Sometimes Christians who seek to pass themselves off as the most spiritual and the most godly are often the most carnal and the most arrogant. That is, in an effort to impress others with just how spiritual they are, they can often end up in Pharisee-like pride and with an unteachable spirit.
We all have encountered such folks. The more hyper-spiritual they present themselves as, usually the more annoying, arrogant and fleshly they really are. Jesus of course dealt with such folks all the time. And what was it that Paul said? He spoke of those who ‘have a form of godliness but deny the power thereof’ (2 Timothy 3:5).
The desire to appear to be really spiritual to others can often be an indication of carnality. Yes, sometimes these folks may have good intentions. They may really think they are honouring the Lord and standing up for ‘pure’ Christianity or a ‘simple’ faith. But they may need a bit of humility here.
Let me provide you with an example of this which happened just recently. In order to encourage Christians to read their Bible every day, and to study it as well, I have done an entire series of “Bible Study Helps”. These are meant to help fellow Christians as they read through the entire Bible in a year – or at any preferred reading rate.
The 48 articles thus far penned can be found here: billmuehlenberg.com/category/theology/bible-study-tools/
A few hours ago I posted my latest piece in the series. Because I lumped Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy together in one article last year, I decided this year to do an entire, longer and more detailed article on each of these three Old Testament books.
Very soon after I posted a blurb and a link to my new piece on Leviticus on a few social media sites, this comment came in: “‘Bible Study Resources’ are other people’s interpretation. I’ll rely on the Holy Spirit for the interpretation, thank you.,”
Oh dear. I quickly replied as follows:
So you never read an English Bible (every single one was translated by mere men); you never go to church and listen to a sermon by mere men; you never read a book by any other Christians because they are mere men; and you never go to a Bible conference to hear great saints because they are mere men? Sorry, but you too are a mere man, so why should we pay any attention to anything you say? That is not being spiritual – that is being arrogant and foolish. For those who are interested, I speak to this in more detail here: billmuehlenberg.com/2018/03/18/divine-or-human-teachers/
Let me unpack my reply a bit more, although the article I link to just above covers many of the bases. The bottom line is this: the Holy Spirit works through people. God created us to be a Body in which we need every member found in it. There can be no such thing as a lone-wolf Christian.
We need each other, and God has given to the Body teachers. The Holy Spirit uses such teachers to help equip, teach and mature all of us believers. That is how God has chosen to work, and we should not look down on his chosen means of building up the Body and educating and equipping individual believers.
And as I have written elsewhere, it may sound spiritual to think we have a direct pipeline to God via the Holy Spirit and therefore have zero need of anyone else, but that too is bogus. Yes we all have the Holy Spirit, but the Spirit works in conjunction with others.
And one way to see that we need human teachers and helpers – working in alignment with the Holy Spirit – is to understand that we all see through a glass darkly, and none of us have all the truth or all the answers. As I wrote in an article on 20 reasons why we need theology (and therefore theologians):
Eighteen. If the Bible really is so clear and simple to understand, then presumably the meaning of the following passages and ideas should be apparent to all:
-What is baptism for the dead? 1 Cor. 15:29
-Should women teach? 1 Tim. 2:11-12
-Who are the spirits in prison that were preached to? 1 Pet. 3:19
-How do you explain the Trinity?
-How can people make free choices if God knows the future in every detail?
-Can God create a rock so big that even he can’t lift it?
I dare say that if just one of these passages were given to a group of twenty people, and they were told to go away and come back with the meaning, there may well be twenty different understandings and interpretations of the passage given. Being a Spirit-filled Christian, in other words, is no guarantee that one will always interpret Scripture properly. The tools of theology help us as we approach God’s word.
None of us have all the truth about the Bible and we can all learn from others. We all have so much more to understand and learn, and humility and teachability are key aspects of this learning process. Yes, even Bible study helps can be of use, such as recommended resources, books, devotionals, and even those dreaded commentaries!
And as I have also said before, if we are spiritual enough to listen to a pastor exegete, exposit, explain and apply Scripture on a Sunday morning, why can’t we be spiritual enough to read a good commentary, which basically does the exact same thing, but in written instead of oral form?
Yes the Holy Spirit leads us into all truth, but the normal means of this is by using others, including the pastors and teachers he has given to the Body for the benefit of all. There is nothing wrong with learning from other believers, including from a sermon, a book, a conference, or a commentary.
Can we rely too much on human teachers, and not depend on the Holy Spirit? Of course. But going from one extreme to another helps no one. As always, we need the biblical balance here. Yes we all desperately need to learn to rely on and depend upon the Holy Spirit more and more.
But we also need to make use of the resources and tools God has given us to grow in our faith and our understanding of it. And those tools certainly include teachers and pastors, along with any books or videos they may produce. And yes commentaries too can be a part of all this.
Much of this discussion can be tied together from what I wrote in an earlier article on “Three Easy Steps to Become a Cultist or Heretic”. These steps are:
Step One: Be Proud
Step Two: Have an Unteachable Spirit
Step Three: Refuse to Learn from Others
So if you want to be easy pickings for the cults or find yourself easily sliding into heresy, just keep running with the mindset that says, I don’t want ‘other people’s interpretation. I’ll rely on the Holy Spirit for the interpretation, thank you.’
By the way: where do most of these rather confused believers pick up such unbiblical ideas in the first place? I would say that in most cases it did not just come to them out of nowhere. Most likely some mere man with his own interpretation told them that or taught them that! I rest my case.