4 ways doctrine impacts every day of my life (and why the church needs it)
Theology is more practical than we often realize.
Recently I was in a restaurant and a Bible study group was meeting at a nearby table. The leader had a voice that carried, so I could have heard a good portion of the study, but the first thing I heard him say so captured my attention that I missed the rest of it. He said, “I love non-denominational churches because doctrine is not life-giving.”
I will set aside the comment about non-denominational churches not having doctrine for another day. It was the other half of the sentence that knocked me out of my chair. “Doctrine is not life-giving.” I cannot think of anything more life-giving than sound doctrine.
“Doctrine” is a biblical word and the Apostle Paul shows us that sound doctrine is a good thing we should embrace. After all, “doctrine” refers to teaching and “sound” means something is healthy. Sound doctrine is a shorthand way of saying that teaching is healthy and good for us. This means it corresponds to what is true about God, life, and the world.
Sound doctrine is good for followers of Jesus. We need to know the truth, which means we must study the truth.
Here are three reasons you should commit to understanding good theology.
1. Study theology for your knowledge of God
Every relationship is based on knowing and understanding each other. Since God knows and understands us perfectly, it is imperative for us to continue learning about who he is. Thankfully, God revealed everything we need to know about him in the Scriptures.
When we read and study theology, we come to a better grasp of God’s personal attributes and how he interacts with the world. We see how God revealed himself in the past through encounters with men and women in Scripture. For example, when he passed by Moses in Exodus 34, he proclaimed about himself, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness.” You cannot learn that about God by looking at a sunset. Also, think about his interactions with Job in the closing chapters of the book that bears his name. There, we learn that God is all powerful, has no competitors, yet is gracious and restores those who have been broken.
God also reveals his character through the teaching of the apostles and prophets. When we read Jeremiah 2 or Romans 8:28-39, we hear men inspired by the Spirit testifying to the attributes of the God who revealed himself to them. We learn about the justice, mercy, love, providence, sovereignty, righteousness, and grace of God from these letters and speeches.
In addition to reading the Scriptures, studying theology means reading books by solid authors who help us to better understand the Scriptures. While some might object to this as “the teachings of men,” if they shed light on the truth about God, good books are a chance to learn about our Father from brothers or sisters who have been walking with Jesus and studying the Bible longer and in greater depth than we have been.
2. Study theology for your growth in grace
Too often, Christian pit theological teaching against “practical” teaching. We know the problems we face in our lives and think that theology is ivory tower thinking that has little to do with solving real problems. We imagine that we can get the help we need for our lives from the Bible while avoiding the difficult thinking that comes along with theology.
The difficulty we run into is that most of the solutions to our “practical” problems are rooted in theological truths. How do you know how to love difficult people? The Bible tells us that we learn this by walking in love “as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us.”(Ephesians 5:2) Paul roots something as practical as love in something as deeply theological as Jesus’ substitutionary death for us.
Paul does this in other ways as well. When he wants to show husbands how to love their wives, he points again to the death of Jesus. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” (Ephesians 5:25) To show Christians why they should put sin to death, Paul reminds Christians of their union with Christ. (Romans 6:1-14) When he encourages Christians to forgive, he announces that God forgave them. (Ephesians 4:32)Theology is crucial to practical Christian living.
3. Study theology for your gospel conversations
We want to see the gospel go forward and for more people to hear about and believe in Jesus. This means that we need to have more conversations about the gospel with people who do not yet believe. How are we going to have these conversations if we do not know and understand theology?
There was a popular “Christian” song in the late 1990’s titled, “Jesus Saves.” The gist of the song was that we don’t need to confuse people with weighty theology. We just need to tell them that “Jesus saves.” Sounds simple enough, but what if they ask “Who is Jesus?” or “What does Jesus save me from?” Now you find yourself in a theological conversation and you need good answers to those questions.
Many conversations about the gospel with people who don’t believe will involve dealing with objections to the gospel message. You can answer these questions superficially or you can do the hard work of helping people to get to the root of their doubts. Every objection to the gospel involves some aspect of theology. If they object that hell is cruel, you’ll need to talk about the holiness and justice of God. If someone wants to know why he can’t just be a good person, you’ll have to explain the righteousness of Christ and salvation by faith alone. These are theological discussions, but they make a deep impact.
4. Studying theology led to my conversion
I was a youth pastor when I realized I needed to be saved. To make a long story short, I made a profession of faith at a youth camp in middle school, immediately ran back to the things of the world, and through a series of difficult events started going to church again. I fell in love with the Bible and was convinced I should be a pastor.
While I was a theology student at a Christian college and a youth pastor at a local church, I started to doubt the reality of my profession of faith. Through this, I started reading about sin, salvation by faith alone, election, and the new birth. I came under intense conviction and slowly realized that I had never been saved.
The night it all came to a head, I asked myself what I would say to God if I stood before him on the last day. My answer started with everything I had tried to do in his name. In my heart, I realized my answer was rooted in a trust in my own righteousness and called upon Christ alone to save me.
Memorizing 2 Corinthians 5:17 and Ephesians 2:8-10 and thinking about important theological issues through the lens of my own crisis of faith led to my conversion. No one will ever convince me that theology is not important, soul-saving, or life-giving.
Theology is simply the way that we explain who God is, who we are, what is wrong with the world, what God has done to redeem us, and the future hope we look forward to. Studying and understanding theology will give every Christian a deeper love for God, a stronger walk with him, a greater love for the people around us, a stronger commitment to our local church, and an increased confidence in the message of the gospel as we talk to people who need to hear it.