Seminary, Obedience, and Spiritual Maturity

I recently came across a portion of a John Piper sermon that I thought would be helpful for seminary students (like myself) to ponder. The excerpt is taken from a sermon entitled, “By This Time You Ought to be Teachers” based on Hebrews 5:11-14. According to this text, spiritual maturity does not take place by the sheer gathering of theological information. In fact, a proper understanding of spiritual truth will be hindered by a lack of diligent application of the truth we already know. We will not be able to comprehend the deep, rich, and more solid meat of God’s Word unless we make good use of the milk of God’s Word. Piper writes,

Now this is amazing.  Don’t miss it.  It could save you years of wasted living.  What verse 14 is saying is that if you want to become mature and understand the more solid teachings of the Word, then the rich, nutritional precious milk of God’s gospel promises must transform your moral senses—your spiritual mind—so that you can discern between good and evil.  Or let me put it another way.  Getting ready to feast on all God’s Word is not first an intellectual challenge; it is first a moral challenge…

The startling truth is that, if you stumble over Melchizedek, it may be because you watch questionable TV programs.  If you stumble over the doctrine of election, it may be because you still use some shady business practices.  If you stumble over the God-centered word of Christ in the cross, it may be because you love money and spend too much and give too little.  The pathway to spiritual maturity and solid biblical food is not first becoming an intelligent person, but becoming an obedient person.  What you do with alcohol and sex and money and leisure and food and computer have more to do with you capacity for solid food than where you got to school and what books you read…

This is remarkable—and frightening.  If we are not diligent in cultivating godly character and obedient hearts, we can forget about making any real progress in our spiritual lives, regardless of how much Owen, Grudem, Erickson, Edwards, Calvin, Carson, Scougal, Bridges, Ryle, Wells, Packer (and Piper!) we read.  In the words of Christ, “Blessed are those who hear the word and obey it” (Luke 11:28).  It could not be more clear.  Maybe what some of us need to do is put down the puritan paperback for a moment and call the cable company to cancel our subscription, or call a friend to seek forgiveness, or confess to our employer that we lied to him last week.  More study, if not coupled with obedience, will only lead to spiritual lethargy and regression, not progress.  May God be merciful to us as we seek to study and obey his Word.

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