Our Spiritual Framework
All of us embrace a framework of beliefs—a set of principles or convictions by which we order our lives and make our choices. We refer to the beliefs held and taught by an individual, church, political party, or other group as their “doctrine.” Even those who claim they have no doctrine are declaring one principle of their belief system by that very statement: they do not believe in much of anything!
Another definition of the word doctrine is “something that is taught.” Doctrine is instruction; it is teaching or training. It is similar to the foundation and framework of a building in that it holds everything in place. If we were to take away the framework of a building, the structure would collapse. Similarly, if we take away the framework of Biblical doctrine from our Christian lives, what is left would not withstand the pressures of this world. Having a solid doctrinal framework is a vital necessity for our spiritual wellbeing.
The Apostle Paul repeatedly instructed the younger pastor, Timothy, regarding doctrine, indicating that he felt the subject was of great importance. One such admonition is found in 1 Timothy 4:16, where we read, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” Paul gave Timothy two reasons to be faithful to the doctrine and instruction that had been delivered to him. The first reason was that he might save himself; the second was that he might save those who heard him. Today, we do our best to uphold the same doctrine for the same reasons.
A responsibility to uphold and transmit truth
Earlier in the same epistle, Paul reminded Timothy that he had left him in Ephesus for the purpose of teaching and preaching doctrine. Paul wanted Timothy to understand that he had a responsibility to both uphold and transmit the truths he had learned. In 1 Timothy 4:6, he encouraged his son in the faith, “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things, thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ, nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine, whereunto thou hast attained.” In verse 11, Paul directly stated again, “These things command and teach.”
Paul made no attempt to hide what he stood for, nor do we. In our quarterly magazine, we include a list of Bible doctrines that have been printed in each edition since this work began in 1906. Seventeen doctrines are emphasized. That is not to suggest that these seventeen are the only teachings upheld by the Apostolic Faith. For example, the doctrine of Creation is not listed. This does not mean that believing God created the world is unimportant, or that we do not support such a teaching. The Bible is full of instruction and we embrace all the teachings of the Word of God.
The instruction in Scripture is not of our own devising or interpretation. In John 7:16-17 Jesus stated, “My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” The Jewish religious leaders were outraged at Jesus’ boldness because He had never been formally educated in religion. However, He established a Higher Authority for His teaching than anything those teachers could offer: His message was from God the Father, and He was not hesitant to state that fact.
It is fashionable in the world today to avoid organized religion—although to me, that means to embrace disorganized religion! Recently a young woman at my dentist’s office commented that she is “spiritual but not religious.” I am not sure of the distinction. Furthermore, I am not sure if she is sure of the distinction. That is not a critique of the young woman; she was simply voicing the common perspective of the world.
A starting point of Bible doctrine is that “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). That is a teaching of the Bible, and it is a precept worth embracing.
Similarly, many today are reluctant to state definitively that they believe and stand for the whole Word of God. However, it does not really matter if one’s belief system is identified as spiritual or religious, organized or disorganized. What really matters is this: Are we saved? We need to be saved! A starting point of Bible doctrine is that “Ye must be born again” (John 3:7). That is a teaching of the Bible, and it is a precept worth embracing. We want something that will get us to Heaven, and following through by personally experiencing that simple doctrinal teaching is necessary to achieve our eternal goal.
The foundation of Paul’s faith was his conversion on the Damascus road, together with an understanding of the writings of Moses and the prophets. The foundation of our faith must also be built upon an experience of being saved, and gaining knowledge through instruction, teaching, and understanding of the writings of Paul and others before him. That is doctrine; it is profitable; we benefit by it. We must take the Word of God and digest and embrace it, reading the Bible in a systematic manner. That approach will engrave Scripture on our minds and hearts so the Holy Spirit can bring it to our remembrance in time of need.
In 1 Timothy 1:3, the Apostle instructed Timothy to “charge some that they teach no other doctrine,” noting that there were those who had “turned aside unto vain jangling.” In chapter 4, he reiterated that false teachers would arise, stating that “the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils [teachings contrary to sound doctrine]” (1 Timothy 4:1).
While everyone has a framework of beliefs, Paul’s admonition to Timothy and later to Titus was to uphold sound doctrine. Sound, or “healthy,” doctrine provides a pattern that, when followed, promotes healthy faith and love.
