Thursday, August 13, 2009

The Practical Mechanic

Would you send your car to a mechanic, who knew nothing about how cars work but had learned bits of knowledge here and there through trial and error, by tinkering with them. I certainly would not. Yet in the spiritual realm, there has been a demand to ignore the doctrine (the knowledge of how the spiritual life works) and get on with the practice. Now it is true there is a danger of erring in the opposite direction--of spending all one's time trying to understand God's truth and never applying it. This would be like a mechanic who had spent a considerable time studying about cars in books and had never picked up a wrench or a screwdriver in his life. I am not taking my car to that mechanic either. But one extreme does not justify the other.

One serious problem with throwing aside teaching to get to practice in the theological area is that we end up leaving out grace. Grace is based on the great truths of Scripture, that God loved us so much He sent His Son to die for us and to rise again to show that salvation was accomplished (Romans 3:21-31; 5:1-11; 1 Corinthians 15:1-11). If we leave these out, we are preaching works. They may be strict, legalistic works (do not drink, do not dance, do not go to movies), or they may be kinder, gentler works (be kind, love other people, do not be judgmental). But they are still works (Romans 11:6).

There is, however, one big difference between our spiritual life and our car. We can take our car to a mechanic and give him money and tell him to fix it without knowing much about cars. (Though if we do not have some knowledge of cars, we are in danger of being cheated out of our money.) We cannot do this with our spiritual life. (Some people seem to think they can, but it does not work this way. Pastors and other church leaders are a considerable help as advisers, but they cannot make our decisions for us, and spiritual growth depends on the decisions we make.) Therefore, we ourselves need to know the theory and practice of the spiritual life. This does not mean we need to know every technical term and distinction. Some of these are not really necessary anyway, though it is useful to know some basic terms. But we do all need to know the basic elements of God's truth if we are to know how to apply it in practical situations. We must know both how the principles of the spiritual life work and how to apply them if we are going to be able to drive down the road of spiritual growth.

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