I lived in Christian environments for 18 years without hearing the word “theology” or knowing some of the most important ins-and-outs of my professed faith. Of course it doesn’t mean I was not a Christian until I knew these things, but on the other hand, I don’t have the space here to tell you all the ways in which I was harmed spiritually by neglecting the realm of sound Christian knowledge for the first few years of my life as a believer.
I wandered from unhealthy church to unhealthy church for most of my teenage and young adult life – seeking God where I thought He would be found, but only coming across fragments of faith rather than the true gospel and rarely finding real answers to my growing list of questions about God.
Unfortunately, the most ready-made resources available to me at this time were not good ones. The “Christian” television channels were full of false prosperity gospels. The best sellers in the bookstore’s “Christian” section were full of hollow emotionalism and self idolatry. The materials being shoved in my face by what I thought was Christian culture only painted God as either my casual homie, a mystical force that doesn’t care about my sanctification, or a genie whose priority is what’s best for me and likely to bring me happiness.
And since the overarching, independent, all-encompassing truth of life is that the God of Scripture exists and has redeemed His people for all eternity, it is inevitable that wrong perceptions of Him have massive effects on how we live out our lives on a day-to-day, month-to-month, year-to-year basis. In my experience this is true in four main ways, although there are countless others.
Our incorrect view of God affects what we do with our time
Wrong perspectives of God cause us to have a wonky attitude about what our life mission truly is. Human beings are made to worship. Either they will worship the God of Scripture and be motivated by an eternal, Gospel-centered philosophy of earthy life, or they will worship something else. We (rightly so) hear a lot about the dangers of idolatry where happiness, material possessions, careers, and relationships are concerned, but we don’t often recognize the practical dangers of worshiping a version of God that doesn’t actually line up with the truth in Scripture.
For example, if we think God is primarily concerned with our self esteem, we will structure our lives and habits in a way that encourages us to think more highly of ourselves. When we fail we will seek comfort in our other victories and indulge in idle pleasures. We will only pursue opportunities or circumstances that guarantee we won’t be challenged or forced to realize our insufficiency.
If we think Christ died to secure our comfort and happiness, we will waste our time and talents on temporarily pleasurable things that have a short expiration date, rather than on things of eternal significance. We will ignore opportunities to die to self and choose life for others. We won’t choose the hard path of justice, loss, diligence, and consequence, which is the path we believers are called to in the gospel of Jesus.
Ultimately, our wrong perspectives of God make us simultaneously love this earthly life too much and waste it shamefully in the process.
Our incorrect view of God affects how we treat other people
The dignity of humanity hinges on the fact that people are made in the image of God. The rights for dignified treatment that they do have are given and sustained by Him. And a concept we would all do well to remember when it comes to social ethics is that all our standards for holy love, justice, peace, compassion, and correction are rooted in God’s own character. Without a right understanding of Him, we cannot properly manifest and embody these things to one another.
The only hope we have for faithfully loving and uniting with other sinful people as we journey through life is that we are being transformed into the image of Christ (2 Corinthians 3:18). If you have children (or even have watched someone else’s children for 10 minutes) you know how quickly and easily the human heart begins to reveal its selfishness, pride, and anger toward other humans in close proximity. And though we gradually learn to control or mask these outbursts with age and training, the sin remains and rears its head with many a new opportunity. We desperately need the sanctification and help of the Holy Spirit in order to treat others as we should.
The problem is some of our biggest obstacles to loving and helping others are our wrong thoughts of what the standard is. Again, the true standard for morality is the character of God – if we don’t believe what is true about the character of God, we don’t have a sufficient standard for our thoughts, words, and actions toward others. When we misunderstand God’s hatred of sin, we will wrongly encourage others to sin in the name of love. When we forget God’s love, we will grant people kindness only when we feel they deserve it. When we undervalue God’s grace, we will push others to earn right standing (either in His eyes or our own) through perfected behavior.
Our incorrect view of God affects how we respond to various trials
Dealing with tragedy, failure, or disappointment is hard enough to respond to regardless of what your worldview is, but failing to believe the truth about who the Lord is can cause us to handle these trials in disastrous ways. We may not think Him to be totally in control, which will make us react in desperation and hopelessness, especially in situations where we clearly have little to no control ourselves. If we think He doesn’t love us, our hearts become rooted in fear and bitterness in the face of affliction. If we think He owes us better circumstances, we will waste our time demanding or pleading that things turn around in perceivably better directions.
Any human life is inevitably going to have its share of trials, but the Christian life is often filled to the brim with them (see Romans 5:3-5; 1 Peter 4:12; and 2 Corinthians 4:8). If we don’t understand the truth about God’s sovereignty and love, we will be thrown to and fro by the power of our pain – but if we have a biblical perspective of God’s character and power, we will be able to join Charles Spurgeon in saying, “I have learned to kiss the waves that throw me against the Rock of Ages.”
Our incorrect view of God affects how we handle our successes
Just as bad theology makes us inept at handling pain and affliction, it also prevents us from gracefully handling our successes. This isn’t talked about as often because we don’t usually go looking for advice when things are going well for us; but far from being insignificant, there is actually a lot at stake when it comes to the connection between God and our success.
Excelling in life and enjoying our pursuits is not inherently bad. In fact, there are passages in Scripture that indicate it pleases God when we delight in daily living, one of them being Ecclesiastes 8:15: “And I commend joy, for man has nothing better under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun.”
What often happens in the heart of sinful humans, however, is when we aren’t worshiping the true God, we inevitably end up worshiping ourselves in some way. Wrong views of God lead to wrong views of self because we can only properly understand ourselves when we properly understand the One who created and sustains us.
If we underestimate the power and perfection of God, we think we are the ones in control, and then we become puffed up and self-sufficient in times of emotional, material, or relational prosperity. We dig ourselves into a pit of pride, whereas Christians are called to humility. On the other hand, if we think God is sovereign without being good, we will fail to honor God by being grateful for the blessings of people, talents, and rewards He brings to us through the intermingling of His providence and our Spirit-led efforts.
There is not a single area of human life that isn’t affected by the reality of God – to believe otherwise only shows how finite, short-sighted, and self assured we humans can be. The gospel of Christ is a gospel for real people who experience real earthly life. Its truths are meant to have a bearing not only on the more extraordinary aspects of reality, but on the most ordinary of them as well.
Christ calls mothers, painters, gardeners, teachers, carpenters, and tax collectors to Him just as sincerely as He calls pastors and missionaries. He came to save people – people who encounter practical responsibilities, relationships, roadblocks, and rewards. So real people only find hope in a real, biblical God – and we cannot afford to affirm anything or anyone less.