You believe something, but why do you believe it? You have beliefs about many things. You have strong opinions about God regarding what He is like or not like, how much He is involved in your life or how little, and what He can or cannot do. You have serious views about marriage – you have thoughts about the role of the husband, role of the wife, submission, leadership in the home, and raising children. You have convictions about things like what happens after life, what heaven and hell are like, the role of the Holy Spirit in your life and who Jesus is. All your thoughts and ideas about matters dealing with God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the church, God’s Word, the devil, the spiritual world, angels and the like make you a theologian. Whether we like it or not, every one of us is a theologian. We all have a set of beliefs. The question is, what are your beliefs based on? What is the foundation of your theology?
Your beliefs, opinions, ideas, and convictions about God and matters pertaining to Him are called doctrine. What you believe (doctrine) should be very important to you. As a matter of fact, God’s Word tells you to “watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Timothy 4:16, NIV). Your “life” and “doctrine” go together. One impacts the other. What you experience often will impact what you believe, as well as what you believe influencing how you behave and make decisions. The key to a life based on God’s truth is to align and adjust your beliefs with God’s Word. In other words, your doctrine should agree with God’s doctrine. Your beliefs should be supported by God’s Word. Your experiences should be interpreted through the lens of good biblical doctrine.
Biblical doctrine is what the Bible teaches us today about some particular subject. Biblical doctrine can be very broad or very narrow. We can speak of the doctrine of God, which can be very large and comprehensive. On the other hand, we can narrow the focus to the doctrine of the trinity of God, the love of God, the justice of God or the holiness of God. A major doctrine would cover a large and important subject like God, but within the larger doctrine you also have more specific doctrine.
Those who study the Bible and the doctrines agree there are at least ten major doctrines or subjects in the Bible and every believer should have a good grip on in their understanding and application.
- The Doctrine of Scripture
- The Doctrine of God
- The Doctrine of Christ
- The Doctrine of the Holy Spirit
- The Doctrine of Humanity
- The Doctrine of Sin
- The Doctrine of Salvation
- The Doctrine of Angels, Satan and Demons
- The Doctrine of the Church
- The Doctrine of Last Things
Those are the major doctrines that you will usually find in most theology books. However, I would like to add a few more to the major doctrine category.
- The Doctrine of Discipleship
- The Doctrine of Evangelism
- The Doctrine of Prayer
- The Doctrine of Stewardship
- The Doctrine of Family
- The Doctrine of Christian Life
- The Doctrine of Creation
- The Doctrine of Worship
These eighteen doctrines, I consider major and important to every believer for one of three reasons: (1) They are subjects (doctrines) that are emphasized in Scripture; (2) they are doctrines that have been most significant throughout the history of the church and have been important for all Christians at all times; (3) they are subjects (doctrines) that have become important for Christians in the current culture in which we live.
In this article I want to address the reasons for studying and knowing the major doctrines of the Bible. How will they bless and benefit you in your spiritual growth and journey as you walk with God throughout the your life?
Good doctrine helps you to know God better
J.I. Pack once wrote, “We are cruel to ourselves if we try to live in this world without knowing the God whose world it is and who runs it. The world becomes a strange, mad, painful place… for those who do not know about God” (Truth and Power, p.16). Throughout life you will ask many questions such as: Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? Where is God when life hurts? Why does God seem to not answer my prayers? If God is all powerful why doesn’t He stop evil people from doing horrible things? Why does God allow some people to live a long and healthy life, while others struggle with things like cancer? Even though these are tough questions, good doctrine answers everyone.
Look carefully at Proverbs 2:1-5, “My child, listen to what I say, and treasure my commands. 2 Tune your ears to wisdom, and concentrate on understanding. 3 Cry out for insight, and ask for understanding. 4 Search for them as you would for silver; seek them like hidden treasures. 5 Then you will understand what it means to fear the Lord, and you will gain knowledge of God” (NLT). Gaining the knowledge of God does not mean you will be as smart as God. It means your knowledge of God will grow. You will understand Him better. His ways will make more sense. You will come to know God. Your understanding of God’s power, God’s presence, God’s wisdom, God’s love, God’s holiness, God’s wrath, God’s discipline, and God’s grace will fill your mind and you will see more clearly why God does what He does and says what He says. Your knowledge of God will increase.
