The Discipline of Learning
The Christian life begins with learning — learning the gospel. No one is made right with a God about whom He knows nothing. No one is made right with God unless he learns about Him and His message to the world, a message of good news called the gospel. To know God, people must learn that there is a God (Heb. 11:6), that they have broken His law, and that they need to be reconciled to Him. They must learn that God’s Son, Jesus, came to accomplish that reconciliation and that He did so by means of His sinless life and His death on the cross as a substitute for sinners. They must learn of His bodily resurrection and their need to repent of their sins and to believe in Jesus and what He has done. Apart from people learning these things, “How are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard?” (Rom. 10:14).
Intentional learning is implied in Jesus’ offer in Luke 9:23: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” So from the very start of discipleship, to follow Jesus implied learning from Him, for as did Peter, John, and the others, anyone would certainly learn from Jesus if they would follow Him. But Jesus is even more specific about learning from Him in Matthew 11:29: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” To accept the yoke of a disciple of Jesus means to commit to a lifetime of learning about Jesus and from Jesus.
To emphasize learning as essential to following Jesus is not advocacy for egghead Christianity. Like Jesus, we want both a heart for God and a head for God. Remember that the Great Commandment emphasizes loving God both with all the heart and with all the mind, as well (Mark 12:29–30). As R.C. Sproul once wrote, “Burning hearts are not nourished by empty heads.” God’s truth — which must be learned — is the fuel for the spiritual fire that flames in the Christian heart.
The Christian life not only begins with learning, it proceeds through a process of lifelong learning. This includes deeper discoveries of intimacy with God, an ever-growing grasp of the Bible and its doctrines, a greater awareness of our sin, an increased knowledge of the person and work of Christ, further implications of what it means to follow Him, and more. A mature understanding of these things does not come quickly or without effort. Simply put, it is impo s s i bl e t o g row i nt o a Christlikeness one knows nothing about. By the Spirit’s power, we must learn what Christlikeness means and how Jesus wants us to follow Him. We learn this through the Bible, of course, but it involves learning nonetheless.
Those whom the Bible considers wise and intelligent understand this. According to Scripture, “The wise lay up knowledge” and “An intelligent heart acquires knowledge, and the ear of the wise seeks knowledge” (Prov. 10:14; 18:15). So the primary measurement of wisdom and intelligence is not your IQ or GPA but whether you pursue knowledge, that is, whether you discipline yourself to continue learning the things of God throughout your life.
A hunger to learn the Word of God, the ways of God, and the will of God expresses a hunger for God Himself. Those who love God long to be taught about Him and from Him. That doesn’t mean all Christians are to manifest an affinity for learning exactly the same things and in identical ways. But it is true that apathy toward learning the things of God is a mark of those who do not know God.
We are blessed to live in a time when the means of and opportunities for expressing a love for God through learning greatly exceed our ability to take advantage of them. But all these profit little if a person doesn’t pursue them. This is why learning must always be a discipl ine, for a person can be surrounded by wisdom and knowledge yet live without their riches if he or she does not possess the discipline to learn them.
Thus, learning is indeed a gospeldriven spiritual discipline; those who are not exerting themselves to learn the things of God will gain spiritual and biblical knowledge only by accident or mere convenience. By contrast, intentional learners will seek to learn the things of God and will do so individually as well as with the church, disciplining themselves to learn from those who are gifted by God and recognized by the church as teachers.