“In order that we may be no longer babes, tossed and carried about by every wind of that teaching [which is] in the sleight of men, in unprincipled cunning with a view to systematized error;” Ephesians 4:14
We all want to know the truth. Often times, the serious Christian aspires to understand the whole of the Bible, leading him to buy Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology. I did this coming in to college, and I began to develop my “flow chart.”
What I mean by “flow chart” (and we all have one) is the systematized, ordered, and set principles that we use as our personal catechism when we come to the Bible. It’s what you think of when you consider the Bible as a whole, and whenever you read a verse, you try and see how the verse applies or fits into your flow chart.
I write this post because I discovered a problem with my flow chart. Actually, a dear brother in the Lord exposed my problem, and it was this: my flow chart, my systematic understanding of the Bible, veiled me from the full revelation in the Bible.
My flow chart actually became my Bible, and when I approached a verse that didn’t quite fit into my chart, I would either read over it, panic, or very poorly twist it to allow my system to remain intact.
For example, my flow chart started with regeneration, then moved on to transformation for all believers, and ended in glorification. Yet, when I read a verse like this:
“Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes it away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it that it may bear more fruit.” John 15:2
I found myself puzzled and concluded that the branch that doesn’t bear fruit wasn’t really regenerated in the first place. You see, it disrupted my flow chart, so it couldn’t have been saying what it was actually saying. This mindset prevented me from seeing what the Lord’s full revelation was (see: The Reward and Punishment of Believers (I) for what the answer was).
My flow chart and systematic theology had become a systematized error. Some may have the erroneous concept that the devil’s lies are blatant, black, and easily countered, but he doesn’t operate like that:
“Then the devil took Him into the holy city and set Him on the wing of the temple, and said to Him, ‘If You are the Son of God, cast Yourself down; for it is written, “To His angels He shall give charge concerning You, and on their hands they shall bear You up, lest You strike Your foot against a stone.”‘” Matthew 4:5-6; c.f. Ps. 91:11-12
Satan quoted Scripture! What he said was true! This is why I say that systematic theology is dangerous. Usually it is very scriptural and doctrinally correct, but fails to capture the entirety of the truth. As Kyle put it recently, “it may be 100% true, but only 1% of the full truth.”¹
Though it might be true that God is Triune, when we develop a system and a flow chart (mine was the famous “shield” that shows all three are God but the three aren’t each other), it can prevent you from really absorbing the full truth of the Bible.
A Few Examples
System or Flow Chart: God is one, but exists as three distinct persons. The Father is on the throne, the Son is sitting at His right hand, and the Spirit is within me.
“So also it is written, ‘The first man, Adam, became a living soul’; the last Adam (Christ) became a life-giving Spirit.” 1 Corinthians 15:45
“For a child is born to us…And His name will be called…Eternal Father” Isaiah 9:6
“And the Lord is the Spirit” 2 Corinthians 3:17
“He who has seen Me has seen the Father” John 14:9
Spirit in OT and NT
System or Flow Chart: The Spirit in the Old Testament came “upon” the prophets and kings, but they never actually experienced His working from within. After Pentecost, the Spirit was able to come into believers and make them one with Him.
“And Jehovah said to Moses, ‘Take Joshua the son of Nun, a man in whom is the Spirit, and lay your hand upon him;'” Numbers 27:18
“Searching into what time or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ in them was making clear, testifying beforehand of the suffering of Christ and the glories after these.” 1 Peter 1:11
I hope these two will suffice in showing the dangers of a system or flow chart.
What Should We Do?
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens.” Matthew 5:3
“Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, an unashamed workman, cutting straight the word of the truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
We all have a system and a flow chart. They aren’t bad. They actually are necessary for us to understand the Bible properly and be able to articulate our faith. They are dangerous when they are wrong. The fact of the matter is, both your flow chart and mine are most likely erroneous in one way or another. So what should we do?
First, we must approach the Bible with a poor spirit. We need to pray every time we open the Word, that the Lord would empty us of all preconceptions and veils that may hinder us from receiving His present revelation. We need a spirit of wisdom and revelation (Eph. 1:17) and must approach the Bible with a holy fear of misaiming. We all need to have the attitude that we could be wrong.
Second, we must make sure our system is right. We need to cut straight the word of the truth. This requires time, diligence, and a lot of guidance from the Lord and His shepherds. We need to be taught properly and we must have a system that is without fault.
Last, we must realize that the Bible is full of paradoxes. When you read the verses earlier in Numbers and 1 Peter, you may have thought, “well I guess that system is wrong and the Spirit was within in both the Old and New Testaments!” I could have argued the other way just as easily. The Bible was not given to us as a systematic theology, but rather as a divine revelation of the full economy of God that is able to transform us into living stones and build us up together as God’s eternal dwelling place that He and we may mutually abide in one another as the New Jerusalem.
Suffice it to say that my flow chart has gotten much more complicated. Lord Jesus we need You! Be our wisdom (1 Cor. 1:30)!