However, this growth in knowing God better does not happen easily or overnight. Notice the actions you are told to take” “listen to what I say” and “treasure my commands” and “tune your ears to wisdom” and “concentrate on understanding” and “cry out for insight” and “ask for understanding” and “search for them as you would silver” and “seek them like hidden treasures.” These are prerequisites for gaining “the knowledge of God.” This means you will need to read, think, study, rethink, ask others, pray, and rethink again as you wrestle with the great truths that God reveals to you. The payoff is worth it. It’s priceless. Knowing God better is worth more than all the silver and gold you can accumulate in a life time. Knowing God is better than all the things you want to possess. Good doctrine will take you where you need to go.
Good doctrine helps you overcome wrong ideas
If you believe wrong, you will behave wrong. If your core beliefs are built on lies, you will make poor decisions. If your doctrine is not based on God’s Word you can be easily mislead, confused, and deceived by the enemy. The apostle Paul addressed this when he wrote, “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. 7 Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness. 8 Don’t let anyone capture you with empty philosophies and high-sounding nonsense that come from human thinking and from the spiritual powers of this world, rather than from Christ” (Colossians 2:6-8, NLT).
The phrase, “the truth you were taught” refers to good doctrine, solid theology, and biblical core beliefs about Jesus Christ and what He teaches. Throughout your life you will be challenged to think about God and life from a non-Biblical perspective. The “spiritual powers of this world” will produce all sorts of “empty philosophies” and “high-sounding nonsense” to lead you away from God’s truth. Here are some examples of “empty philosophies” and “high-sounding nonsense.”
- Materialism. This says, “The one with the most toys wins.” It will place an over importance on money, house, car, clothes, boat, and jewelry. What is really important to this person is acquiring things. For those who struggle with this Jesus said, “Guard against every kind of greed. Life is not measured by how much you own” (Luke 12:15, NLT).
- Individualism. This philosophy is self-centered and has an individualistic way of life and says we should ignore the community and other people. You live in a you-first Commercial slogans cater to this viewpoint. Slogans like, “Have it your way,” “We do it all for you,” “Obey your thirst,” “You’ve got to think of what’s best for yourself,” and “You deserve it.” This you-first approach to life has torn up marriages (“I don’t care what God says or how it affects my family it’s about me”), destroyed workplaces (“I don’t care how my laziness impacts my co-workers, it’s about me”) and even ruined churches (“Serve my needs first, forget about the lost”). In contrast to this Jesus said, “If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it” (Matthew 16:25, NLT). Jesus is saying you only begin to live when you give your life away for others. Significance in life does not come from serving yourself; it comes from serving God and others.
- Hedonism. The most important thing in life to this person is how they feel. The number one goal of a hedonist is to feel good, be comfortable, and have fun. Once the marriage is not fun, they are done. If the church doesn’t make them happy, they will leave it. This can also be very subtle. If someone who lives for the goal of retirement so they can do nothing, live a self-centered life, and make no contribution to the world they are a hedonist. God’s Word opposes this worldview, “Are you addicted to thrills? What an empty life! The pursuit of pleasure is never satisfied” (Proverbs 21:17, Msg).
- Pragmatism. As a worldview this is dangerous. If a person embraces this perspective as their life’s philosophy they will evaluate everything on whether it works for them and is practical. You will hear them say, “Whatever works for you” or “If it works for you, then it’s true for you.” You may hear a pragmatist say, “Let’s live together first and see if it works for us” or “I don’t have time for church, I’ve got to get things done around the house.” God’s truth doesn’t play into their equation unless they think it’s the best option and produces the best results. God’s truth is simply one of many options. The Bible’s response to this, “There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death” (Proverbs 14:12, NLT). Our ideas, apart from God, may seem right and better than God’s ideas, but the end result is death (the death to relationships, joy, peace, health, and love in our life).
- Naturalism. They believe that everything in life is a result of random chance (also known as atheism). Everyone and everything were all accidents of nature. There is no grand creator or grand design. God either doesn’t exist or he doesn’t matter. For naturalists, life has no value, meaning, or purpose beyond this world. Paul was confronting this when he wrote, “They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God” (Romans 1:19-20, NLT). We can look at nature and learn a lot about God. Through nature we know that God is creative, powerful, organized, and likes diversity. You are not a random accident.
- Humanism. This worldview rejects the existence of God or the supernatural. They believe the existence of God is meaningless and irrelevant to the survival and fulfillment of humanity. They believe that people are only physical and there is nothing after this life. Their morals and ethics are developed from personal experience. The bottom line is, at some level, they believe you are your own god. Paul challenged this when he wrote, “They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen” (Romans 1:25, NLT).
There are many more examples of “empty philosophies” and “high-sounding nonsense” the “spiritual forces of this world” have developed and promoted but these serve to give you a good example of how doctrine can be used to protect you against wrong ideas.
