Theology in Worship

“Just give me Jesus. I don’t need theology.” It is alarming to me that this view of theology is so prominent among American churches today. When we hold a view that diminishes the importance of theology we are choosing to neglect truth about who God is. Too often in this modern era of Christian music, the worthiness of God for our worship is neglected for the emotions of man in our worship. Scripture should be the foundation of all forms of worship. How can we know God more deeply if we treat the study of God as something that is nonessential to the Christian life? Theology is a force that drives who, what, and how we choose to worship. Our generation of believers desperately needs to rediscover the importance of sound theology in our worship, especially in our worship music.

WHY WORSHIP MATTERS:

Before we can understand why theology in worship matters, we must understand why worship matters. The book Reformation Worship argues that

God has so structured His world that every person will worship through one of two men – Adam or Jesus Christ. The first man Adam was made homo liturgicus, and everyone bearing his image has inherited his fallen liturgical orientation toward idolatry. We are born worshiping the creature, not the Creator; we live our lives seeking salvation and satisfaction in in pseudo-redeemers, not the Redeemer… Since the first son of God, Adam, through the national son of God, Israel, and the royal son of God, Solomon, to the final son of God, Jesus, and now the sons of God, the Church – God has been seeking a people to worship Him. We are called to worship, and our hearts are restless until we respond to that call by faith and obedience and come and feast on Christ.

Worship matters because we were made to worship. We are creatures of worship. From the moment we are born, our hearts long to worship, and we will worship anything. That may be relationships, jobs, grades, sports, or insert anything this world has to offer. If we do not worship Who we were created to worship, we will not find satisfaction. Worship is a response to the overflow of God’s goodness in our lives, and even beyond that, worship is a posture of the heart that bows at the worthiness of God for our worship. Worship is to treat Christ as preeminent, above all things, and in it we may find the satisfaction we long for. We must worship our God in all His majesty and glory, and we must not neglect sound theology. In failing to anchor our worship in biblical truth we lose many important aspects of worship and gut it of so many beautiful and necessary components.

THEOLOGY IN WORSHIP:

Consider painting. The purpose of a painter is to take a blank canvas and depict imagery onto it with attention to detail in every brushstroke, all to create something beautiful. Why is worship any different? Our worship is the canvas, the words of our worship music being the paint, and we, the painters, and we would not want to carelessly throw together a painting that was commissioned by a king, especially if He has exact specifications for the painting. Worship depicts the beauty of God, and that beauty is revealed primarily in Scripture. When we recklessly neglect sound theology in worship, we do not get the beautiful image of God that He has portrayed Himself but an image that is tainted because the painter did not know how to properly use the tools that they had been given. That is why theology in worship matters. By studying Scripture, we begin to grow in our theology because we have studied God’s revelation of Himself. The literal definition of theology is “the study of God.” To be a Christian and to disregard theology is to declare that the God of the universe, the God of your salvation, is not worthy enough of your study, which is absurd. If you were the ambassador for a country, you would be well versed in everything regarding that country to the point that you would be ready and willing to act and to give responses on that country’s behalf. Yet when it comes to your role as an ambassador for Jesus Christ, does studying about Him somehow not feel necessary? Could you simply just not care that much about learning about him? What message does that send to people who do not believe in Jesus? If the people who claim to know him do not care enough to try and understand the beautiful accounts of who He is and what He has done, what does that say to our audiences about the Jesus we claim to love? Biblical theology is vital to having God glorifying and God honoring worship. I am not the guy who hates contemporary worship, whatever contemporary worship really means. I am, however, the guy who finds disdain in worship that seeks to glorify anything other than my King in a way that He has already described Himself in Scripture. When Scripture is not the source of our theology and worship, the songs that will be produced will usually fail to paint the biblical picture of God. In many cases, the songs may appear to accurately portray God, but you will not know unless you earnestly study the Scriptures and ask for God to give the guidance and discernment to see Him as He is and not how you want Him to be. This is the beginning of my challenge to you.

