True Christian knowledge is beyond the capability of human ingenuity.
Along with the unique content of Christianity is the equally distinct process of acquiring Christian knowledge. The secret of Christian learning lies not in the determination and effort of man, but rather it rests in the mercy of God. The question has been raised, “Canst thou by searching find out God? canst thou find out the Almighty unto perfection” (Job 11:7)? Paul, in his Corinthian letter, raises the same query, “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God . . .” (1 Cor. 1:20,21).
One of the foundational priorities of distinctive Christianity is that the wisdom of this world is not capable to find out God. Regardless of how hard the mind of man may seek, the wisdom of man cannot cross the great impasse into the mind of God. True Christian knowledge can never come by the mind of man. Paul records the statement of God to Moses, “. . . I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy” (Rom. 9:15,16). The secret of Christian knowledge lies not in the determination and effort of man, but rather it rests in the mercy of God.
Christian knowledge comes to all who handles Jesus correctly.
To come to a clear understanding of this unique approach to Christian knowledge, (Christian learning comes not from man’s study but from God’s revelation), a misunderstanding of the most often quoted verse concerning study in the Bible must be corrected. In 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul states, “Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” Many Christians understand this verse as a command or an admonition by Paul to Timothy to study the Word of God. However, if the mind of man cannot comprehend the things of God, why would Paul encourage Timothy to attempt something that is impossible?
Any good English dictionary will give a beginning clue to understanding correctly what Paul is really saying. All comprehensive English dictionaries give two shades of meaning for the word study. The first one is the more common understanding, the use of the mind to gain knowledge or the act or process of learning about something. The second definition is to apply the attention and mind to a subject.
This second definition comes closer to the meaning of the original language of the New Testament. Paul is telling Timothy to apply his attention, his mind, to the subject of being a workman approved unto God. More specifically, Paul is telling Timothy not only to apply his attention but to make haste about it, for in the original language, the word translated study means to make haste, to exert one’s self, endeavor, give diligence.
True Christian knowledge comes only to those who “study to show” themselves approved.
In fact, the King James Version does not translate the original word into English as study, but rather the translation is given as “study to show.” One is to study to show himself approved. The entire verse will illustrate the meaning. The word approved in this context means a workman who has been put to the test and, meeting the specifications, has won the approval of the one who has subjected him to the test. This approval comes only to the one who has been put to the test and who has successfully passed the test. Two obvious things are necessary if approval is going to be given. First, there must be a test. If there is no test, there can be no approval. Secondly, the test must not only be experienced by the individual; the test must be successfully completed. Thus, Paul is actually telling Timothy, “Do your best to present yourself to God, approved” as the means to obtain Christian knowledge.
A workman such as this, one who is approved, has no cause for shame when he is inspected. The reason why he needs not to be ashamed is that he has rightly handled (rightly divided) the word of truth. Rightly handling the word of truth will produce a workman who is approved by God. He will not be ashamed of himself or of his work for he will have the approval of God.
The alert believer should notice the ingredients of this verse. First, the right handling of the word of truth is important. Another ingredient is the unashamed workman who is approved, which means he has been put to the test and has met all the specifications. Finally, there is the urging on, the exhortation to make haste. Thus, the study of this verse does not relate to the idea of the use of the mind to gain knowledge.
How can man’s mind “find out God?” It cannot! If knowledge of God is gained by man, it is because God has revealed that knowledge. The believer has rightly handled Jesus, the Word.
Christian knowledge comes only by the revelation of God.
Man learns of God as he encounters God through the revelation of God. God has revealed himself in a self-opening out of his being. This is the statement of John when he wrote, “And we know that the Son of God is come, and hath given us an understanding, that we may know him that is true, and we are in him that is true, even in his Son Jesus Christ. This is the true God, and eternal life” (1 John 5:20). If it had not been for the coming of Jesus Christ, the ultimate revelation of God, mankind could never have come to “know him that is true . . . the true God.” Man cannot find out God by his searching; but, thanks be to God, God chose to reveal himself in and through Jesus.
Again, in his letter to the Corinthians, Paul gives additional insight into this great principle of Christian learning. Speaking concerning the hidden wisdom of God (1 Cor. 2:7), Paul writes, “. . . God hath revealed [it] unto us by his Spirit . . .” (1 Cor. 2:10). The word revealed literally means a drawing back of the veil. That which had been concealed from man by a veil which could not be penetrated by man’s wisdom is now revealed or made known to those who respond to the revelation.
The belief in the existence of God and his revelation is an act of response to God’s initiative. True, man receives the revelation of God as he encounters or experiences God, but the source of truth is not the experience of man but the revelation of God. Revelation presupposes the existence of God and that God has chosen to reveal himself to mankind. All that man has or knows of God is a response to that revelation.
True Christian knowledge recognizes that there is a way to seek God that is not seeking him.
Paul records an additional dynamic statement concerning this principle of finding God. He records a statement of Isaiah (Isa. 10:20) who is quoting God, “I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me” (Rom. 10:20). This seemingly difficult statement lies at the very heart of understanding the unique Christian learning process. Over against this statement is the proclamation of Jesus: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you: for every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened” (Matt. 7:7,8).
These two seemingly contradictory statements (God is found by them who did not seek him, and Jesus’ admonition to seek and it shall be found) can be understood by recognizing that obviously there is a way to seek God that is not seeking Him.
If man goes up in his seeking of God by his acts of study, righteousness, prayer, fasting, or wisdom; he will not find God. If up is interpreted as “in man’s own effort or merit,” man can get close to the ultimate truth; however, the precise realization of truth is always the revelation of the Holy Spirit.
True Christian knowledge is mysteriously hindered by man’s study.
Paul seems to indicate that man’s effort may actually hinder the learning process from occurring. He writes, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (1 Cor. 1:17). His own preaching was “. . . not with enticing words of man’s wisdom that . . . faith should not stand in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God” (1 Cor. 2:4,5).
If man goes down in acts of humility, contrition, weakness, or foolishness, then God has the opportunity to reveal himself. Man’s seeking God is not achieved by his climbing the ladder of his own skill, will, or determination, but rather by his coming to the realization that he stands naked before God, doomed to ignorance in the things of God unless God himself intervenes into his helplessness. Paul writes,
But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption: that, according as it is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord. (1 Cor. 1:27-31)
Christian knowledge occurs only by the free-flow of the grace of God.
God is found not so much in the upward seeking, but in the downward responding. The unique distinctiveness of Christian knowledge is that it occurs ultimately by the seeker’s responding to that which God has initiated.
Therefore, to study or not to study is a legitimate concern. Sadly, because some do not understand the process of Christian learning, they actually work against themselves in their study of God’s Word. Man must get into the Word and come to understand the ways of God; however, he must realize that understanding the written revelation of God can occur only by divine revelation and not human ingenuity. Grace is frustrated when man attempts to learn of God by his own ability, whereby, the Spirit of God cannot reveal the things of God. By living in the free-flow of the grace of God, man can come to understand the ways of God.