I was recently invited to a meeting of local pastors from various denominations to discuss the possibility of an inter-denominational revival meeting, which would focus on gathering youth in the community to hear the gospel. There were almost 20 leaders in the room, which is a large number considering I live in a very rural community. In the course of the conversation, I heard the following statement, “this is not about some deep doctrine, or theology, it’s just about the gospel”. While I understand the sentiment of the statement to be setting aside “minor” doctrinal disagreements for the sake of gospel unity, it reminded me of how most “Christians”, even pastors and leaders, feel that theology and doctrine are not central to the gospel, and really are not important for the “lay people” in the community.
I was faced with this concept once again as I preached on John 5. Beginning in verse 19, Jesus tells of His union and equality with the Father, which if you have never considered is a glorious yet deeply theological truth. As I prepared to preach this passage, I was reminded of the meeting mentioned above, and how most people would not understand why such a deeply theological truth should have any impact of their lives. The reason is, theology matters.
Theology is not reserved for the ivory towers of seminaries nor is doctrine just for the spiritual elite or professors at Christian universities, it is the heartbeat of following Jesus. By definition, theology is the study of God, and doctrine simply refers to the teachings of Scripture, therefore what people are actually saying when they say, “doctrine is not important, theology is not the topic, we just want to preach the gospel” is ,”the study of God is not important and the teaching of Scripture are not the topic we just want to preach the gospel”. To preach the true gospel we need sound theology; to preach the true gospel we need sound doctrine. Theology matters.
Theology not only matters by definition, but also by practice. What we believe about God directly affects the way we live. In Romans 12, the apostle Paul says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2. This contrast of being conformed to the world, and being transformed into one who can test and discern the will of God happens in the mind! So what we are thinking in our minds decides if we are conforming to the world, or transforming into people who are obedient to God. What we believe about God impacts how we obey Him.
Again Paul says, “Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator.” Colossians 3:9-10. According to Paul, the practices of the old self (the pursuing of sin from an unregenerate heart) are put aside as the mind is renewed in knowledge after the image of its Creator. Once again, what we are thinking, what we are truly believing about God directly affects the way we live. The Christian life is lived out of the depths of theology, out of the belief in sound doctrine. It matters.
Finally in Ephesians Paul writes, “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Ephesians 4:17-24. The contrast between those who do not know God and those who have been brought into fellowship with Him is once again displayed and connection with what is believed in the mind. Notice those who are alienated from the life of God are those who walk in the futility of their minds, those who’s understanding is darkened, those who remain ignorant concerning God because of their hardness of heart. Those however who have learned about Christ in truth, those who have put off the old self which belongs to the former manner of life, are those who have been renewed in the spirit of their minds. The new self they put on is created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness, which seem to be matters of doctrine and theology. You will probably not go to a mega-church and hear a sermon of the holiness of God, that is reserved for seminaries and stuff. I doubt Andy Stanley will be preaching on the righteousness of God, that’s too doctrinal for Sunday mornings. The reality is however, if we try to separate living a Christian life from studying, knowing and growing in the areas of doctrine and theology, we are trying to run a race after cutting off our own legs! The key to living a godly, holy, righteous, obedient, God-pleasing life is believing the right things about God revealed in His Word, so in essence theology and doctrine.
Theology matters, doctrine matters, because life matters. What we believe about God affects the life we live. The depths of our theology affects the depths of our Christian maturity. The depths of our doctrine affects the depths of our obedience. Our concern for these things shows our concern to truly know God. This is why theology and doctrine matter. This is why theycan’t be separated from the gospel. Brothers and sisters, study the infinite depths of God. Know Him as He has revealed Himself in His Word. Will we be a people who say, “the study of God doesn’t matter and the teachings of Scripture are not important, we just want to hear the gospel again”. May it never be!
“Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways! “For who has known the mind of the Lord, or who has been his counselor?” “Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?” For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.” Romans 11:33-36.