9 doctrines you need to know today
You can trust everything the Bible says about the Christian life. But these nine are among those the Bible emphasizes most often.
I’ve sometimes heard dedicated, zealous Christians declare that they have discovered the key to the Christian life. With great excitement they will share the details of the discovery, describing how they languished for years in spiritual struggle, then experienced a glorious transformation once they found the key.
For some the key is the biblical teaching on union with Christ. For others it is the filling of the Holy Spirit, abiding in Christ, or doing all to the glory of God.
Everything about following Christ is now seen in its relationship to this single, all-encompassing truth. This one key seems to unlock the entire Christian life for them.
While I never want to dampen the zeal of any believer, and I’m excited for anyone who has experienced the power of one of the great themes of Scripture, there is a problem. The problem is that the Bible never says that it gives us such a key.
Think about it: If indeed there was one key — a key above all other keys — to living the Christian life, wouldn’t you expect to find it explicitly proclaimed as such throughout the Bible? Wouldn’t you expect to find the key set forth in virtually every book of the New Testament, repeated so often in terms so unmistakable that no one would miss the key? But we don’t.
Indeed, there are many important truths mentioned frequently in the New Testament, such as a believer’s union with Christ, for example. And it is certainly appealing to try to condense the Bible’s teaching on the Christian life into one concise, overarching truth. But God has not given us only one key to the Christian life. Instead, he has given us a key ring — the Bible — on which there are many keys.
In this article, I intend to highlight some of the keys on that ring that Christians throughout history have found among the most useful for living the Christian life.
1. The Christian life begins with repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
Not everyone wanting to live a Christian life is a Christian. Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 7:21). He told the extremely religious Nicodemus, “You must be born again” (John 3:7). Although the Bible does not say we must know the actual moment when our new birth as a Christian occurs, it does say there is a starting place for the Christian life.
For our part, Jesus said it this way: “The time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The gospel is the message of who Jesus is and what he has done to make us right with God. To repent is to turn from living for yourself and your sin and to turn to God and his ways. To believe in the gospel is to believe that Jesus — by the power of his life, death, and resurrection — can make you right with God. This is where the Christian life begins.
2. The Christian life continues with repentance and faith in Jesus Christ.
“Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord,” writes the Apostle Paul, “so walk in him” (Col 2:6). While the beginning point of the Christian life is repentance and faith, it’s important to realize that repentance and faith aren’t once-only events. Instead, the entire Christian life is marked by repentance and faith. Just as we “receive Christ Jesus the Lord” at the beginning by repentance toward God and faith in Jesus, so we continue to “walk in him” by repentance and faith.
After we come to know God through Christ, there is a sense in which every day of the Christian life thereafter is lived with the same attitude of repentance and faith by which we began it. Christians are lifelong repenters and lifelong believers.
3. The Christian life should always be centered on Christ.
The essence of the Christian life is a life where Christ is the center. As Paul put it, “For me to live is Christ” (Phil 1:21). Yet there is a perpetual temptation to shift the focus of the Christian life to other things, even good things, like spiritual disciplines, church activities, or doing good for others. The Bible warns us of this in 2 Corinthians 11:3, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.” A loss of joy in the Christian life or the impression that Christian activities are just one more thing to do in an already over-busy life often indicate that we’ve been “led astray from … devotion to Christ.”
Notice that our devotion is to be “devotion to Christ.” When we read the Bible, pray, go to church, serve others, go to school or work, care for our family and home, pay bills, relax on vacation, or do anything else that’s a part of a Christian’s life, we should approach it with the attitude “that in everything he might be preeminent” (Col 1:18).
4. The Bible is essential and sufficient for living the Christian life.
We might say that the Christian life begins with the Bible, for it contains the essential and sufficient-for-salvation gospel (Rom 1:16) one must believe in order to become a Christian. In the same way, the Bible is essential and sufficient for guiding one’s Christian life after it begins.
The Bible makes this very claim in 2 Timothy 3:16 — “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
As a guide for the Christian life, “The law of the Lord is perfect … sure … right … pure … clean . . . true, and righteous altogether” (Ps 19:7–9). The Bible’s counsel for our spiritual life is not just a collection of ancient wisdom, rather as Jesus puts it, “The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life” (John 6:63). So Scripture directs our spiritual life not by mere “principles,” but by a real, supernatural power, “For the Word of God is living and active … discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb 4:12). All this is so because, “All Scripture is breathed out by God” (2 Tim 3:16).
