By Marcelo Tolopilo
First consider the individual who longs for grace without the albatross of doctrinal truth. When it comes to grace no one knew and lived the principle more perfectly than Jesus Christ. And yet the perfect grace He knew and bestowed was always accompanied by the twin virtue of truth. Consequently, the Apostle John describes our Lord as the incarnation of grace and truth (John 1:14). [emphasis added] John could have described Jesus as the embodiment of “grace and love,” or “grace and mercy,” or “grace and kindness” all of which are true of the Lord, yet under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit he summed up His life with two attributes. John described Jesus as the perfect expression of grace and truth. You see these two virtues are inseparable and find their fullest expression in the Lord Jesus. And just as we cannot divest Jesus of either characteristic, so we cannot experience true grace as Christians apart from truth.
This is why when cults use evangelical language and tell us to our face that they are “saved by grace” (I have had Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses tell this very thing) they are wrong, they have embraced a counterfeit grace because they have rejected the truth of Who Jesus is. You cannot know the grace of Jesus without embracing the truth of Jesus.
Then as we mentioned there are those who believe that true worship must be liberated from the restraining chains of careful biblical examination. “To scrutinize a worship experience,” they would argue “is to run the risk of quenching the Spirit” or “throw a theological wet towel on a growing flame of the Spirit’s work.” And so we are admonished not to hinder the true worshipper with the heavy, constricting yoke of doctrine.
Let me affirm that God is indeed concerned with worthy worship and true worshippers. Jesus expressed this clearly to the woman at the well. Regarding true worshippers Jesus said to them “… for such people the Father seeks to be His worshippers.” God is on the lookout for true worshippers. They are of primary importance to Him.
And who qualifies as a true worshipper? It is he who worships God “… in spirit and truth.” (John 4:23). [emphasis added] In other words, true worshippers must be born of the Spirit (John 3:8) in order to approach God on the spiritual plane (an unsaved person can never participate in worship regardless of how they respond emotionally to our music.). And they must have their worship enlightened and shaped by the truth – God’s word.
I love it when the Spirit touches a heart through worship, but the Spirit, whom Jesus calls “the Spirit of truth” in John 14:17, touches the heart through the mind as we respond in faith to the truth. We cannot separate true worship from doctrine any more than we can separate true worship from the prerequisite to be born again by the Spirit of God.
True Christian Behavior
And finally others would have us cut to the chase to focus on ‘practical’ and ‘relational’ issues. While I can appreciate the nonnegotiable need for relevance, such thinking at its heart is intellectually undisciplined and spiritually immature, if not arrogant.
When we hear someone say, “Don’t bother me with doctrine. Just give me the big picture, a few stories, a few jokes, along with some helpful suggestions for life and relationships.” we hear the words of a person who is unwilling to honestly seek God or His wisdom. Such a person wants to live life on their own terms (independent of God’s truth), and worse yet, they do so under the self deceived guise of a shallow biblical veneer.
God desires for us to experience successful lives (righteous living). He wants us to cultivate godly relationships but never at the cost of truth. Indeed true transformation, godly living, viable relationships are impossible apart form doctrine. This is evident in God’s most practical instruction to the church, the Epistles.
Take Paul’s epistles for example. Paul addresses all manner of practical issues (e.g., how believers are to relate to government, how to fight the spiritual battles we face day-to-day, etc.). He deals with the challenges of relationships among brethren, husbands and wives, parent to child, yet he tackles those issues only after laying a solid foundation of doctrine.
Consider the letter to the Ephesians. Paul first sketches out the theological landscape (chapters 1-3) before his fills in the foreground with the details of Christian behavior (chapters 4-6). The transition comes in 4:1 with the term “Therefore.” If I may paraphrase Paul’s thinking he is saying, “Now that I have laid a doctrinal foundation I am able to effectively address the day-to-day issues of life and relationships” (for other such transitions see Romans 12:1, Galatians 5:1, Philippians 2:1, Colossians 3;5, I Thessalonians 4:1). Before his builds on practical themes, Paul first gives us the nuts and bolts with which to build.