Good doctrine helps you address doctrinal controversies
If you have been a Christian for very long then you already know there are numerous views about numerous things regarding what the Bible actually teaches among believers. Good doctrine will help you to address these controversies with God’s truth and guide the conversation with God’s Word rather than mere opinion or emotion. For example, a view that seems to be growing in popularity is universalism. This view says that when Jesus died on the cross and resurrected from the grave for our sins He did it for everyone for all time. Thereby, no one needs to place their faith in Christ for salvation, because they are already saved. Just as the first Adam brought sin into the world, the second Adam (Jesus Christ) took sin out of the world. Someone may believe this because of one or two misinterpreted Scriptures that are taken out of context. We could show this person one verse or perhaps two that speak of Jesus death on the cross and the requirement for individuals to place their faith in Christ for salvation, but the person might still find a way to evade the force of those verses or read a different meaning into them. But if we collect twenty-five or thirty verses that say that we must place our faith in Christ for salvation and write them out on a piece of paper, the person who hesitated to believe that a person’s faith is required for salvation is much more likely to be persuaded by the breadth and diversity of biblical evidence for this doctrine. When addressing doctrinal controversies Wayne Grudem stated, “We all have areas like that, areas where our understanding of the Bible’s teaching is inadequate. In these areas, it is helpful for us to be confronted with the total weight of the teaching of Scripture on that subject, so that we will more readily be persuaded even against our initial wrongful inclinations.”[i]
Good doctrine helps you make good decisions
You will make many decisions throughout life. Some of those decisions will include choices about your spouse, marriage, children, finances, friends, careers and many more. You will have to make choices in spite of your fears, anxieties, and worries. If you have disciplined yourself to know and understand the key doctrines in the Bible you will be more equipped to make decisions based on God’s truth rather than your emotions or circumstances. You will know what God wants you to do and you will have His support regarding your decision.
Paul tells us in Romans 12:2, “Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (NLT). If you are going to make good decisions and experience God’s best for your life then you will need to change the way you think. The way you change the way you think is to allow God’s Word (good doctrine) to influence your thinking. Here are some ways you can begin to learn the doctrines and truths of God’s Word: (1) Hear it (Rom. 10:17). Find a local church that teaches God’s Word and attend faithfully. Also, listen to good Bible teachers online and learn from them. (2) Read it (Rev. 1:3). Whether you read a few verses a day, a chapter a day or more. Just read it. Make reading the Bible a part of your lifestyle. If you are not a good reader, listen to the Bible online, even if it’s a small portion. When you are reading it pay attention to what God is saying to you though His Word. Take it seriously. (3) Study it (2 Timothy 2:15). Handling the word of God accurately means to know what it says and how it applies in the specifics of your life. To do this, you will need to become a student of the Word of God. (4) Memorize it (Psalm 119:11). Memorizing is usually tough for people, but I’m not saying memorize the entire Bible. What I’m saying is when you are going through a tough time or having to make an important decision pick a few Scriptures that address your concern and memorize them so you have throughout the day in your mind and can refer to them without having to look them up. (5) Meditate on it (Joshua 1:8). This means to think about it. What does it mean? How does it apply to me? What is my response it? How does applying this change my thoughts, emotions, and lifestyle? As your mind begins to change due to the impact of God’s Word on your thinking “you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect” (Romans 12:2). Because your mind has been changed you will see the world’s way on one side and God’s way on the other side and you will see that God’s way is the good, pleasing, and perfect way. When that happens you are in position to received God’s best.
Good doctrine helps you grow as a Christian
The more we know about God, understand His Word, have insight into His relationships to the world and people, the better we will trust Him, the more deeply will we praise Him, and the more willingly we will obey Him. Studying the doctrines correctly will make you a more mature believer. If it does not do this, you are not studying it in the way God intends.
In fact, the Bible often connects sound doctrine with maturity in the Christian’s life. For example, Paul wrote, “If anyone teaches false doctrine and does not agree with the sound teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and with the teaching that promotes godliness, 4 he is conceited and understands nothing…. (1 Timothy 6:3-4, CSB). Then Paul wrote to Titus saying, “I have been sent to proclaim faith to those God has chosen and to teach them to know the truth that shows them how to live godly lives” (Titus 1:1, NLT). When the Bible talks about “godliness” or “godly lives” it is referring to someone who is living a fruitful and obedient life for God. This doesn’t mean they are perfect or they never sin. It does mean they have a heart and hunger for God. They want to honor Him, give Him glory, and bring praise to His name by how they live. As they grow in the “teaching” and “truth” of God’s Word they produce and promote “godliness” in their life – they are living more and more the way God intended for them to live.
