Preface: Believers grow spiritually by the intake of Bible doctrine. Grow by means of grace and by means of knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ is a mandate from God, given in the imperative mood in 2Peter 3:18. This happens a bit at a time. There are no other methods by which Christians grow. We do not grow by attending a church that has all of the programs we like (lots of singing, a nursery, a young people’s group, etc.). We grow in a church that may be tiny, medium or large, but from which pulpit the Word of God is taught regularly—not in 15 minute chunks thrice a week, but an hour 4x a week or more. We may sing hymns, but they should enforce what we know or help to teach us doctrine. There are a lot of things that we might do at church, but the primary focus of a church is to see that its members Grow by means of grace and by means of knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace is the system by which God made it possible for all believers to grow (R. B. Thieme, Jr. coined the phrase, the grace apparatus for perception, or GAP).
What is covered below is a very basic approach to the concept of GAP.
This doctrine comes out of Genesis 22 (HTML) (PDF) (WPD) and from lesson #244 of the Basic Exegesis Series (HTML) (PDF). This is a summary of this doctrine. R. B. Thieme, Jr. coined the phrase and developed the doctrine originally.
1. The terminology comes from R. B. Thieme, Jr., and it means that there is a grace means by which all believers may understand Bible doctrine. The basic idea is, all believers grow spiritually through the understanding of Bible doctrine. A believer with an I.Q. of 150 does not have any advantage over the believer who has an I.Q. of 90. This will be backed up with Scripture, but R. B. Thieme, Jr. Ministries also puts out a booklet on a particular person, Laura Kay Tapping, who showed this to be true.
2. That we are to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ is a mandate from the Bible. This is not an option; and this is not just one way of many ways for a believer to grow. Just as there is only one way to be saved, there is only one Savior; similarly, there is only one way to grow and there is only one Word of Truth, the Bible, to be learned. 2Peter 3:18
3. Understanding Bible doctrine is much different from human understanding, which is not the basis of spiritual understanding or spiritual growth. 1Cor. 2:1, 8–9
4. At salvation, we are regenerated by the Holy Spirit, which results in our becoming trichotomous, having a soul, spirit and body. Titus 3:5 1Thess. 5:23
5. It is the soul which allows us to understand the things of man; the human spirit which allows us to understand the things of God. 1Cor. 2:10–12 Eph. 3:16
6. Spiritual growth can only take place when we are filled with the Holy Spirit; so, therefore, we must be in fellowship when learning spiritual things. 1Cor. 11:31 1John 1:9
7. Being filled with the Spirit is a mandate for the Christian life. Eph. 5:18
8. It is God’s desire that everyone be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Tim. 2:4
9. One of the passages grace apparatus for perception is based upon is Eph. 3:16–19 (this is a prayer, written by Paul to the Ephesians) That God would give you, according to [the norm or standard of] the riches of His glory, to be strengthened with inherent power by His Spirit in the inner man; so that Christ may dwell [or, be at home] in your hearts by means of faith; that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge, that you might be filled with all the fullness of God. Let’s look at this prayer phrase-by-phrase:
1) That God would give you, according to [the norm or standard of] the riches of His glory,... God has an abundance of or a wealth of glory. One of the reasons that we are left on earth after salvation is to glorify Him. Now, given your sorry Christian life and mine, that seems pretty much impossible, but that is our Christian duty and purpose. We reveal, from day-to-day, God’s character and essence in us, despite our great imperfections and failings. God actually gives this opportunity to us again and again, every single day of our lives. However, only the mature believer truly glorifies Jesus Christ. Let me draw an analogy here: we all understand, to some degree, the father and son relationship. If a son goes out there, and is educated or builds up his own business or behaves like a decent human being, he does his father proud. Such a man glorifies his father. Now, as a child of 7 in a school play or singing some song at a pageant, there is some pride in that, but not a lot. Mostly, that is just cute. But when a son reaches adulthood and begins to apply the principles of life which he has learned at home, that is when a son can potentially glorify his father. As believers in Jesus Christ, we glorify God in the same way. Once we reach adulthood, that is when we begin to glorify Him. You no doubt know some 30 or 40 year-old men who act like children, and everything is about them, and they are selfish and lazy. Such a man is an embarrassment to his father. Some believers reach spiritual adulthood and some do not, but we all have the potential to do so, and this potential is based upon the grace apparatus for perception.
