Do We Truly Understand our Doctrine?

Those within the Reformed church love to study doctrine.  We often gather together in one setting or another, open the Bible, and explore the wealth of wisdom that we find.  We also like to open some crusty old tome written long ago and let the breeze of ages past blow through our minds.  Whether we study Scripture or learn more about theology, we love to hone and tune our orthodoxy.  What is a problem is that we can make good discussion when it comes to doctrinal issues.  We often demonstrate, however, that we do not understand our doctrine as well as we might think in our every day life.  Let us consider the following doctrines.

God’s Omnipresence – we understand the doctrinal truth that God is in all places at all times.  We read passages of Scripture like Psalm 139.7-8 that speak to this doctrinal truth: “Where can I go from Your Spirit? Or where can I flee from Your presence? If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there.”  We can intellectually assent to this truth and speak about it with conviction.  Yet a person demonstrates that he does not truly understand this doctrine when he sins behind closed doors when others are not around.  Wilhelmus à Brakel, a 17th century Dutch theologian, writes that when “the presence of people serves as a restraint against the commission of many sins, and if the presence of God does not accomplish the same, one reveals himself as having more respect for people than for the majestic and holy God.”  If we wait until the doors are closed and then sin because no one is watching, we only reveal that we do not understand the doctrine of God’s omnipresence at all.

Christ’s Incarnation – we understand the doctrinal truth that the second person of the Trinity became a man.  Christ was fully man and fully God.  We can articulate a perfect Christology.  We can even recite passages of Scripture such as Phil. 2.5-11 where we read that Christ “being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men” (vv. 6-7).  We see the humility of Christ and can explain the depths to which Christ condescended to save us.  Yet, when we are late to an appointment, outside of unusual circumstances (like a flat tire), we implicitly tell the other person that our time is more important than theirs.  We tell them that, “You must wait on me.”  This is the very antithesis of humility and fails to grasp Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians when he writes that they must “consider others better than yourselves” (Phil. 2.3b; NIV).  This is especially true, for example, when we are chronically late for church.  We are telling God that our time is more important than His.  How can we say that we understand the humility involved in Christ’s condescension if we fail to model that humility ourselves?

Christ’s Atonement – we understand the teaching that we are cleansed by Christ’s blood.   We cling fast to the truth that Christ came do atone for our sins and love to sing the famous hymn by the 18th century hymn writer William Cowper, “There is a fountain filled with blood, drawn from Immanuel’s veins; and sinners, plunged beneath that flood loose all their guilty stains.”  Yet, how well do we understand the truth that Christ’s shed blood has atoned for our sins when we fail to attend church regularly?  Where is the connection between the atonement and church attendance?  We read in Hebrews 10 that Christ “offered one sacrifice for sins forever” (v. 12); the author of Hebrews reflects upon the significance of Christ’s atonement and exhorts the reader “to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus” (v. 19).  How does this work out in common every day life?  He exhorts us that we should not “give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing” (v. 25).  In other words, how can we say that we understand the significance of Christ’s atonement and then not go to the very place where His Body is gathered to praise Him for His sacrifice?

These three examples should give us pause and make us examine how well we understand our doctrine. Our orthodoxy might be impeccable, but how good is our orthopraxy?  How well do we live out the doctrine that we know?  While we should always want to learn more about God, we should also strive to live out the doctrine that we learn and demonstrate that we really understand the truth.  We, of course, should do this soli Deo gloria!