A Steep Grade part 2: How To Be An Autodidact

So you wanna go it alone and learn from God alone? Very few people in the Bible were able to do this. Lemme see, Moses, Job (who knows who taught him in his youth), David, Jesus, Paul. Maybe more. Their callings, while glorious, we’re intensely difficult. Full of long periods of dryness, hardship, illness, etc. In other words, not full of “pleasant” teaching moments.

Please understand that no man (or woman) is an island. God doesn’t call us to be lone wolves (or sheep for that matter) in our approach to the things of Jesus. I do find, however, two verses that intrigue me regarding autodidacticism:

“But the anointing which ye have received of Him abideth in you, and ye need not that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teacheth you of all things, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it hath taught you, ye shall abide in Him.” (1 John 2:27, emphasis mine) Interesting. Check this one out:

“I have more understanding than all my teachers: for Thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep Thy precepts.” (Psalm 119:99-100) Here, the psalmist says that they’ve effectively surpassed any schooling they’d received (presumably in the knowledge of God) having opted to receive from God Himself. What grade is that? When God is directly, through His word and His Spirit, teaching you what you need to know for your life?

“Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not.” (Jeremiah 33:3) God invites us to go as high as we like with our learning. I suppose it really depends on how humble we’re willing to be. And if we’re truly humble, we’ll be willing to learn from anyone God chooses to use. Even, dare I say, someone who’s not a Christian.

Eric Hoffer, author of The True Believer, only completed third grade. He worked as a stevedore (dock worker) in the Bay Area most of his life. Read his book, though, and you’d never suspect his (near total) lack of compulsory education. His insight into the way mass movements coalesce, operate and die out is spot on. Point is, he was self-taught. I remember hearing a commercial as a kid, talking about the cowboy on the range. I forget the product in question, but I remember what the voice-over said (something to this effect): “ask a cowboy his opinion on any subject and he’d probably have one.” This always resonated with me. The lone cowboy, content with his horse and his saddle and his blanket. Maybe a small toolkit for mending a fence out on the range. His cookpot and his coffee percolater. And all the time in the world to think about things. Maybe a journal to record… The idea here is that he’s travelling light. This brings up an interesting point: how much time are we willing to invest in the thinking and opining on God’s special revelation (the Bible) with reference to our life lived in and among God’s general revelation (the rest of the world)? That’s enough of an education for a lifetime. Don’t ever stop learning.

Two common catchphrases of homschoolers are: “the world is your classroom” and “every moment is a teaching moment”. This is true for the Christian as well because we have the Holy Spirit. And as such, the concept of the Christian Autodidact is almost a misnomer: “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, He shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your rememberance, whatsoever I have said unto you.” (John 14:26, emphasis mine) This proclamation of Jesus is what makes 1 John 2:27 a reality. The fact that we’ve been given a teacher to help us make our way through the world at His leading. “Ye need not that any man teach you.” Okay, so maybe we don’t need it, but if the Holy Spirit or Jesus or God the Father decide to use someone, then you’d better listen.

“We have all a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” Jane Austen

I know she’s talking about ourselves—us. But with the Christian, as the Holy Spirit dwells within us, it’s the guide “in ourselves” that helps us to make the grade.

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A Steep Grade

The first verse of The Book of Acts: “The former treatise have I made, O Theophilus, of all that Jesus began both to do and teach,” ( That’s Luke speaking. The Book of Acts and Luke’s Gospel were originally written and released as one book. But that’s beside the point.

How often do we regard Jesus as our teacher? He is a rabbi, after all.

If we already know everything, then that aspect of His job description would necessarily be overlooked. This is called pride, by the way. There’s no way we can learn from God if we’re in pride, it just won’t happen.

“If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men (women, too) liberally, and ubraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man (or woman) think that [they] shall receive anything of the Lord.” (James 1:5-7)

“Study to shew thyself approved unto God” (2 Timothy 2:15) Paul writes to Timothy. A young man from Lystra, he became a protege of Paul’s, effectively starting his own church for which Paul provides counsel and encouragement in his two letters to him. It’s not an easy thing, teaching others. One must not only be called, but also equipped to be able to take ethereal ideas and concepts and not only understand them inside and out, but also be able to (one) put them in their own words (vital). And then (two) be able to express the same to a bevy of students of every stripe and station. “Let him that is taught in the word communicate unto him that teacheth in all good things.” (Galatians 6:6) This can’t happen unless the teacher is a good one. And in order to become a good teacher, one must be taught of God.

Autodidact

Someone who is self-taught. It can be about anything. I’m writing here about matters spiritual, Christian. Not just religious. Jesus expresses his willingness to teach anyone: “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Taky my yoke upon you, and learn of me (learn from me); for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.” (Matthew 11:28-29) But what kind of knowledge are we talking about here? Certainly, the knowledge that Jesus imparts is not the “knowledge” that “puffeth up” (1 Corinthians 8:1). Could it be the same that Paul is referring to in his letter to the Colossians? (1:10) “That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God.” Sounds about right. Notice the preceding lines in the verse, that speak of “walk[ing] worthy of the Lord”, “pleasing” Him, and being “fruitful in every good work.” Knowledge that is practical, purposeful, useful.

“And the Lord answered me, and said, Write the vision, and make it plain upon tables, that he may run that readeth it.” (Habakkuk 2:2) That he (and she) may run… That it will cause us to be more like Him. And anytime we would submit to a Christian teacher, the knowledge disseminated must inspire one to become more like Jesus. It must be alive. No two ways (or one, for that matter) around it. “The words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63) It’s understandable, if there’s a paucity of quality teachers, how one would take the route of autodidact and seek to learn from God Himself. Though, don’t confuse the willingness to learn from God alone, for an irrational (read: disobedient) lone-wolf approach to biblical studies.

Acts 8 (27-40) speaks of an Ethiopian returning to his homeland from Jerusalem. “Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, how can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him.” (verses 29-31) The same Philip to whom Jesus said months prior: “Have I been so long time with you, and yet hast thou not known me?” (John 14:10) The Old Testament passage which the Ethiopian was having trouble understanding was from Isaiah and spoke prophetically of Jesus. And the only way that Philip was able to expound on the truth contained therein was because he knew Jesus. Between the time Jesus expressed His dismay and alarm at Philip’s personal ignorance and the passage in Acts, Philip gained a deep understanding of who Jesus is (their relationship was ratified). So much so, that he was able to introduce the Ethiopian man to Him.

We all start that way. We go to church. We read the Bible. We participate. But until we avail ourselves of Jesus through humility, do we ever gain the insight needed to actually teach others what God Himself has taught us.

From this: “I will instruct thee and teach thee in the way which thou shalt go” (Psalm 32:8) This is God speaking.

To this: “Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee.” (Psalm 51:13) And that’s David (one of His star pupils; see Acts 13:22).

And if you find yourself held back, it’s for a good reason. God is teaching you!