The Crutch of the Cross
We don’t read the Bible, we don’t ponder and pour over the word of God to fill our minds with stuff (information). We dig through the caverns of scripture to enable transformation. We mine passionately every passage we find ourselves in because we desire life; not because we desire bigger brains. This truth pulsated from the very core of who the Apostle Paul was. Over and over he illustrates this by pointing out the relationship between understanding Christian doctrine (information), and church fellowship (the Christian life). Paul didn’t see these topics separately. In fact, he saw them as two sides of the same coin. That is, they were (and still are I might add) intrinsically linked; different but joined. Thus, any sort of head knowledge divorced from the life found only in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is terminal and hollow and lacks God’s transforming power. Yes, we need stuff (information). Because without stuff, we cannot grow. But it’s not all we need. We also need that stuff to propel our life, action, and faith in the Son of God. We need the practicalness of real gospel truths to radically impact and transform our entire lives. Both for God’s glory and our good.
For anyone who reads the Bible, it’s not hard to see that Paul loves talking about theological and doctrinal concepts. Human depravity (mankind’s sinfulness), Justification by faith, sanctification (our journey with God), and reconciliation are some of his favorite topics, just to name a few. Thus, rejecting doctrine outright would be antithetical to biblical thinking. Romans may have been the first “systematic theology” volume (so say the scholars) but it certainly wasn’t written to tickle the philosophical/theological ears of intellectually “superior” graduate students and/or theologians. It was for the ordinary church member; people like you and me! People who really need help. People who suffer, sin, and are sinned against. People who need their marriages and family systems healed. People who really need a savior. People who can’t keep it together without the crutch of the cross.
So, when it came to living out the Christian life, Paul did, in fact, think there was (and is) immeasurable value in studying theology. He just didn’t stop with the “stuff”. It meant something for real life.
Doctrine matters and here is why:
Doctrine matters because it shows us we are all on the same playing field
“What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written: “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God.” (Romans 3:9-11)
Romans shows us that there are no ethnic distinctions, no division of social classes, and most importantly, no good guys! We all have the same desire to run after hell! We are (apart from the Holy Spirit’s work of regeneration) what the Reformed folk call “totally depraved.” If it wasn’t for God and his mercy, we would be destined to live a life apart from him. We all have the same symptoms, the same disease, and we’re all in need of the same cure! And if for some reason you think you’re special, just look at the cross – It’s a beacon that screams you’re a liar and in need of a savior.
Doctrine matters because it tells us who to know – and what was done- before it tells us what to do
“But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many.” (Romans 5:15)
The gospel doesn’t start with a list of rules nor does it give us blueprints on how to experience the divine. This really jacks religious people up. The word gospel can literally be translated good news, and this good news is the coming of a man, the God-man Jesus Christ. It’s the announcement of a magnificent gift. This gospel is not a manual on how to become like God, get close to God, or become a God; it’s about how the only true God became one of us and died a brutal death on a piece of wood two thousand years ago, in our place to appease God’s wrath, as a free and gracious gift to the un and ill-deserving! It is in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that God extends his hand in relationship and reconciliation to a wandering people! Jesus accomplished this for us. I didn’t. You didn’t. We can’t earn it, we can’t lose it. Stop trying.
Doctrine matters because it transforms our worldview
“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)
Because of our inherited curse and active participation in sin, the way we view, experience, and interpret the world is extremely fictitious (at times) and flawed (most of the time). We certainly don’t see ourselves on the same playing field as our fellow man. We do not naturally see ourselves as sinners in need of, or recipients of, unmerited grace, and we view ourselves as more important than our neighbor! We like to turn knowing Jesus into a formula to measure or a system to be mastered. We are broken individuals in desperate need of a new pair of glasses to view the world with, and the way we do that is with the renewing of our minds. We have to let scripture and doctrine inform us, propel us, encourage us, and convict us.