Good doctrine helps nourish your soul
To nourish something is to provide the food or other substances necessary for growth, health, and good condition. Think about a baby who is malnourished. The child is not getting what she needs to grow properly, to be healthy and to be in good condition. If a person is malnourished they are often sick and weak, along with other health problems. It is vital to be well nourished if one wants to grow, be strong and healthy.
The same is true spiritually. Many Christians find themselves weak when it comes to trusting God, unhealthy when it comes to knowing God’s will, and not in good condition when it comes to the spiritual battles that wage against them. This doesn’t need to be. Every believer can be strong, alert, spiritually healthy, and ready for any battle. God’s doctrines act as the vitamins and proteins that your soul needs to be spiritually healthy.
Paul was giving Timothy some advice about ministering to others and within that counsel he told him something interesting about sound doctrine, “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following” (1 Timothy 4:6, NASB). Even though Timothy has been teaching the Word of God to others, he was also being nourished by it at the same time. Let’s take a closer look at this.
Notice that Timothy was being “constantly nourished” by good doctrine. This means he had a regular diet of God’s Word. He was reading it, thinking about it, applying it, discussing it, questioning it, and working out the implications and applications to his life. He was feasting on God’s Word which is often described as milk, meat, honey, water, and bread. He was hungry for God and His Word! He could relate to the Psalmist who wrote, “Taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:8, NLT), “How precious is your unfailing love, O God! All humanity finds shelter in the shadow of your wings. You feed them from the abundance of your own house, letting them drink from your river of delights. For you are the fountain of life, the light by which we see” (Psalm 36:7-9, NLT), “O God, you are my God; I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you in this parched and weary land where there is no water” (Psalm 63:1, NLT), “As the deer longs for streams of water, so I long for you, O God. I thirst for God, the living God” (Psalm 42:1, NLT). The only way to be constantly nourished by God’s Word is to constantly hunger and thirst for it.
Paul goes on to say that Timothy was constantly nourished “on the words of the faith.” This refers to the body of Christian truth contained in Scripture. Here is where you study the lives that are described in the Bible. You learn from them. You let God show you truth from how they lived, how they trusted, and how God intervened in their life. You study through the various books in the Bible like Genesis, Nehemiah, Jonah, Isaiah, Matthew, Romans, 1 Peter, Jude and Revelation. You are nourishing your soul with the “words of the faith” from the Scriptures.
Paul also says that Timothy was constantly nourished on “sound doctrine.” This refers to the teaching that comes from the proper interpretation of Scripture. Here is where you feast on what the Scriptures say about God, the Holy Spirit, the church, Jesus Christ, Salvation, God’s Word, and other major doctrines and subjects. You are constantly feeding yourself on these divine topics. As a result you become stronger, wiser, more mature and well equipped to do and face whatever God would have you to do.
Good doctrine helps you encourage others
Suppose a friend drops by to get your advice about a tough situation at work, problems in their marriage, difficulty with one of the teenage children, or they have received some discouraging news from the doctor. What would you tell him? How are you going to provide comfort and encouragement? Invite your friend to watch your favorite movie? Make him a banana split? Pat your friend on the back tell him it will all work out. How about offering something deeper, more meaningful, and something backed by Almighty God instead? This is exactly what Paul told Titus to do, “He 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, ESV). Even though this statement is directed to those who lead the church, all believers need to seriously consider three things as it relates to sound doctrine.
First, you are to hold to sound doctrine. You are told to “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught.” To hold firm to something means to strongly cling or adhere to something or someone. In this case, you have a good grip on the Word of God. This is having a strong belief in what God says through the Scriptures. It is being faithful to share it accurately with others. The way you tighten your grip on God’s Word is to study it. Know the major doctrines and how they relate to your daily life and the lives of others. You will need to spend time in God’s Word researching and thinking through what it teaches.
You are to love the “trustworthy word” of God. You respect it, study it, believe it, and obey it. It is your spiritual nourishment. You are to be “constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:6, NASB). This means you are committed to the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture and dedicated to the authority and sufficiency of God’s Word as the only source of moral and spiritual truth. The truth of God’s Word must be woven into the very fabric of your thinking and living.
It will be through God’s “trustworthy word” that you grow in knowledge and understanding of the character of God, the will and purpose of God, the power and glory of God, the love and mercy of God, the principles and the promises of God. It is through the Word that you come to understand justification, sanctification, and glorification. It is through the Word that you come to understand the enemy and his powers of darkness, and your own helplessness to resist and overcome sin apart from God. It is through the Word that you come to understand the nature and the purpose of the church and your own role as part of the local body of believers. So hold firmly to it.
