“For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; 15 and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
I love studying theology. Give me a thick book on some aspect of doctrine and I can be quite content for hours, if not days. I believe theology is extremely important for Christians. Everyone has, or does, theology. That is, everyone has ideas about who God is, how he engages with us, how we can be saved, etc. The question isn’t whether you have a theology, but whether your theology is derived from the Bible, or from other sources (your own thoughts and feelings, culture, non-biblical books you’ve read).
But here’s one of the temptations when it comes to studying theology: thinking a love for theology is the same as a love for Jesus. It may seem obvious, but theology cannot save us; only Jesus can. Theology did not die for us; only Jesus did. All of the wonderful doctrines of salvation—justification, reconciliation, adoption, sanctification, glorification—are accomplished by Jesus. Apart from Jesus, these wonderful truths—and they are wonderful!–are nothing.
Think about it this way: the apostle Paul says “… the love of Christ controls (or compels) us…” to live for his sake. It is not various points of theology that compel us to live for Christ’s sake, or our understanding of those points. It is the self-sacrificing, delighting love of our Creator, Savior God.
Similarly, the Bible speaks much of the “joy of the Lord.” We are to “Rejoice in the Lord always.” Again, this joy does not flow from theological statements or ideas or themes. This joy flows from a being who is alive, who has acted within history, and who seeks the good of his people.
Now, in addition to this temptation of conflating theology with Jesus, there is certainly the opposite temptation of completely separating theology from Jesus. Theology helps us know and understand the real Jesus. If we are to know the love and joy of the Lord, we must know the real Lord, which involves deep study of the Bible, and the theology of the Bible. Often times, the assertion, “All the matters is loving Jesus” comes with an unwillingness to define who Jesus actually is.
But it does matter that we actually know and love Jesus, and not just truths about Jesus! The doctrinal truths are important for the very fact that they bring us to Jesus, the person.
To put this simply: the good news of Christianity is Jesus himself, his person and work. In the words of Sinclair Ferguson, “Christ is the gospel!” In the gospel, God offers us not merely blessings or a changed life or hope for the future; he offers us “Christ and him crucified.”
May Christ himself be our joy, hope and peace!