With respect to our physical bodies, we know what it is to be healthy by experiencing the opposite, which is to be unhealthy. When we suffer from ill health, we employ certain measures to minimize or eliminate the impairing condition so we can once again enjoy good health. In order to maintain good health, we are told to engage in 150 minutes of moderate intensity exercise per week, eat a balanced diet including lots of vegetables, drink at least eight glasses of water per day, and get seven to eight hours of sleep per night. We are familiar with these guidelines, even if we do not achieve those goals every week. We understand that following through on sound instruction regarding our physical health has benefits.
Weak instruction produces anemic Christians. Following good, sound Biblical doctrine will produce Christians who have vigor and the strength to endure to the end.
Believing and following through on sound instruction regarding our spiritual lives has benefits as well, and those benefits extend beyond this life to the life that is to come. Weak instruction produces anemic Christians. Following good, sound Biblical doctrine will produce Christians who have vigor and the strength to endure to the end.
We may have limited control over our physical fitness even if we carefully comply with sound advice regarding our health. This is particularly true later in life. However, we can manage our spiritual fitness—early in life, in middle age, and later in life. We have control over that. We want to capitalize on what we learn in the Word of God and make sure that we put it into practice in every phase of life.
The benefits of sound doctrine
We must be spiritually fit to recognize temptation for what it is—an enticement to something that will hinder or harm us spiritually—so we can avoid it, flee from it, and not put ourselves in a position where we would be subject to it.
One benefit of following sound doctrine is that when temptation comes, we are able to stand against it. Sometimes we see the temptation coming and think, “I am not even the least bit interested.” At other times it is more subtle. We must be spiritually fit to recognize temptation for what it is—an enticement to something that will hinder or harm us spiritually—so we can avoid it, flee from it, and not put ourselves in a position where we would be subject to it.
Another benefit of sound doctrine is that it reveals our spiritual condition. Just as going to the doctor for a check-up will reveal our physical condition, sound doctrine indicates what areas need help. It points out what we can work on and what we can take to the Lord in prayer.
Sound doctrine exposes sin—willful transgressions of God’s law. It also exposes imperfections or frailties in our character or actions that are rooted in human weakness rather than defiance of God. While the Word of God reveals those things to our hearts, it is not enough to simply identify them. Sound doctrine also puts us in a position where we can take action. We can take the areas that need correction to the Lord! We can ask Him to help us with what we can improve; we can also ask that His power change what only He can change. That is the beauty of sound doctrine.
A warning about discernment
We want to be cautious about the Bible study material we use to be sure it aligns to the Word of God. Most of us are careful where we eat, and would avoid eating in an establishment that did not meet the regulatory criteria for safety in food handling. Similarly, we want to be careful what kind of religious material we digest.
Every so often, a sample religious magazine shows up in my mailbox. Typically, it will have an attractive cover and interesting titles. However, my first question is always who produced it. I want to know the organization’s doctrinal persuasion—what their teaching and instruction is based upon. Once I identify the publisher, I frequently realize that the organization embraces a doctrinal perspective that is very different from what we believe the Bible teaches.
We must guard against being influenced by a doctrinal perspective that accepts sinning as a part of life and rejects the Biblical teaching that a person can live in victory. There is victory in Jesus; there is power in the Blood to help us live without sinning.
Most of the Bible study materials on the market today are Calvinistic in nature—they tend to accommodate occasional (if not frequent) sin. Although at times, that perspective is presented in a subtle manner, we need to be aware of it. We must guard against being influenced by a doctrinal perspective that accepts sinning as a part of life and rejects the Biblical teaching that a person can live in victory. There is victory in Jesus; there is power in the Blood to help us live without sinning. That is Scriptural, and we want to be steadfast in adhering to that truth.
All of us have more lessons to learn; all of us are works in progress. However, by the grace of God, we are saved works in progress. And we can live in victory as long as we learn and do our best to live up to the doctrines and teachings of the Word of God.
An impact on others
Our determination to read the Bible and live by it will have an impact on others. Remember Paul’s words in our opening text, where he told Timothy that if he would take heed to himself and to the doctrine and continue in them, he would “both save thyself, and them that hear thee.” We have influence! We can take this Gospel that God has put in our hearts wherever we go. We need not debate our doctrine nor feel apologetic about taking a stand. We can simply declare, “I am saved! I was delivered from sin!” We may not know if the people we associate with have heard the message before, but we do know they need to hear it. And they need to hear from us that we have victory in Jesus.
Today, if your life is not built on the doctrine of Jesus Christ, you can look Heaven’s way and ask God to plant His truth deep within your heart. As you learn, embrace, and practice the sound doctrine of the Word of God, you will find that you have a framework that will sustain you when the storms of life come.