Having shown in the previous post that Doctrine Matters, I now wish to show you that correct theology will lead to godly living with specific examples. The table will be turned on them and their inconsistency revealed. And so, below is a collection of various doctrines and how a correct understanding of each will lead to a more God-honoring life.
For example, consider the statement, “I don’t need theology, I just love people!” You could ask that same person, “What love?” or “With what kind of love do you love others?” Why? Because it is only through the Bible that we understand what love is! Further, as we look deeper and deeper into the doctrines of the gospel, or soteriology, will we get a bigger picture of what God’s love is. Let’s go down this trail a bit.
First, our ability to forbear with one another and forgive one another is enhanced as we study more about God’s forgiveness and patience toward us while we were straying. Our understanding of His forgiveness is enhanced when we study how deep our depravity was and how intense our rebellion and straying truly was. Our view of human depravity is further enhanced as we study how serious of an offense sin truly is (i.e. that it is cosmic treason). As we see that such a great crime deserves great punishment, our knowledge of Christ’s sufferings are enhanced. Further, our view of love is enhanced when we comprehend how much Christ had to descend in His humiliation, and so a study of the incarnation is also helpful. Therefore, in order to “just love others,” we have to know a lot of theology!
Another example is the relation between the Old and New testaments, particularly concerning the Mosaic covenant and the New. If we get our theology wrong and say that we are still under the Ten Commandments, then believers would be bound under the Sabbath. However, the New Testament is clear that believers are not bound by days, food laws, etc. (See Rom. 14; 1 Cor. 8-10; Col. 2; Heb. 1-13). We have elsewhere studied the relationship between Christians and the Sabbath (and part 2).
Another example would be tithing. So many churches, even those that are not reformed, get confused on this point. However, when we see not only that tithing is never repeated in the New Testament (it is referenced in Matthew 23, but not commanded), but also that a new practice of cheerful giving (2 Cor. 9:7) out of poverty (2 Cor. 8:2) is done by the church in its place, we see we aren’t bound by tithing. Also, when we consider the Law of Christ, how can we say that a homeless person is in sin if he does not give 10% of his income? Should we not rather meet his needs with the offerings of others?
A third and final example would be infant baptism. If we get our theology wrong and say that the New Covenant is simply a continuation of the Old, then we may fall trap into thinking that baptism is the new version of circumcision, and that children of believers are the people of God too. However, properly interpreted, the New Testament says that the circumcision for us is of the heart, and that all people within the New Covenant community know God (are believers/Christians, see Heb. 8), and that these blessings must be received by faith and cannot be granted by family association.
The goal of missions
Sound doctrine will also help us get missions correct. You see, these people who are fed up with doctrine sound holy when they say they just want to serve the Lord. And granted, sometimes we theology guys are put to shame by their stronger devotion to serving the poor. However, one trap we can easily fall into when we put so much stress on deeds above doctrine is that the Great Commission is put on the back burner. We will send out missionaries to build schools and orphanages– which is fine. However, if we only give these people shelter and food to meet their temporary needs, but never give them the gospel, then they will still go to hell! Giving them the gospel, feeding them spiritually, and establishing sound churches is a far greater need that must be met.
Consider also eschatology. Even with all the differences of opinion concerning when and how Christ will return (we administrators allow wiggle room), eschatology still has many practical implications on one’s life. Nearly every mention of Christ’s return in the Bible is followed by some warning to watch and to be ready. Consider the parables of Jesus in Matthew 24 and 25. Similarly, Peter says that, in view of the coming New Heavens and New Earth at Christ’s return, we ought to behave with “holy conduct and godliness” and should be “looking for and hastening” that day (2 Pet. 3:11-12). He also reasons that because we are looking for such things, there ought to be a diligence in us that when Christ comes, He would find us “in peace, spotless and blameless” (v. 14).
Paul comforts the Thessalonians concerning those who die in Christ with the fact that they will be raised at Christ’s second coming. There must have been confusion in that church on the matter. They were “uninformed… about those who are asleep” (1 Thes. 4:13). This lack of theological knowledge led them to “grieve as do the rest” (v. 13). Paul then tells them that the dead will be raised again, and that they will rise and be caught up before those alive at His return. After comforting them about this, he tells them to “comfort one another with these words” (v. 17). So our theology of end times will bring us joy, not grief, at the loss of a brother or sister in the Lord. For we know that their death was not the end of them, and that we will see them again.
