The Humility of Theology

Theology is a word made up of two Greek words. Theos, which means “God,” and logos, which means “word.” So, theology is “the word about God,” or “the study of God.” For Christians theology is the study of God that is based in God’s Word the Bible. Other religions have their own theology, but Christianity’s theology is based in the only source of absolute truth, the Bible.

I have been convicted and alarmed about how proud the study of theology can make theologians. Professionally, theologians are individuals who study the Bible, teach higher education courses about the Bible, or write books on theology. However, I am not only referring to “professional” theologians. I am referring to everyone who studies the Bible to learn who God is and what God has done. I am referring to you, me, non-professionals, elders, professionals, every Christian who is studying the Bible to know God.

I am incredibly convicted over pride in the study of theology. I have seen it in myself. I have observed it in the dormitories of Bible colleges. I have heard it in debates in the halls of seminaries. I have heard it in Bible study discussions. I see it on social media. I hear it in some sermons. I hear it in dinner conversations about the “sovereignty of God and the free will of man” debate. From all sides of the arguments there is always a temptation to be proud in our knowledge of theology. However, I have become convinced that pride is an absolute impossibility when we are truly studying theology.

I don’t mean that it is impossible to be proud when studying information in the Bible. It is obvious that this is possible and even prevalent. By sin nature we are prone to be proud and think more highly of ourselves than we should. The more we know the higher we think of ourselves and the lower opinion we have of those who think differently. 

When I say that pride is impossible when truly studying theology, I mean that when we really study who God is and grow in our knowledge of Him it is impossible to be proud. This is true because of who God is. When we rightly recognize who God is and we see ourselves in light of Him, there is nothing in us that should produce pride.

Consider some examples of people who had an encounter with the holy God. 

  1. Adam and Eve committed the first human act of rebellion against God in Genesis 3. After this rebellion, God came down to walk in the Garden of Eden. How did Adam and Eve respond to His presence?

    “And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden.” Genesis 3:8
  2. God came down to Mount Sinai before the people of Israel to meet with them in Exodus 19-20. The people responded to the sound of God speaking by begging Moses not to let God speak to them so they would not die (Exodus 20:18-21).
  3. Isaiah saw the Lord Jesus high and lifted up on a throne with the seraphim shouting His praise (Isaiah 6; John 12:41). His response to the sight of God was to scream in terror. Isaiah feared destruction. He, a sinner, was in the presence of the holy God, the King, the Lord of Armies. Seeing the Lord in His glory led to humility and fear.
  4. When God answered Job out of the whirlwind (Job 38-41), Job responded with this:

    “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted. ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know. ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you make it known to me.’ I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you; therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” Job 42:2-6
  5. The disciples in the boat on the Sea of Galilee, after Jesus calmed the storm, were terrified and said, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:41).
  6. The legion of demons who possessed the man in Mark 5 screamed in terror at the presence of Jesus and begged Him not to torture them (Mark 5:6-7).
  7. When Peter, James, and John saw Jesus transfigured on the mountain, all three Gospel accounts make clear that they were terrified. They were terrified of Jesus in His glory (Mark 9:6). They were also terrified when the cloud of God’s presence overshadowed them and the voice of God the Father declared, “This is my Son, my Chosen One; listen to him!” (Matthew 17:5-6; Luke 9:34-35)
  8. When Jesus appeared to Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus, Saul fell to the ground in His presence (Acts 9:1-9).

Do you notice a common theme? When confronted with the greatness, holiness, and power of God, individuals are anything but proud. They are terrified. They are humbled. They recognize themselves as unworthy sinners. There is no pride from what they learned about God in His presence. All pride is withered in fear.

Of course the argument could be made, “Yes, but they were actually in the glory and presence of God! No one can see God and live, so they would be terrified. They would be humbled and afraid.” True. Yet, such an answer shows an ignorance of what happens when we study theology. We are studying the same God who appeared to Adam, Eve, Isaiah, the disciples, and Saul. He is eternally the same as He was then. He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Hebrews 13:8). He is still and always will be glorious, sinless, perfect, all-powerful, just, and terrifying. There is no one like Him! A true understanding of Him (a true study of theology) cannot produce pride. It can only produce the opposite. It will produce a deep and increasing humility.

It is not only God’s terrifying presence and greatness that produces humility in those who glimpse Him in the Bible. The humility of Jesus produces humility in His people. The humility of God the Son can only produce humility in His people who truly see Him for who He is and what He has done.

Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God. He existed in the exact form of God eternally (Philippians 2:6). He is exactly God. He is “the exact imprint” of God’s nature (Hebrews 1:3). He is the One through whom the universe was created, and He is the One who upholds the universe by the word of His power (John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:1-3). Yet, He did not hold on to His rights, privileges, and enjoyments as God. Instead, He humbled Himself and came as a man (John 1:14; Philippians 2:7). He was born of a virgin, having no human father, yet taking on our humanity (Matthew 1:18, 24). Never surrendering His nature as God, He is God come to dwell with us as man (Matthew 1:23). Truly God and truly man, He has come to save His people from our sins (Matthew 1:21). This One who causes men and demons to tremble in His greatness and holiness, stooped down to become one of us. He not only came as one of us, but He did so to serve us. He came in perfect obedience to the Father, being tempted in every way that we are, yet He remained sinless (2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15). He came in weakness, so He can serve us as a sympathetic High Priest (Hebrews 4:15). He was tempted, yet sinless, so He is able to help us when we are tempted (Hebrews 2:18). He was perfectly obedient all the way to the point of death on the cross for His people (Philippians 2:8). He served us in the greatest way. Eternal God came as a man to humbly die, and in His death He has paid the ransom for many (Mark 10:45). His death has purchased His people from slavery to sin, so we may become the children of God through faith in Him (Mark 10:45; John 1:12; 1 John 3:1). Eternal God has humbled Himself and served us by setting us free from sin. As it says in Hebrews 2:14-15:

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”

The one who studies and grows in knowledge of Jesus, the one who truly studies theology, cannot be lifted up in pride. Instead, as a follower of Jesus, one can only be humbled that the Greatest, Best, and Perfect One humbled Himself, shared in flesh and blood, and served us by destroying Satan and death in His own death.

The only fitting responses to such awesome humility from God Himself is humility and worship.

Paul says in Philippians 2:5, we are to have the same mind that Jesus had. We should do nothing for personal gain or empty pride. Instead, we should serve one another in humility, seeing others as more important than ourselves, and looking to their needs (Philippians 2:3-4).

Humility toward one another is not the only response to a right understanding of Jesus. Humility toward Jesus Christ will be the universal response and is the only correct response now. Jesus humbled Himself and gave Himself in our place for our sins. 

“Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Philippians 2:9‭-‬11)

When all of creation sees Jesus for who He is, everyone will humble themselves, bow, and confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Every person, angel, and demon in heaven, on earth, and under the earth (hell) will respond in worship of Jesus to the glory of God the Father. 

As we behold this Lord Jesus in the Bible, as we study theology, may we respond in humility toward God and one another.As we behold Jesus in the study of theology, may we humble ourselves in response to His humility and worship Him as Lord to the glory of God the Father.

Father, how many times have I been proud in the knowledge gained in Your Word. Forgive my self-worship and pride. May my heart be humbled in service and worship of Jesus as I behold His majesty and humility. For Your glory, Father, Amen.

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