ReVision

Doctrinalism

True faith is more than words.

Ecclesiastical Winds (4)

But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord wills, and I will know, not the word of those who are puffed up, but the power. For the kingdom of God is not in word but in power. 1 Corinthians 4.19, 20

The evidence of God’s Spirit
Those who come to faith in Jesus Christ experience two extraordinary events which launch them onto a new plane of existence.

First, the Spirit of God comes into their heart – their soul – and engages their own voice to cry out that God is now acknowledged as Father (Gal. 4.6). Immediately, the Spirit begins the ongoing work of writing the Law of God on the heart of the believer (Ezek. 36.26, 27), and setting in place the power to bring about obedience to that Law and a life of righteousness, peace, and joy (Acts 1.8; Rom. 14.17, 18).

Second, the Spirit conveys the believer out of the realm of darkness, unbelief, and sin into the Kingdom of God’s dear Son (Col. 1.13) – a realm of holy spiritual power that operates from the throne of Christ for the purpose of bringing the Kingdom of God on earth after the same manner that it exists in heaven (Matt. 6.10).

The key common denominator of both these events is power. Power is energy and movement engaged for work; and in the case of holy spiritual power, Kingdom power, the work God energizes and moves us to do is that work which He before ordained in His Law, and which issues in love for God and neighbors (Eph. 2.10; Matt. 22.34-40). That work is the evidence and proof of salvation (Heb. 6.9, 10); and the Lord’s desire is that all believers should continually tap that power to “show the same diligence to the full measure of hope until the end, that you do not become sluggish, but imitate those who through faith and patience inherit the promises” (Heb. 6.11, 12).

The Holy Spirit brings power from on high and conveys us into a domain of power that works to equip us for every good work, to make us zealous, ready, and constant in good works according the Law of God and all His Word (2 Tim. 3.15-17; Tit. 2.14; 3.1,8, 14).

If we are saved, if the Spirit of God dwells in us, if we are citizens and ambassadors of the Kingdom of God, then the proof of that is the active and increasing presence of power for loving God and our neighbors. That power takes the form of increasing fruitfulness, giftedness, and consistency in bearing witness to Christ, as well as in all the tokens of holiness and love that characterize our Lord Jesus Christ.

Or as Paul put it, the Kingdom of God does not consist in mere words, but in the many and varied manifestations of power.

Doctrinalism defined
A widespread problem in contemporary Christianity is that many people have missed this crucial point. They fail to seek, tap, and exercise the indwelling power of God’s Spirit and the expansive power of His Kingdom; and they have settled instead for mere words as the bona fides of their faith.

This is the problem of doctrinalism, the view that insists that merely espousing right doctrine is the hallmark and object of Christian faith. The problem of doctrinalism shows up in various forms. First, and perhaps most common, there are those who at some time in their lives spoke words of belief in Jesus. They confessed some form or degree of faith in Him, and were assured that this was all that God requires for them to be saved. They do not seek to work out their salvation, become equipped for every good work, or even attend the Spirit’s school as He works to write the Law on their heart.

In other words, they have come to believe that the Kingdom of God consists of words, not power.

At the other extreme are those who measure the veracity of their faith not in the few words of some long-ago profession, but in the many words of accurate doctrinal expression. The more doctrine such people know, the more convinced they become of their salvation. The more of the Bible they memorize, the more of its teachings they affirm, and the more immersed they become in the doctrines of the faith, the more they persuade themselves that this torrent, this warehouse of words is where the Kingdom of God exists. And they look at those who do not possess such a thesaurus of doctrine, as in some manner or other, still babes in Christ.

To them, the Kingdom of God consists in doctrine, in words about God and teachings derived from Scripture; power to love God and neighbors is not essential to such a journey of faith.

Problems with doctrinalism

The problems that such doctrinalism can create should be obvious: spiritual listlessness, leading to complacency; indifference to the opportunities for good works arising throughout the day; negligence of our calling as witnesses; failure to make disciples; desire for a faith that is comfortable and convenient rather than one characterized by self-denial and cross-bearing; love of self more than love for God and others; and impatience with those who insist that they work out and work at – not for – their salvation in fear and trembling.

The apostle James scorned doctrinalism. You might claim you have faith, expressing it either in the form of few words or many. But if your faith does not issue in works, it is not true faith, but dead faith; because true faith issues in Kingdom power for good works (Jms. 2.14-26). A day is coming, James warned, when God Himself will inspect the way His power has – or has not – been exercised in our lives. We should be living toward that day, with a view to standing before God and giving an account of our faith, and seeking the filling of the Spirit and the Kingdom of God for the power we need to live according to the Law of liberty (Jms. 2.12; Eph. 5.18-21; Matt. 6.33). Words are cheap, James insisted: the devil has all the right words – more than any of us will ever have (Jms. 2.19).

We deceive ourselves and mislead others when we try to fill the sails of our soul with words rather than power. Of course, right doctrine is essential. A true confession of faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord is indispensable for salvation. But unless that confession and those doctrines lead to holy spiritual God-and-neighbor loving power, then our “faith” is in vain, we are still in our sins, and we are sailing toward either the cataracts of unbelief or the doldrums of spiritual stagnation.

The Kingdom of God consists not in words, but in power.

For reflection
1. Why are words so important as part of true faith in Christ?

2. Why are words alone not enough to validate faith in Christ?

3. How would you counsel new believers to “work out” their salvation in fear and trembling?

Next steps – Transformation: Ask the Lord for specific works giving evidence of your love for Him and for your neighbor for the day ahead.

Listen to our summary of last week’s study in Deuteronomy by clicking here. You can download all the studies in the series by clicking here.

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.
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