5. Active involvement in a local church is essential for a healthy Christian life.
It has often been said that no one can love Jesus and disrespect or neglect his bride. The Bible is clear that the church is the bride of Jesus Christ (Eph 5:31–32). Moreover, it says “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Eph 5:25). So it’s obvious that those with the Spirit of Christ within them will love what Jesus loves and died for.
But involvement in a local expression of the bride and body of Christ (Eph 1:22–23) isn’t just a logical conclusion drawn from these verses. We also have this command in Hebrews 10:24–25: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” Notice how meeting together with other believers strengthens your Christian life. This is where you are stirred up “to love and good deeds” (that is, to strengthen the marks of true Christianity in your discipleship) and receive encouragement in your Christian life.
Christians aren’t born again to a life of individualistic Christianity. God intends for us to grow as members of his family (1 Tim 3:15).
6. There is no substitute in the Christian life for the biblical spiritual disciplines.
One of the goals of the Christian life is to become like Christ. In fact, intentionally pursuing Christlikeness is one of the marks of being a Christian. As 1 John 2:5–6 declares, “By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked.”
But God doesn’t leave us to our own devices to grow in godliness. Rather, he tells us, “Discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness” (1 Tim 4:7, nasb). The habits of devotion and experiential Christianity found in the Bible by which we obey this verse have historically been referred to as “spiritual disciplines.” Some of them are personal (such as Bible reading and personal prayer) and some are interpersonal (like congregational worship and praying with others).
The spiritual disciplines don’t work automatically, as though a mere legalistic performance of them will produce godliness. But when we practice them sincerely and with Christ at the center of them, we can expect the Holy Spirit to work through the biblical disciplines to make us more like Jesus. There is no coasting into Christlikeness. Nothing can substitute for the spiritual disciplines; they are the God-given means by which we experience God and grow like Christ.
7. The Holy Spirit will daily give you the desire and power to live the Christian life, but he will not live it for you.
In Colossians 1:29, the Apostle Paul is describing his ministry of helping believers become “mature in Christ” when he says, “For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.” In the first four words, who is “toiling?” Paul is. He is the one — not God — who felt the weariness of his daily ministry. And yet Paul toiled “with all his [that is, God’s] energy that he powerfully works within me.” Although his ministry was very hard, Paul acknowledged that it was God who gave him the energy — the willingness and ability — to live for him even though it was often a struggle to do so in the face of persecution.
That’s the way it is in the Christian life. God doesn’t drag you to the desk and open the Bible for you, nor does he roll you out of bed and get you to church on Sunday morning. Both in the practice of the spiritual disciplines and in the daily living of the Christian life, it usually feels like it’s all of you (“I toil”). But the source of you wanting to do these things and actually doing them when most of your neighbors do not is God. He does not live the Christian life for you; but he gives you the desire and the power to do so.
8. The world, the flesh, and the devil will oppose your Christian life until the day you see Jesus.
The world is filled with temptation and opposition to the Christian life. Following Christ in this world often feels like swimming upstream against a hard current. Moreover, in addition to the presence of the Holy Spirit, you also have “the flesh,” that part of you that finds sin appealing. “These are opposed to each other” (Gal 5:17), and you will feel this fight within you until heaven. Besides these, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” (1 Pet 5:8).
Jesus warned his followers, “If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20). “Indeed,” 2 Timothy 3:12 soberly reminds us, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Do not be deceived by the empty promises of false teachers: living the Christian life will never be easy.
9. Jesus is coming back, will rule over all, and make everything right.
First Thessalonians 4:13–18 describes the return of Christ, and then concludes with this: “Therefore encourage one another with these words.” I want to conclude this chapter with that very encouragement.
Revelation 21:4–5 says that when we are with Jesus, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, Behold, I am making all things new.” In Revelation 22:20, Jesus himself assures us, “Surely I am coming soon.” With the Apostle John in that verse we respond, “Amen. Come Lord Jesus!”
These aren’t the only truths you can trust for the Christian life. You can trust everything the Bible says about the Christian life. But these nine are among those the Bible emphasizes most often.