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The Perilous Pitfalls of an Unteachable Spirit

Apr 1, 2017

OK, we all can be a bit of a know-it-all at times, and we all can now and then become arrogant and averse to other points of view. So in one sense this article is for every single one of us. But I do have in mind a particular class of Christians who can be all rather unpleasant to deal with because they clearly have an unteachable spirit.

They can be so very difficult to be around since they are not open to learning, to being corrected, to seeing other points of view, to having their perspective challenged when need be, etc. Sadly I have known too many of these Christians – they are a real worry to be honest.

They usually lack two vital things: humility, and good teaching. It is exactly because they are so poorly taught that they often will take offence and get angry when anyone dares to try to discuss things with them, and point out that they may be missing something.

unteachableInstead of being open to correction and learning new things, they dig their heels in even further, and attack those trying to help enlighten them a bit. They are arrogant and they are unteachable. Christians who are like this can be amongst the most unpleasant folks to be around, and trying to deal with them is no easy matter.

The Old Testament would refer to such people as fools, while the New Testament would call them Pharisees. And sadly we have all encountered such folks. Often this unteachable spirit is most readily found by those who are hyper-spiritual, or really, falsely spiritual.

That is, quite often we get believers claiming to be a “Bible-Only” Christian, or “Holy Spirit-Only” Christian. They wrongly think that since they have the Holy Spirit and the Bible, they have absolutely no need of learning from any “mere man”.

They are so clueless that it actually gets to be quite laughable. While they denounce theology and hermeneutics and any sort of formal learning and training – except what they think is piped to them directly from heaven – they do not even realise how much they rely on others.

The very Bible they are reading – be it the KJV or whatever – is a close but not perfect translation of the non-extant originals, a translation which is usually the result of a group of men working long and hard on getting as close to the originals as possible.

So the Bibles they read are the Word of God, and as close as we can get to it, but the work of mere men as well. All translation work involves interpretation, and the scholars involved had to make choices about how a word might be used, the best way to translate it, and so on.

So there is no getting away from human involvement – ever. But these same folks decry human teachers and theology and “book learning”. When I was trying to explain a theological point to one fellow recently he snapped back by saying he reads nothing but the Bible.

Yeah, it showed big time. He was so ignorant, so misinformed, and so theologically reckless that of course he read no one else. He was a know-it-all who thought he and the Bible alone would lead him to all truth, with no one else helping out in the process.

But if this is the case, then why the importance of teachers and sound teaching found throughout the New Testament? God has designed believers to learn biblical truth through the help of teachers and good teaching. Sure, we can read and study on our own, but we must supplement that with good doctrine and teaching as found in books, study tools, commentaries, sermons, teachers and the like.

Indeed, every time you go to church you are hearing a “mere man” expound upon and seek to explain what the Word of God teaches. He is offering his thoughts, opinions and perspectives on what the sacred text is saying. And because he is fallen and fallible, he will not always get it right – none of us will.

But some of these hyper-spiritual types will retort that they have been given the Holy Spirit to guide them into all truth. And that of course is terrific news, as found in places like John 16:13. Yes we are given the Spirit to guide us. But does that mean we all of a sudden become perfect, and hence forth never think or say any wrong thing?

Of course not. We are all broken vessels as Paul says, and we all see through a glass darkly. Even with the wonderful gifts of the Word of God and the indwelling Holy Spirit, we still are fallen and fallible human beings who still often get things wrong.

A simple proof of this is to take a group of a dozen spirit-filled Christians, give them a particularly difficult Bible passage, ask them to go off individually and write down its meaning, and then come back together to share the results. I can almost guarantee that these Christians who have the Bible and the Spirit may well come up with twelve different interpretations or understandings of the passage.

That of course is because none of us get it all right, this side of heaven. None of us are infallible. We can mis-hear or misunderstand or twist what the Spirit may be trying to tell us or teach us. Only in the next life will we obtain perfection. In this life we are all fallen, we are all finite, and we are all fallible.