2) ...to be strengthened with inherent power by His Spirit in the inner man;... We are strengthen or empowered (passive voice) with dúnamis (δύναμις) [pronounced DOO-nahm-iss], which means power, ability, able, capable; inherent power, power residing in a thing by virtue of its nature. Strong’s #1411. So this power, which we receive, is an inherent power or a power which resides within us. This is done by means of God’s Spirit in the inner man. So, again, this process works within us. Notice that there is no legalism here. This does not happen because you used to be immoral and now you are moral. That is a good thing, but the result of growth and not the means of growth (and becoming moral might be the result of social pressure or self-will as well—as some people turn toward God simply because they are disgusted with themselves). This inner man refers to the human spirit, and being strengthened with inherent power in the inner man, refers to this spiritual growth that occurs within us. The Holy Spirit is instrumental in making this happen. The Holy Spirit teaches our human spirit; and the Holy Spirit allows the grace apparatus for perception to function when we are in fellowship.
3) ...so that Christ may dwell in your hearts by means of faith;... This is one of the mysteries of the Church Age, where Jesus Christ indwells us. To dwell is the Greek verb katoikéô (κατοικέω) [pronounced kah-toy-KEH-oh], which means to live, to reside; this is a word which usually refers to one’s semi-permanent dwelling. Thayer definitions: 1) to dwell, settle; 1a) metaphorically divine powers, influences, etc., are said to dwell in his soul, to pervade, prompt, govern it; 2) to dwell in, inhabit; 2a) God is said to dwell in the temple, i.e. to be always present for worshippers. Notice how this is used metaphorically divine powers, influences, etc., are said to dwell in his soul, to pervade, prompt, govern it. This is exactly what we are talking about, something which occurs on this inside. Strong’s #2730. This is done by means of faith, which is the Greek word pistis (πίστις) [pronounced PIHS-tihs], and pistis refers to having faith or confidence in something, but it also refers to that which you have faith and confidence in. In the latter sense, this is one of the many synonyms in the Bible for Bible doctrine. Strong’s #4102. Therefore, Christ makes Himself at home in your inner being by means of exercising faith in Bible doctrine. Spiritual information in the Bible is of no use to you. Spiritual information which you hear and reject is of no use to you. You must hear it, you must understand it (grace apparatus for perception) and then you must believe it. If you find yourself rejecting half of what your pastor says, then you are in the wrong church (or, you are negative toward doctrine). If you are not growing spiritually, then you are in the wrong church. If you cannot look back over a period of, say, 5 years, and be able to note unmistakable spiritual growth, then you are in the wrong church or you are just not doing it right.
4) ...that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which surpasses knowledge,... This is a long section, so we will break it up into further sub-points:
(1) Being rooted is the perfect passive participle of rhizoô (ῥιζόω) [pronounced hrid-ZOH-o], which means, to cause to strike root, to strengthen with roots, to render firm, to fix, establish, cause a person or a thing to be thoroughly grounded. Thayer definitions only. Strong’s #4492. A plant without a strong root system is easily harmed. It is the root system which goes deep into the ground, in all directions, which pulls in nutrients for the plant.
(2) Grounded is the perfect passive participle of themelioô (θεμελιόω) [pronounced them-el-ee-OH-oh], which means, 1) to lay the foundation, to found; 2) to make stable, establish. Thayer definitions only. Strong’s #2311. Again, notice how all of this is foundational; there is strength and power and nourishment in the foundation or in the roots. Perfect tense in the Greek refers generally to a past action with present continuing results. Passive means that we do not actually build this root system ourselves, but this is done for us, when we learn Bible doctrine.
(3) In love is often used throughout the New Testament for being in fellowship (we find it used in this manner throughout John’s first epistle). No spiritual growth occurs out of fellowship.
(4) Be able is the aorist active subjunctive of Verb exischuô (ἐξισχύω) [pronounced ex-is-KHOO-oh], which means, to be eminently able, able, to have full strength. Thayer definition only. Strong’s #1840. The subjunctive mood means that we have this power, we have this ability, but we may not choose to use it. The iterative aorist indicates that there are points in time throughout our lives when we are able (when we are filled with the Spirit and growing—more specifically, taking in the food needed to grow).
