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ReVision

The Use of Sound Doctrine

What good is doctrine? Love.

The Mind of Christ in His Word: Part 2 (6)

Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith… 1 Timothy 1.5

Doctrinal let-down
We won’t grow strong in our soul without a healthy diet of sound doctrine to grow us into the mind of Christ. Doctrinal revulsion – in all its many forms – will stunt our growth as believers because it clouds the mind, starves the heart, and weakens the conscience. Like many physical maladies that can beset us, the spiritual condition of doctrinal revulsion is sometimes triggered by a preceding condition. We might refer to that condition as doctrinal let-down. Here’s how it works.

We get excited about sound doctrine because, well, we’ve heard this is really good stuff. Then we begin to apply ourselves to learning it. We read some books, take a course or two, and share in some “doctrine conversations” with Christian friends. Feeling like we’re “in the know” can be a heady experience, and this intellectual high can last for quite a while.

After a while, though, all this begins to feel a little stale. We keep going over the same doctrines, affirming the same positions, condemning the same opponents, and reaching the same conclusions concerning what we’re supposed to believe. But the excitement is gone. The adventure of learning has become wearisome, and we just don’t feel like we’re growing in the way we think we should.

Doctrine, we conclude, isn’t helping us know the full and abundant life Jesus promised (Jn. 10.10). Perhaps we should look somewhere else?

This is doctrinal let-down, a pervasive sense of disappointment and staleness when it comes to the teaching of God’s Word. Unchecked, it can lead to a serious case of doctrinal revulsion and all the maladies of soul that can trigger.

The problem
What’s the problem here? How does this happen?

There are three primary reasons for doctrinal let-down. First, what we are reading, studying, and discussing is incomplete doctrine – not false doctrine exactly, but incomplete doctrine that tends to dwell on intellectual categories but that never sinks into the heart so that it issues through the life. A merely intellectual approach to doctrine does not renew the mind but dulls it instead.

The second cause of doctrinal let-down is misunderstanding the nature of sound doctrine. Sometimes it’s not the writer or teacher’s fault that our understanding of doctrine is incomplete. Sometimes we become too easily contented with the substance of sound doctrine – all those terms, definitions, arguments, and proofs – and we’re not sufficiently concerned about what it all means or how it applies.

And this is linked to the third cause of doctrinal let-down: not understanding that the use of all doctrine, and all study of doctrine, is love, and that doctrine is not sound until it comes to expression in our lives in ways that demonstrate growing love for God and our neighbors. This is the goal of all sound doctrine, the aim of all Christian instruction.

We will grow tired of doctrine – sound Biblical teaching – and perhaps even a bit smug or bored about it unless we put sound doctrine to good use in loving God and our neighbors. Doctrine that works through love is not only the antidote to doctrinal let-down, it’s the panacea guarding against it.

More than a mind challenge
For sound doctrine to lead us to love, however, we need to see it as something more than merely an intellectual exercise. We must study the truth, as the Spirit leads us in searching the Scriptures. But learning the truth is more than an activity of the mind.

Paul says sound doctrine must penetrate our heart, examining our feelings and aspirations, ordering and refining our affections, and helping us learn what to desire and what to hate, according to what God is revealing in His Word. A sound mind helps to sustain a well-kept heart, so that both how we think and what we desire line up to move us to love.

At the same time, sound doctrine will impact our conscience as well, reinforcing existing convictions and equipping us with new values and priorities to guide our new insights and affections into a faith rightly lived. The conscience releases the will to do what a sound mind and a well-kept heart determine is the proper course of love.

And then sound doctrine comes out in sincere faith, as Paul puts it. The word in the Greek is “unhypocritical.” The love that issues from sound doctrine is pure, disinterested, others-directed, and aimed at edification. It is nothing other than the pure grace of God working through us.

We might say: Sound doctrine accomplishes its purpose as it forms the mind, engages the heart, and moves the will to acts of self-denying love. Sound doctrine is only sound when it issues in the kind of love that Jesus exemplified throughout His earthly sojourn, and which He continues to demonstrate even now as He intercedes on our behalf at the Father’s right hand. 

To ward off doctrinal revulsion, beware of the onset of doctrinal let-down. As part of your daily reading and study of Scripture, take a good dose of sound doctrine – doctrine that engages your whole person and sets you on a course of Christ-like love for the people you will see today.

For reflection
1.  What do we mean by “incomplete” doctrine?

2.  How does “incomplete” doctrine contribute to doctrinal let-down and doctrinal revulsion?

3.  How can church members help one another to overcome the effects of incomplete doctrine?

Next steps – Transformation: How can you better prepare for works of love each day? What can you do to connect your reading and study of Scripture, time in prayer, and the people you will see in the day ahead, so that the love of Jesus flows through you to them?

T. M. Moore

This might be a good time to review our ReVision series on “Winds of Doctrine.” You can download all the studies in that series by clicking here.

All the installments in this “Strong Souls” series are available in PDF by clicking here. Check out our newest feature, Readings from the Celtic Revival (click here).

Thanks for your prayers and support
If you find ReVision helpful in your walk with the Lord, please seek the Lord, asking Him whether you should contribute to the support of this ministry with your financial gifts. As the Lord leads, you can use the Contribute button at the website to give with a credit card, or you can send your gift to The Fellowship of Ailbe, 360 Zephyr Road, Williston, VT 05495.

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 the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
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