“Some assembly required.” Do those words strike fear into your heart? Most of us at some point or another have purchased items (toys, furniture, barbecues, etc.) that engage our mechanical skills or lack there of. If you’re anything like me, you like to see if you can figure the assembly out without the manufacturer’s copious notes – intuition is so much easier to follow than wordy instructions!
I like to lay things out, get a general idea of what I am supposed to do form the picture on the box an d then have at it. Through the years I have assembled some extremely unique things. They bear a resemblance to the actual product I purchased but they don’t seem to function as I thought they would (toys are supposed to play, furniture is designed to stand, barbecues are intended to ignite without exploding). After a short, frustrated diatribe against the manufacturer and its engineers, I hand the project over to my wife who patiently dismantles my ‘work,’ gets out the instructions, reads them carefully, and step-by-step guides me through the process.
Successful Christian living, godly relationships take quite a bit of careful assemblage. The instructions have been clearly laid out in God’s word. If we want wisdom for living, encouragement, and healthy relationships we better read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully first.
Following in His Steps
Our Lord is described as the one who was “full of grace and truth.” True worshippers are those who worship “in Spirit and truth.” Successful living and
healthy relationships can only start and flourish in the soil of God’s nurturing truth. It is obvious that the one virtue that grace, worship, and Christian living hold in common is truth. Sadly, it is often the first thing that many Christians are willing to negotiate away in pursuit of the very things that God longs for them to have.
Jesus Christ, our Lord, Master, Teacher, and Example was committed to God’s truth. He filled His life with it and ordered His steps by every single word of the Law He loved and came to fulfill. He didn’t believe that the smallest scrap of doctrine was disposable or unimportant. Listen to the depth of His commitment to God’s word, “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or stroke shall pass away from the Law, until all is accomplished. Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus was committed to doctrine. Are you? His prayer for His disciples in that first century and throughout the ages is this,“Sanctify them in truth; Your word is truth.” We must value Scripture in the same way Jesus did and commit ourselves to knowing it, living it, and teaching it to others. It is to this end that Walking In The Promises is committed. And this expresses our hearts desire and prayer for you. Walk with God!
The first step to embracing biblical doctrine (scriptural truth) is a teachable heart. And we are not teachable unless we humble ourselves and recognize how desperate we are for God’s word. Peter commands in 1 Peter 2:1, “…like newborn babes, long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.” Peter’s analogy and command bears this point out beautifully. The literal translation of that first phrase is, “A born just now infant.” The Apostle draws upon the imagery of a brand new helpless baby in the hours and days after its birth. When a little child is born it is instinctively drawn to its mother’s breast where he or she receives the unadulterated nutrition and protection (antibodies) that are essential for health and growth.
Babies don’t crave for chocolate chip cookies. They wouldn’t know what to do with a potato chip if you rested on their lips (I tried that with my eldest). They have a desperate longing for one thing – their mother’s milk! And with that nutrition they grow in health and strength. In the same way, you and I need to recognize that as a baby desperately needs his mother’s milk, so we are equally needy of “the pure milk of the word” for our spiritual health and strength. To emphasize this fact, Peter tells us to long for God’s word. The verb “long” is a command and describes a deep yearning (e.g., the same word is used in the Septuagint (Greek) translation of Psalm 42:1, “As the deer pants [I peter 2:2 long] for the water brooks…”).
What this analogy and command teach us, among other things, is how acutely we need God’s word for our growth and protection. Have you admitted that to God lately? Have you recognized that without God’s word you are hopelessly deficient and vulnerable to the cunning schemes and temptation of the enemy? Why don’t you bow your head in prayer at this moment and confess to god how desperately you need His truth to sustain and nurture the spiritual life He has given you. Present to God a humble, teachable heart and “… long for the pure milk of the word, that by it you may grow in respect to salvation.”