Even though they are incredibly important, the words “theology” and “doctrine” do not exactly get Christians excited like they should, as knowing correct doctrine is not only the key to a life-changing, intimate relationship with God, but is important for securing our place in eternity as well!
There are some great tips for studying the Bible productively at the bottom, do not miss them!
What Are Theology And Doctrine Exactly?
(I apologize in advance as this section is a little boring, but do not skip it–eat the potatoes part of your meat and potatoes message!)
No, Theology and Doctrine are not a new Christian rock band, these two terms represent the studying of God’s truth, character, and history
To be specific, in Greek, “theology” means “study of God”, while “doctrine” means “teachings, instructions”
These two words represent not only the study of God (theological concepts), but the *accurate* study of God (doctrine), which is incredibly important to understand, as there are many people with opinions about various concepts within Christianity, but that does not mean they are scripturally accurate, even if they sound good
All, and I mean *all*, theology, and doctrine needs to line up with the Bible, as personal opinions, and feelings have no place in a theological discussion
Another term to cover, describes people who study the Bible at various colleges and universities, while some just study a lot on their own, these people are typically referred to as “Theologians”
Theologians often have an advanced understanding of the Bible, as they can quote verses, talk about complicated topics, and are generally pretty good sources of Biblical information, especially as it relates to key theological concepts, and ideas within Christianity
Not that it is a good thing, but for the most part, a lot of Christians leave “theology” and “doctrine” to the “Theologians”, as they generally prefer to not study the Bible very often, which often means their personal grasp of theology is quite loose, leaving them vulnerable to all kinds of false doctrines, simply because they do not know better
(Pro tip #57: not knowing the Bible is bad!)
I know all this is super exciting, but before you fall asleep, it is important to understand the meanings of these terms because they relate to you!
Every Christian Is A Theologian, Though Some Are More Dangerous Than Others
Hi there, you might recognize me from the previous section!
Sure, not every Christian knows how many references to Leviticus there are in 2 Kings, or who begat who in Numbers, but the reality is, every Christian is a Theologian, regardless of how frequently, or infrequently, we read the Bible, as we express our understanding, and knowledge of God in our lives every day
Think about it like this, we all have some understanding of who God is, how we become saved, and what God’s standards of right and wrong are
Then, based on this understanding, we guide our lives, teach others, voice our opinions to other believers, and relate our understanding of God to non-believers when we are witnessing to them
However, where all the homegrown Theologians become dangerous, is that the views we have can be based on un-studied interpretation of the Bible, some cherry-picked verses here and there, what we have been told by other people, and, in the worst cases, what “just feels right” to us
Now, without a solid understanding of the Bible, despite how right something may sound, we can be saying or repeating things that are completely wrong when compared to the Bible’s teachings
I have to give credit to the enemy, as within modern Christianity, they have managed to somehow make the pursuit of accurate doctrine almost completely irrelevant to the average believer, leading most Christians to a place where their theological understanding revolves around what they are comfortable with, rather than what is actually taught in the Bible
One of the most powerful weapons the enemy has against the church is false doctrine, as most Christians do not notice or care enough to study for themselves
This is where most of the feel good, seeker friendly messages we are surrounded by come from, as people generally like to hear what makes them feel comfortable, and no matter how many verses they are shown, they reject sound doctrine because they either do not like it, or because it does not fit their preconceived notion of who God is or how he should act
2 Timothy 4:3-5
For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations
What is most dangerous about false doctrine, is that it breeds more, especially because the majority of false doctrine revolves around making difficult concepts within Christianity appear easy
We see these types of deceptions in all the feel good messages around us such as how all Christians are guaranteed salvation regardless of whether they live righteously or not, God can never be mad at us or love us any differently even if we act hypocritically, that a loving God could never send anyone to hell, etc…
Further to this, it is incredibly disappointing when Christians offer up their unscriptural, personal opinions as fact, and then defend them with even more unscriptural, personal opinions when confronted with scriptures that show how their thinking is incorrect
Holding onto incorrect doctrine will not only keep people spiritually immature, but it has tremendous potential to lead others astray as well
We should not share our theological ideas as fact unless we have done a lot of homework, and can thoroughly support them with scripture
The saddest part, is that false doctrine is completely avoidable through Bible study and research, but most people hear a cherry-picked scripture or two, often taken completely out of context, and then base an entire doctrine around them, ignoring all scriptural references they may be presented with afterward for the sake of holding onto what they find emotionally or intellectually comfortable
It goes without saying, but this is not a good way to navigate complex theological topics, as it shows we would rather cling to what we like, rather than accurately understand God’s character or the Bible
Living According To Sound Doctrine Leads To Eternal Life, As It Teaches Us To Obey God’s Truth, And Live In A Way That Pleases Him
Now, before anyone gets upset, look at what Paul wrote to Timothy about this subject
1 Timothy 4:16
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers
To fully understand this passage, it is important to know who Timothy was, as he was a believer who studied the Bible constantly, and was also Paul’s very close companion during his ministry
Think about that, can you imagine the kind of theological knowledge Timothy would have picked up working with Paul, the guy wrote half the NT!