CHALLENGE:

I want to finish with a challenge, a plea if you will, for you to search the Scripture and read it for what it says. Not what you think it says, or what feels right to your, but what it says. We deprive ourselves of the satisfaction and the joy that God gives to His children when we refuse to open His word. Further, we will not find satisfaction and joy by putting God into the box we want Him in. If we only see God as who we want Him to be, we will never see ourselves as He is. This is why theology matters, and why it matters especially in worship. I plead with you not to fall into the trap of thinking theology is not important. So here is my challenge, with some backstory. One of my best friends, who leads worship for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry (BCM) at my school, does something that I want to encourage you to do as well. I encourage you to sit down with worship songs that you love, worship songs you hate, and worship songs you are indifferent about and compare the lyrics to Scripture. Sit down and analyze every word of a song with Scripture. If it does not describe God as He is in Scripture, it is not fit for worship. Do not try and justify an issue by calling it “artistic expression” or “I think they meant this.” If it contradicts Scripture, it is not fit for worship. If it does describe God as He is in Scripture, cherish it. Sing it. Shout it. Play it. Lead it. Do not grow tired of it. Yes, this process might seem extreme. Yes, it will take time. But the most important thing this will do is it will drive you into a deeper love for and a deeper worship of your Creator, whom you were meant to worship from the beginning of time because of His great love that He has for you.

Community Minded

One thing that I see lacking in the church is community. Especially in my generation, the church is being reduced to a concert with someone speaking at the end, and it is tearing apart the faith of so many. Countless people struggle with the grips of anxiety and fear, and many of those are in the church! How crazy is that, there are people that we come into contact with each week that are in such an intense battle, and they don’t even have one of the most essential tools needed: Community. Real, raw, and unfiltered. It might scare some, the prospect of opening up themselves to people who could potentially leave or hurt them. The truth is that the church was designed to be a resting place, a safe haven for people to let down the baggage that they carry in, and just be loved. So many times in my life, I hear the usual excuses for why people don’t go to church.

“The people there are hypocritical.”

“I don’t feel like it relates to me.”

“It felt like people there judged me.”

Do you see the theme that all these statements share? They relate to the people who embody the church, whether it be the leader, body, or just the overall feel of the place. None of these complaints have anything to do with the ideologies of church or doctrinal issues. The majority of people who leave the church are not saying, “You know what? I just couldn’t take the church’s stance on thinking evolution is false, that’s why I stopped going.” Or, “The whole dinosaur explanation just didn’t cut it.” I once heard someone say something very profound, and it is part of the reason that I’m writing this.

Only the church is so prideful that it is losing so much and decreasing in such an immense way, yet they claim that there is no problem and do nothing to fix it.

How crazy is that? To think that we only are retaining 20% of our faith believing high school students. We think that there is no problem, and that it must be the culture that is at fault. The problem rests within the attitude of the church. Each body of believers has to continually refine themselves in order to effectively serve the city or town that they are placed in.

At my home church, the staff and volunteer team is continually thinking about how to reach the people who come searching. People come to church thinking that it might be a last resort or a final effort to fix that gaping hole that each of us carries. Our church is community oriented, and we focus more on creating relationships than merely trying to convert people.

The best argument for the case of Christ is not any theological evidence we can produce, but it is the way that we love one another.

Read that statement over again, and try and think about it for a second.

What draws us into a place or event? It’s the prospect of community. Of being affirmed. Accepted. Loved. We all crave these things, and the possibility of fulfilling those entice us into many different circumstances, whether that be good or bad. The church has to be conscious of this, and we have to put it as a priority. Not something that can be pushed back on the list of essentials, but the necessary component needed to have a healthy body of people who passionately love Jesus. People constantly get hung up on the disagreements that people have in doctrine or theology. Does a certain church accept people from certain backgrounds? Skin color? Sexual orientation? The fights over these issues pushes people away from the church, and when I read the scriptures I do not see Jesus doing that. He picked the unlikely, the people that society at that time had deemed unworthy of the law. Tax collectors. Blue collar workers. Prostitutes. The individuals that had been told no by religion were told yes by Jesus.

If we want to embody Christ, we cannot afford to turn our backs on anyone. Any group that we might not necessarily deem as worthy of the gospel is a group that we have to run after passionately. Not even that, we have to sprint after them. They have been turned away by many other people who put shame on them instead of love. The radical love of Jesus defies our synthetic idea of love, and embodies something completely different.

Christ is love.

He is the one who took the fall for us, and therefore transcends all barriers that we might think exist. We have to carry that love out into the world. Countless times in the New Testament, Paul blankets his statements with the phrase, “In love”. He is trying to get the point across that without love, our actions will be void. Every opinion that we have. Every time we come into contact with someone. Every time we try and correct someone. All of these interactions have to be drenched in love, in a compassion that goes beyond us. It has to come from the giver of life, and through that other people will want to know why we treat them with grace. People will see the way us as Christ followers live our lives, and they will say, “I want what they have.”

