Ask Steve: The Importance of Doctrine

 

Currently Reading:

Continuity and Discontinuity: Perspectives on the Relationship between the Old and New Testaments

Edited by John S. Feinberg

Category: Biblical Studies

Zondervan, 1988

 

 

 

Question:  Steve, I was talking to a guy today who said he doesn’t think doctrine is practical. It’s all just academic stuff. Please tell me why the doctrines of man and sin are so important to individuals and the church? Do these doctrines impact any social or ethical issues we face?

 

Response: Doctrine is beneficial to a Christian, both for right knowledge and right living in response to God and our fellow neighbor. Without theological understanding of core issues in the Christian faith, a believer lives in falsehood, develops a wrong worldview, pursues a wrong mission in life, and reacts incorrectly to such things as social and ethical issues. The things I speak about here are the doctrines of man and sin, which are absolutely vital to understand for Christian living. Without a proper view or acceptance of it, there is no salvation for the person, and can lead to a stunted sanctification process for the believer.

The doctrine of man informs us about a few things. First, a Christian doctrine of man tells us that it is Yahweh, who is three Persons but one God, who created man at a definite time in world history for a specific purpose: to bring glory to Him, according to the theme of Isaiah 43:7. We are human beings made in God’s image, thus we are the pinnacle of God’s creation on earth (Gen 1:26; 2:18). This is important to understand because there are many ancient myths (such as the Babylonian Enuma Elish) and about how man was created and for what purpose, which is to serve and appease false gods.

Even now, we live in a society that teaches created fables disguised as “science,” such as the theory that man was not created by God, but evolved from some impersonal force that shaped everything over billions of years. According to evolutionary theory, which was developed by secular humanism, man is not created in God’s image, but is no more than an advanced form of evolved primitive beings. This means that men are not accountable to God, but can live anyway he wants to since, which is exactly what Romans 1 warns about as men’s motives for abandoning God and the subsequent lawlessness that results. Such false views seek to glorify and appease man, which negatively impacts our relationship to other people, to institutions like the church and government, and social issues like abortion and euthanasia.

Wrong views about man also lead to wrong views about the reality and effects of sin (1 John 1:8; 10). Denying that humans were created by a personal God also denies the fact that there is a moral Lawgiver. If there is no God, then there is no such thing as sin, or right and wrong. There is no God which we are accountable to or any eternal judgment that we will face when we die. This understanding causes us to respond incorrectly to issues in society that call for a definite moral stance (homosexual marriages, abortion, environmentalism, etc).

Even if one believes in God, he can still have an erroneous and heretical idea of sin. The professing believer can believe in the existence and damning effects of sin, but he can entertain unbiblical ideas about sin, such as the idea that there is no such thing as original sin. This, of course, contradicts what Scripture says concerning the sin nature that has been passed from Adam and Eve down to our current generation. King David affirms the truth of original sin in Psalm 51:5 when he states, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me.” The counter theory, Pelagianism, holds men are born good by nature, but stumble into sin from time to time. In essence, this theory holds that men are born sinless, but become sinful when they commit transgression for the first time, and have true free will.

This is a dangerous idea to hold onto because it nearly eliminates our need for a Savior to save us from sin, and thus downplays the need for God’s grace. It wrongly elevates human merit at the expense of God’s sovereignty and grace in the salvific process. This is why it is imperative to have a right understanding of the man and sin. The prophet Hosea rightly exclaims that people are destroyed from lack of knowledge of God’s word (Hosea 4:6), which is why correct doctrine is absolutely essential. Here, the teachings of total depravity become of immense help in informing us about the truth of original sin and how that has tainted our will, desire, and emotions to the point where we cannot ever save ourselves from sin and its consequences. Doctrine does not interpret Scripture, but a right understanding of Scripture leads to a well defined doctrine for the church, which is important for us to understand so that we can rightly examine ourselves in light of Scripture (sinners), what we need (Christ and salvation), and what our mission is in life (the Great Commission, being salt and light to society, etc).

There are many movements now that seek to distort the biblical doctrine of man and sin, denying the meaning of man’s existence, His accountability to God, and the reality and consequences of sin. Some of the erroneous modern views concerning men are existentialism and determinism. One form of existentialism is secular humanism, which entertains more of an optimistic view of humanity, declaring that men do not need God or religion, but can rely on scientific progress and technology to explain everything in life and to live well. A more pessimistic version of existentialism says that the world is a cruel and hopeless place, and that we cannot know anything about life, origins, or meaning with certainty. The best thing we can do is to have faith in something and live well by that, even though you can’t know for certain that the object of your faith is verifiable or meaningful.

The false view of determinism holds that humans are not free and autonomous, but are helpless victims of forces beyond their control. These forces are interpreted differently, with some claiming it be the impersonal force that guides evolution. Some other factors include environmental influence, economic influence, or psychological forces like family background and sexual drives. In these cases, the answer is certainly not the God of the Bible or His providence, but the human’s willpower and opportunity to counter the effects of determinism to make a better reality for our lives.

Christians must never compromise with these secular views or use them when evangelizing unbelievers or edifying believers. The first reason is that they are not biblically supported. They are empty deceptions and foolish speculations which must not take Christians capture, but must be countered (Col2:8; 2 Tim 2:23). They contradict Scripture and give sinners reason to deny God. The Bible does not teach that humans have total autonomy, since they are accountable to God and have a purpose for living, which is to love and serve Him (Mark 12:30). Humans have personal responsibility, such as in keeping God’s moral law and responding to His offer of salvation. However, the man’s autonomy is always limited by God’s greater sovereignty. However, this is not the same as determinism, which believes that men cannot be held responsible for their actions because of the determinative nature of life. This is also a wrong and unbiblical view, since Scripture always affirms in the responsibility of men (1 Cor 15:58; Jas 2:26;Col3:24). The secular view of determinism destroys morality and responsibility in life, and affects one’s view of the future, which can cause men to be passive or counterproductive in how they make decisions or act.

A Christian must be rightly informed about the doctrine of men and sin in order to exercise a correct and necessary Christian worldview for living. One’s understanding of these theological issues can affect his view about his own moral capabilities, those of others, the purpose of man’s existence, what the church should teach, what he is allowed to do and not do. This, in turn, affects evangelism, discipleship, responses to political and social issues, one’s relationship to another person, and other practical issues.