Over the course of the last week, I've had several conversations about humility. It's always an interesting topic for me, as pride is probably the area I struggle most. Today, I had a couple realizations that were humbling—and a neat analogy to help fit it all together.
I try to work out fairly regularly. It's important for staying healthy—I have a desk job, so if I don't work out, my body will deteriorate. My employer provides access to a nice gym nearby (five minutes from the building I work in), so I have no excuse not to exercise, and lots of reason to. After all, my body is a good thing, a gift from God that He calls "very good." I need to take care of it. Given that, I make a twice-weekly pilgrimage to the gym, where I buckle down for some running and weight training. (I also add in Ultimate a few times a week—but that's fun, so it requires a good deal less discipline.)
I have been working out at least twice a week almost every week since May—the longest stretch I have ever gone since I stopped training for football in high school. (Yes, readers who have been with me a much briefer time, I played high school football—not very well, but I played.) I enjoy the fact that I'm substantially slimmer, more toned, and—dare I say it?—even a little bit well-muscled in a few places. Or at least, I like to think I'm well-muscled in a few places. Alas for that idea, I go the gym twice a week—where I am surrounded by people who work out far more frequently, and who have been at it for far longer, than me.
It is humbling, to say the least, when despite your best efforts, you're constantly surrounded by people who are simply bigger, faster, and stronger than you are. (That, in fact, is a very nice summary of my high school football career.)
When it comes to head knowledge, I probably have a better grasp on the essentials of effective conditioning than many people my age—including some in the gym with me, and yes, including some of the guys who are in substantially better shape. Ultimately, it doesn't matter, though: I can be as chock full of good information about how to run faster and build more muscle mass; if I never actually run or lift, I won't get better.
The same is true, in many ways, of our Christian walk. On the one hand, I have a good deal more theological knowledge than many of my peers—and for that matter, than many people who have been walking with God much longer than me. However, that knowledge does not itself make me a better Christian. It doesn't automatically make me closer to God. It doesn't somehow transform me into a super-Christian just by dint of having it. No, despite the fact that I know more than many other Christians, I have a lot to learn from them. The Christian walk, like exercise, progresses not merely by knowledge but by practice. We grow closer to God (and thus, more like Him) by walking with Him, not treating Him as merely the subject of academic study.
Don't get me wrong: that knowledge helps. Understanding the mechanics of the human body and having good form help me train more effectively—but the knowledge is effective only when applied. So too, theology is incredibly helpful, but only when it is put to practice in our lives. Knowing in the abstract that I am saved through faith by grace alone is good—but do I live like it, or do I rely on my own abilities to carry me through? Knowing that men are to lead their wives sacrificially is essential—but do I actually lead, especially in ways that are costly to me? So it goes. I can have all my theological ducks lined up in a neat little row, but if I'm not practicing the knowledge, it doesn't matter.
That's why you can meet people who know very little theology and are nonetheless seriously Godly—they've walked faithfully with the tools they do have. Just as one can get a long ways athletically just by working hard, even without the best tools and knowledge, we can grow very close to God indeed simply by walking with Him. After all, sanctification is a work of the Holy Spirit, not our own abilities. That doesn't diminish the importance of theology: the more we know God truly, the better we are able to walk with Him faithfully. Getting our theology right is important; there is nothing more important than knowing the living God as He really is. We need to know Him as well as we possibly can, and that means having good theology—but it means having good theology that we live out.
If we're not living it out, we're just getting flabby as we sit on a couch reading about exercise techniques.
All of that brings me back to the original point of the post: humility. Just because I have more theological training than others—indeed, even if I am more theologically accurate than them—doesn't mean I do not have a great deal to learn from them. People who have been walking with God 20 years may have less head-knowledge than I do, but if they're applying what they do have better (and let's be honest: they've been doing this 20 years, so they almost certainly are), then I have something to learn from them.
Taking that a step further: seeing as everyone grows differently and struggles differently, every believer I meet understands something about God better than I do. If I am teachable enough, I will learn from them. If not, I'll miss out because of my own pride—pride, no less, in something that does not itself produce righteousness, however necessary an ingredient it may be.