An Introduction to Theology Matters

We might ask ourselves if studying theology really matters. What effect, if any, does studying theology have on our lives? If we’re honest, many of us subconsciously believe that theological studies are reserved for a select group of Christians who “have it all together”. This notion could not be farther from the truth. Theology is for all of those who are in Christ, but what does that look like? Let’s begin by defining theology. Theology, in its most basic form, is the study of the nature of God. A.W. Tozer, a prolific American pastor and author during the 20th century, begins his most famous book, Knowledge of the Holy, by saying,

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

If Tozer is correct, then this radically changes our lives. This implies that every aspect of our lives is affected by our beliefs concerning the nature of God. If Tozer is incorrect, then we are forced to answer what the most important thing about us really is. These answers are often full of fleeting identities that merely reflect our current season of life and we will discuss that issue in a later article.

Assuming Tozer is correct, the inevitable result is to take our view of God seriously. Due to this, we must ensure that our view of God is grounded in a firm foundation, rather than on ever-evolving cultural norms or feelings. Our lives need to be grounded in the never-changing, infallible Word of God. In Trusting God: Even When Life Hurts, the late Jerry Bridges wrote:

We must not allow our emotions to hold sway over our minds. Rather, we must seek to let the truth of God rule our minds. Our emotions must become subservient to the truth.

The only way to ensure that our theology is correct and is not corrupted by sin, man-centered tendencies, feelings, political agendas, cultural preferences, or even the Devil himself is to know the Bible and make its teachings the center of our theology. Furthermore, we must not only know the Word of God, but we are to delight in it. In Psalm 1, the psalmist writes,

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. -Psalm 1:1-2

Not only does this ‘man’ know the Word, he delights in it. His joy is found in the Word of the Lord and it is that joy and satisfaction in Christ which leads him to obey God. We should never apologize for what the Word of God says, rather delight in it. Later in the book of Psalms, the psalmist writes,

Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me. I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts. I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word. I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way. -Psalm 119:97-104

All of this allows us to conclude that the author’s correct understanding of God’s nature leads to delight in God (rather than merely in the gifts that come from God), which inevitably leads to a correct expression of praise to God, obedience to God’s commands, and a passion for others to “glorify God and enjoy him forever”. We will discuss these effects in greater detail throughout this series as we continue to dive into God’s Word.

Throughout this series, we will examine a variety of topics such as submission to Christ in both our doctrine and our lives, the nature of God, the nature of man, the Biblical Gospel, differences between theological distinctives and heresies, and, of course, the inevitable effects of theological study. Our hope, in all of this, is that young adults would grow in their desire to study the Word and grow in their awareness of the importance of Biblical discernment. The lack of Biblical literacy, as well as discernment, is a growing issue in the church today and this series is focused on discussing the importance of theology.

EDITORS’ NOTE: See also the rest of Cole Shiflet‘s series Theology Matters.

Augustine’s Hope

Now that we have discussed the nature of the soul, let’s end with Augustine’s hope for the individual and society. In his great work, City of God, he makes the distinction between the two groups of people on the earth: the City of Man and the City of God. The City of Man is comprised of those who do not believe in the one true God. They put their hope and trust in this world. According to Augustine, the things of this world are transient. They are changing before our eyes. If they are sought over God, they become idols. Augustine states in On Free Choice of the Will, “What is evil is the turning of the will away from the unchangeable good and toward changeable goods.” Augustine identifies the “changeable goods” as part of the “temporal” law. The temporal law consists of things that God created such as “wealth, honor, pleasures, and physical beauty.” None of those things are given. One may lose their wealth or they may never attain it. One may not be honored but hated. One may not have the opportunity for pleasure but experience great suffering. And one may not be as physically beautiful as someone else. If they are beautiful, they will only lose that beauty in old age. In fact, with age, our bodies are wasting away. We get weaker, we lose our memory, we become harder at hearing and seeing, and we develop cancer. We are dying every day. So, if the City of Man can’t find their hope in themselves, perhaps they can put their hope in society. Perhaps a philosopher king or a benevolent monarch can come save us by ruling us well. Perhaps communism can give us our purpose in work.

Your idols do not love you. They cannot give you purpose. You cannot look to them as your savior because they will fail you in the end. And ultimately, the City of Man is under the wrath of God. They worship the creature rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25). They will not see eternal life but an eternal death. Those who belong to the City of Man will die like everyone else and they will experience “the second death” (Revelation 21:8). Augustine puts it like this: “The doom in store for those who are not of the City of God is an unending wretchedness that is called ‘the second death,’ because neither the soul, cut off from the life of God, nor the body, pounded by perpetual pain, can there be said to live at all. And what will make the second death so hard to bear is that there will be no death to end it.” This is a just punishment for those who have rejected the eternal, all-glorious Creator in favor of finite creation that was designed only to reflect His glory.

