The worst present I ever gave my wife was on Christmas. Of course I didn’t know that at the time. To be fair, she wasn’t even my wife. She was just the girl I wanted to marry. So two months later, I asked her to do exactly that. And that’s when I gave her the best present I’ve ever given her. Oddly enough, both of those gifts had one thing in common: they were both jewelry. And for the longest time I racked my brain, trying to figure out why she loved one and forgot the other. What was the difference? The answer lies somewhere deep inside my wife’s heart. And it comes down to one word: relationship.
Theology is knowing God. And the reason knowing God matters is the same reason knowing your wife matters. The more you discover who she is and what she loves, the better you’re able to serve her. To honor her. To bless her. To love her. It’s the same with knowing God. Theology is why we exist. Theology is worship. But for some reason it’s become a cold, academic, scientific word. But the problem isn’t our brains. It’s our hearts. We’ve stopped exploring our Creator and Redeemer. We’ve become less than thrilled at the oracles of God. We don’t stand in awe anymore. Today it’s time to re-capture the energy and excitement of theology. Of God.
Most Christians would agree with this statement: “It’s all about having a personal relationship with Jesus.” If you believe that, you need theology. After all, nobody has a relationship with someone they don’t know. And no one grows in their relationship with another person without knowing that person better. So where do we start? Let’s begin with my bad Christmas present. At Kohl’s.
Don’t get me wrong. I love Kohl’s. But it’s best not to make impulse jewelry buys at Kohl’s during a 50% off sale. Especially when your wife (then girlfriend) doesn’t like expensive jewelry. That was my first mistake. I didn’t know Kelly well enough to know that. So I tried to honor her in a foreign (and expensive) language. As a result, I completely missed the plate. I might as well have tried to take her to a Chinese buffet. Or take her to a bloody war film. Or make her listen to George Strait. Or make her watch an entire NFL playoff. See these are things I know not to do with my wife. Why? Because I know my wife. I know that she loves modern country instead of twangy country. I know she likes Japanese instead of Chinese. I know she prefers romantic comedies and musicals to war. That’s Kelly-ology 101. The more I know her, the better our relationship. And the better our relationship, the better I love her. And it all begins with knowledge.
There’s another word we don’t like. In the church, it often takes on a pompous, elitist connotation. When we think of the word ‘knowledge’, we’re almost tempted to think of the Pharisees and their intellectual hypocrisy. But remember: knowledge is just the noun form of the verb ‘to know.’ If I know my wife, I have knowledge of my wife. If I know God, I have knowledge of Him. That’s why Paul encouraged his readers to distinguish between knowledge of God for His sake, and Pharisaic knowledge of God for its own sake, the kind that ‘puffs up.’ (1 Cor. 8:1) And as a result of so many pastors who would rather read ancient Greek instead of loving their neighbor, we have other pastors making statements like this: “I’m not very theological.” What an unthinkable statement.
Let’s get one thing clear: we all have theology. The word actually comes from two Greek words: theos (God) and logos (word). It means a word about God. Theology, true or false, is whatever you think about God. For someone not to have theology is simply impossible because everyone believes something about God. A Buddhist has theology. A Muslim has theology. A Jew has theology. Even an atheist has theology. You can’t escape it. That’s because you’re born with an innate sense of His eternal power and ‘Godness.’ (Rom. 1:21) So how did we arrive at the point in our churches where ‘theology’ has become a ghost under our bed? In short, the less you discover the logos, the more Theos begins to vanish. Paul says that salvation is a knowledge of the truth. (1 Tim. 2:4) So where there is no knowledge of truth, there is no knowledge of Christ, begging the question: can someone profess to ‘have a personal relationship with Jesus’ and know nothing of what He says? In the very same letter, Paul says that the aim of doctrine is a true love of God. (1 Tim. 1:4,5) We worship God by knowing Him increasingly. Knowing Him more. More frequently and more abundantly. That’s why a marriage that falls out of knowledge falls out of love. Men who don’t know their wives can’t please their wives. And men who don’t seek theology can’t please their God. (Col. 1:20)
Three Christmases later, I love my wife more than I’ve ever loved her. Now that doesn’t mean our marriage is perfect. Far from it. But the reason our love has grown is simple: I’ve never stopped discovering my wife. It’s a deep, intimate, growing knowledge. The same we see between Christ and His church, His bride. Just the word ‘know’ carried heavy relational and covenantal meaning in both Hebrew and Greek (Jer. 1:5, Rom. 8:29). If you’ve read your Christmas narrative this holiday, you’ll notice a small word at the end of Matthew 1: Joseph, caring for his wife Mary, “knew her not until she had given birth to a son.” (1:25) To know was to…well…know. Deep. Intimate. And perhaps the reason we see so many stale marriages today is precisely the same reason Christ will utter to thousands: “I never knew you, depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.” (Matt. 7:23) Many who think they serve Christ well on this earth will be told plainly: you stopped knowing me. Quite possibly the scariest words in the Bible are a clear testament to the value of theology. But more often than not, you don’t hear pastors promoting theology. You hear something about a ‘relationship with Christ.’ What does that mean exactly? What does it look like? Does it look like your marriage? Can you have a relationship with your wife and never speak to her? So why does a Bible-less Christianity pass for faith? Paul says that “unity of faith” and “mature manhood” are achieved through the “knowledge of the Son of God.” (Eph. 4:13) There’s no such thing as a Christian who doesn’t grow. And there’s no such thing as a growing Christian who doesn’t feed himself. Are you feeding on the Bible? If so, welcome to theology. If not, repent and believe in the Gospel.
When God admonishes Israel for not seeking Him, He attributes their Babylonian exile to “lack of knowledge.” (Isa. 5:13) This begs another question: if God’s ultimate goal for His people is knowledge of Himself, then why in the world is theology a dreadful word in the church? Once we behold God the Father in His Son through His Spirit, theology isn’t just relevant. It’s our identity. (John 17:10-11)
In the end, that fateful Christmas present left me with something that I’ll never forget: a $200 hole in my pocket. $200 for a necklace she hardly wore. And here’s the reality of knowing my wife: a piece of string from the heart would have meant more than any diamond-studded necklace. That’s knowing my wife. And knowing Christ is the same. If we just listen to what He wants instead of wrapping up our own shameful gifts, we’d know what pleases Him. And often times it’s a lot simpler than what we make it. Jesus, quoting Hosea 6:6, commanded the Pharisees: “Go and learn what this means, ‘I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.’” (Matt. 9:13) Welcome to theology in a nutshell. God cares so much about worship that He tells us what He wants point blank. We just have to use our brains a little. God cares so much for worship that He even wrote a whole book on it. It’s called Leviticus. Read it sometime. It reveals how meticulous our Creator and Savior is when it comes to exalting His name. But instead we sacrifice $200 diamond necklaces. We sacrifice bigger tithes. We sacrifice our Sunday school attendance. We sacrifice our time as a better parent, spouse, or friend. We sacrifice our energy volunteering. We sacrifice our hours to Jesus each week. And those are great works for the kingdom. But Jesus is careful to let us know: they don’t save. And without theology, they don’t please Him. There’s nothing you can sacrifice that Christ hasn’t placed on the cross on your wretched behalf. Instead He desires loving mercy. A mercy that can only grow in the growing knowledge of Jesus. (2 Pet. 3:18) The next time someone mentions a ‘personal relationship with Jesus’, don’t ask them what they’ve done. Ask them what they know. If God went to such great lengths to reveal precious truths to the souls of His children, then these gems are worth more than a casual glance. Theology matters. And it matters because God matters.