What do abortion, marriage, and terrorism have in common? They all have theological roots. Yet when matters like these are discussed in the public arena, theology is usually considered either too irrelevant or too divisive to include in the conversation. As a result, the theological questions behind these issues are largely ignored. The Bible, on the other hand, has a very different view. Scripture links theology with practice.
The apostle Paul integrated theology and practice when he told Timothy: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16). Doctrine involves more than theological constructs and propositions. It is truth articulated in word and exemplified “in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12).
If this is true, there is more to false doctrine than saying the wrong thing. It is certainly possible to teach things that conflict with sound doctrine. But it is also possible to live in a way that is contrary to sound doctrine. According to Scripture, practices like murder, sexual immorality, homosexuality, human trafficking, lying, and perjury are “contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the gospel concerning the glory of the blessed God” (1 Tim. 1:10–11). Sound doctrine is reflected in the lifestyle of the church (Titus 2:1–15).
We should not be surprised by this connection. The New Testament word for “doctrine” is really just the word for teaching, and the Bible has much to say about the way we live our lives. The Bible’s moral instruction, however, is theologically driven. All that Scripture has to say about ethics and behavior is rooted in the revelation of God and His righteousness. Consequently, any discussion of morality detached from theology is bound to go wrong. Furthermore, there is an important order in this relationship. Biblical truth must have first place. The tendency today is to reverse the order and let behavior determine the bounds of truth. The result is a moral compass without any clear points of reference. Moral standards are self-determined. They change from place to place and year to year.
Henry Ward Beecher once called doctrine “nothing but the skin of truth set up and stuffed.” But a more biblical definition of doctrine is the integration of truth with life. Biblical morality is more than a way of living. Ultimately it is a way of seeing. It is the result of seeing and responding to the world through the lens of God’s truth.
FOR FURTHER STUDY
For a helpful survey of Christian doctrine, read The Great Doctrines of the Bible by William Evans (Moody).
By John Koessler, Chair and Professor of Pastoral Studies
John Koessler serves as chair and professor of pastoral studies at the Moody Bible Institute in Chicago, Illinois. He is married to Jane and has two sons, Drew and Jarred. John is the author of Folly, Grace & Power: The Mysterious Act of Preaching (Zondervan), A Stranger in the House of God (Zondervan) and served as general editor of The Moody Handbook of Preaching (Moody). John has written several other books and articles and serves as a contributing editor for Today in the Word.