Yes, God is merciful. Yes, God is loving but He is also just. He will not compromise His holiness by letting sin go unpunished. There must be justice. But the City of God has a different story: they actually do have hope. They have hope beyond this life, which is in eternity worshipping God without pain or sorrow but with unending pleasure and joy (Revelation 21:4).

But how do we get there? Aren’t we slaves to sin and can’t choose God? This is where God steps in. Before the foundation of the world, God chose who He would have mercy on and save from the second death (Ephesians 1:4-6). Again, God could not compromise His holiness, so He “sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons” (Galatians 4:4). Jesus was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary which means He was born without the corruption of original sin. He was born under the Law of God and kept the Law perfectly. He fulfilled the Covenant of Works that Adam couldn’t. Therefore, He was able to redeem and justify those who were under the Law (Romans 5:18-19).

Christ was the perfect sacrifice for sin, as He was the sinless God-man, which was why Jesus able to make propitiation for sin on behalf of all those who would believe (Hebrews 2:17, 9:12). He took God’s holy wrath and justice against the sins of the elect on Himself. And, the sins of God’s elect were expiated, that is, they are removed from their souls account before God and were placed on Christ and Christ imputes His righteousness on the person who places their trust and faith in Him (2 Corinthians 5:21) so that when God sees the one who believes, His sees the righteousness of Christ that He fulfilled in the Covenant of Works. The believer has gone from being represented by Adam to being represented by Christ. They have passed from death to life. That is why God is both “just and the justifier” (Romans 3:26). He is “just” as rightly He punishes sin and He is the “justifier” as He is able to have mercy because of the blood of Jesus.

Now, in order for a person to be able to repent of sin and believe in the name of Jesus, God must change their enslaved heart. In On Grace and Free Will, Augustine puts it beautifully:

Almighty God is able to turn to belief wills that are perverse and opposed to faith… But if God were not able to remove from the human heart even its obstinacy and hardness, He would not say through the prophet, “I will take from them their heart of stone and will give them a heart of flesh.”

When the heart of stone is removed and the heart of flesh is put into place (Ezekiel 36:26), by regeneration of the Holy Spirit, the person will always believe in Jesus. His grace is not resistible. The Spirit of God has never failed in changing the will of a rebellious sinner. And, at the moment of faith, the Spirit of God dwells within a believer, keeping them in God’s hands for all eternity (Ephesians 1:13-14).

Due to the resurrection of Christ from the dead, the City of God will also resurrect from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:21). Because of this great hope, the City of God can endure suffering and the brokenness of this world. The City of God can lack wealth, honor, pleasure, physical beauty and health that the City of Man lusts after and even be persecuted and killed yet they hope for a better age to come: eternal life in the presence of God (Hebrews 10:32-26). Because the City of God’s hope is set on eternal life and not this temporal life, they are free to love their neighbors by seeking both their individual and their collective good.

Augustine states in the City of God,

Thus, the heavenly City, so long as it is wayfaring on earth, not only makes use of earthly peace but fosters and actively pursues along with other human beings a common platform in regard to all that concerns our purely human life and does not interfere with faith and worship.

So, today that might mean that genuine Christians should go into politics to improve society as a whole, joining in to advocate for social justice issues such as systemic and institutional racism against people of color and abolishing abortion; but it could simply look like helping a neighbor across the street in need. In any case, the City of God seeks to glorify God on this side of eternity with their eyes set on the world to come.

EDITORS’ NOTE: See also the rest of Austin Hobbs‘ series on Augustine: Epistemology, Nature of the Soul, and Hope.

Augustine’s View on the Nature of the Soul

Now that we have established a foundation of why Augustine believes what he believes, let’s now examine Augustine’s view of the nature of the soul through his epistemological lenses. Augustine believed that there was an order to the soul. In an ideal sense, the soul of man is ordered in accord to God and His revealed will in Scripture, the reason of man discerning God’s will, and the desires of their heart and their emotions conforming to God’s will. As I said before, God is the standard of truth and goodness and man is able to discern this through reason (Romans 1:20). Reason is the faculty of the soul that God gave to humanity to discern how He designed the world to work physically and morally. However, Scripture is the written communication of God’s standard. It presents the righteousness of God. The desires of the heart are what we want and, in an ideal world, it’s God Himself and His will revealed in Scripture. Human flourishing reaches its peak living according to God’s will because that is the way God designed us to function because we were made to reflect God’s character. Finally, we have emotions. Emotions are how we respond to certain situations. In an ideal world, we respond with joy when are friends win in life and we respond with righteous anger against murder. Having a well-ordered soul is key to human flourishing and living in accord to God’s will leads to the most joy.

