Last week we began part two of our Visual Theology message series. You’ll recall that there are four main sections that we want to look at – four reasons why we study theology.
#1. We want to grow close to Christ,
#2. we want to understand the work of Christ,
#3. we want to become like Christ, and
#4. we want to live for Christ.
Those four things really summarize the four basic goals of the Christian life!
So last week we began looking at “Understanding the work of Christ” and we started with a super-condensed summary of everything that God has been doing since time began. We saw how all of history is part of God’s unfolding drama. It’s like God is the ultimate writer and director, the world is the stage, and all of mankind are the actors.
And we divided up this drama into four main acts.
- Act 1 is Creation where God created the world and made everything good.
- Act 2 is the Fall where mankind chose to rebel against God and thus introduced sin and its consequences into the world.
- Act 3 is Redemption where God sent his Son Jesus to save us from our sin and it’s terrible consequences.
- Act 4 is New Creation where God will finally eliminate sin and will once again make everything right.
And we discovered that we are currently living in Act 3 – where everyone of us has the opportunity to respond to God’s gracious offer of redemption which was made possible for us by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now is the time to make that decision. Now is the time to invite others to make that decision. Because at any moment, we could move into Act 4 when Christ returns to judge and eliminate sin and to restore His good creation for all who have been redeemed.
So last week really was a really big picture of what God is doing in the world.
Now today we’re going to shift our focus just a little bit. This morning, I want to spend some time talking about doctrine.
Now the word ‘doctrine’ is just about as intimidating as the word ‘theology’ – but it isn’t as scary as you might think. Doctrine really just means ‘teachings’. In the context of the church, it simply refers to what we believe and teach about God, about the Bible, about salvation, about ourselves, about the church, and all that stuff.
You see, as we read through the Bible – reading through those ‘four acts of God’s great drama’ – we discover doctrine. We discover all the things that God’s Word says are true. Things like, God is holy, Jesus is God’s son, Christ died and rose from the grave, judgement is coming…. These kinds of statements are the facts that the Bible says are true. So doctrine is really just a collection of all the facts that we believe are true.
So as you might imagine, knowing doctrine is critical for every person. It’s essential that we know what is true and what is false. Otherwise, we will end up making decisions and living our lives in foolish and potentially very harmful ways.
Doctrine is not just something for Pastors and church elders to study – but it’s for everyone! And this morning, I want to show you why.
Now in this message series, I don’t intend to cover even the basics of Christian doctrine. Just to cover the bare minimum would be a whole new series in itself – and maybe we’ll do that one day… But what I want to do today is to give you six reasons why doctrine is so important.
I want to show you how doctrine impacts your relationship with God and with others – how it changes you – and how it changes how you live your life. What we believe to be true will absolutely set the course for our life.
So, let’s jump right into it. The first reason why doctrine is so important is that…
#1. Doctrine leads to love – a love for God and a love for others.
Studying doctrine is really studying God. Learning doctrine is really just learning the truth about who God is, what God has said, and what God has done.
And the more we study God – and the more we get to know Him – the more we can love Him. You see, our capacity to love God is limited by our knowledge of him. We can only love God as much as we know Him. We can’t love someone that we don’t know.
Chances are, you didn’t say “I love you” to your spouse the first time you ever met, right? Why not? Because you didn’t know them yet! It was the first time you’d ever met them! You hadn’t yet grown to love them by getting to know them.
I think Heather & I had been dating for months before we first said ‘I love you.” And in reality, even that was probably a fairly limited love because we still hardly knew each other at that point. Our love for each other was limited by our knowledge of each other. But over these past 20 years, as we’ve lived and worked and raised a family together, we’ve grown to know each other more and more – and I think that with that, our love has grown more and more.
The same principle applies to our love for God. We can only grow to love him as much as we grow to know him. And studying doctrine is a key way to grow to know God.
Furthermore, knowing God is what leads us to love others.
7 Dear friends, let us continue to love one another, for love comes from God. Anyone who loves is a child of God and knows God. 8 But anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love. 1 John 4:7-8
John says that if we don’t love people – we obviously don’t know God – because God is love. Therefore, if we want to grow in our love for others, we must grow in our knowledge of God. We must grow in our knowledge of doctrine.
