Monday, October 19, 2009

Jesus as a Living Doctrine

Doctrine: Something that is taught. (Merriam-Webster)
When we say the word “doctrine” we envision a written theology that is usually taught by reading or by listening to someone expound and teach that doctrine or truth. Biblical doctrines are far ranging and include the doctrines of God, man, sin, judgment, and all the rest. Most denominations have a written systematic theology that outlines and teaches the doctrines they espouse. To most people these written expressions are understandable, even if they disagree with them.
Titus Chapter 2

But speak thou the things which become sound doctrine: That the aged men be sober, grave, temperate, sound in faith, in charity, in patience.

The aged women likewise, that they be in behaviour as becometh holiness, not false accusers, not given to much wine, teachers of good things; That they may teach the young women to be sober, to love their husbands, to love their children, To be discreet, chaste, keepers at home, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God be not blasphemed.

Young men likewise exhort to be sober minded. In all things shewing thyself a pattern of good works: in doctrine shewing uncorruptness, gravity, sincerity, Sound speech, that cannot be condemned; that he that is of the contrary part may be ashamed, having no evil thing to say of you.

Exhort servants to be obedient unto their own masters, and to please them well in all things; not answering again; not purloining, but shewing all good fidelity; that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour in all things.

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, Teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; Looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.

These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee.

Please notice how the Scriptures move in and out of both theology and behavior as it applies to doctrine. There are two principles here that have their own set of spiritual liabilities. Let us look at both.

First there are those who place a person’s lifestyle and behavior as redemptive. They espouse a works-salvation, meaning that God accepts some charitable works as having some redemptive weight, and in laymen’s terms, sinners can get closer to heaven by what they do. That is not what the Scriptures teach, and in fact, the same apostle that wrote the book of Titus also addressed the subject in Romans and Galatians where Paul strongly condemned any notion that works play any role in eternal redemption.

There has always been an attempt to weave the works of man into salvation, but today that doctrine has taken on a renewed energy. As I have written before, certain men have crept in unawares and are now teaching what the Bible calls the “doctrine of demons”. The slightest suggestion that works play any part in the salvation of a sinner is the most egregious doctrinal issue of all, and is apostasy itself. Salvation is by faith alone in Jesus and His finished work of redemption on the cross.

I have addressed that subject many times like this for example.

But there is another side to this issue of doctrine. The Scriptures teach a living doctrine; one that communicates the person of Jesus Christ through the apocalypse of deeds, words, and expressions. They are no substitute for the gospel, but they do substantiate and bring life to that same gospel. So many times we as orthodox believers have minimized and even maligned the notion that our lives can and should be “living epistles” that are “read of all men”.

It is not enough to be satisfied with a written dogma; we are called to be imitators of the Christ we follow. The question is: How do we live out Christian doctrines? Which doctrines can the Spirit be speaking of when He calls us to express them in our lives? How could one express the Trinity in behavior? The virgin birth? The incarnation? Do you see what I am saying here? Which doctrines should we be exhibiting in our Christian walks?

The problem comes when we view doctrines in a constricted definition, and we fail to see that things like love, mercy, humility, and grace are doctrines that are every bit as valid as the Trinity. We have so neglected the living elements of Biblical doctrine that we have created a disconnect between our verbal contending for the faith and our lifestyle revelations of that same faith. In short, the church is confused, and those on the outside quickly recognized the incongruity between our words and actions. We have our statements of faith plainly printed in our church information packets and websites, but almost absent from that doctrinal statement is any mention of love, humility, mercy, forgiveness, grace, sacrifice, or anything else that relates to a demonstration of those kinds of doctrines.

We seem to be so concerned with every minute aspect of our systematic theology that we wholly neglect a continuing and thorough self challenge as it concerns outward expressions that enhance the doctrine of Jesus. It remains a liability in the church and only God knows how much it hinders our evangelistic outreach. While it is true that we have the truth, it is also true that we many times misrepresent the truth as well as we ignore huge sections of Biblical truth. We can easily spot some emergent as teaching a gospel of works, yet we are blind to the true gospel we preach that is sometimes isolated and without the works that should be an indispensable component necessary to authenticate and vouch for that same gospel.

If we are to assume that the life of Jesus was a practical template to which we should emulate, then we must begin the process of evaluation personally and collectively. In other words, let us not just study the gospel narratives of the life of Jesus, but let us compare His life with our lives as believers. Sure we can stand up to a test of doctrinal orthodoxy in our systematic creeds, but how do we measure up against the compassion, grace, and love of the One we profess to emulate and follow?

How easy it is to be amazed at the miracles of Jesus. We all are interested in where Jesus went and what He said. We are comforted by the healings of Jesus, and we are astounded when He raises the dead. And we are driven to worship as we recount His death, burial, and resurrection, and well we should be. But it is much more difficult to look for inconvenient expressions of love He exemplified and set a course to mirror His heart. It is much harder to emulate His forgiveness for His enemies than it is to attack our enemies. It is more pleasant to be edified by how Jesus was so humble and yet it is much more strenuous to count ourselves as nothing and refuse to return evil for evil.

Now if we are honest, and if we are not afraid of humiliation, and if we see the life of Jesus Christ for what it is, we will have to admit at the outset we have lost the divine design for the church and the followers of Jesus. I am assuming that I speak to those who believe and have experienced that Jesus is the only way to eternal life, and that way is by faith in Him alone. That is the foundation that cannot – MUST NOT – be tampered with in any way, and that is also the foundation that must be made clear to all who hear our words. If there is a shred of compromise there, than the doctrinal house will eventually fall in ashes.

