Our lives are a reflection of what we believe. Regardless of what we say, the way we live shouts out what we truly believe about God, the world, and ourselves.
This means one of the first steps we must take in order to transform our lives is to change what we believe. Changing our beliefs requires education. We need better knowledge, because much the knowledge that we have is either incomplete or it is wrong.
Education doesn’t just happen at school. Education happens when we dedicate ourselves to learning new knowledge and uncovering the truth. For Christian transformation to happen in our lives we need to dedicate ourselves to the pursuit of truth. Once we know the truth, then we need to begin the hard work of applying that truth to our lives.
For followers of Jesus Christ, part of the truth that we need to pursue is doctrine. Doctrine is the foundation of what we believe. According to WorldReference.com doctrine is: a belief (or system of beliefs) accepted as authoritative by some group or school.
The Church has a group of beliefs that we accept as authoritative. We usually label these beliefs as truth and we treat them as truth. Christians are guided by doctrine.
One of the truths we hold dear is the doctrine of Jesus’ resurrection. The apostle Paul wrote; And if Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless, and you are still under condemnation for your sins (1 Corinthians 15:17; NLT). For me, the resurrection of Jesus is the central truth of Christianity, and according to Paul, believing in the resurrection is required to follow Jesus.
Other essential beliefs which Christians hold are: God as the Creator, the reality of sin, the hope of God’s new creation, the horror of hell, and the second coming of Jesus.
The major problem Christians have with doctrine, especially when it is applied to millions of people spanning different generations and cultures is: we don’t all believe the same thing!
We can read the same material and have similar experiences, yet arrive at different conclusions. The problem magnifies itself when dealing with people who have not been taught the same lessons or experienced similar circumstances. Different Christians emphasize different doctrines.
The Church faces differences in the importance of baptism, the plan of salvation, communion, church music, the end time, the inerrancy of the Bible, what hell is like, and many other issues. For some these issues are of little importance, but to others they are deal breakers.
This reality leads to another problem: Sometimes Christians use doctrine to determine who is in and who is out of the Kingdom of God. Creeds provide evidence for this reality. On the one hand creeds can be useful in clarify what we believe. On the other hand, creeds can also erect a wall to define who is in and who is out of the fellowship. If you want to be part of that church family you have to accept their creed. If you don’t then you are shunned as a heretic.
I believe this is a misuse of doctrine. The main purpose of doctrine is not to determine who is a true follower of Jesus and who is a poser Christian, rather doctrine is to teach us about God. What we have to remember, when it comes to doctrine, is that doctrine is like a map. A map can give us an idea what the territory looks like, but it is not the territory. Ultimately it is God who determines who is a true follower of Jesus.
In our search for truth, there are two very important things we must do. 1) We must work to find consistency in our beliefs. The worldview that we are constructing must have integrity, and that comes from making sure our beliefs fit together. 2) We must be willing to change our beliefs when confronted with better information. This is hard to do, but if we are truly interested in the truth, then we must change our beliefs to correspond with truth.
There are certain core truths that we have to accept if we are going to follow Jesus, but aside from these essentials Christians can, and do, have a wide variety of opinions.
Our beliefs are only a portion of what it means to follow Jesus. The other side is the way we live our lives. Faith is more than what we believe. Faith is integration of what we believe into how we live. We can have all the right beliefs, but if they do not impact our actions, then we are not living by faith.
Remember what the apostle Peter wrote; Be careful how you live among your unbelieving neighbors. Even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honorable behavior and they will believe and give honor to God when he comes to judge the world (1 Peter 2:12; NLT). It is how we live that ultimately determines whether or not we are God’s children.
The purpose of doctrine is not to create a belief system so we can determine who is or who is not a follower of Christ. Rather, doctrine is to give us direction in how we live our lives. The primary purpose of doctrine is to change our beliefs, so we can change the way we live. If my life isn’t being transformed by truth, that means I am not really following Jesus.
Even if a person has inadequate knowledge of doctrine and has a flawed understanding of truth, if that person is applying the truth that they have to the way they live, then they are following Jesus. When we commit to following Jesus then the Holy Spirit will lead us to the truth that we need to know.
Erwin McManus in An Unstoppable Force wrote:
For too long we have hidden behind the rightness of propositional truth and have ignored the question of whether or not it works. Does the faith you advocate get you to God? If people are observing your Christianity and reserving their allegiance to see what team actually wins, is there enough evidence in your life to cause a person to see Jesus as sufficient? What an incredible opportunity we have in a world of uncertainty! We know that God is and that Jesus is his name. There are many things that we don’t know, but what we know is enough (p. 58).
If what we say we believe is not shaping how we live, then our doctrine is doing us little good. People are far less interested in truth than they are in practicality. Ultimately people will be convinced of the truth about Jesus, not because of doctrine, evidence, or arguments; but because of the way his followers live.