Welcome back to the Systematic Theology series!
As we come to this closing article introducing to us the study of Theology, specifically Systematic Theology, we must close out by giving what is necessary for anyone to study the Bible, History, Theology, and putting it all into practice in the Ministry, namely one will need the Bible, a believing heart, the Holy Spirit to guide, prayer to humble, and the communion of the saints to encourage and equip one for ministry.
First, you need the Bible. At the end of the day, the Bible is where theology begins. God has revealed Himself to humankind through His self-divine revelation. It is true that men are held condemned because God has revealed Himself in creation, but because of our fall into sin and rebellion against God, we suppress this truth in unrighteous sinful behavior and thought. Therefore, God graciously inspired the Prophets and Apostles to give to us His Word. Without His word, we are left without any knowledge of our sin and misery and our need for a Savior who is Jesus Christ. We need the Bible to guide us in our theological study. We need the Bible to guard us against speculative guessing. We need the Bible to give us true north. We need the Bible to give to us examples for life. Without God’s word, we are left in the dark and it is the Bible which shines light upon our paths so we can see and see clearly, but there is more than just the Bible, for anyone can read the Bible. Only those with true faith will understand the Scriptures properly.
Second, you need the gift of Faith. Calvin famously made the illustration of the “spectacles of faith.” The point of this illustration gets to the fact that those who read the Bible and fail to see Christ or fail to understand God’s redeeming acts do not have the “spectacles of faith.” To properly read and interpret the Bible, one needs faith. Faith is the key. Without faith, man cannot properly understand the Bible, nor can they understand creation. To understand this point, we need to recognize two things concerning true faith. First, true faith does not originate with man. As Jesus told Peter in Matthew 16, the Father in heaven gives us the words to confess concerning Christ. Faith is not something everyone is born with and suppress; no, Paul says that is truth. Everyone has the truth of God facing them and they suppress it in unrighteous. Faith is given from heaven, which takes us to secondly, faith is a gracious gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit gifts faith to the person God is calling to salvation in His Son, Jesus Christ. Faith is selective. Faith is purposeful. Faith is only for the elect. They will believe. It is for this reason; we can see assurance of salvation as a part of the essence of faith. This does not mean the flesh will plague us and cause us to doubt God’s goodness. No, Paul makes this clear in Romans 7, even the Apostle Paul struggled from time to time, but he never questioned God’s goodness and the salvation Jesus Christ provides for His people. In fact, assurance causes us to stop naval gazing, and causes us to focus on Jesus Christ as Paul demonstrates in the opening verses of Romans 8. It is because of the work of the Holy Spirit in saving us through giving to us true faith we must turn to focus upon Him for just a moment.
Third, you need the one who gave you faith, namely the Holy Spirit. When it comes to Biblical and Theological Study, the Holy Spirit plays a crucial and at times overlooked role. As we have stated above, the Holy Spirit is the catalyst for a person’s faith in the first place. And yet some may get the feeling that the Spirit is done with that, it is time for the human agent to take the reins in their spiritual growth. But how can one have spiritual growth, maturity without the Spirit. It is the Spirit who makes us grow spiritually. I like to call this theological sanctification. It is the Holy Spirit who opens our eyes to read that passage in a better way. It is the Spirit who opens our ears to hear that lesson or sermon with more clarity and focus. The Spirit is what brings the Christian growth while they read, study, and listen to God’s Word. I am sure many of you have experienced this before where you read a passage several times, but the last time you read you were changed. This is the work of the Spirit as He applies God’s living word to your life. This happens to every believer at some point when they are walking and taking their faith seriously. This is what the Spirit does, He matures us or makes us complete in Christ. This work is not completed until we reach glory, but the work begins now.
Fourth, you need prayer. Another area the Spirit helps in for prayer is a means of grace. Prayer, if we could speak this way, is the bring between heaven and earth. Much like Scripture reading and the sermon bridges heaven and earth, where God speaks to His people, prayer is the other direction where we speak to God. Prayer is a part of that divine dialogue of worship (God speaks and we respond). Prayer is our chief response to the salvation we have in Jesus Christ. Prayer is simply our “yes” and “amen” to what God has said and done. At the same time, prayer is the means through which we ask for help. We are being to read the Bible or listen to a sermon we can ask God the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and ears to see and hear Jesus Christ. Prayer is our direct communication with God. Prayer then is a crucial role in theological study. Without prayer, one is not really invested in the work of theology.
Fifth, you need the communion of the saints in the past and in the local church. As we said in a previous article, the communion of the saints includes all the saints who have gone before us and now we must consider those who are presently in the church militant. This includes two groups of people. First, you have those saints who currently write and are publishing articles and books. This is to study under teachers you may have never met. They are influential in the growth of the student. One must read the classics, but one must also read current theological work because there are current issues which need to be addressed today. The second group is the local church. There are some who believe simply attending Sunday services is enough for their spiritual growth. They like to argue that they can read and study at home on their own. The problem with this denial of the communion of the saints is they are not being held accountable to their thoughts. This takes place in a Bible study. The ancient church in Acts would gather for public worship and to hear the Apostles teaching. In public worship, we hear the preaching, but in Bible Study we can hear the teaching of the Bible. These are two different things and the Christian needs both. The reason stay at home Bible study does not work is due to the lack of accountability. We need the accountability of the local church, the communion of the saints. When this is happening, true theological sanctification takes place.