All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Timothy 3:16-17
Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2
I am writing a series of articles about hearing God since the Word teaches that not all who hear really hear. I have been saying that, in order to tune our ears to hear what God actually says, it is helpful to recognize the major themes of His Word. Today I want to emphasize how frequently God insists that we LEARN.
We need to learn because we are really, really dumb. No one is excluded from this. We are dumb because we are fallen. The things we know outside of God are tainted at best, but are usually contrary to the wisdom and truth of the kingdom. We are born separated from God and, as a result, we know nothing of Him or His ways, even though that is precisely what we were created for. In this state, we can never improve or change the situation. We can never educate or enlighten ourselves enough to be restored to God.
Through Christ, however, we are regenerated and reconciled to God, but we are still ignorant and, thus, need to learn. The bulk of the Word of God is His faithful instruction for His people. He teaches us who He is, what He is like, His values, His ways, His priorities and how we were made to relate to Him. He pours out generously to fill the void left by the Fall.
But please consider what is involved in learning anything. Who hears an instruction one time and then fully grasps, retains and executes perfectly? Learning is a process that involves time, practice and maturation. Instruction comes in many forms to encourage that process. Timothy hit on a few of these forms in the passage above: teaching, rebuking, correcting and training. Other forms include repetition, counsel, guidance, example, illustration, testing, discipline, conviction and reprimand. All are necessary forms of instruction to help us learn. God, being perfect, is the perfect Teacher so if there is a failure to learn, the deficiency is on us, not Him. As a result, He instructs us on how to learn, not just on what to learn. I would like to emphasize some of the how to learn instructions for our edification today.
God pours out revelation: through His Spirit, His Word and His creation. We need to meditate on that revelation. He promises to give wisdom and understanding, but if we run with what we hear without pausing, we are demonstrating a high opinion of our own understanding, which we have already established is corrupted by our sinfulness. Begin with a default position of humility. Meditate, pray, wait. Let God elaborate and illuminate and it will go so much better for us.
Another vital step to learning from God is to obey. Hearing instruction from God is not a spectator sport but a means of renewal and transformation so we must do what the Word instructs. Obedience is often a struggle because, sinners that we are, His ways feel awkward, uncomfortable and sometimes outright wrong to our sinfully formed sensibilities and habits. The couch potato who begins marathon training feels the same, but no amount of talking or thinking about the process will get the job done for the would-be runner or the would-be disciple.
The history of the people of God has a lot of fine beginnings that got sidetracked into sorry failures. In those moments, God gave a how to instruction for their rebuke and correction, but also for us so that we can avoid their mistakes. When His people went astray, it was often because they did not remember the Lord. They probably didn’t forget His existence, but they forgot who He was or what He had done in the past or what He had instructed them to do. The Hebrews freed from Egypt saw signs, wonders and miraculous deeds done on their behalf, but every time the next obstacle or difficulty presented itself, they would weep and cry, “We’re gonna die! Why did God bring us out into the desert to kill us? We should have stayed in Egypt!” They were terrible at remembering! Psalm 106 is a great survey of this story. Their forgetfulness got them into trouble again and again because, not only did they forget God, but after He rescued and restored them, they would then forget how they got into and out of the previous messes. They forgot that forgetting was their problem! If we are going to succeed where they failed, we must be those who make a concerted effort to remember what we have seen and heard.
Finally, I want to hold up the instruction to follow. All of the above depend on this. We were made to receive everything from God. Independence and self-sufficiency from Him have no place in right relationship with Him. We cannot go our own way or go ahead of Him. To do so will render everything we learn corrupt and useless. Failure to follow inevitably leads to crazy distortions of God’s Word because sinful people wield it with their own wisdom and understanding. He has given us the Holy Spirit to lead us. We cannot have any relationship with Him if we are not following His Spirit. But when we follow, the Spirit trains and perfects us, causing God’s instruction to take root and grow up in us, mature and complete and producing His intended fruit.
Many, many people ignore these oft-repeated charges and pursue the study of God’s Word in their arrogance and independence, confident that they don’t need to heed such mundane instructions as meditate, obey, remember and follow. There are many, many examples throughout history of how this goes astray and I’m sure the Day of Christ will reveal many more. If we will be those who hear the instruction about how to learn from God, we will be those who successfully learn what God has to teach us about Himself and His ways of life.