James, the youth: Must all those who call themselves Christians understand the Bible?
The elderly and wise Mr. Brockton: No, only those who will go to heaven. To call oneself a Christian is not the same as being one.
James: But I call myself a Christian—no, rather, I am a Christian, and I don’t understand very much of the Bible at all.
Brockton: How do you know that you are a Christian?
James: The Bible states that those who radically trust in Christ for their salvation on the basis of what He has done for them on the cross, while simultaneously turning away from the sin they now hate to the Christ they now love,are true believers. That is a description of me, thanks to God.
Brockton: Then you understand the Bible like a man understands his wife. And that is sufficient to save. You know the Bible’s message essentially, but you do not know any of the Bible’s truths extensively, much less exhaustively. My story will illustrate the importance of one over the other.
Helmut Grosart was a computer engineer of the old school. Having years of valuable international experience, his almost infinite knowledge of the computer had earned for him the accolades of his peers both in Germany and in America, where he now resided. The man was a genius and everybody knew it.
Helmut also professed to be a Christian. He had grown up in the Lutheran tradition as had his family before him. He was a church member of exceptional standing, not only because of his stature as a man of bigger than life proportions in the world, but for his extensive knowledge of the Bible. There was not a fact related to the Bible he did not know.
This walking encyclopedia of Bible knowledge often amazed the Sunday Bible Class with his precise answers. When the sheepish teacher, Mr. Heinke, lost his place in the story of Balaam’s prophecy, Helmut steered him to the shore again and retold the story in immense detail. All eyes were on Mr. Grosart. It is not that Heinke did not try, but everyone knew that the real teacher of the class, the opener of blind eyes and true instructor of the brethren, was Helmut Grosart. The class reminded one of a tennis match. Mr. Heinke would serve, Grosart would return the serve, but then would run to the other side for a brilliant volley, and so forth, until the class bell rang. He often ended with an overhand smash of Biblical erudition. Oh what knowledge this man possessed!
If Heinke was sheepish, then Miss Hahn made him look like a red-faced Martin Luther. And if Heinke was Luther, Grosart was the castle of Wartburg itself. Her diminuitive frame did not give her much of an advantage over the towering Mr. Grosart, to be sure—especially with her dower’s hump and tightly pinned silver hair. And in the area of intellect, well…no comparison.
There was this remarkable physical and intellectual difference, but a good observer would notice another variant strain in Miss Hahn. When matters of intellect and recall were brought forward, she was no match for Grosart, but in matters of the meaning of life, and the truly spiritual, she often had the most remarkable things to say, that is, in her own simple way, though she was only an unschooled follower of Christ.
When Heinke once asked what is the means of true salvation, it was Hahn, not Grosart that had something to say. To summarize, she said that the means of true salvation is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ alone, but that our way of accessing the benefits of that remarkable work was through faith in Christ and no other way.
Not to be outdone, Grosart offered this “sensible” rejoinder. He stated that the true way of salvation could not logically be in Christ alone or in faith alone, for then man’s efforts were made meaningless. It must be that, “yes, we should believe in Christ, but that our efforts at living like a Christian are our real hope of receiving the salvation talked about by the apostle Paul. Even though Christ’s death does most certainly teach us something about how to face death and to live for a cause by way of example, how could one really receive any present day actual benefit from someone who died years ago?”
James: You are illustrating that Miss Hahn knew the right answer, the truly Biblical answer.
Brockton: Yes, that is true. She was not well-versed in the facts of the Bible as was Mr. Grosart, but she knew what the Bible was about. She had a knowledge that was not only Biblically correct, but was revealed to her by God himself. As Jesus said, “To you it has been granted to know the mysteries of the Kingdom, but to them it has not been granted.” The essential knowledge is the actual truth of the Word, applied by the Spirit of God, thus making ultimate truth. Without the Spirit, there is no saving work.
James: Is Grosart’s knowledge of no value?
Brockton: Without the essential knowledge, Bible facts do no saving good. Helmut was a smart man who missed the entire point of the Scriptures. He knew some facts, but not the truth. Mr. Grosart’s knowledge not only means nothing, it is damning. It blinds him and it ultimately will condemn him. Christ’s words, said the Master, will actually judge him on the last day.
James: Then we should not pursue facts as abstract bits of knowledge, but should rather seek truth that changes us? And, I believe you are saying that we should pray that God would reveal to us these truths as we study.
Brockton: Exactly. That knowledge procured for the sake of knowledge does not carry a blessing, but that knowledge that is sought after in order to know God and to be saved from ourselves and our sin, is essential. That kind of knowledge comes from God as a gift.
James: You are not diminishing any of the facts of the Bible, but you do distinguish between mere detached facts versus essential knowledge. Now I see. We know the Bible like a good man knows his wife—essentially, but not exhaustively. Not for the sake of telling others what we know about her as a kind of ostentatious display, but for the purpose of understanding and knowing her—even to love her.
Brockton: Therein lies true wisdom and the hope for a man’s soul.