I have met a lot of Christians who have a distaste for the word doctrine. There are various reasons for this. For some, upon hearing the word doctrine, they are reminded of the stodgy, cold hearted, traditionalism of some old Fundamentalist that seemed to be ok with anything as long as it didn’t cause you to feel something. For many others, the idea of doctrine has little to offer to their primarily feeling-driven faith. Sadly, for these types, what is or isn’t true is not as important as how it makes them feel. Beyond these, there are some Christians who tend to see biblical Christianity more as something you do rather than something you believe. “Deeds over Creeds” is their mantra. For them, doctrine does nothing but slow up the cause of Christ and cause needless divisions that distract disciples from doing the deeds of Christ.
But is that how it should be? Should doctrine be seen as a four-letter word? No, it shouldn’t. In fact, to dismiss doctrine’s importance in the Christian life does not help one’s walk with Christ, but hinders it. So why is doctrine so important?
Salvation is Dependent on Sound Doctrine.
The gospel of Jesus Christ contains truth that must be believed in order for someone to be saved. To say it another way, people die when they reject or suppress the truth. Consider the following Scriptures.
The Thessalonians were saved by believing the truth. “But we ought always to thank God for you, brothers loved by the Lord, because from the beginning God chose you to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth.” 2 Thessalonians 2:13
People perish because they refuse to love the truth and be saved. The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12
Christians are given new birth through the Word of Truth. “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of first fruits of all he created.” James 1:18
Non-believers are condemned because they actively suppress/exchange the truth of God for lies. “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness…For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened…They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen.” Romans 1:18, 21, 25
As you can see, people cannot/will not come to savingly believe in Jesus Christ as Savior if they never come to understand or believe the truth about who He is and what He did as Savior. A lack of sound doctrine about Jesus Christ and His gospel reveals a lack of salvation. J .I. Packer illustrates it well, “A person who thought that England is ruled today by an ex-go-go dancer named Elizabeth who legislates at her discretion from a wood-hut in Polynesia could justly be said to know nothing of the real queen, and similarly it takes more to constitute a real, valid, saving knowledge of Jesus than simply being able to mouth His name.”
Sanctification is Dependent on Sound Doctrine.
Christians grow on the Word of God which is the truth of God. Sound doctrine is God’s breast milk given freely to His little babies for their health and growth. Far from being unhelpful to the Christian life, it is the very nutrition of their life! After all, the Christian’s bread is the very Word of God (Matthew 4:4). Christian sanctification (i.e. a Christian’s growth in Christ-likeness) is dependent on sound doctrine.
Christians are sanctified by the truth. Jesus prayed for His followers, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” John 17:17
Christians are transformed by truth. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
Christians are to live according to truth. Titus was commanded to teach his church, “what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). That means that Titus was commanded to teach his people how to live according to God’s truth. That means that Paul understood all Christian life is to be lived in accordance with all Christian truth. In this way, sound doctrine is the most practical thing there is.
Although Christian maturity is much more than knowing sound doctrine, it is never less. Sound doctrine is the fruits and vegetables to a healthy Christian life; an essential part of a balanced diet.
Obedience is Dependent on Sound Doctrine.
The Christian life cannot be lived in obedience if sound doctrine is not learned, loved, believed, and obeyed.
The famous Great Commission has included in it a demand to teach/be taught. “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.‘” Matthew 28:18-20
Christians are commanded to contend for the faith. Jude commands that all Christians are to, “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints.” Jude 3
Christians are commanded to guard the deposit given them. Timothy was commanded to not only to follow the truths Paul taught him but to, “guard the deposit entrusted to (him)…” (1 Timothy 6:20; 2 Tim. 1:13-14). What is the deposit? The Word of God given to him.
If one does not know sound doctrine, how can they teach others? How would they be able to defend what they don’t themselves know? How can one’s mind be renewed by the truth of God if they don’t know what that truth is? You see, without sound doctrine, one cannot uphold their Biblical responsibility to know, preserve, and defend the truth of God. They aren’t able to obey Jesus.
Satisfaction is Dependent on Sound Doctrine.
I remember the days of reading Wayne Grudem’s Systematic Theology during my high school years and having my faith radically fueled by having the truth of God be clearly taught and applied. I remember thinking, “God is that good? He did all that for me? That’s what was happening at the cross!” Few things got me fired up for Christ like that 1,000+ page text book because I had never read anything – outside the Scriptures – that brought God’s truth in such a clear and compelling way. Scripturally, being satisfied by the truth of God is easy to cite. All one has to do is skim read Psalm 119 in search of the question, what brings joy to the Psalmist’s heart? Listen to his answer.
In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. Psalm 119:14
I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word. Psalm 119:16
Your testimonies are my delight; they are my counselors. Psalm 119:24
Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight. Psalm 119:77
Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day. Psalm 119:97
That goes on for awhile. I don’t think that it is a coincidence that the longest chapter in the Bible is Psalm 119 and that it is all about delighting in God’s Law, which is His Word/Truth. A Christian does not only love God and His people, but he loves God’s truth as well because it is lovely like the One from Whom it comes. Far from dampening Christian joy, God’s truth serves it as gasoline to a fire.
Don’t Be Hindered
There is much more to say about this, but these should do well to get the motors running. Although there are lots of people out there whose Christianity only lives in their head and has never touched their heart, that doesn’t mean that sound doctrine is bad. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater on this one. Don’t let the cold-hearted, stodgy ones keep you away from the life giving power of God’s truth. Don’t let your experience/feeling-driven system of Christianity hold you back from feeling the true fire of God’s Word. See that Christianity is so much more than a bunch of commands to follow, but it is truth to know, believe, and live by. Sound doctrine will not hinder your Christian life, but it will make it something eternally significant. God’s truth saves, sanctifies, and leads us to Himself.
Surely, there is no real Christianity without sound doctrine.