Doctrine in an Old Overcoat

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I cannot remember when I was born again. I was aware that I was a Christian when I was ten or eleven years of age. However, I can remember when historical, classical Christian doctrine exploded into my life. This teaching may be called the Reformed faith or simply orthodox Christianity: man made in the image of God; the sovereignty of God; the sin nature as a devastating birth defect; grace; regeneration; justification; Christ, the sacrifice, satisfying the wrath of God — these doctrines tore into my existence like a storm and changed the entire landscape of my life. The way I approached academic studies, marriage, vocation, eating, sports, and friends was permanently altered. I possessed an assurance of salvation I had never known and a new love for God-centered worship and evangelism. I had already been a Christian, but His doctrine radically changed the way I lived.

“But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). Paul counseled Titus to teach the members of the church of Crete a way of life that “fits” or “goes with” sound doctrine. He was saying that there is a manner of life that is inextricably entwined with biblical teaching. The characteristics of that life do not produce the doctrine; rather, the doctrine is the source of that lifestyle. In the next eight verses, Paul describes how sound doctrine will be evident in the lives of older and younger men, women, and even servants. He chooses this group of ordinary people and their everyday interactions to demonstrate how God’s doctrine infiltrates all parts of life. Read some of  the characteristics: dignified; self-controlled; sound in love; steadfast; reverent; not slanderers. Paul concludes by saying that lives lived in such a way are ornaments to the doctrine of God.

My wife, Janet, is very particular about the decoration of our Christmas tree. Although I am in charge of putting the tree in place, she alone decorates every branch.  Each ornament has its proper place.  In the same way, God decorates His doctrine with our lives, which are changed and improved by His teaching “so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God and our Savior.”

Paul was setting forth a principle that should be a subject of meditation for all of us. Biblical doctrine rightly believed will become integrated into every facet of the Christian’s life. In Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver demonstrated that a philosophy ingested into the soul of a society will bring about the logical results of that philosophy’s presuppositions. Just so, as the Holy Spirit instills God’s teaching into a culture, the paradigm of that culture will be changed.

Some vehemently argue on behalf of the great doctrines taught by Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, but they do not demonstrate the living reality of these tenets in their relationships with the world around them. One may be able to teach in depth on predestination and the perseverance of the saints, yet reveal a heart full of pride and arrogance.  One may say he believes that he is a sinner, yet have the attitude of the self-righteous. Such a life does not fit with Scripture and is incongruous with its doctrines. Trust in the sovereignty of God should form a strong humility in the life of the believer. Assurance of the grace of God should produce a constant gratitude and an incredible desire to forgive those who have sinned against us. Belief in the doctrine that all men are made in the image of God should yield a habit of showing respect to others no matter their station in life.

The moralist teaches sanctification apart from sound doctrine.  However, one who teaches sound doctrine unaccompanied by sanctification is also in error. In Paul’s list to Titus delineating the requirements of elders, he combined the ability to teach sound doctrine with modeling godly behavior. Are we teachers of the theology we love so much? Then we need to examine whether our lives are consistent with this high and holy doctrine. Why should we expect anyone to believe a theology we teach with our lips but contradict with our lives?

I often return to the advice of my revered mentor, Dr. R.T.L. Liston: “Son, don’t wear this theology like a badge.” Badges are used to indicate a position of authority. Badges can be easily obtained and worn. “These doctrines are best worn like an old overcoat,” he would say. Attaining an habitual pattern of wearing these doctrines in our daily lives takes time. It involves the spiritual process of repeatedly learning, failing, praying, repenting,
and accepting correction.

The truth that God uses us as tributes to His teaching seems absurd. No saint would claim such an honor. However, we can pray that the Holy Spirit will shape our lives with the sound teachings of His grace, that we might be ornaments who adorn the doctrine of God.

First published in Tabletalk Magazine, an outreach of Ligonier. For permissions, view our Copyright Policy.