Oddly enough, many of these hyper-spiritual types, or fightin’ fundies as I like to call them, are dead set against all things Catholic. They hate the idea of some infallible pope, yet all they do with their perverted understanding is set themselves up as an infallible pope!

They got the Spirit so they don’t need nuthin’ else – certainly not any man-made teaching! No siree. So they make themselves infallible. It is called pride and arrogance. It is called having an unteachable spirit. And it is a recipe for disaster.

All the cults operate this way for example. They all disdain and warn against what they call “man-made teaching” and theology and so on. They expect all truth to be found only in the cult leader. So these hyper-Christians are really cultists themselves.

As I have said so often, a little humility sure does go a long way. Instead of calling everyone who dares to differ from you a heretic and sending them anathemas, it might be wiser to admit that we do not know everything, we sometimes get things wrong, and we can actually learn from others now and then.

That is what humility and a teachable spirit look like. The obverse is when people get mad at you, take offence at you, and give you the cold shoulder just because we try to explain things to them, point out how they might be misunderstanding things, or seek to share some theological truth with them.

I even had one person who I said I was praying for lash back and say my prayers were no good since I obviously did not have the Holy Spirit, was likely not saved, and she believed she was perfect anyway. Yikes, talk about deception big time. Talk about an arrogant and unteachable spirit.

Well, I will keep praying for her and others like her, that they learn that the best place for a Christian to be is on their knees. Humility goes a long way here, while pride and an unteachable spirit can send you to a lost eternity.

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8 Responses to The Perilous Pitfalls of an Unteachable Spirit

  • Bill,

    I want to ask an honest question. I have been reading many books by many theologians, deceased and living.

    Is it possible to have too much reading, and get messed up on understanding of the scriptures? I have asked because I have decided to scale back and just read and study the bible and pray for the Holy Spirit to guide me. Will I have a biased view after having read many study bibles, books, and watched many videos of sermons of different pastors?

    I know the value of books, but a little too much, I feel the need to scale back and try to read the bible as is, and pray for Wisdom from the Holy Spirit. Thanks, Bill!

    Erik Ahlblad

  • Thanks Eric. Good questions. It depends in part on where a person is at. God may call some believers to just concentrate on him and his word alone for a time. But to shun Christian books and teaching altogether is like saying one can shun all Christians and just get by with God alone. Sorry, but it does not work that way: God created us to be part of a Body, not a lone wolf. We need one another to grow. To think we can get all truth from God alone without the rest of his Body is to kid ourselves. He made us to depend on one another, and that includes pastors, teachers, etc.

    Every time you go to church and listen to a pastor, you are hearing his particular spin on things. How is that any different when you read a devotional book, or theological book, or a commentary, etc? Yes, sometimes Christians can be too booked out (too much head knowledge but too little heart knowledge). But I am afraid that for most Christians in the West, the real problem may be the other way around (Christians who may have a good heart, but who are theologically and doctrinally empty). The New Testament makes it clear that both right living (orthopraxis) and right believing (orthodoxy) are absolutely essential. We need both. To deal with right belief, God has given us teachers to write books, or give sermons, or hold seminars, etc., to help teach us. We need them and dare not cut ourselves off from them.

  • Thanks Bill for your candid response. What I understand is yes understand it’s important to have a balance of head and heart knowledge. I am afraid I have far too much head knowledge, and sadly lacking in heart knowledge. Indeed, also believe it is important to be part of the Body.

    Ta.

    Erik

  • Hi Bill, this is a good article. The one comment that I would offer is that as Christians we do an absolute disservice to The Holy Spirit if we are not reading and networking widely. Drawing on the experiences and skills of gifted authors through commentaries etc and the life experiences of others “also on the journey” cannot help but challenge and enrich us when it comes back to our personal time in “The Word”. The more head knowledge and experience we gain, the more The Holy Spirit has to work with when it comes to Him helping us through life’s many challenges. Bill this is real “Food and Drink” please keep this category of articles coming. Kind regards, Kel.

  • Another brilliant word and absolutely correct. Thank you Bill. The fact is there probably is no one in the world that we can’t learn something from, certainly not in my case but I do enjoy learning. We just need to ensure we are always learning the truth and not being mislead which means choosing carefully who’s words we trust.

