“One is sometimes (not often) glad not to be a great theologian; one might so easily mistake it for being a good Christian.” (C.S. Lewis)
I think the point Lewis is making is that often times we can easily equate how much we know in the Bible with being a good Christian. Or that, somehow, the more knowledgeable we are, the more spiritual, too. These two simply do not equate and one does not always necessarily mean the other.
The truth is, the Bible reveals we can possess a great deal of knowledge of God’s law but be entirely in need of applying it just as much as anyone else. Consider the chief priests and Pharisees (the self-proclaimed experts in the Law) and their attitude toward outsiders: “But this crowd that does not know the law is accursed” (John 7:49). As you can see, though the more knowledge we have of the Law, the better chance, perhaps, we have of leading a righteous life, yet there is a great spiritual danger as well; there can subtly arise in us the sinful attitude of self-righteousness and a ‘more holier than thou’ complex. Regarding this, there was perhaps no other spiritual disease that received as much lambasting from our Lord (Matthew 23 is a good example).
We have to first understand that the Bible marks a necessary difference: there is a difference in knowing God’s will and doing it. If just being knowledgeable and knowing the most Scripture was enough, the Devil would be a great deal more righteous than all of us, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe – and shudder!” (James 2:19). No one has a firmer grasp on right theology and doctrine than the demons; their belief that God is one is so strong that they even shudder! But they will not be saved (no matter how much they know) because, ultimately, they don’t DO anything with their knowledge. James’ point? “Faith without works is dead” (2:26).
We can get into the awful habit of searching God’s word and yet not applying it to our lives. James says that this practice is deceitful. “But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks in to the perfect law, the law of liberty (my conviction – New Testament), and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing” (James 1:22-25). The one who DOES something with the Bible, applying it to his life, will be blessed.
Could it be possible that those who have a firm grasp on the Scriptures might still be on their way to hell? Yes, “those who handle the law did not know me” (Jeremiah 2:8). Those who were most intimate with God’s law were not intimate with God Himself! The Bible is not an end of itself; it is God’s word, a tool, that should change our lives, meant to be applied, and a means of coming to know the Creator of all life Himself.
So what do you do? Remember this passage: “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God” (1 Corinthians 8:1-3). Imagine, to be known by your Creator, not because you ‘know things’ but because you love. So seek to love God and love people. After all, all is fulfilled in those two commands (Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 13:8-10).
Am I discouraging studying God’s word? No, of course not. Am I encouraging us to apply what we’ve learned? Absolutely. We need to fear the notion that ‘we’ve arrived while others fall way short of God’s righteousness.’ We need to fear deceiving ourselves into thinking that just because we know more Scripture than most, we are more right with God than they. When you stand before the judgment seat of God, you won’t be quizzed on how many Scriptures you memorized and you won’t enter heaven because you’re able to quote the book of Ephesians in Greek. But you will be judged on your ‘works’ (Revelation 20:12).
So seek to apply what you do know because, all in all, being a great theologian doesn’t necessarily equate with being a good Christian. And beware – a spirit of self-righteousness is always around the corner for those who have knowledge and is always seeking to blindfold us.
Jesus said, “For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.” Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, “Are we also blind?” Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains.” (John 9:39-41)