Original Sin

However, we do not live in an ideal world. As I stated before, Pelagianism categorically denied that man was born into sin. Augustine was the leading theologian behind the charge to defeat this heresy of the early church. He argued that man does have original sin. Man has inherited Adam’s sin as he argues this view through Romans 5:12,

Just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned. – Romans 5:12

That one man through which sin came into the world was Adam. Adam is the federal head of the human race. He is our representative before God. In the Garden of Eden, God and Adam entered into a Covenant of Works, that if Adam obeyed God and did not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, he would inherit eternal life. However, Adam disobeyed God by eating of the fruit of the tree. There, Adam and Eve received the consciousness of good and evil which is why they hid from God because they knew they sinned and were unrighteous and thus guilty in His sight (Genesis 3:8). God found Adam and Eve and drove them out of the Garden and away from His presence (Genesis 3:24). Adam is the federal head of the human race and he began to reproduce with Eve, therefore the curse Adam received from God was imputed to humanity.

First, we must understand sin as a state and not merely as an act. Sin is missing the mark of the holiness and righteousness of God. Since, we’re born with original sin, our whole soul misses the mark of the holiness of God therefore we are separated from Him. Original sin causes the state of the soul to become fallen. Augustine would argue that, because of original sin, all faculties of the soul are defective and are out of order. Defective emotions are able to usurp our defective reason. To illustrate this point, we can look at the biblical example of Moses viewing an Israelite being beaten by an Egyptian. He had cause to be angry as this was a gross injustice against the Israelite. However, Moses let his anger, which was distorted because of sin,  get the best of him and as a result he murdered the Egyptian (Exodus 2:11-12). Murder is not in accord to reason. Augustine states in On Free Choice of the Will that, “sin is a turning away from reason.” According to Augustine, outward acts of sin are caused by inordinate desires of the heart. The desires of the heart are marred by sin therefore, it does not desire the will of God found in Scripture. In fact, by virtue of the soul’s separation from God because of sin, man does not desire God at all.

The soul and the will is enslaved to original sin. In the words of Christ,

Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin. – John 8:34

We see here “everyone who practices sin” which are the outward acts of missing the mark of the holiness of God. And then “is a slave to sin” which is the condition our soul that is in bondage to unrighteousness. The outward acts of sin that we commit are indicative of our soul’s sinful state. Now, if we are slaves to sin and sin is the condition in which our souls are in, and sin is the antithesis of God and the opposite of faith and obedience is unbelief and rebellion, that would mean that we’re enslaved to rebellion and outright rejection of God. But this slavery is not against our wills. We don’t desire him. We don’t want him. And that is a result of original sin. Augustine would prove this point by going to Romans 3:10-12, “as it is written: ‘None is righteous, no, not one; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” Augustine categorically rejected autonomous free will. If left to ourselves, Augustine believes no one would choose to follow God or believe in the only One who reconciles man to God.

In Augustine’s situation, the depravity of man is the reason why Rome fell. The depravity of man is the reason why we’re drawn to believe false and heretical things about God. Looking at our world in recent history, the depravity of man is why the citizens of the United States enslaved Africans,  established the Jim Crow Laws and have murdered over 60 million babies since Roe v. Wade.

EDITORS’ NOTE: See also the rest of Austin Hobbs‘ series on Augustine: Epistemology, Nature of the Soul, and Hope.

Augustine’s Epistemology

First, we will examine Augustine’s epistemology. Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies the limits and validity of knowledge in nature. Now, it’s very important that we look at his epistemology first because without it we will simply not understand why he thinks the way he thinks. Augustine derived his philosophy and theology from Holy Scripture. Augustine would argue that the only way we can know what is true or good is if there is an objective standard of truth and goodness. Without the standard of truth and goodness, we cannot objectively say that the Holocaust was evil or that slavery was an abomination. Augustine believed that God is the standard of truth and goodness in our universe. Without Him, we couldn’t say something is objectively good or evil.

God reveals Himself in the Person and work of Jesus Christ. Christ is the logos which means He is the Word of God, the wisdom of God, the divine self-expression of God and the means in which the universe was created. This is the God that Augustine is talking about. Christ stated, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9) and “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30). Though we must make a distinction between the personhood of the Father, the personhood of the Son and the personhood of the Holy Spirit. They are distinct in personhood but one in essence and being. Without Jesus, you do not have the one true God and therefore, in our case, we do not have an objective standard of calling something true or false.

