off until later.

God has revealed Himself to us. He has told us how to live and work and think and act. And it’s all the Bible. You probably own 2 or more if you’re reading this. Or you probably have a smartphone and can download a free Bible app right now. In many parts of the world today, we have no excuse for not reading the Bible because it’s so widely available.

The most precious gift I can give you or anyone else is encouragement to build a lifelong passion for studying God’s Word. My prayer for you is that these words from Martin Luther would be true of you:

“The Bible is alive, it speaks to me, it has feet, it runs after me, it has hands, it lays hold [of] me.”

Why the Great Commission is for Every Christian

You will often hear that The Great Commission is for every follower of Christ, but you don’t always see that logic worked out. The immediate context of Matthew 28 shows us that Jesus is speaking directly to his disciples before ascending into heaven:

Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:16-20 ESV, emphasis added)

If Jesus is speaking directly to his eleven disciples, then how is the Great Commission for every believer?

In The Trellis and The Vine, Colin Marshall and Tony Payne work it out in just a few sentences:

“Jesus’ instruction to ‘make disciples’ in Matthew 28:19 is not just a specific word to the apostles gathered around him at the time of his final resurrection appearance. The first disciples were instructed to ‘make disciples’ of others. And because these newly-made disciples were under the universal lordship of Christ, and were to obey everything that Jesus had taught, they fell under exactly the same obligation as the original twelve to get on with the job of announcing the lordship of Christ; as did their hearers, and so on ‘to the end of the age.’”

So yes, the immediate object of Jesus’ command is his original disciples. But since all followers of Jesus are told to obey everything he has commanded us, all believers are called to take the Great Commission personally. Which means you are called to take it personally.

So, are you?

Are you taking it personally?

Are you looking at your life and thinking through how you can evangelize and teach those around you? Are you rearranging your life to serve your brothers and sisters in the church? Are you coming together with those same people to serve your community in the name of Jesus?

Are you taking the Great Commission personally?

Because it’s not a call for a select few. It’s the primary call on your life and the life of every follower of Jesus.

Do you take the Great Commission personally?

In Acts chapter 7, Stephen is dragged before the Sanhedrin and demanded to explain his beliefs. What follows is a sweeping history of the people of Israel, culminating in their handing over Jesus to be crucified.

That didn’t go over so well, so he was dragged out of the city and stoned, becoming the first Christian martyr. His death sparked fierce persecution, largely from the efforts of a young man named Saul. This persecution was so intense that we’re told in Acts 8:1 that, “they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria.”

Except the Apostles…

But at the end of that verse, we see an interesting anecdote. It says they were all scattered “except the apostles.”

What could that mean? Continue reading “Do you take the Great Commission personally?”