Learning to Avoid Ditches in Discipleship

Josh Buice

To be a Christian involves learning. We were created to be learners. In fact, to be a disciple of Jesus means to be a learner and a follower. Without learning, you can’t be a Christian in the first place and you can’t be an ongoing follower of Jesus. As we think about learning, we must remember that the ultimate goal is to know God. All other knowledge sits at the feet of God and his revelation to mankind. Knowing God involves both intellectual knowledge and experiential knowledge—both are essential.

It was J.I. Packer, who in his book Knowing God, penned these words:

What were we made for? To know God. What aim should we set ourselves in life? To know God. What is the eternal life that Jesus gives? Knowledge of God. “This is life eternal, that they may know thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent” (John 17:3). What is the best thing in life, bringing more joy, delight, and contentment than anything else? Knowledge of God. “Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let not the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me” (Jeremiah 9:23). What, of all the states God ever sees man in, gives him most pleasure? Knowledge of himself. “I desire … the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings,” says God (Hosea 6:6).… Once you have become aware that the main business that you are here for is to know God, most of life’s problems fall into place of their own accord. [1]

The Christian life requires balance. It’s often easy to fall into ditches along the journey. As we consider the world of Christian learning—we must learn to avoid two dangerous and often debilitating ditches.

Worshipping Without Learning

Have you ever had a conversation with someone who after they left church they talked about how wonderful the worship was, but when you asked them what they learned—they couldn’t give you a proper answer? They could articulate how they felt and what they enjoyed about their worship experience, but they didn’t learn anything about God. They found themselves singing and being captivated by the mood of the song or the emotion of the congregation—but they didn’t learn anything about God or have their worship connected to their knowledge of God. This is a common experience for many people on the average Sunday morning. People are worshipping without learning, and this is a dangerous position to find yourself or your church. It’s possible to attend church without learning—or to worship without being discipled by the truth in the songs or the sermon.

Before Adam could properly worship God in the Garden, God had to teach Adam what was expected of him. It was God the teacher instructing Adam about life, creation, marriage, and the forbidden fruit (Gen. 2:16-17). Only in Adam’s knowledge of God and God’s demands could he properly and rightly worship God in obedience. From the very beginning God has created mankind with the need for knowledge.

Israel was chosen by God from among all of the other nations to be a separate people for the glory of God (Deut. 7). It was God who was teaching Israel through Moses the prophet. God placed boundaries and demands upon Israel and it was only through this knowledge that they could rightly serve and worship God (Deut. 4:1). This has always been God’s plan for his people.

As we live on this side of Pentecost, God has similar demands for us as members of Christ’s Church. In order to follow Jesus, we have to know the gospel (1 Tim. 2:2; 2 Tim. 2:25). Through the knowledge of God’s justice and God’s mercy we come to a place where we accept God’s grace by faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:16-17). Only through this knowledge that has come to us from God are we able to rightly worship God (John 4:25). Yet, many people insist on worshipping without learning. Far too often you hear people claim that learning is for seminary students or Bible college—not for the average person in the church on Sunday morning. This often results in ministries that are shallow, sermons that avoid biblical vocabulary and sound more like self-help talks with some encouraging Bible quotes on the side. This trajectory sends people off down the trail of emotionalism, mysticism, and the end result is zeal without knowledge.

Did you know that ten billion years after you receive your glorified body as you enjoy the visible presence of God in eternity—you will still not know God in totality. We will forever be knowing and learning our God—and the pursuit of God through biblical knowledge should never be boring to us. Are you guilty of worshipping without learning?

Learning Without Worshipping

Another ditch that often entraps people in the faith is the passion for knowledge that’s disconnected from worship. Many people possess a firm commitment to the rigorous study of God’s Word—always learning, but not always worshipping. If your learning is not causing your zeal for God to increase, something is misdirected in your discipleship. If you possess a love to learn the Bible—but that knowledge doesn’t bring you to a place of worship—something is seriously wrong. It is possible to attend church and learn truth without worshipping God.

God’s people should love the Bible because of their love for God—not merely because of their love of knowledge. God’s people must avoid a disconnect between the head and the heart in discipleship. It’s possible to be a learner without being a worshipper. Remember, demons are learners and they are capable of learning theology too (James 2:17). However, demons are devilish creatures who are outside of God’s grace and they certainly don’t worship God as God has intended.

Attending seminary or Bible college is not a mandated pursuit for all Christians—although we are certainly free to engage in higher learning. Reading other books other than the Bible is a permissible and healthy practice in the Christian life, but no book or blog article should overshadow the Bible. God’s Word reigns as king in the library of human history. One indication that your learning is disconnected from your worship is that you spend more time reading other books than you do God’s Word.

Do you have a passion to know what heaven will look like, but you’re not too interested in knowing God? Perhaps you are really passionate about learning about the end times (biblical eschatology), but you’re not so much interested in knowing God. Maybe you’re like the scribe who once asked Jesus what commandment was the greatest? Even that man was interested in gaining knowledge, but he wasn’t so much interested in gaining knowledge about God. Jesus, after answering his question, responded with these words, “You are not far from the kingdom of God” (Mark 12:34). What a sobering response. The scribe was religious. The scribe was seeking to learn, however the scribe was a million eternities away from a saving knowledge of God no matter how close he must have been.

We want to know God—not just the Bible. We want to know God—not just facts about theology. We want to know God—not just knowledge itself. The moment we cease to learn is the moment we stop pursuing God. We must be always learning for the glory of God.

  1. J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1973), p. 29.
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Author Learning to Avoid Ditches in Discipleship

Josh Buice

Pastor Pray's Mill Baptist Church

Josh Buice is the founder and president of G3 Ministries and serves as the pastor of Pray's Mill Baptist Church on the westside of Atlanta. He is married to Kari and they have four children, Karis, John Mark, Kalli, and Judson. Additionally, he serves as Assistant Professor of Preaching at Grace Bible Theological Seminary. He enjoys theology, preaching, church history, and has a firm commitment to the local church. He also enjoys many sports and the outdoors, including long distance running and high country hunting. He has been writing on Delivered by Grace since he was in seminary and it has expanded with a large readership through the years.