On a doctrine note, this verse shows how even a mature believer such as Timothy still needs to work to earn his salvation, as Paul was warning him to “persevere” in his righteous living, and study the Word in order to attain it. This is important to understand, as many people consider themselves “saved” just because they said they believe in Jesus, which is not true, earning our place in heaven requires effort in the form of living righteously according to sound doctrine!
What is also amazing, is how Paul instructs Timothy to learn, and understand the Bible well enough so he can teach others how to follow God’s truth in a way that could actually save them as well–he was warning him against learning or teaching false doctrine!
No author in the NT recommended that we teach others based on what feels right to us, they always told us to follow the teachings in God’s Word, as it is possible to put our faith in Jesus but believe completely false doctrine that may rob us of intimacy with God, and our place in eternity
(We will cover more on this point in the next section, keep reading!)
Paul never relented on this point, as when he wrote again to Timothy, he went so far as to tell him to study the Bible so he would have no reason to be ashamed for not knowing sound doctrine!
2 Timothy 2:15
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth
Isn’t that awesome?
I love this passage, but as a testimony to how far the church of today has slipped, could you ever imagine hearing a pastor give that kind of advice to people today?
“Look, you need to present yourself to God as someone who is effectively doing their job, if you do not know how to correctly handle the Bible, you should be ashamed of yourself”
Even though this might sound harsh, the reality is, we should do everything possible to not misrepresent, or contradict, God’s truth for any reason, not even ignorance!
There are an incredibly large number of Christians who live according to their own doctrine without verifying it against God’s Word, which is often due to being lazy, self-absorbed, poor teaching they received, and in some cases, willingly disobedience, or being too arrogant to even want to know what God’s Word says
1 Timothy 6:3-4
If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, he is conceited and understands nothing
If knowing sound doctrine teaches us, and helps us teach others, how to be saved, why are we not more interested in studying the Bible?
Since Living According To God’s Truth Leads To Eternal Life, What Are We Spending Our Time On Instead Of Studying The Bible
I mean honestly, what is so important that could tear us away from seeking God in the Word?
I am not advocating that everyone suddenly become hermits and do nothing but read the Bible, but since we know sound doctrine will save us, as well as those we teach it to, why are we not more eager to read the Bible in search of mature, spiritually guided truth?
Maybe it will mean our lives will need to change in ways that make us uncomfortable, or maybe we think it is not important to learn sound doctrine because someone else will teach others, or it could be we are convinced God loves us no matter what, and we get to go to heaven anyway, so what does it matter–all of these ways of thinking are totally wrong!
Look again at what Paul said to Timothy!
1 Timothy 4:16
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers
As Christians, we need to have a sincere desire to understand correct doctrine, as it has the power to save us, and those we teach it to–based on this alone, why are we not more eager to dig into the Bible?
Can you imagine how much the enemy delights when people come to Jesus but are taught false doctrine that keeps them from ever being truly intimate with God?