Second, you are to encourage with sound doctrine. If you are “hold[ing] firm” onto God’s “trustworthy word” and committed to live it then you are prepared to share it with others. The reason you need to hold firmly onto God’s Word is so you are “able to give instruction in sound doctrine.” The phrase “give instruction” (parakaleo) means to exhort and encourage. Literally, it means “to call alongside of” for the purpose of giving strength and help. The term was used of defense counsel in a court of law, the advocate who pleaded the cause of the accused. Paul is using it here to remind you to use God’s Word for the purpose of giving strength and help to those the devil is accusing and misleading.
Your encouragement and advice should be from “sound doctrine.” “Sound” (hugiaino), from which we get our English word hygienic, carries the meaning of being healthy and wholesome, referring to that which protects and preserves life. In your instruction, counsel, and advice to others, it should be your objective to enlighten others in “doctrine” that protects and preserves their spiritual life.
Third, you are to correct with sound doctrine. I know this is not popular, fun, or easy. Correcting someone’s wrong belief and misunderstanding of God’s Word is difficult to do, but when giving counsel and advice to others it must be done when necessary. As a representative of Christ, you are to encourage others with sound doctrine, but you are also to “rebuke those who contradict” healthy, life-protecting, life-preserving doctrine. To “rebuke” (antilego) means to “to speak against.” You are to graciously speak against unsound doctrine that goes under the appearance of biblical truth.
When giving advice you will find yourself having to lovingly correct false views about life after death, marriage, money, purpose in life, happiness, God, Jesus, suffering, and a list of other false understandings that are misleading people away from God’s truth and path for their life. When done in a humble and respectful way, correcting with sound doctrine can be encouraging.
Good doctrine helps you defend the gospel
Throughout your life you will be called upon to defend the gospel. Paul understood this to be part of his purpose when he wrote, “I have been appointed to defend the Good News” (Philippians 1:16, NLT). The word “appointed” (keimai) was used of an official appointment and sometimes of destiny. In the military it was used of a special assignment, such as guard duty or defense of a strategic position. As a soldier of Christ, you have the incredible responsibility to defend the position of God’s truth. The devil will do everything he can to mislead and misdirect people with half-truths and cause others to be confused and full of doubt in misunderstanding God’s Word. It is your responsibility and obligation to defend the truth and to protect those in your life from false doctrine that would hurt them and lead them away from the center of God’s will for their life.
When it comes to doctrine you will find yourself having to defend the truth regarding major subjects and issues. For example, you will need to defend the truth about salvation. People in your life (children, spouse, people you work with, go to church with) will question the need for salvation and whether faith in Jesus is enough. They will want to add works to salvation like being baptized, infant baptism, or some other acts of works in order to be saved. You will have opportunities to defend creation and help others understand how God is the creator and everything was made by Him, for Him, and through Him. The fact is everyone is a theologian. Everyone believes something about God, Jesus, the devil, heaven, hell, marriage, life, relationships, and finances. Most of them have developed their beliefs from experiences, emotions, and shallow thinking. They have not given serious thought, if any, to what God has to say about the subject. These will be opportunities for you to graciously defend God’s truth on the matter.
Good doctrine helps you fulfill the Great Commission
Every believer is a part of fulfilling the great commission. You have a role in the kingdom mission of making disciples and followers of Jesus. Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Teach these new disciples to obey all the commands I have given you” (Matthew 28:19-20, NLT). The goal of fulfilling the great commission includes evangelism, but it also includes teaching. You may not be a pastor, but you still can be a part of teaching others God’s great truths about Himself and about life. You can teach your children at home, share insight in a Bible study, give biblical counsel or write about it on a blog site for others to read. If you are a pastor it is your great responsibility to teach the flock God has entrusted to you solid doctrine like the holiness and power of God, the atonement found in Christ, the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the importance of life, and the need to be willing to suffer for Christ. As you do this you will be a part of fulfilling the Great Commission.
As I conclude this article I want to give you a word of caution. You still have some sin debris in your heart. This is why you find it difficult to live for God and die to self. As a result, you will notice that you are still rebellious toward God, even though you are born again and a follower of Jesus. As you study and think about the various doctrines, you are going to be introduced to some truth that you are not going to want to accept or believe. A serious examination of God’s truth (doctrines) and yourself will help you overcome those rebellious ideas. The more of God’s truth you understand and accept the more you will experience the freedom that truth brings.
[i] Grudem, Wayne. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, 28.