Proceeding fearlessly from that foundation, let us enter the operating room of the Spirit and examine our lives with the life of Jesus in the foreground, and let us not grade with a convenient curve. We cannot be those who compare ourselves with ourselves. I realize that in our fast paced society and with years of hearing pleasant things about our Christian commitment, we will be hard pressed to see with clarity and sacrificial boldness. We have been praised relentlessly by pastors who have a vested financial interest in seeing you content and continue to assist in the mortgage payment. And we have been continually assured of our standing before God due to a recitation of a prayer years ago. And we have also been complimented on our spiritual walks because we faithfully attend church, or we teach a Sunday School class, or our lives are different than those around us, but have we been challenged by God’s Spirit to open up our hearts and:

“Sow to yourselves in righteousness, reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground: for it is time to seek the LORD, till he come and rain righteousness upon you.” (Hos.10:12)

Will we listen to pleasant voices that tell us what we want to hear, or will we allow our ears and hearts to hear the loving corrections of God’s Spirit? Do we desire to press toward the mark of God’s high calling in Christ Jesus, or are we content and satisfied to remain where we are? Dos it placate us to fit snugly and unremarkable within an over-religious society, and once in a while snipe at the emergents so we can soothe our orthodox consciences? And as we traverse through this life, indistinguishable from an acceptable western lifestyle, will we be able to convince ourselves that this is what God desired, ignoring the price others have paid throughout church history?

If there were ten believers who had not been tainted by society and other believers, and they were brought to an island for ten years with ten Bibles, would they live like us when they came off the island? Jesus, if alive in the flesh today, would be living among the poor, the sinful, and the downtrodden. He would be found more regularly eating with the gay community than He would at Christian conferences and Christian cruise banquet tables. He ate with sinners, but do we? He sought them out with love and grace and redemption and in so doing He brought the ire of religious folks upon Himself.

We are way too interested in our own situations and our own comfort. Consider the sacrifice that brought Jesus into this sinful world and consider our resistance to the slightest sacrifice. And consider the profound need that brought Him to earth and consider our tearless and self interested journey amidst the most needy of sinners. Where is our passion for sinners; passion that refuses to see their sin as a barrier, but sees their sin as a call for the redemption of Jesus Christ.

Why would we ever align ourselves with the constant drone of demeaning rhetoric coming from talk radio and television? We are not called to castigate sinners, we are called to be Jesus in their midst. The world around us hears our murmuring concerning the economy and liberal politicians and Hollywood activists, but do they hear that we stand by grace alone and that before Christ entered our lives we were every bit a sinner as were they? We sit high and aloof in the official press box and observe and critique the lost culture, basking in our situation as if we had climbed the stairs ourselves. Jesus was mocked and scourged, rejected and despised, beaten and bruised, and abandoned by those He came to save, and yet – He wept over the rebels of Jerusalem. Jesus weeps and we editorialize.

It is past time that we as believers become imitators as well. The world hasn’t seen the Risen Christ, displayed in all His loving glory and grace, manifested in the lives of church members. Let us surrender our rights and political agendas; let us release our interest in monetary gains; and let us reject any hint of self interest. We must begin an uncomfortable journey that assesses everything through the lens of what Jesus did. The Apostle Paul says we should esteem everyone else’s needs above our own. That, in and of itself, might bring revival to the church.

We live sometimes as if we really do not believe in heaven. And the subliminal message we have communicated to the lost is that Christianity is meant to change your political party and your views on abortion and gay rights. What a pitiful excuse for the gospel of Jesus Christ, and what a blasphemous misrepresentation of the meaning of the cross. How have we gotten so untethered from the moment the Spirit fell on that wonderful Day of Pentecost? When Jesus Himself sent us to preach the gospel to every creature, why did we feel it necessary to burden that commission with all sorts of worthless moral mandates and political issues? This gospel is redemption, pure and glorious redemption. And we have been called to live, speak, and care like Jesus.

Let us face the mirror. The greatest way to magnify the doctrine of justification by faith is to embody the Person of Jesus Christ so clearly and so remarkably that men will take notice and proclaim, “Who are these people and Who is their God”? So many times the gospel has become a set of facts, albeit true, but existing in a doctrinal vacuum that are expressed exclusively through words with little emphasis on the power of deeds. Who is this Jesus and what does His life look like?

We need not get entangled with global warming or tree preservation or any of the other “cause du jours”, we have a mission and a calling that soars far above earthly causes. And our calling must be fulfilled through human conduits that care not for themselves, but are committed to sacrifice everything for the gospel. And most sinners will never investigate the Scriptures, and most will not seek out Jesus, but they must depend on the revelation of Jesus Christ they can see in those who profess they know Him.

“And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him. Herein is our love made perfect, that we may have boldness in the day of judgment: because as he is, so are we in this world.”


Anonymous said...

Thank you. Your entry calls to mind the verse I read today in Paul's 2nd letter to the Corinthians, Chapter 3:

3 And you show that you are a letter from Christ delivered by us, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts...

7 Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses' face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory?

12.. Since we have such a hope, we are very bold, 13 not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face so that the Israelites might not gaze at the outcome of what was being brought to an end. 14 But their minds were hardened. For to this day, when they read the old covenant, that same veil remains unlifted, because only through Christ is it taken away.

18.. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

Anonymous said...

and 2 Corinthians 4 as well:

4:1 Therefore, having this ministry by the mercy of God, [1] we do not lose heart. 2 But we have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God's word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone's conscience in the sight of God.

7 ...But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. 8 We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; 9 persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus' sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. 12 So death is at work in us, but life in you.