(5) To comprehend is the aorist middle infinitive of Verb katalambanô (καταλαμβάνω) [pronounced kat-al-am-BAHN-oh], which means, 1) to lay hold of; 1a) to lay hold of so as to make one’s own, to obtain, attain to, to make one’s own, to take into one’s self, appropriate; 1b) to seize upon, take possession of; 1b1) of evils overtaking one, of the last day overtaking the wicked with destruction, of a demon about to torment one; 1b2) in a good sense, of Christ by his holy power and influence laying hold of the human mind and will, in order to prompt and govern it; 1c) to detect, catch; 1d) to lay hold of with the mind; 1d1) to understand, perceive, learn, comprehend. Thayer definition only. Strong’s #2638. Comprehension is related to spiritual growth.
(6) We are able to comprehend with all the saints. This is not something which is reserved for believers who have I.Q.’s of 110 or higher; this is for every believer. If you understand the gospel enough to believe in Jesus Christ, then you can learn in the classroom of the local church and build upon that session after session, and apply that to your life, with all other believers.
(7) Then we have: ...what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height. These are categories of doctrine wherein we store information. If you deal with a lot of paperwork and you are organized, then you separate this paperwork into different drawers, into different files or different containers. Doctrine is much the same way. We begin with basic categories of doctrine (the breadth, and length, and depth, and height), and then we place more and more information into the categories. Breadth refers to doctrines concerning Jesus Christ and His death on the cross, along with the essence of God. Length refers to dispensational teaching, so that we know what has been in the past and what will be found in the future; as well as to the progressive plan of God for our lives. Depth refers to advanced doctrines; and height refers to all information related to the Angelic Conflict. As we learn more and more in the Christian life, we are able to file these doctrines into these various drawers.
(8) You are able to, with all the saints, comprehend the love of Christ; which refers to the plan of God, which begins at the cross, which represents the love of Christ, as well as His justice and His righteousness. If Jesus chose not to go to the cross, then we would have no relationship with God. Jesus chooses to do this out of love for us and God the Father chose this plan out of love for us. John 15:13 1John 4:10
(9) This goes beyond or exceeds or transcends knowledge. There are several words for knowledge in the Bible, but there are two which are pertinent to this context: gnosis and epignosis. What we have here is gnôsis (γνσις) [pronounced GNOH-sis] which can refer to human knowledge, general intelligence, human understanding. This understanding depends upon the context. Strong’s #1108. There is another word called epignôsis (ἐπίγνωσις) [pronounced ehp-IHG-noh-sis], which means, 1) precise and correct knowledge 1a) used in the NT of the knowledge of things ethical and divine; this is a word which refers to over and above knowledge. Epignosis is over-and-above knowledge. When in contrast with gnôsis, this is divine knowledge or knowledge of Bible doctrine. Strong’s #1922. Epignôsis is the word that we find in 1Tim. 2:3b–4 God our Savior...desires all people to be saved and to come to the [full] knowledge of the truth.
5) ...that you might be filled with all the fullness of God. The word that can refer to a result clause or to a purpose clause, and the purpose of taking in Bible doctrine is so that we might be filled with all the fullness of God. Grace apparatus for perception, the very process that we are describing, is the way that it occurs. We are not filled with all the fulness of God by learning a holy language and then repeating it at the right intervals; we are not filled with the fulness of God by finding certain people in the church and then imitating their personalities (I have seen this happen even in good doctrinal churches). We are not filled with the fullness of God by turning our lives around and becoming more moral. That is a good thing, but it may or may not indicate spiritual growth.
10. The second extended passage on this topic is 1Cor. 2:11–16 For who among men knows the things of a man except the spirit of man within him? So also no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. But we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit from God, so that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is judged by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ.
1) For who among men knows the things of a man except the spirit of man within him? When we are born again, we receive a human spirit, which has been shut down or has been non-operational for the entirety of our lives, due to the function of the sin nature. We understand our fellow man by means of our soul; and we understand God by means of our human spirit. The terms soul and spirit can be used both technically and non-technically throughout the Bible. Technically, the soul is what is inside of us which allows us to know the things of man; technically, the human spirit is what is inside of us which allows us to know the things of God. The spirit of man here is the non-technical use, and it refers to the human soul. We know this, because it is qualified: the spirit of man.
