Doctrine Leads to Devotion
by Joe Thorn
Christian bookstores typically separate “theology” books from “Christian living” books—if they even have a theology section. In some ways, this reflects the way many Christians think of doctrine and the life of faith and godliness—they are separate issues that rarely connect to each other. But what bookstores do for convenience does not reflect what the Bible says about the relationship between doctrine and devotion. In the pages of Scripture, devotion to God emerges out of the doctrine of God.
In the Pastoral Epistles, the Apostle Paul explains to Pastor Timothy that the church must watch out for those who teach bad doctrine. He calls such teaching “different” (1 Tim. 1:3), “contrary to sound doctrine” (1:10), and the “teachings of demons” (4:1). There really is such a thing as bad and dangerous theology. While there are some matters on which believers differ without much harm, there are many doctrines that produce real fruit (good or bad) in the lives of people who embrace them. We must be careful to guard ourselves from any doctrine that leads us away from the truth of God and into ungodliness. Paul says bad theology “promote[s] speculation” (1:4) and undermines faith, is often connected to various kinds of immorality, and can even lead to apostasy. And as these doctrines are believed, these corruptions can “spread like gangrene” (2 Tim. 2:17). The more corrupt our theology is, the more corrupt our piety can become.
On the other hand, Paul calls us to be a people who know and share good theology. In 1 Timothy 6:3–4, he calls such teaching “sound words” and “good doctrine.” This is the teaching of God’s person and work, the realities of sin and salvation, and the spheres of the world and the church. Knowing good doctrine is not a mere intellectual exercise, but the means by which we grow spiritually. Paul even refers to the “teaching that accords with godliness” (6:3). It strengthens our understanding of God and therefore our readiness to trust Him, obey Him, and worship Him. Good doctrine leads to good works.
Let’s consider one example of good and bad theology and the effects it can have. Good doctrine tells us that God is both sovereign and good (Rom. 8:18–29), which means we can trust Him in the midst of our afflictions as One who is both present and caring. Bad doctrine tells us that God is good, but not sovereign, meaning He is not in control of all things at all times. He has good intentions but is either incapable of helping or generally uninvolved in our lives. Such a picture of God doesn’t encourage prayer and dependence but frustration, fear, and bitterness.
The doctrine of God leads to devotion to God. Theology is meant to be experienced, not just affirmed. It is given to us to fill hearts with love for the God who has created us and redeemed us. Do not allow yourself to keep theology and Christian living on separate shelves. They amount to one continuous book that feeds our faith.