Jesus can only be known through the Christian Scriptures, that is, through special revelation. We know that there is a standard of truth and goodness through general revelation by virtue of us being created in the image of God as we view the created world around us. But the Hebrew Bible prophesied that the Messiah, which is the Hebrew equivalent for the Greek “Christ,” would come and the New Testament Gospels recorded what He did and the rest of the New Testament explains the significance of the work of Christ. Within the Bible, He communicates His holy standard of truth and goodness through prophets and apostles who were “carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21) to write Scripture that is theopneustos, which means that the words the authors wrote were “breathed out by God” (2 Timothy 2:16). It is inspired by God the Holy Spirit (the third Person of the Trinity). These men were not writing whatever they thought or felt was right but the infallible, holy and righteous words of God. Augustine believed so strongly in using the Scriptures to convince people of his views based upon Hebrews 4:12, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Augustine saw Scripture as the means in which the Spirit of God changed hearts and minds. The Holy Spirit works through the Scriptures in convicting the world of sin and righteousness (John 16:8-10) and of what man ultimately needs.

EDITORS’ NOTE: See also the rest of Austin Hobbs‘ series on Augustine: Epistemology, Nature of the Soul, and Hope.

An Introduction to Augustine: Epistemology, Nature of the Soul, and Hope

Before we dive into this series on Augustine: Epistemology, Nature of the Soul, and Hope, I would like to give some background information on who he was and the context in which he practiced philosophy and theology. He was born in 354 in present-day eastern Algeria. From a very young age, one could tell he had a gifted mind. He went on to teach literature and public speaking in Carthage, Rome and Milan. He dabbled with Manichaean theosophy, skepticism, and then Neoplatonic mysticism. Neoplatonism led him to search for the origin of evil. He realized that the material world was good but we, mankind, were the ones who corrupted the world. After a long internal struggle, He converted to Christianity in 386 and was ordained as a Christian minister in 391 and became bishop of Hippo in 396 for the last 34 years of his life.

In his ministry, Augustine faced two crises that are pertinent to our discussion today. The first crisis was Pelagianism. The heresy was formed by a British monk named Pelagius who taught that man was born without original sin. He believed that humanity did not inherit Adam’s sin which means that the human soul was born perfect. Since man is born without original sin, they could choose God and the good by their own autonomous free will.

The second crisis that he faced was the fall of Rome. In 378, Rome experienced a massive blow as the Roman emperor Valens and two thirds of his army fell in a single day to Gothic migrants. The empire began to steadily decline until the city of Rome was sacked in 410 by the Visigoths. At the time, Christianity had enjoyed a period of peace as it was the state religion of the Roman Empire. But due to the fall of Rome, things were tense. Christians worried about what would happen from there and what the world will look like for them. That prompted Augustine to write the City of God which is one of the texts we will look at today.

EDITORS’ NOTE: See also the rest of Austin Hobbs‘ series on Augustine: Epistemology, Nature of the Soul, and Hope.

Submitting to Christ’s Lordship

“Submit yourselves therefore to God.”
-James 4:7 (ESV)

Even after my conversion, I found that in various areas of my life, submitting to God seemed preposterous and impossible. I mastered the art of manipulating God’s Word to fit my agenda. I had the terrible disease of conforming my view of Scripture to my pre-existing beliefs and my lifestyle instead of conforming my beliefs and my lifestyle to Scripture. I cared more about pleasing man than I did about pleasing God. I feared offending man more than I feared offending God. I confess that I still often compromise on being faithful to Jesus in order to insure my own comfort, safety, reputation, and image. Looking back, my refusal to submit to God and His infallible Word as totally authoritative over my lifestyle and my beliefs deluded me into living out many lies. The more I think about it the more I realize how insane it is to assume I know better than God. 

Instead of delighting in God’s perfect Law and viewing his graciously revealed truths as precious diamonds, I often found myself apologizing for things that Scripture said, and I would answer the tough questions of my atheist friends in cowardice with: “well there are many interpretations,” or “it’s not my place to judge,” instead of sharing the honest truth in grace, gentleness, and respect. But as God continued to patiently teach me that his commands are for his glory and for my good, I began to slowly surrender and trust in his goodness, and as of today I am resolved to surrender to God’s Word on everything to the best of my ability. This surrender, and continued longing to surrender more and more to the Lordship of Jesus, has given me a profound and enduring sense of peace and confidence. In Psalms 119, the psalmist writes:

“Princes persecute me without cause, but my heart stands in awe of your words. I rejoice at your word like one who finds great spoil. I hate falsehood, but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules. Great peace have those who love your law; nothing can make them stumble.” 
-Psalm 119:161-165 (ESV)

