“Doctrine divides,” the young man explained. “Of course it’s important, but God cares far more for our deeds than our creeds. Doctrine divides, but love unites.” Could he be right? Is doctrine a force for division meant to bow before the primacy of love?
“I find doctrine boring,” the husband confessed. “I don’t have any interest in hearing about theology. Just tell me what God wants me to do, and I’ll do it. I’m a doer, not a learner.” Could he have it right? Is doctrine a drab discipline fit only for the halls of academia?
As it happens, the Bible has much to say about doctrine and only ever commends it as something that is of great importance to every Christian. In fact, we cannot rightly consider ourselves faithful followers of Jesus Christ unless we thoroughly know our doctrine, staunchly cling to it, and faithfully defend it. Though the Christian faith is far more than knowing doctrine, it is never less. And yet many who profess to be Christians have only the most rudimentary knowledge of Christian doctrine.
Many who claim to love the Bible have only the barest knowledge of the doctrines it contains. Many who have received the sacred deposit of the gospel are unequipped to guard it. And for men, who are called to lead their homes in devotion to God, the pursuit of doctrine often takes a back seat to easier, more comfortable pursuits. With the spare time before and after work, relaxing with television sounds far more appealing than laboring over the doctrine found in Scripture. But there is great cost to neglecting the study of doctrine, just as there is inestimable gain in a deep knowledge of it. To rightly pursue God for a lifetime, we must know who he is and how he calls us to live.
In this series “Run to Win,” we are taking an extended look at the kind of life God calls Christian men to live. Through the Apostle Paul, he challenges you to understand life as a race and pleads with you to run it in such a way that you win. Are you running aimlessly, loping along at a plodding pace? Or are you, like Paul, applying the kind of self-control an athlete needs to train successfully and run victoriously? If you are going to run to win, you must train yourself to know your doctrine.
The word “doctrine” simply refers to what the Bible teaches about a given subject. As you carefully study the Bible and assemble its themes, you come to understand what it communicates about an endless variety of subjects—the doctrine of Scripture, for example, which explains what the Bible says about itself; the doctrine of God, which describes what the Bible tells us about the nature, character, and works of God; and the doctrine of salvation, which tells us how God saves people from their sin.
The Bible divides doctrine into two broad categories: sound and false. Sound doctrine originates in the mind of God, is consistent with the Word of God, and proves profitable to the people of God. You are responsible to know such doctrine so you can live by it and faithfully protect it. False doctrine originates outside the mind of God, is inconsistent with the Word of God, and is unprofitable to the people of God. You are responsible to reject such doctrine and to distance yourself from people who proclaim it.
While pastors are specially charged to know, promote, and defend sound doctrine, all Christians are expected to be well-versed in it. Why? Because faithfully living for God is inseparable from rightly knowing God. Those who know him best are equipped to serve him best. Those with the deepest knowledge have the opportunity to express the greatest obedience.
More Than Facts
Doctrine involves facts, to be sure. But these are not cold facts accumulated in scornful minds to later be used as a kind of theological trump card. Rather, these facts are vital truths that motivate faithful lives. Think of your relationship with your wife: When you dated your wife and learned about tragic events from her childhood, you gained facts that allowed you to better know and appreciate her. When you learned that your wife loves mint chocolate truffles, this is not a fact you simply filed away but one you used to express love to her. In the context of an intimate relationship, facts are not accumulated so that you can merely recite information about a person or create a page for them on Wikipedia. Facts are accumulated so that you can diligently pursue that person in love.
Similarly, when you learn facts of the Christian faith, you are gaining knowledge that allows you to better understand God so you can better pursue God. Suppose you read in Scripture of the extent of God’s love for you: “In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will” (Ephesians 1:4-5). Through this verse, you come to understand that God’s love for you pre-dated the creation of the world and that ultimately your salvation was the result of his determined purpose. Now you better understand the character of God (He is good! He is loving! He is powerful!), and you better understand the actions of God (He initiated! He loved! He acted!). You are growing in doctrine! Having believed these facts, you begin to live with greater confidence, knowing that your salvation is not dependent upon your will but upon God’s. You begin to love God more deeply and pursue him more joyfully as a recipient of his sovereign grace. Your love for him overflows in greater patience and love for others as you long to display the same kind of love God extended to you. Those facts have now deepened your relationship and changed your life. Doctrine does not merely inform your mind but also warms your heart and reforms your behavior.
Doctrine and Life
Few Christian men will become professional theologians and teach doctrine in classrooms and seminaries. But every Christian man, including you, ought to aspire to be an amateur theologian, to study and to know the facts of the faith. This doctrine will equip you to live a life that is pleasing to God.
Only the husband who has deep knowledge of the ways and works of Jesus Christ is well-equipped to “love his wife, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25). How can he love like Christ if he does not know how Christ loved? Only the father who has studied doctrine can “bring up [his children] in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Ephesians 6:4). How can he teach what he himself has not yet learned? Only the church member who knows his facts can serve his church as an elder, for an elder “must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). Do you feel inadequate to take on leadership in your church because you don’t know the doctrine necessary to lead people in the faith? Only the believer who knows the content of the faith is able to skillfully “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 1:3). How can you defend your faith in the workplace, how can you protect your family against Satan’s attacks, how can you be a promoter of truth if you cannot distinguish sound doctrine from false?
Run to Win!
Do you know your doctrine? Do you know at least the basic facts of the Christian faith? You have no excuse for ignorance. Of all generations, ours is most blessed in our pursuit of the facts of the Christian faith. We have pastors who faithfully preach the Word and take seriously God’s instruction to “be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching” (2 Timothy 4:2). We have countless systematic theologies written not only for theologians but for laypersons. We have a host of online courses just waiting for us. We have every opportunity and every reason to fill our minds with the knowledge of God.
To know doctrine is to know the content of the Christian faith and to know what is necessary to properly live it out. You cannot run your race well if you do not know where you are going. Your faithfulness to God is dependent upon your knowledge of God. Christian man, to run to win you must know your doctrine.
Are you uncertain of where to begin in studying doctrine? Here are a few suggestions: Basic Christianity by John Stott, Knowing God by J.I. Packer, and Core Christianity by Michael Horton are excellent introductions to theology. If you would like to try a systematic theology, consider Systematic Theology by Wayne Grudem or Biblical Doctrine by John MacArthur. For video instruction, consider a subscription to Ligonier’s Connect platform which offers a host of excellent courses on a wide variety of subjects.