In a recent study of the story where Satan tempts Jesus in the wilderness, we observed that Jesus demonstrated the ability to think spiritually on three levels, which helped him thwart the enemy’s attack. He was able to think biblically, theologically, and transformationally.

Level 1 is learning how to think biblically. This is Christianity 101, where you’re able to show that you know your way around the Bible. You’re mastering the art of the daily quiet time, you know where the various books are in the Bible, you’re beginning to memorize verses and learn the Bible’s stories. It’s exciting when you begin to think biblically. But the real adventure begins with Level 2.

Level Two is thinking theologically. “Theology” means simply the study of God, or less technically the study of what God thinks. So when you’re thinking theologically, you’re now taking your interaction with God’s Word to a deeper level, because now you’re not just reading it, you’re trying to study it.

In Level 1, thinking biblically, you’re answering the question, “What does God’s Word say?” At level 2, thinking theologically, you’re answering the questions, “What does God’s Word mean?”

At this level, you’re starting to understand and practice the 3-part theological process, which is 1) Learn the Scriptures, 2) Look at history, and 3) Listen to culture. To “do theology” (where you’re trying to learn “what God thinks” of a given topic), these are the three areas you’ll give attention to.

At this level you’re also beginning to master skills related to proper biblical interpretation. Things such as getting the text right, paying attention to the meaning and grammar (yes, grammar!) of words, and situating the passage in its proper context are all growing in importance to you.

When God puts something down in the Bible, there’s a message that he’s trying to get across to us. Thinking biblically and theologically get us closer to understanding that message. Which then moves us forward to the point of all Bible study, which is…

Level Three is thinking transformationally. Which answers the question, what is my reading and studying of the word of God meant to do for me?

There’s only one answer that is correct. The reading and the studying of God’s Word is meant to bring me into the presence of Christ and make me like him. God’s Word is given to me to transform me, and fill me with a love for God and for others.

Knowledge puffs up, love builds up, Paul said (1 Cor.8:1). If I…understand all mysteries and all knowledge…but have not love, I am nothing, he added (1 Cor.13:2-3). Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, Peter taught (2 Peter 3:18).

The reading and the studying of God’s Word is meant to bring me into the presence of Christ and make me like him.

If all you’re doing in your Bible study is growing in knowledge, but you’re not growing in Christlike love, holiness, and grace, you’re missing the point. You’re swelling your head, but not enlarging your heart. Which means your time in the Book is wasted. End of story.

I wonder if failing to discern these three levels might be one of the reasons why too many followers of Christ are vulnerable to political manipulation, conspiracy thinking, and doctrinal novelties. “Christian thought” should not be an oxymoron.

I love how Psalm 119 ends compared to how it begins. It begins in verse 1 with the author writing: “Blessed are those who ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord.” The author sounds so sure of himself at first. Cocky even. “Yeah, you and me God. Show me your laws; I’m all over them. I got this.”

Listen though to how he ends. After 175 verses of spending time with the Lord, meditating and marveling on his words he writes in the last verse: “I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant, for I do not forget your commandments.”

If I’m reading Scripture properly, then that’s where it brings me. It brings me to a Cross, where I learn that I have gone astray like a lost sheep. It brings me to a Savior, who will seek me and die for me. And then it brings me home. Where by God’s grace, I will never forget his commandments again, and with his help, I will begin to look like and act like Jesus.  

Questions To think About

  1. To make sure I understand the 3 levels, write them out, then in one sentence, define them and distinguish them from each other.
  2. What are the 3 parts to the theological process?
  3. Why is Level 3 the most important stage of growth? What’s so bad with putting all your energy in Levels 1 and 2?
  4. Read Matthew 4:1-11. In resisting Temptation #1, Jesus thinks biblically. In resisting Temptation #2, Jesus thinks theologically. In resisting Temptation #3, Jesus thinks transformationally. How so?

Bear Clifton, writer and screenwriter, is the pastor of BridgeWay Community Church in California, Maryland. His blogs, screenplays and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, “A Sparrow Could Fall”, and his latest – “Living Under The Cross”, a collection of essays on the Beatitudes – all available through Amazon. 

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