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This is a continuation of a previous newsletter article.
For Part I, click here.
We have seen that doctrine – the teaching regarding what God has done in Christ – is essential, yet is so often absent in the life of the average Christian. In fact, many Christians are not aware that doctrine should have any place in their lives at all. Perhaps this is why so many Christians today exhibit such timid uncertainty, unsure of their relationship with God, unsure of their rights as sons, unsure of their very salvation.
God cannot be blamed for this condition. On the contrary, God has graciously revealed everything we need to know regarding who He is, what He has done in Christ, why man needed a savior, and what man becomes by believing on that savior. These truths have been revealed. The problem is that they are rarely taught, and, where taught, are too often ignored.
Believers often express the desire to live a life that is pleasing to God, a life that is fruitful, a life that is “right.” What few recognize is that an understanding of doctrine is the essential prerequisite to such a life.
Some may be puzzled by such a statement, but the truth behind it is very simple. How can I effectively operate a new appliance without first consulting the manual? How can I successfully perform a new job without a job description? How can I find my way in a new city without a map? Some of you have tried. What were the results.
Similarly, in Christ we have a new life. Doesn’t it make sense to learn something about that life before trying to live it?
A powerful illustration of this truth can be found in the book of Romans. As you may know, Romans is one of the essential, foundational books written to the Christian, defining what Christianity is (and what it is not). Amazingly, in the first eleven chapters, very little is mentioned regarding what the Christian is to do. Rather, the focus is on what God has done for man, and why He has done it.
Then, after eleven chapters, we read the following:
I beseech you therefore [in light of the preceding information], brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.
God wants us to present our bodies a living sacrifice. The following chapters go into great detail about how to do so. But note that all of these actions hinge upon, and are dependent upon, the preceding information. Our actions are in response to God’s actions. A knowledge of His actions is necessary if we are to have the proper response.
A similar pattern can be found in Ephesians, another foundational epistle.
I therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you that ye walk worthy of [in accordance with] the vocation [or, “the calling”] wherewith ye are called.
In the Scriptures, the word “walk” is often used as a figure of speech referring to the conduct of one’s life. Here, God again beseeches us to conduct our lives in a certain way. In plain words, we are to “live up to our calling.” Where can we learn about that calling? It is described, in detail, in chapters one through three!
When considering Ephesians, a further point must be made. While Romans deals mainly with the individual Christian, the focus of Ephesians is the church. In other words, it is a “we” book rather than a “me” book. Great confusion can result when this fact is overlooked.
One could say that Ephesians is built upon the foundation of Romans. Learning truth regarding who I was, why I need salvation, how to receive that salvation, and what that salvation adds to my life is, of course, primary. But, as a saved person, I am no longer just an individual. I am part of something greater: the church of God, the Body of Christ.
Just as God has revealed who the individual Christian is, He has revealed what the church is. Just as He teaches the individual Christian how to live, He teaches the church how to live. Just as the individual Christian life hinges upon doctrine, the life of the church must do so as well.
This may seem simplistic. Yet all too often, even in churches which know and teach the realities of the One Body, day-by-day operations are based not upon doctrine, but upon some ecclesiastical plan learned from tradition, upon some business plan learned from the world, or upon no plan at all.
When this occurs, our actions and activities will speak much more loudly than our teaching. Only confusion, carnality, and disappointment can result.
God desires a holy church [Ephesians 5:27], not simply holy individuals. For this to happen, Christians must become concerned about what God says to us who we are and how we are to live. For example, many churches would wither without a constant influx of outside influences. “Para-church ministries” abound. Visits by healers, revivalists, and other traveling “experts” mark the high points of the church year. Is this what God designed? Again, let’s consider Ephesians.
Ephesians 4:11, 12
And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ.
If God’s Word is to be believed, every resource needed for the growth and blessing of the local church is potentially resident in the ministries God has already placed in that church. These ministries simply need to be recognized, cultivated, and enjoyed. Is that not a much simpler plan?
Really and truly, when a church gives heed to doctrine, that church can have all sufficiency in all things right in its own locality. Each need in the church can be met by the church. (The exception, of course, being that, often due to unbelief, certain individuals are sometimes sent by God to a particular individual or church for a specific, one-time purpose. See, for example, Acts 21:10, 11.)
We all want our lives to be a glory to God. This desire is attainable if we begin learning right doctrine, and building our lives upon it. Likewise, each church can, and should be, a glory to God. But this too requires learning what God says about the church, and as a church, living accordingly.
Ephesians 3:10, 11
To the intent that now unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known [or, “made known”] by the church the manifold wisdom of God,
According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.
May these words be true of us.