Thursday, June 30, 2011
Doctrine vs. Life
My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about Doctrine and Life:
Q: Which is more important: to try to live the way that the Bible says we should, or to understand theology and doctrine correctly?
The best one-word answer to this question, when asked by a Christian, is “Yes!” A person’s good deeds, their ability to closely follow the Bible’s commands, or their attempts to live in a Biblical fashion can never, under any circumstances earn them God’s blessings. However, for one who is already a Christian, correct doctrine and a God-pleasing life are both things that they should strive for.
Far too frequently, it happens that these two aspects of the Christian faith are placed as opposed to one another, and individuals, and even whole denominations, who strive for one often make the mistake of neglecting the other. While the Christian seeks to keep these two aspects in balance, it is important to remember that neither of them can be the cause of salvation. It is only trust in Jesus as the only savior which can do that. At the same time, unrepented errors in either doctrine or life have the potential to endanger faith and salvation.
Without correct doctrine, a person could easily be misled into trusting in the wrong thing for their eternal salvation. Even small doctrinal errors have the potential to grow into faith-destroying, salvation-threatening false teachings. In addition, if one does not have a proper understanding of the Bible, how would he even know what a God-pleasing life really looks like?
On the other hand, a person who has correct doctrine, but pays no attention to their way of life runs the risk of developing a sinful pride which leads them to believe that their doctrinal understanding makes them spiritually superior, or of developing sinful habits, which if continued without repentance, have the risk of separating them from Jesus and the blessings He gives.
Since God is the one who designed and made humans and all creation, it only makes sense that following His commands can bring blessing, but while living according to a Biblical morality has the potential to have earthly benefits for any person, good deeds can never earn them anything from God.
This is the vast difference which exists between Christians and their Bible compared to every other religion of the world and their respective holy books. Every other religion of the world has a code of behavior or a path to enlightenment proposed in their holy books, which, if followed, claims it will bring divine blessing or good fortune to its adherents. Christianity, on the other hand, proposes that humans are incapable of satisfying God by their deeds, and therefore, God Himself took up the task of satisfying His commands by taking on Human flesh in the person of Jesus, then gives His blessings to humans by grace, that is, as a gift.
The purpose of the Bible’s commands, in light of this, is to show humans how badly they have failed to live up to God’s moral demands and force them to look outside of themselves, to Jesus, to obtain the righteous status that God demands.
I’ve seen often two slogans on bumper stickers and t-shirts which reflect the failure of Christian preachers and Bible teachers to properly convey the Biblical truth regarding these two aspects of correct doctrine and a god-pleasing life. Both of these are usually imposed above a picture of the Bible, and they say: “When all else fails, read the Instructions.” or “Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth.”
In Christian teaching, the Bible is far more than mere instructions. From beginning to end, it is the true story of God’s actions throughout history to bring about the salvation of humanity. This message emphasizing the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus are the Bible’s central message, and the commands and moral teachings contained within are never intended to dominate over that message, but instead to act in service to it.