2) So also no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. It is the Holy Spirit, Who is given to all believers at salvation, which guides us into all truth (John 16:13 1Cor. 12:13). The Holy Spirit makes the human spirit operational and allows for the flow of Bible doctrine from the teaching of the pastor-teacher to the human spirit of the believer. It is the Holy Spirit Who is the co-Author of the Word of God and Who teaches us through the pastor-teacher (which is the primary means of growth for the believer). If we were supposed to grow by simply reading our Bibles, then there would be no need for the spiritual gift of pastor-teacher nor would there be any need to have a local church, which is designed to be the classroom which allows for spiritual growth. The apostle John speaks of the superiority of face to face teaching over written material. 2John 12. Paul clearly taught this as well in 1Thess. 2:17-18 3:2,10.
3) But we have not received the spirit of the world, but the Spirit from God, so that we might know the things that are freely given to us by God. The spirit of the world is the thinking of human viewpoint. Today, this is humanism, fairness, equality and political correctness. Once and awhile, a culture can have as a strong component of that culture divine viewpoint. However, Satan works to destroy that sort of thinking as quickly as possible. A good example of human viewpoint today is the gay marriage movement. If you say that homosexual activity is wrong, you will be told that you are judging, and that Jesus told you not to judge. However, the Bible is clear on this: homosexual acts are wrong and sinful. Understanding what is sinful is not judging. The gay marriage movement says that homosexual desires are natural and God-given. It goes much deeper than that, however. The whole Satanic purpose of the gay marriage movement is to censor pastors and/or to censor the Bible and/or to denigrate the Bible. The idea is to put Christians into difficult positions and then to ostracize them or even sue them if they do not tow the gay marriage party line. Since gay marriage was legalized in Canada, there have been hundreds of lawsuits, most of them against Christians and Christian speech and actions. To know is the perfect active subjunctive of eidô (εἴδω) [pronounced Ī-doh], which means to see, to perceive, to discern, to know. Strong’s #1492. The perfect tense is action which occurs in the past, but with results that carry on into the present. The subjunctive mood means, we may choose to know and we may choose not to know. However, that which God wants us to know is freely given to us. Any believer with positive signals to the Word of God can learn the Word of God through the channels which God has set up. As an aside, I lived in a large city, at one time, where finding good teaching was nearly impossible. I found okay, but legalistic teaching, at a Christian institute. However, now, with the internet, there is a surfeit of good teaching available. See the cities and pastors in the List. In this day and age, there is no reason for a believer to be ignorant of the Word of God.
4) These things we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. Paul, as an apostle and as a pastor-teacher, teaches these things, not as the philosophies of the day, but he teaches what the Holy Spirit teaches, where spiritual things are compared with spiritual. The verb is the present active participle of Verb sugkrinô (συγκρίνω) [pronounced soong-KREE-no], which means, 1) to joint together fitly, compound, combine; 2) to interpret; 3) to compare. Thayer definition only. Strong’s #4793. We then have the neuter plural adjective used twice: pneumatikós (πνευματικός) [pronounced nyoo-mat-TEE-koss], which means spiritual; as a plural, it acts like noun, and it means spiritual things, spiritual matters. Strong’s #4152. It is found as an accusative and as a dative; so the verb acts upon spiritual things and to this we append with spiritual things. The idea here is, doctrine is built upon doctrine. You do not walk into Bible class the first day and, in an hour, get everything you need for you spiritual life. In fact, you do not get this after going to a good church for a year; or for 5 years. This is a process which continues throughout your entire life, because, for 15 hours a day, you are exposed to human viewpoint from every side: from your parents, from your children, from your supervisor, from your job description, from the movies and from television. Taking the example which I used earlier—gay marriage—we find the gay agenda in such diverse programs as Downton Abbey and the innocuous Pretty Little Liars (from the Disney channel, I believe). In fact, on perhaps half of the programs I have seen, we have the gay agenda presented, over and over again. We wonder why the youth of America favors gay marriage—it is because they have been exposed to nothing else in all of what they take in. This is one example, mentioned primarily because it is a big issue today (far more important to our president than economic matters). 5 years ago, our president told us that he believed that marriage was between 1 man and 1 woman and that God was in the mix. And recently, he is telling Africans about the gay agenda. So, in order to combat human viewpoint, which is going to come at us from every side, we need a little bit of the Word of God. The reason we need it daily is, we are going to be exposed to human viewpoint all day long, in its many and contradictory forms (for instance, American Muslims and LGBT types overwhelmingly support the Democratic party, even though these two groups are diametrically opposed to one another).
