Doing Doctrine

I love to read and study God’s word. It is amazing. It is alive. It is active. It penetrates me. Hebrews 4:12. Everytime I read it, no matter how many times I’ve read it before, God reveals more of Himself to me. It is never a book that I put on my shelf and say “I’ve read that one.” It begs to be read, and when I don’t read it I feel like life is taken from me. I can’t imagine any other book that I would want to read over and over again. It’s not like anyone picks up War and Peace and reads from it weekly, let alone daily.

My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this, not forgetting what he has heard, but doing it—he will be blessed in what he does. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless. Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

James 1:19-27

Many today want to reduce the bible to a set of beliefs, what they might call “doctrine.” They teach that their doctrine is right and biblical. Focusing on a set of “proof texts,” they will say, for example, that a right knowledge of God’s word demonstrates certain things about man, about God, about how God redeems, etc. I’m not just talking about the fact that God is God, man sinned, God redeems through the cross of Jesus Christ, and that man needs faith to be reconciled to God. I’m talking about big theological words you will never hear out of a newly saved 7-year old child or in the Bible itself like “particular redemption,” “total depravity,” “prevenient grace,” “transubstantiation,” “ecclesiology,” “alien immersion,” and the like.

What’s interesting about all of that is that the God revealed in the bible appears to be quite an active God. Yes, there are positional or static facts that we can know. We can know we are in Christ. We can know we are saved. But at the same time we see that God tells us to keep on clothing ourselves in Christ. And, as in the passage from James above, we must not simply listen to the Word, we must do it.

This makes the point of this post. How do we “do” theological concepts? How do we “do” static ideas? Could it be that the “doctrine” or “teaching” God wants us to believe is the doctrine of grace, good news, giving, and dying to oneself, just as Christ demonstrated through His life and death, and we should be much more about living for others than increasing our vocabulary? We should be much more about helping those in need, like widows and orphans, in the name of Jesus Christ. This is true religion, right? James 1:27. He wants us to be and act and love like Him.

It strikes me that religion today has become like what is described in Isaiah 58, where we have become religious for religion’s sake, learning and learning, but never doing what God desires. Think about what God tells us in this wonderful chapter:

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
and to the house of Jacob their sins.

For day after day they seek me out;
they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
and seem eager for God to come near them.

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
and exploit all your workers.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
and for lying on sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
a day acceptable to the LORD ?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe him,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness [a] will go before you,
and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.

The LORD will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

“If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath
and from doing as you please on my holy day,
if you call the Sabbath a delight
and the LORD’s holy day honorable,
and if you honor it by not going your own way
and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

then you will find your joy in the LORD,
and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land
and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”
The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

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