Connect Spirit with Truth

When it comes to spirituality, you do what you do because you believe what you believe.

Regardless of the importance you consciously place upon it, theology drives and determines your spirituality. For example, you pray the way you do because of your theology. And there are certain ways you do not pray, more because of theology than tradition.

Recognize, therefore, the connection between good theology and good spirituality. Don’t turn to people as models and teachers of spirituality if you could not also turn to them as mentors of theology and doctrine. For their spirituality is also connected to their theology.

It’s very easy to be impressed by someone’s piety and think, “Surely anyone who is so pious, so devoted, and so committed to prayer, couldn’t be very wrong in his theology.” But I have seen more than one person come to reject biblical theology—even regarding the doctrine of salvation—after they became impressed with the spirituality of a particular writer or speaker who eventually led them astray. As Jesus said, “Take heed what you hear” (Mark 4:24).


• If anyone makes experience authoritative over the revelation of God in Scripture—turn away from him.

• If anyone adds another book or experience to the Bible, making it equal in authority to God’s Word—refuse to believe him.

• If anyone teaches that God can be experienced directly, that is, without the mediation of Jesus Christ and the Bible—don’t listen to him.

• If anyone says that there are many paths to God and that Jesus isn’t the only way to Heaven—avoid him.

Each of us needs both sound theology and passionate spirituality, because theology is the fuel for spirituality’s fire. Theology provides the discernment to protect us from unbiblical or unhealthy spiritual practices (such as regularly seeking to experience God without the guidance or influence of Scripture). Theology can protect us from fads in spirituality.

How do you pursue theology? Read and meditate on Scripture. Listen to biblical preaching and avail yourself of the opportunities for Christian education at your church. Read Christian books that teach, not just those that entertain. These include not only books about doctrine, but also biographies of those who were, like Apollos, “mighty in the Scriptures” (Acts 18:24).

Theology is God’s truth. Don’t try to grow your soul or simplify your spiritual life without it.


Taken from Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 59-60.

Also related to this theme: Donald S. Whitney, Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2014).

Who Could Sin After Seeing the Transfiguration?

One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is the Transfiguration of Jesus. I sometimes imagine that if I could go back in time and be present for any event in the Gospels prior to the crucifixion, I would choose the Transfiguration.

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. And Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good that we are here. If you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” He was still speaking when, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and a voice from the cloud said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him.” When the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Rise, and have no fear.” And when they lifted up their eyes, they saw no one but Jesus only. And as they were coming down the mountain, Jesus commanded them, “Tell no one the vision, until the Son of Man is raised from the dead.” (Matthew 17:1-9, ESV)

What actually happened here? Of course, there’s no way we can fully understand it this side of Heaven. But did Jesus “simply” reveal the glory of some of His divinity as Moses and Elijah arrived on Earth (having momentarily departed Heaven), while the omnipresent Father spoke so as to be heard in that geographic location?

Or did Heaven and Earth overlap in such a way so that the place where Jesus stood was at that moment neither fully Heaven nor fully Earth, but rather He and His two visitors conversed in a temporary nexus between the earthly world and the spiritual world?

Or third, and applying the terminology of our three-dimensional world to a spiritual realm, did Heaven press so closely to Earth at this point that although Moses and Elijah were still in Heaven they were literally at the “edge” of it, and God’s voice came from across the border of Heaven to Earth, and Jesus’s face and clothing shone because of His immediate proximity to the heavenly realm and the glory of God? Or is there a better analogy? Only God knows.

In any case, a short time after this incomparable experience, possibly less than a week after the Transfiguration we read where Jesus’s disciples “argued with one another about who was the greatest” (Mark 9:34).

Think of that. Peter, James, and John saw—not in a dream or a vision, but with their eyes—Jesus transfigured. “His face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light.” Have you considered how He must have looked? His appearance surely took their breath away.

Then they saw Moses and Elijah—men in the front rank of Jewish history; heroes they’d heard about heard all their lives—appear out of thin air, as if beamed down from Heaven. And they heard Moses and Elijah talking with Jesus, speaking with voices more real than those you hear on your television when White House reporters ask questions of the president. We can only wonder at the specifics of what the disciples heard this heavenly duo say to the Man with the sunlike face.

And then they heard the voice of God. This alone would shake a person to the core, stunning their senses. They see the face of Jesus suddenly begin to radiate a brilliant light, they see Moses and Elijah appear from the past (imagine how it would affect you if Jonathan Edwards and Charles Spurgeon suddenly stood before you), then God in Heaven speaks directly to them in an audible voice.