5) But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. The natural man is the unbeliever, who views the things of the spirit as foolishness. On the Facebook page Being Liberal, nearly every day, there are anti-Christian graphic postings. Here, the Bible tells us that the unbeliever cannot learn or retain the things of the Spirit. This helps to explain to me how I could listen to and sing Christmas hymns throughout my entire life without understanding what they all meant. Although I celebrated Easter for 20 or 21 years before I was saved, I did not even know what happened to Jesus after the resurrection. I am not sure if I knew much about the resurrection itself, despite all of my exposure to it. This explains why liberals complain that Christians are judging when they say that homosexual acts are wrong. This is why these same liberals think that this is a violation of what Jesus said about judging, because they are unable to understand spiritual matters. This is why liberals often think that Jesus is a long-haired, sandal-wearing hippie who was the first socialist who gave away free healthcare. He did wear sandals, by the way, but the rest of this picture is wrong. However, they cannot receive the things of the Spirit. Also, it is man’s nature to make God in his own image.
6) But he who is spiritual judges all things, yet he himself is judged by no one. For who has known the mind of the Lord, that he may instruct Him? But we have the mind of Christ. To be spiritual here means not just filled with the Holy Spirit but with some spiritual growth as well. Also, Paul here claims to have the mind of Christ, which is the thinking of Jesus Christ, which is the content of all Bible doctrine. He uses the pronoun we referring to himself and the crew that he moved about with. This can be further extended to all of the apostles at this time, as well as to their protegees; and to pastor-teachers today who actually know and teach the Word of God.
11. A natural question which may come out of this is, how does the unbeliever understand the gospel of Jesus Christ? After all, this is fundamental Christian doctrine. The Holy Spirit graciously acts as the human spirit for the believer and makes the gospel understandable. I recall hearing the gospel for the first time and it was really poorly explained to me, but I walked away from that conversation knowing that I needed to make a decision. I wasn’t sure about what exactly, but I did understand that there was a decision to be made. I eventually turned to the book of John, and understood the decision to be made as Jesus explained it in John 3 (like so many others who have been saved).
12. To sum up the doctrine of GAP, you need a trained pastor-teacher teaching his congregation Bible doctrine. They need to be filled with the Spirit (in fellowship) and there needs to be enough teaching to counteract the constant flow of human viewpoint which we all experience. All believers in that congregation, being in all stages of spiritual growth, can learn from what is being taught. One of the things which I found to be fascinating is, I listened and took copious notes on R. B. Thieme, Jr.’s study of David. 30 years later, I re-listened to this study, and it was as if I had never heard a word of it before. The difference was, I had a much greater background of spiritual information the second time that I listened to this study. I got something out of it when I first heard it; and I got a great deal more out of it the second time through. There was more spiritual information in my soul, to which I could compare (lay along side) the spiritual information being taught.
1) As an aside, the same thing is true of the pastor. R. B. Thieme, Jr. for 10+ years taught book after book after book of the Bible to his congregation (none of which is available to us today). He would teach 1 or more chapters a night, night after night, which we are aware of today because of the classes from the early 1960's which are still available to us. He continued increasing the number of classes to the point where, at his peak, he was teaching ten 1.25 hour classes a week. By the 2nd or 3rd or 4th pass-through of this or that book, his knowledge and understanding of the Bible expanded to a point where he could expound on these passages in much greater detail, often spending a full hour on each verse, gleaning from it as much meaning as possible.
Other resources for the Doctrine of grace apparatus for perception (GAP) (some of these were used as partial sources for this doctrinal development as well):
These other sources go into greater detail on this doctrine.