Many churches provide programs and resources that aim to develop Christlikeness in the participants: Wednesday night bible studies, Our Daily Bread, AWANA, Bible Study Fellowship, My Utmost for His Highest, Navigators, and a host of others. Yet, if we are honest, we know we still lack Christlikeness. Even if we are truly good on the outside, our unguarded moments often tell a different story. Something is not working.
The sometimes faulty connection between God’s truth and our godliness has been a problem for a while. Isaiah 46-47 deals with this very connection problem: the people of Judah knew Yahweh, but their knowledge was not born out in behavior. They were still tempted by the gods of the nations. Yahweh speaks to them in these chapters, reminding them of his power, care, and deliverance and, in a rant against the Babylonians, shines a bright light on the futility of arrogance and false hope. What was God’s answer to the faulty connection between knowledge and godliness? The only thing that securely connects truth with life is trust in God.
The Need for Truth and Trust
Christlikeness flows naturally from a heart transformed by truth and through a life transformed by trust. The “and” in the previous sentence is a necessary one: it really is an “and” and not an “or.” It is not enough to know the facts or do the works, for our hearts are controlled by deep beliefs we may not even know exist and these deep beliefs will leak out in our words and deeds.
What is more, we are powerless to change our deep beliefs through a mustering of the will. We cannot wake up one morning and merely decide to believe differently. But because thoughts and behaviors flow from these deep beliefs, we must find a way for them to be corrected.
Truth is the only thing we can send into our hearts, truth learned through study, reasoning, experience, and other means. Once we send truth into our hearts, the Holy Spirit, who lives in our hearts, takes over, applying God’s truth to remove false deep beliefs and create true ones. He can and will change our hearts: we must respond with trusting cooperation. Our part is truth and trust. His part is transformation. For those who trust Christ and hope in him alone, Christlikeness is an assured end.
The Practice of Truth and Trust
We cooperate with the Spirit’s transforming work by learning God’s truth. You may ask, What about the Christians I know who have participated in Bible study programs for years and still lack Christlikeness? This is an excellent and crucial question. As I mentioned above, deep beliefs are the issue and because they are the issue, merely participating in programs and remembering true ideas about God are insufficient.
This is not to say that true ideas about God are unimportant. Quite the contrary: they are critical. Ideas can penetrate our hearts! Because beliefs are ideas, intellectual development is important. Since it is important, at least some of our time together as Christians must consist in helping one another think through our ideas about God, pondering them deeply, allowing them to soak into our hearts, and trusting the Spirit to do his work.
We must place a high priority on intellectual formation practices. But we must also keep in mind their purpose: formation practices, while important, are the means not the end. Christ is the end.