I struggle daily to believe and trust that what my Master and my King demands of me is for my good and for his glory. Yet the more I trust his Word, the more I am filled with “great peace” and the less things “can make [me] stumble.” My former low view of God’s Truth and rebelliousness towards his authority stemmed from a low view of God and a high view of myself. I suppressed the truth about God’s Sovereignty, Authority, Goodness, Holiness, Majesty, Mercy, and Love because I subconsciously knew that the implications of believing those glorious truths would tear apart my life. I knew that surrendering to his Word would mean giving up sins that I loved and lies that I believed. I did not want to do that. I did not fear God, and that is a scary thought considering that the book of Proverbs makes it clear that the fear of the Lord is actually “the beginning of wisdom” and “the beginning of knowledge” itself, (Pr. 1:7, 9:10). I needed to fear him and submit to him. The more you do that the more you will be able to reflect on how blindly and skeptically you have been reading God’s Word your entire life, and it will humble you. In addition to being humbled by being able to look back at all the nonsense I believed, the more I surrendered the more peace I enjoyed and the more and more his word became a lamp to my feet and a light to my path, (Ps. 119:105), showing me the places I should and shouldn’t god, what I should and shouldn’t do, and how exactly I can better love my Father. It gave me confidence.

The end goal of learning theology and studying God’s Word is not just to gain knowledge for its own sake or for to win arguments and impress people, but to know more about God so that we can know how best to please Him. In addition to this, learning about God through studying His character, His attributes, and His actions as revealed to us in His Word actually makes us more motivated to please him from the realization of who He is and what He has done. It wakes us up to the fact that He actually deserves our love, praise, and obedience. Imagine if I asked you what I should get for my mom for her birthday. You might have some good suggestions off of the top of your head, but if you really want to help me pick out a good gift, you would start asking me questions about her. What’s her favorite color? What does she like to do for fun? Would she prefer more thoughtful homemade gifts or more expensive store-bought gifts? I love my mom, and because I want to make her happy, I want to know as much as I can about her to know how I can please her most. The more I get to know her, the more I understand who she is, the things that she likes, what makes her upset, etc… and I will be able to find out what gift would make her the happiest. In a sense, this is one of many reasons why we study theology; it helps us to understand how we can best please our God. Pastor Voddie Baucham puts it this way: “the modern church is producing passionate people with empty heads who love the Jesus they don’t know very well.” Let’s be a generation that’s different than this. Let’s be a generation that is hungry for God’s truth, and courageous enough to confidently live in it, stand on it, and fight with it, (in the Ephesians 6, “sword of the Spirit” sense of the word “fight”). Let’s be a generation of believers that can be even more loving, welcoming, and grace filled than the previous one, without compromising an inch of Truth. Pastor John Piper cries, “Oh how rare are the Christians who speak with a tender heart and have a theological backbone of steel.” 

Another serious reason why we should care about doctrine and submitting to the Lordship of Christ in this area is that we want and need to be freed from destructive heresies, theological errors, and lies. John 4:24 tells us that “God is Spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and truth.” If we want to please our God, then out of love for Him, we should do everything we can to not commit idolatry by worshipping or believing in a false god we have conceived of in our imaginations, or even to insult Him by believing or professing the tiniest lie about our beautiful God or His beautiful commands. We should worship Him the way He likes to be worshipped, even if that isn’t necessarily our favorite way or even if that means abandoning certain worship songs that we like if their theology is off. In an age where liberalism, postmodernism, marxism, and all sorts of isms are creeping their way into the Church and its theology, we must surrender to and fear the Lord, trusting Him as He guides us. God spoke through Isaiah, stating:

“But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”
-Isaiah 66:2 (ESV)

He looks to those who are humble, contrite in spirit, and tremble at His Word. That doesn’t look like somebody that would pick and choose what sounds right or what they feel like obeying. Pastor Matt Chandler warns that “If you’re not confident in the authority of the Scriptures, you will be a slave to what sounds right,” and we should take that warning seriously and accept what God says. But still, just reluctantly accepting the hard truths doesn’t cut it. What should gladly and joyfully cast out all of the lies He exposes and cling to His truth on any issue, regardless of how badly it may hurt. From our worldview, to our clothing, to our social media accounts, to our work ethic, to our love lives, to our diets, to our social lives, to our language, to our tone, to our emotions, to our choices in our free time, to our time on the internet, to our Netflix movie selections, to our Common Application essays, to our debates, to our manners, to our interactions with the homeless, to our thoughts, to literally every inch of our lives, let’s submit to Him in joy, aiming to glorify Him and please Him in everything we do. We should literally fall on our faces and on our knees in tears as we beg Him for His mercy and for our eyes to be opened that we may “behold wondrous things in [His] Law.” (Psalm 119:18). So let us surrender to His Word, for He bought us with at an expensive price, and we do not belong to ourselves, but to God. Augustine once wrote that “if you believe what you like in the gospels and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospels you believe in but yourself.” It was true about 1,500 years ago, it’s true today.