But I do want to add a word of caution here. Knowledge in itself doesn’t necessarily lead to love. Satan, for example, once lived in the presence of God and He probably knows more facts about God than any of us – but his knowledge of God clearly didn’t result in a love for God. His knowledge of God led him to hate God.
So it’s not enough to just know stuff about God. We also have to assent to those facts. We have to accept those truths as reality and then orientate our lives to that reality.
Just to give you a quick example, it’s one thing to believe that Jesus is God. It’s a totally different thing to surrender your life to him and to live in a way that acknowledges him as God. We need to both know the truth and accept the truth.
I think there are many people who would call themselves ‘Christians’ but yet fall short in this area. Perhaps they know the facts of Christianity and they can even say “Yes, I believe those facts.” But yet, they still refuse to reorientate their lives and change the way they live because of those facts.
Studying doctrine should lead us, not only to know the truth, but to accept the truth and live in it. It should spur us on to love God and to love others. The more we know about how good and how awesome and how loving God is – the more that should draw us to love Him.
So that’s the first thing that Doctrine leads us to – it leads us to love God and to love others.
#2. Doctrine leads to humility.
In the kids feature this morning, Jesse & Greg illustrated this beautifully. When we compare ourselves with one another, it’s easy to put ourselves on a pedestal – convincing ourselves just how great and wonderful we are. There is always someone else that we can point to who doesn’t quite have it all together like we do. Its very easy for us to become proud when we’re just looking around at other people. It’s kinda like the two men that Jesus talked about. In Luke 18, verse 10, Jesus tells this story.
10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector! 12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ Luke 18:10-13
The Pharisee – as he looked around at everyone else – figured he didn’t look so bad. He was pretty good compared to them. And you can see the pride and arrogance flowing out of his mouth.
But the tax collector wasn’t comparing himself to other people – he was comparing himself to God. “O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.” When you compare yourself to God, humility comes pretty quickly.
And this is one reason why studying doctrine is so important. The more we look at God, the more we get a proper perspective of ourselves.
- When we see the power of God, we realize how very weak and frail and limited we are.
- When we see wisdom of God, we realize how very foolish and ignorant we are.
- When we see the love and mercy and the generosity of God, we realize how very selfish we are.
- When we see the holiness and the goodness of God, we realize how very sinful we are.
And all these realizations lead us to humility. We cannot truly know God and still be proud or arrogant! It’s impossible!
The greater our knowledge of God – the greater our humility before Him.
Doctrine leads to humility.
#3. Doctrine leads to obedience.
And this actually ties in with the first point that doctrine leads to love. Love and obedience go hand in hand.
The more we know God, the more we will love him. And the more we love him, the more we will want to obey Him.
Tim has a really great quote in the book on this point. He writes:
“As you get to know God better, your affection and taste for God grows, affecting you at the deepest level and working itself out in your choices and decisions.” ~ Tim Challies: Visual Theology
The more we know God, the more we actually want to obey him! If you struggle to obey God and to do the things that He’s asked you to do, study doctrine! Learn more about who this God is and what He’s like and what He’s done. The more you know about God, the more you will trust Him and want to do whatever He asks.
This is actually illustrated in the ten commandments. If you remember, just before God gives the Israelites all of his commands and instructions, God starts off by simply reminding them who He is.
“I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from the land of Egypt, the place of your slavery.” Exodus 20:2
And from there he goes into the ten commandments. But that one simple sentence reminded the Israelites of who God was and what He had done, and that was their motivation for why they would want to obey all the commands that God was about to give them.
Contrast that with Pharaoh, who before all the plagues and the Red Sea and all that – He didn’t know anything about God. In Exodus 5:2…
2 Pharaoh said, “Who is the Lord, that I should obey him and let Israel go? I do not know the Lord and I will not let Israel go.” Exodus 5:2
If Pharaoh had known the Lord (like he was soon going to), he may have made some very different decisions.
