How does the Gospel make you wise?
The book of Proverbs is often referred to the book of wisdom. The book is loaded with timeless truths, and speaks often of the need to continue a love for learning – but the book does not equate wisdom with knowledge. Growing in knowledge means, simply put, continuing to learn more of what is true. Wisdom, however, is the understanding of how to apply that knowledge in our day to day lives. For example, maybe I know that it is a good thing not to be in debt (Proverbs 22:7), but wisdom would teach me that it is the gentle slope of laziness that often leads to a life of debt (Prov. 6:10-11) or co-signing on a loan with an untrustworthy person (Prov. 6:1-5). Wisdom would help me navigate away from those decisions.
But how does one become wise. We all have made unwise decisions in the past, right? It seemed like a really good idea to ask her out, even if everyone was telling you she wasn’t interested. It really seemed like it was a reliable car to buy – who cares if they won’t let you drive it on the highway, its only three hundred dollars! It really seemed like signing up for twenty credits this semester was totally doable. Across the board, we all have done some dumb stuff.
Luckily, the book of Proverbs doesn’t just tell us what wisdom is, but also helps shows us how we can be wise. In the first chapter, Wisdom is portrayed as a woman crying out in the streets, calling all who are simple minded to come learn her ways. Then, in verse 23 of chapter one, she makes this promise, “If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit to you; I will make my words known to you.”
If you want to become a consistently wise person, turn at reproof. Admit you were wrong – don’t fight to defend yourself and lay stake to your self-perceived wisdom. The fastest way to become an unwise person is the think that you are as wise as you need to be, and conversely, the fastest way to become wise is to admit you aren’t really that wise and need guidance. The unwise person runs into calamity, and simply just blames others for the problem. By keeping the fault at arm’s length, just assigning it to other’s lack of wisdom, the unwise person is actually keeping the very thing that will make him more wise away. The wise person remains honest with himself and his weaknesses, and can own up to his failure.
This is scary for most of us, because most of us live our lives with our hope based on our own or other’s perception of us as a “wise person”. No one wants to feel dumb. But, we all do dumb things, and it is going through the dumb things with a certain humility and openness that will make us ultimately wise in the end.
The strength required to walk in that humility, however, comes from freeing ourselves from other’s perception of us, and even our own perception of us. If we continue to live shackled to always trying to convince others or ourselves that we got it all together, we will never really get it together. We need to know what God thinks of us. The Bible tells us that God loves the weak and the foolish (1 Cor. 1:26-28), and that when we were at our weakest, Jesus came and died for us (Rom. 5:8). If this is true, this must mean that God did not come to me and love me because I was the sharpest and smartest and wisest, and that means that His love is not dependent upon me being something great. In honest truth, His love is not dependent upon anything in me.
So what does this practically mean? When I realize that a decision I made was a bad one, instead of trying to spin it to my friends or convince myself that it isn’t as bad as it really is, I can simply admit my fault. Why? Because I know that God approves and loves me, so I don’t need to try and earn the deep soul approval I am looking for. Satisfy your longing for approval in the flood waters of grace, and you will find that it changes everything. The Gospel really does make you a wise person, in many facets, but primarily in allowing you to learn from mistakes as much as possible. It removes your quest and desire to make you look better than you really do from the equation, so you can learn much much more.
Certainly, there will still be a part of you that strives to justify yourself, tries to defend your reputation as a respectable, astute individual, worthy of due honor and plaques and awards and commemoration ceremonies. But grace will make you honest enough with yourself that you will know that stuffy self-righteousness is really hollow, and you will just need deflate it from time to time.
Whoever conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. – Proverbs 28:13