While there are tons of scientific, philosophical, logical, practical, and obviously beneficial reasons to obey God on every one of His commands, our primary and only necessary reason to submit to any given command of our Lord is this: “it is written.” The simple fact that we know God said so is all the evidence we should need to obey His commands. We could easily give people a hundred well articulated pieces of evidence justifying obedience to God on a certain issues, such as the hundreds of benefits to individuals and to society that come from not having sex before marriage. Those are valid pieces of evidence, and that is not in question. But do we need all of that evidence to obey? Would we really want to answer people with, “because the Bible says so?”

Let’s be honest, we do not want to be laughed at for our childlike faith and trust in our Daddy in Heaven. We want to fit in, we want the world to call us rational, (which we ought to be, but we shouldn’t crave that validation from them), and we desperately want to be respected and accepted by society. We do not want to show people that we are actually little sheep who belong to the Shepherd, and that we are God’s children. I am not saying to abandon all of the evidences that support biblical truth; those are beautiful things that can be helpful, especially to Christians. But what I am saying is that when you find that next passage that leaves you enraged, that next Bible verse that you don’t have any extra-biblical evidence to defend, will you still trust and obey simply because God told you to? Are you willing to be made fun of for your refusal to partake in certain activities or for believing that Jesus Christ did die and then rose from the grave? Will you turn the other cheek or will you strike back? When it comes down to it are you confident that the Bible is true? Will you be humble and contrite in spirit, and will you tremble at God’s Word submissively? Or do you think you know better? Let’s think about what failing to trust God looked like in Scripture:

All Eve had when she was in the Garden of Eden while being tempted by Satan was the Word of God, that the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was the one she couldn’t eat from, or else she would die. Then Satan came along and persuaded her to eat from the tree:

“Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
-Genesis 3:1-5 (ESV)

And we know what happens after that. The entire human race becomes condemned, sin and death enter the world, our very nature is corrupted, the ground is cursed by God, and so forth. Eve didn’t have an iPhone to Google whether eating the fruit would actually be safe. She didn’t have any statistics to pull up from the National Institute of Health on the risks of eating from the tree. All she had was the Word of God: “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:16-17) Shouldn’t faith in that have been enough for her to withstand Satan’s lies? What more did she need? So, should we trust God even when it seems like all of our reasoning, culture, and desire yearns for us to rebel?

When Jesus was being tempted in the wilderness, all three of His responses to the devil’s twisted lies began with, “It is written,” and Jesus easily refuted the liar, (Matthew 4). Jesus had absolute, unshakable trust and faith in the Scripture, and we should also. Eve did not trust God’s Word, but for Jesus, trust in God’s Word was more than enough to not give in to temptation. Her disobedience on the Tree of Knowledge led to our condemnation and corruption, as well as many more horrible consequences. Jesus’ obedience on the accursed tree, the cross, led to our justification and redemption, as well as many more glorious consequences. (While some may respond to our “it is written” or “the Bible says” statements with, “well there are many interpretations,” we must have a standard of interpretation so that we can correctly judge what Scripture actually demands. Anchored officially supports and adheres to the Chicago Standards of Biblical Inerrancy. Read through those if you are curious on how the Bible actually ought to be interpreted: http://www.bible-researcher.com/chicago1.html )

 I want you to know that you can have full confidence in upholding and defending biblical truth on every issue. But in addition to confidence, we can also uphold and defend biblical truth in joy, delighting in his law, knowing that the Creator of the Universe knows the purpose of everything under the Sun, and that we literally have no valid reason not to trust him. It is delusional, suicidal, and insane to not trust our entirely trustworthy God, and we fail to trust Him every single day when we sin. When we are reading Scripture it cannot be more emphasized that we must read it humbly, and submissively, and view it in our minds and in our hearts as the very authoritative and trustworthy words of the Almighty King of Creation, rather than some old book of wisdom we can draw from if we feel like it. Ask the Spirit to open your eyes and give you understanding to the text before you read it. A street preacher named Ray Comfort was once challenged by an unbelieving man who had studied religion, and the man boasted that he had read the Bible multiple times and still did not accept it. Comfort told him that the best way to not get anything out of reading the Bible was to read it with a prideful heart as he had done.

My prayer is that all of us would be in God’s Words humbly, and that God would make us like this:

“…he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.” 
-Isaiah 66:2 (ESV)