Old Testament’s “Boring” History
How often is the Old Testament neglected or considered boring because of its history? I’ll admit, history was my worst subject in school. However, are we to shrug off all the genealogies, wars, symbols, and tragedies in the Old Testament as irrelevant for us today? If the old saying that history repeats itself is true, then we must look at the stories of Israel and glean what we can concerning how to conduct ourselves in this age. This is what Paul is saying in First Corinthians 10:1-13. He says, “Now these things have happened as examples for us” (v. 6) and that “they were written for our instruction (v. 11). As he spells out some of Israel’s faults and the punishment thereof, he helps his readers take away application. In light of their grumbling and idolatry he says, “Do not be idolaters, as some of them were” (v. 7); “Nor let us act immorally, as some of them did” (v. 8); Nor let us try the Lord, as some of them did” (v. 9); “Nor grumble, as some of them did” (v. 10).
The author of Hebrews uses the same logic in chapters 3 and 4 of his epistle when he warns his readers to not harden their hearts at the hearing of God’s voice. He says that God was wrathful toward those who did not believe and would not let them enter His rest. From the fact that Israel’s unbelief caused many to die in the wilderness and not enter God’s rest we learn that we too must have faith in God if we are to enter His rest.
God’s Design for Marriage
The same goes for sexual immorality. When Jesus was questioned about divorce, He basically asked them in return, “What does the Bible teach about it?” He then brought his listeners back to the original marriage as the foundation of our theology of marriage today. If we understand God’s design for Adam and Eve, then we will have a correct view of marriage. “And He answered and said, ‘Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.’ ” (Matt. 19:4-6). Jesus reasons that because God joined Adam and Eve together, no man can separate them. Since the very first marriage was to be a lifelong commitment, then no, God does not allow divorce.
Paul too believes that a proper theology of marriage will keep us free from sexual immorality. To the Corinthians he repeats the saying, “Do you not know,” concerning marriage, sexual immorality, and the like (6:15, 16, 19). He’s saying that proper knowledge of such matters will lead to godly living. If they knew that they were part of Christ’s body, they would not meddle with prostitutes (1 Cor 6:15). If they knew that marriage makes two people one flesh, they would not marry an immoral person (v. 16). If they knew that they were a temple of the Holy Spirit, they would not defile their bodies (v. 19). If they knew that they were bought with a price and were not their own, they would live in obedience to the One who bought them (vv. 19-20).
Thus, with correct doctrine concerning marriage, we will avoid and speak out against premarital sex, cohabitation before marriage, polygamy, divorce, remarriage, and homosexuality because they all go against God’s original design for marriage and sexual intimacy. His design is wise and the best option, and though the other options may seem pleasing, yet those ways will end in death.
Union with Christ
Another place we see how our theological knowledge will lead to holy living is Romans 6. Paul has just spoken about the abundance of God’s grace through Christ, and that no matter how much sin abounds, yet grace will abound more. In a word, we can’t out-bad the gospel’s good. However, Paul expects that some will take this as an excuse to sin! Some will hear the gospel of forgiveness and say, “Cool! So if I sin all I want, God will keep on forgiving me?” Paul shatters that notion. We see throughout his argument in Romans 6 that a believer’s theology, particularly that of Union with Christ, will lead to greater godliness, instead of “an excuse for licentiousness” (Jude 1:4).
The first piece of theology the believer needs (again Paul says, “Do you not know…?”) is that we have been baptized into Christ’s death (v. 3). Having died with Christ, we have died to our old self (vv. 4a, 6-7). Further, since we too have been raised as Christ has, we have a new life (vv. 4b-5). This theme continues through verse 14. The second piece of theology comes in verses Rom 6:15-16. Again he points to their knowledge saying, “Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey,” (v. 16). If the people who want to sin because they are under grace (v. 15) understood that they are slaves of the one they obey, they would see they are not slaves of God or righteousness (thus, not Christians), but are still slaves of sin. And so, a correct theology of the relation between sin and grace will lead to holiness instead of wanton pleasures.
Finally, consider Calvinism. Believe it or not, Calvinism has much practical application and positive effect on holy living. Because I wish to write on this in better detail in a separate post, I shall keep this brief. Basically, by knowing that it is up to God to save a soul, we will stress less over our presentation. We will not depend on programs, thinking “Oh, if only church was more fun, sinners would rush in!” Nor will we pace back and forth, rip out our hair, and lose sleep because we feel we didn’t present the gospel as well as we could have. We will do our part in planting and water, and God will do His job of giving the increase (1 Cor. 3:6-7). We can sow seed and sleep soundly while the crops grow overnight (Mark 4:26-27). Calvinism also leads us to pray for the lost. It is inconsistent for an Arminian to pray for the salvation of an individual. According to them, God can’t save them! It’s up to their free will apart from any coercion from God; it is out of His hands.
Calvinism leads to evangelism rather than away from it, because we have confidence that God has a people who will come, who have been purchased by Christ’s blood. Our success is guaranteed! Lastly, for believers Calvinism aids in assurance of our salvation. Knowing that God will complete the work He started, we can rest that none can pluck us from His hand (John 10:27-29) nor separate us from the love of God (Rom. 8:38-39).