…teach what accords with sound doctrine. Titus 2:1
Discussions on doctrine can get heated and sometimes out of hands. As a cop out, or to avoid disagreeing with anyone, some Christians declare “I am a Christian. That is enough. I don’t want to discuss doctrine. I only want to be a Jesus lover”. The challenge here however is that, when you attempt answering questions like “Who is a Christian?” “How does one become a Christian?” “What must be the conduct of a Christian? “Who is Jesus?” “What does it mean to be a Jesus lover?” you have started discussing doctrine. If we are to contend for the faith, and we must, then we cannot do away with doctrine because doctrine matters.
What Is Doctrine?
The term doctrine refers to that which is taught. The Greek word in the New Testament is didaskalia, and it is variously translated as teaching, instruction, or doctrine. Christians use it to describe the basic theology which is understood to be the teaching of the Bible. In this sense it represents the content of the Christian faith.¹
As a Christian, you have no option. Regardless of your beliefs, as a Christian, you hold a doctrine. Doctrine can be sound or unsound. Sound doctrine is any doctrine or teaching consistent with biblical teachings. Unsound doctrine, will be the exact opposite of sound doctrine, that is, any doctrine or teaching inconsistent with Scripture. Indeed the many denominations we have in Christendom is as a result of doctrine(s). People bundle together as a group or church or fellowship as a result of the doctrine they confess. Some years back, I had a personal disdain for denominations. I thought it was anemic to Christianity. But with time I have parted with that notion. This has recently been reinforced by a Scripture I came across while reading: “for there must be factions among you in order that those who are genuine among you may be recognized”(1Corinthians 11:19).
Paul points out here that factions are a necessary distinguishing factor for truth and error. Denominations, I concluded, present us with the opportunity to distinguish churches with sound doctrine from churches without sound doctrine.
Why Doctrine Matters
I stated earlier that once we attempt to answer questions like “Who is a Christian?” “How does one become a Christian?” “What must be the conduct of a Christian? We enter into a doctrinal discussion, even if we claim to be people who don’t want to discuss doctrine.
1: Doctrine Is Life
If we are to answer the question “who is a Christian?”, we will also have to make a distinction of “Who is not a Christian”. A Christian is a follower or disciple of Christ. Someone who has trusted in Christ for their salvation and are following Him. All human beings are sinners from birth the Bible declares and are separated from God (Psalm 51:5, Jeremiah 17:9, Romans 3:23, 6:23). We are not only guilty of Original sin. We are guilty of sins we actually commit. Now, to be a Christian, you must acknowledge your sinfulness, repent and trust in Christ for your salvation. You must be born again (John 1:12-13, John 3:3-4). To be born again is to experience what is called regeneration. God changes your heart and infuses new life into your heart. Your sins are forgiven. Salvation is a work of God done purely by Grace which sinners receive by faith (John 3:16, Ephesians 2:8-9).
As against this, some believe they can earn their salvation by their works or good lifestyle. In the words of Donald Grey Barnhouse, “Man is incurably addicted to doing something for his own salvation, and, therefore, it is most difficult for him to accept the doctrine of pure grace“. That is our nature. We oppose God by acting contrary to what He has revealed about salvation. He put “…forward [Christ] as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith (Romans 3:25). But men say no, faith alone won’t do, we will add some works and good deeds of our own. Others believe there are many ways to God apart from Christ. But the Bible is clear in its teachings. Jesus is the only way to God and to salvation: Jesus said… “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).
Peter speaking about Jesus says “…there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12). Apart from faith and trust in Jesus for salvation, any other belief is antithetical to gospel truth. What doctrine we hold has consequences. Wrong beliefs can land you in hell. Doctrine is life also in the sense that people have lost their lives because of wrong beliefs. Some have refused medical attention because of their beliefs. Others have taken their own lives based on a religious leader’s teachings. Doctrine matters. Doctrine is a life and death issue.
2: Doctrine Regulates Christian Conduct.
Doctrine spells out what we are to do and not to do as believers. In Titus 2:2-10, Paul lays down some guidelines on Christian conduct. He spoke about how older men and women must conduct themselves. Then he spoke to young men and women. The Christian, as indicated earlier is justified by faith alone in the finished work on calvary. But that finished work is not a license for licentious living. Paul will ask in Romans 6:1 “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? He answers himself in v.2 “By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” The Bible provides the believer with the blue print to live their lives and calls on us to show forth the praise of God.
When sinners are regenerated, they are called upon to live lives consistent with their new life. The believer starts from a position of having been declared rigtheous with God, then they are called upon to live that new life: “Already you are clean because of the word that I have spoken to you. Abide in me…” (John 15). We see clearly here, before Christ called His disciples to “abide in him”, He first told them their position in relation to justification: “Already, you are clean….” When salvation comes to our hearts, then we are called upon to live lives pleasing to God: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him”(Colossians 2:6). “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments”( 1John 2:3). Doctrine leads to purity: “…we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure” (1John 3:2-3).
2. Doctrine Leads To Endurance And Perseverance
If we live by faith in this promise of future grace, it will be very hard for anxiety to survive. God’s “riches in glory” are inexhaustible. He really means for us not to worry about our future²
The Christian life is lived by faith in Christ. The Christian’s hope is not mere optimism. It is faith in One who holds our future and knows beforehand all that happens to us. This hope however must be built on true beliefs–sound doctrine. False beliefs–unsound doctrine– leads to false hope. A life built on wrong beliefs will crumble in adversity. In like manner, true beliefs–sound doctrine–leads to a true hope. The Bible calls us to persevere to the end and we can only do that if we hold to true beliefs. There is no gurantee however that holding true beliefs will produce endurance. We must not be hearers only. We must also be doers of the word. In Matthew 7:24-27, Jesus made a distinction between the wise man and the foolish man. The wise man, Jesus said, is like the one who builds their house on a rock; “the rain fell, and the floods came , and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock”(v. 25). Here is the picture of a life with a good foundation. And the “good foundation” here is Christ and the keeping of His teachings: “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock” (v.24).
Our beliefs shapes our response to challenges and suffering of life. We will not lose hope or become despondent if we know God is Sovereign over all that happens to us. Paul says “we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28). James tells us “Count it all joy, my brothers , when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing” (James 1:2-4). Peter also tells us
not to “…be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you (1Peter 4:12).
4: Doctrine Guards Against Falsehood
These days, numerous falsehoods are masquerading as gospel but are no gospel. To know falsehood therefore, we must know the truth. Doctrine matters because it is the truth we know that will set us free (John 8:32). You can have sound doctrine without a sound life. But you cannot have a sound life without sound doctrine. What you don’t know cannot be of benefit to you. Doctrine matters because we are called upon to grow in our knowledge of Christ and not be tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine. It is crucial we pay attention to doctrine because doctrine points us to whether what we believe is true or not.
Doctrine matters and we must pay attention to what we believe.