The Word is a Gift of Grace
The doctrines of the word of God were not intended just to lay claim on your brain, but also to capture your heart and transform the way you live. Those doctrines are meant to turn you inside out and your world upside down. Biblical doctrine is much more than an outline you give confessional assent to. Doctrine is something you live in even the smallest and most mundane moments of your life. Biblical doctrine is meant to transform your identity, alter your relationships, and reshape your finances. It’s meant to change the way you think and talk, how you approach your job, how you conduct yourself in time of leisure, how you act in your marriage, and the things you do as a parent. It’s meant to change the way you think about your past, interpret the present, and view the future.
The doctrines of the word of God are a beautiful gift to us from a God of amazing grace. They are not burdensome, life-constricting beliefs. No, they impart new life and new freedom. They quiet your soul and give courage to your heart. They make you wiser than you had the natural potential to be, and they replace your complaining heart with one that worships with joy. God unfolds these mysteries to you because he loves you. He is the giver of life, and every doctrine in his word plants seeds of life in your heart. And as those seeds take root and grow, you too grow and change.
God isn’t just after your mind; he’s after your heart. And he’s not just after your heart; he’s after everything that makes up you. His truths (doctrines) are the ecosystem in which the garden of personal transformation grows.
No passage captures this better than 2 Timothy 3:16–17: “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.” This passage is so important for understanding how the truths (doctrines) of Scripture are meant to function in our lives. It gives us not only four ways that Scripture (and each of its doctrines) is meant to function in our lives but, more importantly, it provides a process by which Scripture is meant to function. Here are the four steps in the process.
1. Teaching: the standard.
The truths of the Bible are God’s ultimate standard. They establish for us who God is, who we are, what our lives were designed to be, what is true and what is not, why we do the things we do, how change takes place, what in the world has gone wrong, and how in the world it will ever get corrected. The doctrines of the word of God provide the standard, lovingly revealed to us by our Creator, by which we can know, with surety, what we would never know without them. Everyone looks to some kind of standard because we all want to know, and we all want to know that what we know is true. So everyone carries a “bible” around with them, either one of his or her own making or the perfect standard handed down by the one who is truth.
2. Reproof: comparison to the standard.
Reproof is the process by which you are compared to a standard and in some way found lacking. This word clues us in to what we are meant to do with the truths revealed in God’s word. Every truth is meant to function as a mirror into which we look to see what is revealed about us in light of that truth. If you look into the mirror of God’s perfection, you are immediately confronted with the reality that you are far from perfection. If you look into the mirror of the doctrine of sin, you see that you, too, are a sinner. No truth is meant to live in abstract, impersonal separation from us. Every truth is a measuring stick to which we compare our thoughts, desires, words, choices, motivations, relationships, worship, and hopes. Knowledge of doctrine should produce not only knowledge of God, but a penetratingly humbling knowledge of self.
Theological study should produce not only praise and worship of God, but also heartfelt grief, confession, and repentance. Truth that does not reprove (confront) is truth not properly handled. It is possible and tempting to handle biblical doctrine unbiblically by omitting or resisting its reproving function.
3. Correction: closing the gap between where I am and where God wants me to be.
The doctrines of Scripture are meant to correct us. Correction is a process where what has been revealed to be wrong or lacking is brought closer to the standard. In the face of every truth in Scripture our question should be, “What does this truth reveal about me that needs to be corrected, and how will that correction take place in a way that is consistent with who God is, how he has revealed change takes place, and in light of what he has provided for me in the person and work of the Lord Jesus?” Progressive sanctification, which is God’s redeeming work in us between our conversion and our homegoing, is a continual process of comparison-correction, comparison-correction, driven by the truths of his word and empowered by the work of his Spirit.
4. Training: faithfully putting God’s standard into practice.
In the face of every teaching of Scripture we should ask, “What new thing is God calling me to put into regular practice in my thoughts, desires, words, and actions?” You train to do better what you haven’t done well or haven’t done at all. Embedded in every doctrine of the word of God is a call to brand-new ways of living. So, believing in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit and the inexhaustible resources of his grace, we submit to his call to live in a new way.
Second Timothy 3:16–17 calls us to handle the truths of Scripture in a way that results in a constant pattern of personal self-examination that leads to honest and humble confession, which produces a commitment to repentance, resulting in a life of increasing spiritual maturity and joyful obedience. Not just your thinking is being changed, but every area of your life is being brought into greater and greater conformity to the will of the one who created you and recreated you in Christ Jesus.
Now, let’s be honest. This is not always the way that we relate to and respond to the truths of God’s word. In all of us, somewhere, gaps still exist between what we say we believe and how we actually live. Many of us are willing to live with functional inconsistency between the truths that we declare we believe and how we choose to live. So it must be said that the truths you actually believe are the truths that you live, because faith is never just intellectual assent. More importantly, biblical faith is a commitment of the heart that radically alters the way you live. Truth not lived is truth not believed.
This article is adapted from Do You Believe?: 12 Historic Doctrines to Change Your Everyday Life by Paul David Tripp.