This happens all the time when people are taught they can continue living according to how they used to, that it is okay to marry non-Christians, that serving the poor is not necessary, etc…
God spoke directly about this, as without knowledge, even when we are ignorant, we can live in ways that cause us to be separated from God, and all just because we did not know any better
God’s tolerance for sin does not change because we are ignorant to his truth, we can only please him, and have true intimacy if we live according to his righteous commands
…my people are destroyed from lack of knowledge
Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him
In the passage above, Jesus was very direct about how we need to know, and obey God’s commands in order to enjoy true intimacy with him, which is something that is only possible if we take the time to both study, and obey what we learn
To add further detail to this concept, it is important to understand how the verse in Hosea is addressing the Israelites, God’s chosen people, which specifically says even they were not spared for being ignorant to his Word
To put this in perspective, if Paul says even mature believers need to know, and live according to, sound doctrine in order to be saved, and Jesus himself said we cannot enjoy true intimacy with God without it, we should seriously consider what we spend our time doing other than studying the Bible, as there is nothing standing in our way
Sure, a lot of people say “Who has time to study the Bible, I am always busy!” or “The Bible is boring!”, we have to honestly acknowledge that these answers do not reflect a heart that is passionately seeking God
Despite any good intentions people have, I know creating a habit of consistently reading the Bible is not always easy, so keep these things in mind as they will help the process tremendously:
1) Give your Bible study consistent, quality time, do not just squeeze it in when you have a few spare minutes, really make it a priority. If this is difficult, honestly ask yourself what is more important in your life than reading the Bible every day, as time with God time is better than watching TV, YouTube, chatting on Facebook, constantly hanging out with friends, etc… Also, a lot of people start off strong with their Bible reading, but after a few days/weeks, they completely drop off, if this happens, stay focused and refer to point number two!
2) The Bible requires God’s guidance to truly understand, so ask him for wisdom, and earnestly seek him with full faith, and assurance, he will draw near to you during study times and reveal things by his spirit, without this the Bible will seem boring!
1 Corinthians 2:14
The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned
If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him
3) Always keep an open mind, as we never know when something we believe is in need of a slight adjustment or is totally incorrect, which is why having an open mind is so important, as it helps us objectively understand new truth–we should study the Bible with the intent of learning the truth, not for the purpose of supporting ideas we were already comfortable with
Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge, but he who hates correction is stupid
(I know it sounds harsh, so I looked up the word “stupid” in Greek, and it means “stupid, brutish”, not much different than how it reads!)
4) Talk to other Christians about what they believe, but always make sure to avoid being aggressive, argumentative, etc…, as these conversations can get out of hand quickly if people, including ourselves, feel insecure because they are wrong, so do your best to avoid any unnecessary emotions by staying calm. It is especially important for those who are still in early stages of learning, and everyone for that matter, to approach these types of conversations with utmost humility, as we often do not know if we are right or wrong about something, so it is best to assume we are wrong, and remain humble throughout the conversation. Also, we must be prepared to hear widely differing opinions, and make sure to respond by taking the time to fully explain our point of view with scripture, not rely on personal opinion, and do not let people debate using their personal opinion either, it is entirely pointless. Also, be prepared to have some conversations not be “win-able”, as there may not be enough scriptural knowledge, and some people can just be stubborn and not be receptive to new knowledge, just go study more when this happens!
As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another
He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it
5) Use some good study tools, I always have http://www.biblegateway.com open on my browser, and use http://www.blueletterbible.org to look up words in the Hebrew/Greek (OT/NT), though if you want to read the original Hebrew/Greek entries for words, you have to search for a passage, and then click the little check box that says “Show Strong’s”, which is one of the most authoritative Hebrew/Greek concordance tools available. This is useful since you can look up a word, then look up all the other uses of it as well for context
6) Without knowing accurate doctrine, we are easy targets for the enemy. This is an incredibly important point to lay hold of, as many Christians have their walk with God completely hampered because they are taught false doctrine. For example, many people become Christians and are told God will shower them with blessings, make them successful, etc…, but there is no promise in the Bible that guarantees anything like that, just like there is no promise every Christian will go to heaven regardless of how they live, etc… The enemy is smart, and they would rather have us be close to the truth, but yet be so deceived that we remain just far enough away as to not lay hold of its power, keeping us in ignorant, or willing, disobedience, but yet still think we are living according to God’s standards
7) Actually obey what you read in the Bible. Yep, shocking I know, but the fastest way to get more out of the Bible is actually doing what it says! It is surprising how many people look at Bible reading as being such a horrendous, boring chore, that they completely overlook the fact that they are supposed to be learning things as they read, not just put their fifteen minutes a day in
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says