*The following is an excerpt by Jake Riddle from Doctrines & Disciplines, which serves as the curriculum workbook for The Austin Stone Development Program. Applications for the 2021-2022 ASDP program are now open. To learn more about this program or to apply, visit www.austinstoneinstitute.org/asdp
The Christian life is a forward progression of becoming increasingly more like Christ. When God the Father called you and saved you, several things happened that you were probably completely unaware of at the time. The Holy Spirit breathed new spiritual life into you. He gave you faith.
You then, by faith, confessed with your mouth that Jesus is Lord. You believed in your heart that God raised Him from the dead. The faith that was given to you by God united you to God. The stain of sin was forgiven and completely removed. The righteousness of Christ was imputed to you. A legal declaration was pronounced over you—not guilty! And that is when the forward progression of Christlikeness began.
But how does this work? How does a Christian become more like Christ? 2 Corinthians 3:16-18 clues us into an answer:
16 But when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. (2 Cor 3:16-18)
Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. But freedom from what, exactly? Freedom from the love of sin. Freedom from spiritual blindness. Freedom from a meaningless life. You turn to the Lord, the veil is lifted, and you behold the glory of God. You see that God is not just some contrived idea created by man. He is not some philosophy or moral idea. No, God is the central weight around which all things revolve. You get a glimpse of God’s glory, and your heart and mind say “yes and amen” to who He is and what He says.
You begin to see that all things are from Him, all things are through Him, and all things are for Him. The veil is lifted, and you start to see that the Bible is God’s own Word. The eyes of your heart are opened, and you see the glory of God streaming out of every page like the light and heat radiating from the sun. You peer into the depths of infinite power, knowledge, wonder, and beauty. And the more you see God, the more you understand just how worthy He is to be God—and the more you love Him!
Beholding the glory of God changes you. It is like seeing something you cannot unsee. And the more you behold God, the more you are conformed into His own image from one degree of glory to the next. While your awareness and experience of it ebbs and flows, this is the Christian life: beholding the glory of God and being transformed increasingly into His likeness. What does this have to do with a workbook on Christian doctrine and spiritual disciplines? Learning theology and practicing spiritual disciplines set you on a path to behold the glory of God, experience delight in Him, and become more like Him over time.
Theology is the study of the nature of God and, by extension, the ways in which all things relate to God and one another. In other words, theology is an effort to lay hold of deep personal knowledge of God by studying and treasuring what God has revealed to us about Himself. You cannot rightly love what you do not rightly know. And because God is a God of infinite worth, the more you know Him, the more you will love Him. The more you behold Him, the more you will be conformed to His image. To be clear, Christlikeness does not exist merely at the level of knowledge. True Christlikeness is a transformation of our emotions, will, and obedience.
J.I. Packer puts it this way: “If our theology does not quicken the conscience and soften the heart, it actually hardens both. If it does not encourage the commitment of faith, it reinforces the detachment of unbelief. If it fails to promote humility, it inevitably feeds pride.” In other words, if studying theology is only an intellectual exercise for the excessively brainy, then it is bad theology. The purpose of theology is greater intimacy with and conformity to Christ, not just knowledge. Knowledge puffs up.