Despite all this, in a matter of days they join with the other disciples in arguing about which of them is the greatest. If I’m Peter, I’m saying things like, “Ha! You wouldn’t think you’re the greatest disciple, Matthew, if you knew what I saw the other day.”

In other words, after this unearthly, next-worldly, never-to-be-forgotten experience, they still sinned. And of course, biblical theology tells us that this Transfiguration-watching trio didn’t wait several days until that argument arose before they sinned again.

At first, it’s almost hard to believe that a person could sin after such an experience. And yet, it’s just like every other encounter with a glimpse of God’s glory in Scripture. From the appearance of the pillar of fire in the Exodus, to the consuming blaze and heart-melting sounds atop Sinai, to Isaiah’s vision in the temple, to Paul’s pre-death visit to Heaven, to the revelation of Christ, Heaven, and the future to John on Patmos—they were experienced by sinners who nevertheless remained sinners after the experiences, despite “the surpassing greatness of the revelations” (2 Corinthians 12:7).

Though many observations could be made, two stand out to me as I think on these things.

First, the depth of human depravity. Nothing we experience in this body, no matter how frightening or glorious, can stop us from sinning. We could visit Hell or Heaven, and though the experience would doubtless have some indelible impact, no amount of terror or beauty could wring all the sin out of us. We could behold something that would take our breath away, but soon we’d breathe again. Just as surely, we could see something that would cause us in the moment to resolve never sin again, but soon we’d sin again.

Second, the greatness of the grace of God that He would still love and save creatures who are such sin factories that even after He allows them to glimpse the most glorious things in the universe they still choose to sin. When we come to Jesus for rescue from the sin that saturates us, God immediately forgives every sin we ever have or will commit. After that, though, we still do sin, even though He sends the Holy Spirit who causes us to loathe it and to fight it and to long for release from it. Knowing every sin we will commit after He forgives us, He loves us still and determines to keep us forever.

There’s only one experience that can cleanse us from all traces of the cancer of sin’s presence forever. It’s what the Bible calls “the redemption of our bodies” (Romans 8:23). This is the final, everlasting, freedom from sin that those “who have the firstfruits of the Spirit” (that is, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit given to all the followers of Jesus) “groan inwardly” and “wait eagerly” for (Romans 8:23). And whether in the grave or alive when Jesus returns, He will transform the bodies of all His people to be fit to live forever with Him in a sinless, perfect, and glorious Heaven.

That’s because, as Philippians 3:20-21 puts it, “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.”

In other words, one day all we who are in Christ will experience our own transfiguration, changed suddenly by the power of God from “our lowly body to be like his glorious body.”

“He who testifies to these things says, ‘Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 22:20)


Coming in July, 2015 from Crossway Books and available for pre-order now: Praying the Bible


Ask often, “What does the Bible say?”

Some of the most important changes in my life occurred when I thought to ask, “What does the Bible say about this?”

The way I spend the Lord’s Day, for example, and my thinking about what activities please God in worship were dramatically changed when I purposed to study what God’s Word said about those matters.

Far more often than we do, Christians should ask such questions. In our relationships, finances, use of time, priorities, parenting, simplifying, and everything else, we should more quickly ask, “What does the Bible say about this?”

The wisdom of frequently asking this question is obvious if we believe truths like these:

• “The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple” (Psalm 19:7b)

• “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105)

• Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)

• “All Scripture is breathed out by God, and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17

Nothing will simplify our lives more than finding the will of God on a matter and doing it. And the best way to discover the will of God is to search the Word of God.

What’s the most significant issue in your life right now? What major decision is before you? Be sure to ask, “What does the Bible say about this?” Then, as you turn to the Bible, pray the prayer of Psalm 119:18: “Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.”


From Donald S. Whitney, Simplify Your Spiritual Life (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2003), pages 50-51.

Bless you!

Sneeze, and someone is likely to say, “Bless you!” Back in the days of Moses and his brother Aaron, to speak words of blessing to someone was no empty formality.

In Numbers 6:22-27, God provided specific instructions for how the Old Testament priests were to pronounce the Lord’s blessing on His people:

The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “Speak to Aaron and his sons, saying, Thus you shall bless the people of Israel: you shall say to them,

The Lord bless you and keep you;

the Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;

the Lord lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.

“So shall they put my name upon the people of Israel, and I will bless them.”

This was all God’s idea and initiative, and shows us how He loves to bless His people.

