In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul is principally concerned with unity in the body of Christ—how the church functions as one unit for the mission and purpose to which she has been called. Paul identifies this “one body” (Eph. 4:4) as those who:

• Walk “worthy” of their calling (Eph. 4:1).
• Bear “with one another in love” (Eph. 4:2).
• “Maintain the unity of the Spirit” (Eph. 4:3).
• Equip others “for the work of ministry” (Eph. 4:12).
• Build “up the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12).
• “Attain to the unity of the faith” (Eph. 4:13).
• Speak “the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

These splendid features identify the body of Christ and distinguish all mature believers. Maturity is essential in achieving the purpose and call of the church. How do we produce mature believers?

Sound doctrine.

In an age when doctrine is marginalized and disdained, Paul reminds us that biblical, sound doctrine is the golden chain linked to all the characteristics listed above. Without sound doctrine, the chain falls apart, releasing a torrent of false teaching and an onslaught of immaturity. We could put it forthrightly: the church falls apart without sound doctrine.

Sound doctrine is fundamental “so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Eph. 4:14). Paul isn’t mincing words here but distinctly points out that without sound doctrine, the church is susceptible to being carried away by cultural ideologies, false teaching, and deceptive methodologies.

Paul employs the analogy of children (immature) and adults (mature) to define the Christian life. In 1 Corinthians 13:11, he writes: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.” Those susceptible to being “tossed to and fro” are children, those immature in the faith who have not had a steady diet of sound doctrine and have therefore been stunted in their spiritual growth.

If it were up to me, I would have eaten Snickers candy bars for every meal as a boy. Children are undiscerning and must be carefully taught, educated, and formed. Believers who have cast aside the feast of sound doctrine for the fast-food of cultural palatability are, to use Pauline language, carried away by cunning deceit. Believers not adequately grounded in the Word of God are easily convinced to shift doctrinal positions, hop aboard the latest ideological fad, swallow every flashy new book, and succumb to every snake oil salesperson who can convince them of just about anything.

How do we mature beyond this all-too-easy gullibility? How do believers come to a place where they can effectively discern between God’s truth and false doctrine? Just as a healthy diet is essential in nourishing and growing the physical body, believers must feast on the words of sound biblical doctrine to mature in the faith. We often desire quick fixes and crafty methodologies to reach maturity. Paul is unequivocal that the way of Christian maturity is through correct teaching, digesting, believing, and obeying the Word of God.

Believers of all maturity levels must remain consistent in reading and studying God’s Word, submitting themselves to sound doctrinal preaching and teaching within the local church. There are no shortcuts. There are no substitutes. There’s no fast-food that will achieve the level of maturity required for the turning-the-world-upside-down type of unified ministry Paul commands within the body of Christ.

The following are some practical ways to ensure you are pursuing sound doctrine:

1. Consistently immerse yourself in Scripture.
2. Read an excellent systematic theology book.
3. Take good notes and ask questions about what you’re reading.
4. Submit yourself to sound biblical preaching and teaching.
5. Never avoid the more profound things of Scripture.
6. Organize a small group of friends to discuss Scripture and theology.
7. Pray that God will keep your mind and heart grounded in sound doctrine.

These, and many others, are steps to ensure we are regularly feasting on sound doctrine and maturing in the faith.

While a teenager on vacation with my family at our favorite beach, I discovered a sand bar just off the shoreline. The water between the beach and the sand bar was visibly deeper. I reasoned that I could exert my strength to swim to the sand bar, rest once I arrived, and then swim back to shore. I set off in complete confidence that there would be no problems. I exhausted myself by swimming to the sand bar, only to find upon arrival that the water was much more profound than it appeared, and I was unable to touch the seafloor. With my strength depleted, I fought to stay afloat. As I struggled to make my way back to shore, my dad saw my demise, quickly grabbed a flotation device, and headed toward me. When he arrived, my head was barely above the water.

My initial confidence was like that of many believers who are not skilled or sufficiently trained to withstand the deep floodwaters of the world’s craftiness and deception and therefore begin immediately to sink to the bottom. God has provided the safety of sound doctrine to rescue us from absolute ruin and destruction. Take hold, savor, and delight in the sound doctrine of God’s truth to mature you into the likeness of Christ.

Editors’ note: This article was originally published at Ligonier.