    Jas 3:1 Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more severely than others.
    Jas 3:2 For all of us make many mistakes. If someone does not make any mistakes when he speaks, he is perfect and able to control his whole body. (ISV)

    1Co 8:2 And if any man thinks that he knows anything, he knows nothing yet as he ought to know.
    1Co 8:3 But if any one loves God, he has been known of him. (MKJV)

    Of course it is possible to study the scriptures and still not come to God and receive His sanctification:-

    Joh 5:39 You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life. And they are the ones witnessing of Me,
    Joh 5:40 and you will not come to Me that you might have life.

    … and the fact is that most things are vastly more complex than we are able to completely understand anyway. Yes things have had to be built up principle by principle based on justice and mercy and function and a huge effort has been put in by those who have gone before us to pass down this knowledge. That does not mean we are capable of fully understanding how things were and are achieved by God. Sooner or later we all have to stand on faith because we are very limited and simply are not capable of knowing all things but knowing the ways of God is exactly what we were created for.

    While God does set us on our feet and on the path to truth what we then see is our part in the arrangement:-

    2Ti 2:15 Study earnestly to present yourself approved to God, a workman that does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of Truth. (MKJV)

    and

    Isa 28:9 Whom shall He teach knowledge? And whom shall He make to understand doctrine? Those weaned from the milk and drawn from the breasts.
    Isa 28:10 For precept must be on precept, precept on precept; line on line, line on line; here a little, there a little;
    Isa 28:11 for with stammering lips and another tongue He will speak to this people.
    Isa 28:12 To whom He said, This is the rest; cause the weary to rest; and this is the refreshing. Yet they were not willing to hear.
    Isa 28:13 But the Word of Jehovah was to them precept on precept, precept on precept; line on line, line on line; here a little, there a little; that they might go, and fall backward, and be broken and snared and taken. (MKJV)

    Harsh words for those who are not willing to fully trust God but rely solely on their own understanding.

  • Hi Bill,
    I read your articles, practically every one of them and I find them mostly very instructive and helpful, but do not often comment. So, thank you Bill. Keep them coming, please.
    In respect to this article I would like to pass on an advice I received from one of the staff of the University of South Africa (UNISA) when I began my studies with them many years ago. I quote from memory:
    “We have basically two aims in mind for our students and to help you to go through years of intensive studies of theology and come out the other end with your faith still intact.
    One of our aims is that you learn what is going on in the theological world. For this we make you read highly different and often controversial strands in theology. In this we do not teach you those various theologies, so do not start preaching at us, we just want you to know about them.
    The second of our aims is, and related to the first, is to teach you to read critically, learn to critique what we make you read, learn to think. You need not believe or accept anything we make you read but if you disagree, tell us what you disagree with and why. Do not simply regurgitate what we make you read or you will get very low marks or even fail.”
    I found this very helpful and thoroughly enjoyed my studies with UNISA for 8 years and I still try to practise this in my reading.

  • I enjoyed reading this one especially Bill. Your spirit is gentle but clear about the truth of this subject. What are these people up to really? Aren’t they still protecting themselves against God? Jeremiah 17:9 tells us our hearts can deceive us. Someone wrote a book many years ago which he called “The Art of Dodging Repentance”. It is a very sobering and appropriate observation with which you conclude your article. As Jesus warned the “people of the Book” who lacked repentance and showed arrogance, “the sons of the Kingdom will be thrown out.” Matthew 8:12. He died for them, they were not words of anger but of love.

  • My comment on the above article is not so much about the content of the article but more about the average Christian. I am finding more and more people quote “celebrity” preachers comments on a particular topic and less what the Bible itself has to say. Many are well versed on the latest teaching of some of the more famous international speakers/pastors that they have lost sight on the bibles instruction to be like Bereans and study for oneself if what they are reading is so. The Bible is the word of God and the pitfalls I see is not all that is wrapped up in the latest Christian bestseller necessarily aligns with God’s book.

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