God’s blessing came through a mediator (Moses) and a priest (Aaron). The wonderful terms of this blessing still come to God’s people, but today they are granted through Jesus Christ, God’s greatest Mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) and Priest (Hebrews 4:14-16). All the benefits described here—being blessed and kept by God, etc.—are given to all who seek them through Jesus.

When you have Christ as your Mediator with God, the New Testament says that you become part of God’s “royal priesthood” (1 Peter 2:9). As such a priest, you have the authority to use the words of Numbers 6:22-27 to ask for the Lord’s blessing upon others.

These are not magic words. The blessing of God does not result from the mere repetition of this or any other prayer (see Matthew 6:7). Still, it was God Himself who gave us this prayer. And we can expect God’s blessing to accompany sincere devotion to God’s will.

Have you prayed for God to bless you in these ways through Jesus? The greatest blessing from God is not His gifts but Himself. He sent Jesus to give us this blessing (see John 14:6). To all who come to this Mediator and Priest, God promises, “I will bless them” (verse 27).

Will you pray this blessing for your church? These words weren’t originally addressed to individuals, but to God’s people as a whole. Likewise, today we should pray for God’s blessings upon His people worldwide, and especially for our own local church.

Will you pray this blessing for your family? Pray it for them in their hearing, not just in your private prayers. And place Jesus in the center of it.

The 1-and-1 Count in the Devotional Life

As a lifelong baseball fan and a player from Little League through college, I love “inside baseball.” I’m captivated by the minutiae, strategy, and nuances of the game that are a bit too esoteric for most people’s interests.

So I really enjoyed a Sports Illustrated[1] article that contained an intriguing take on a particular statistic. I found it so interesting that it prompted me to think of a parallel in the Christian life.

The article centered on one of the most successful pitchers in baseball, Max Scherzer, formerly with the Detroit Tigers and now the Opening Day starter for the Washington Nationals.

Whenever a pitcher and hitter face each other, there are twelve possible ball-strike counts in any given at bat. For example, if the first pitch is a strike, the count is 0-1, that is, no balls and one strike. If the next pitch is a ball, then the count is 1-1, or one ball and one strike. The highest possible count is 3-2, or a “full” count.

Conventional baseball wisdom has long maintained that the first pitch is the most important. In other words, to throw a first pitch strike is the single most determinative thing a pitcher can do to tip the balance in his favor.

But Scherzer became fascinated in college by data from his coaches who challenged the long-held assumptions and maintained that the 1-1 count was more decisive. They persuaded him that throwing a strike on a 1-1 count is statistically more likely to lead to an out than a first pitch strike.

That doesn’t mean that a pitcher should try to get to a 1-1 count then throw a strike. Indeed, Scherzer wants to throw as many first pitch strikes as possible. Rather, whenever the ball/strike count does get to 1-1, Scherzer believes the next pitch is the most important one in that particular at-bat and he focuses all the more on throwing a strike.

In 2013, Scherzer threw strikes 74.3% of the time on 1-1 counts, highest in the majors. Coincidentally, he won the 2013 Cy Young Award honoring him as the best pitcher in the American League.[2]

Assuming you aren’t a major league pitcher, what’s the 1-and-1 count in what you do? Though you want to do many things with excellence (Scherzer wants every pitch to go where he wants), what’s the most determinative moment—perhaps one that occurs many times daily—in your everyday routines when things will most likely tip in your favor or against you?

How about in your personal spirituality? What’s the difference-maker? For me, it’s meditation on Scripture. If I merely read or listen to the Bible, but do not intentionally take at least five minutes to meditate on Scripture, I usually profit very little from my devotional exercises. But if I can “throw a strike” at that juncture and meditate on a text of Scripture without distraction for five minutes or more, I am much more likely to sense the presence of God through the Scripture, to be edified through the passage, and remember that text throughout the day.

When I meditate on Scripture I am also much more consistent in prayer—meaningful, heartfelt prayer. Meditation on a passage of Scripture tends to eventually turn into praying the passage, talking to God about what He says in His Word. This makes every prayer time fresh and unique, and usually warms the natural coldness of my heart in prayer.

May the Lord give me the resolve and consistency with meditation on Scripture in my daily devotional life that Max Scherzer has for throwing strikes in a 1-and-1 count.



For more on the biblical basis of meditation on Scripture and how to do it, see pages 46-69 in Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life as well as pages 62-73 in Simplify Your Spiritual Life.


[1] Albert Chen, “Mad Max,” Sports Illustrated, April 29, 2014, 28-32.

[2] Scherzer was with the Detroit Tigers at the time. He signed with the Nationals as a free agent after the 2014 season.