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Doctrine Has Consequences

I have loved the study of doctrine since I came to faith in Christ.  I couldn't help but eagerly seek to learn all about the faith I had come to embrace.  Yes, it is true.  I had been raised in a Christian home.  Indeed, in the home of a pastor.  I am a "pastor's brat" as some like to say.  So for almost 27 years I have made the study of God's Word and its teaching (i.e. its doctrine) my business.  This is as it should be.  In fact, all Christians ought to be theologians--regularly delving into God's Word and theology.  Of course this is even more of an obligation for the church's officers:  ministers, elders, and deacons.  But it is true that all Christians ought to love doctrine.

Some Christians, who I have come across from time to time, seem to think doctrine is impractical.  These brothers and sisters think that a concern for doctrine is a distraction from the real business of the Christian, whatever that business may be.  Now, undoubtedly because we are sinners, we may delve into doctrine to puff up our minds.  That is a real danger.  However the answer to this is not sanctified ignorance.  God may not need my intelligence but he doesn't want my ignorance either.  The answer to arrogant doctrine is godly doctrine, not no doctrine.

Frankly, doctrine has consequences.  Let's consider two examples.

Let's consider the denial of two specific doctrines.  Some think the doctrine of the Trinity is the least practical of all doctrines.  How obscure and abstract can you be?!  We are told that this doctrine has no practical relevance to the average Christian.  Really?  Leaving aside the question of what relevance is and who gets to define it, let's give this a little more consideration.  What does a denial of the Trinity entail?  For one, it means God is not Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  He becomes, to use the expression of Dr. Ligon Duncan, an "undifferentiated monad!"  God becomes a what?  God becomes an unidentifiable "it."  And it means that Jesus is not God the Son.  "So what?" you may ask.  Well, for starters if Jesus be not the Son of God he cannot save us and if he be not God the Son we have been worshiping a creature for all these years and that, my friends, is old fashioned idolatry.  And if God is not Triune, the Holy Spirit gets reduced to an amorphous force.  How exactly, pray tell, is a force grieved?  How is a force lied to?  Just wondering...

Think of another denial.  It is very popular in our day to deny the doctrine of the imputation of Christ's active obedience to the believer through faith.  Oh yes, this is a very popular doctrine to ridicule and poke fun of.  But consider the consequences of denying this doctrine.  Now, before someone complains, I am not suggesting that the doctrine is true because it makes me happy.  I am simply pointing out a practical result of denying the doctrine.  My wanting this doctrine to be true does not make it so.  As my colleague Jim Cassidy reminds me from time to time, some things are true whether you believe them or not.

If we deny the imputation of Christ's active obedience we rob ourselves of a source of our assurance of salvation.  Did you know that?  Yes, I know that the counter Reformation Roman Catholic theologian Robert Cardinal Bellarmine warned us that assurance was the most pernicious doctrine which Protestantism ever taught.  But the truth of the matter is this.  If we deny the truth that Christ's active obedience is imputed to us then we must produce the personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience which God demands of all people ourselves.  Now, unsaved sinners cannot produce this obedience because they simply don't want to.  But believers (sinners saved by grace) can't produce this either.  The Christian's sanctification (unlike his or her justification) is imperfect in this life and our good works are infested with sin.  Yes, God accepts our good works as a loving Father.  That is true.  But he does it because we are in Christ and because Christ has justified our good works. Additionally a denial of this doctrine often proceeds from a faulty assumption:  lack of assurance motivates us to holiness.  If you wan to label something pernicious, friend, this is it!

So you see, doctrine has consequences.  In the two instances we considered here it is the denial of particular doctrines we discovered that had devastating consequences.  If we deny the Trinity we end up idolaters and if we deny the imputation of Christ's active obedience to us by faith we end up having to produce personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience to God ourselves.  And given the vestiges of sin in the life of the Christian we see that if we choose to go down this road we will rob ourselves of the assurance of salvation and the joy in the Holy Spirit we should experience as adopted children of the Heavenly Father.  We will end up like hamsters on a spinning wheel going nowhere.

So is doctrine a distraction?  By no means!  It is practical?  You bet!

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