But that’s the principle here – the more we know God, the more we will want to obey Him. If we remain ignorant of God and his ways, then we will remain resistant to obeying Him. John puts it this way in 1 John 2:3-4…
3 And we can be sure that we know him if we obey his commandments. 4 If someone claims, “I know God,” but doesn’t obey God’s commandments, that person is a liar and is not living in the truth. 1 John 2:3-4
The more we know God – the more we study doctrine – the more we will want to obey Him. Doctrine leads to obedience.
#4. Doctrine leads to unity
I would say that probably the most unifying factor in the world is shared beliefs. People may tend to group together because they have the same gender or nationality or occupation – but by far, the greatest reason that people come together is because of shared beliefs. Beliefs about religion, beliefs about politics, beliefs about sports teams, beliefs about anything!
There is a unifying factor in believing the same thing as someone else. And the opposite is true as well – the greatest cause for division is when do not share beliefs. I think our recent federal election is a perfect example of that. People clearly believe different things and it’s causing deep division within our nation.
And so as Christians, is a huge reason why doctrine is so important. The church exists because we all share the same basic beliefs about who God is and what He’s done. And the more we shared beliefs we have, the greater our unity will be. But on the flip side of that, if we lose those shared beliefs – if everybody starts believing different things – we lose the very reason why we come together as the church in the first place.
In Ephesians chapter 4, Paul talks about the responsibilities of the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers in the church. He says:
12 Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ. 13 This will continue until we all come to such unity in our faith and knowledge of God’s Son that we will be mature in the Lord, measuring up to the full and complete standard of Christ. Ephesians 4:12-13
The responsibility of the church leadership is to build up the church towards unity – unity in the faith that comes from a shared belief in the truth of God’s Word. I want to read a short snippet from John MacArthur’s commentary on this verse. He writes:
“Disunity in the church comes from doctrinal ignorance and spiritual immaturity. When believers are properly taught, when they faithfully do the work of service, and when the body is thereby built up in spiritual maturity, unity of the faith is an inevitable result. Oneness in fellowship is impossible unless it is built on the foundation of commonly believed truth.” ~ John MacArthur
As a church family, it is critical that we study doctrine together so that we have that common foundation of truth that makes unity possible.
Doctrine leads to unity.
And that actually ties in very closely with our fifth point, and that is that…
#5. Doctrine leads to Healthy Growth
Paul actually continues that passage in Ephesians by saying this – after talking about how the church is to be built up towards unity in the faith and the knowledge of God’s son – he says:
14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. 16 He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.
Right doctrine leads to healthy growth. Knowing the truth about who God is, what God is like, and what God has done – that all leads us to become more like Him. It helps us grow up into maturity.
God doesn’t want us to remain as baby Christians – ones who are easily fooled into believing lies. I think this is a major problem in our churches today in general. Many Christians never grow up – they never study and learn solid doctrine – they stay spiritually immature.
As a church, we want to help you grow up. That’s why we have things like our ladies Bible study or Justified or Sunday School. These are all tools designed to help you learn true doctrine. I would encourage you to make it a priority to get involved with those opportunities – and if, for whatever reason, you can’t – please talk to me and we’ll come up with something else. We want to do whatever we can to help you grow into maturity – as Paul says – “to be healthy and growing and full of love.”
Doctrine leads to healthy growth.
And that takes us to our sixth and final point and that is that…
#6. Doctrine leads to worship
The more you know God, the more you want to worship Him. And this certainly overlaps with all the things we’ve already said. Worship is the end result when we love for God, when we obey Him, when we come in humility before Him, when we unite around Him, and when we grow in Him. Worship is the natural by-product of all those things.
Our worship of God can’t help but grow in depth and intimacy when we study doctrine!
In the book of Romans, after Paul had written 11 chapters of some of the most clear and systematic doctrine in the Bible – Paul exclaims in praise and adoration:
33 Oh, how great are God’s riches and wisdom and knowledge! How impossible it is for us to understand his decisions and his ways!
34 For who can know the Lord’s thoughts?
Who knows enough to give him advice?
35 And who has given him so much
that he needs to pay it back?
36 For everything comes from him and exists by his power and is intended for his glory. All glory to him forever! Amen.
That’s what we should exclaim after every Bible study! That’s what we should exclaim after every Church service! That’s what we should exclaim after every Sunday school lesson – because Doctrine leads to worship!
It reminds us all over again how great and awesome is our God.