We Should Study Systematic Theology for Ourselves

In Matthew 22, the Pharisees asked Jesus a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus’ answer is recorded in Matt 22:37-38:

And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (ESV)

Jesus commands us to love God with all our minds. The study of Systematic Theology helps us understand more about God so that we can love Him with all our minds. So when I say study theology for ourselves, this is not a selfish desire, which merely puffs us up with intellectual pride, but it is an understanding of the greatness of God that affects the way we live.

As we learn more about God and His grace to us, we love Him more with our hearts and our souls. The more we know and the more we love, the more we obey. As others have said, “Love God and do what you please.” If you truly love God, then you will do what pleases God. Becoming mature believers involves learning more about who God is.

I still remember it like it was yesterday. We first met in Church History class. I sat about middle way back toward the left-hand side of the room. She sat toward the front on the far right-hand side of the room. She looked a whole lot better than the other people in our class. Admittedly, a seminary has mostly men, which caused her beauty to stand out even more. Time passed, and I watched her deadly three-pointer on the basketball court as well as her witnessing skills in evangelism.

The next semester came, and I decide that I need to find out more about this girl with the long dark hair. Suddenly, I felt called to attend Faith Baptist Church, which oddly enough just happened to be the church she attended. Somehow (wink, wink) I bumped into her after the Sunday night service. We stood in the parking lot talking for about 30 minutes. That semester we spent a lot of time learning about each other. I found out her favorite color, favorite food, where she went to college, her friends’ names, information about her parents, her favorite dog’s name, what she did in high school and many other things that I never knew.

Joy and Thomas Engagement photoI remember the day I stood watching as she walked in the back of a church adorned with a white dress. I stood before a preacher and many of our friends while I pledged my love and commitment to her until death do us part. I may have thought that I knew everything I needed to know about her at that point, but you know what … I didn’t.

After we married, I learned that when she folds socks, she doesn’t just fold the top down, but she makes a ball out of the socks. I don’t know why I didn’t do that with my love for basketball, but I had never seen such things before. And she folded her t-shirts in a different way than I did. Also, I didn’t know that she stole the covers in the night or that when she got sick, she wanted to be cared for whereas I just want to be left alone. I didn’t know that she eats first thing in the morning or that anyone could take a bath that lasts that long.

The more time we spend together, the better I know her and the better I understand how to live peaceably and how to love my wife. I have learned how to love her better because I know more about her.

Our relationship with God has similar characteristics. The more you know about God, the better you can love God with your mind. The more you know and believe, the better your behavior will be. You don’t change your sin issues by pure willpower, but you change them by changing your thinking. Preaching just to change our actions results in condemnation, legalism and even worse—a moralistic view of salvation. Preaching that changes our thinking focuses our attention and minds on God’s greatness, God’s glory, and God’s grace. Such thinking results in sanctification that changes our behavior.

Loving the Lord with our minds requires knowing Him, and Systematic Theology helps us understand God’s revelation of Himself to mankind.

Editor’s Note: This is the third article in the series “Why You Should Study Systematic Theology” by Thomas White, vice president for student services and communications at Southwestern.