“What’s on your mind?” the psychiatrist asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” replied the physicist.
“What is matter?” prodded the psychiatrist.
“Never mind” replied the physicist.
“Does it matter what I believe? If I love Jesus, isn’t that enough?” These are questions that seems to echoing through the age. But are these good questions? Perhaps the first question is inadequate. What is “it” that “matters?” Perhaps a better way to ask the question would be, “If I love Jesus, what I believe matter?”; or, “Is my love for Jesus enough to have a bearing on what I believe?”
If one were to ask Jesus, He would say that belief has everything to do with love that is bound up in Him. Jesus answered this question three times, saying plainly:
- “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (Jn 14:15);
- “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me. And he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will reveal Myself to him." (Jn 14:21)
- "If you keep My commandments, you shall abide in My love, even as I have kept My Father's commandments and abide in His love." (Jn. 15:10).
Tied directly to love for Jesus are His commandments. If one does not love Jesus, then his beliefs reflect what he loves. An incorrect belief system evidences inappropriate love. Jonathan Edwards would say to the effect that true religion is vigorous to cling to its object of passion[i]. Millard Erickson states that beliefs are in direct correlation to the person of our faith.
Love alone for Jesus is not enough. Something must be done about love and that “something” is obedience to His commandments. Since His commandments tell us what to believe, then all we do in obedience matters. If our love for Jesus alone were enough, then all God needed to do was peer over the precipice of heaven, whisper to sinful humanity, “I love you” and that’s about it as His love alone were enough. Instead, God did something about His love by sending His Son.
“But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, coming into being out of a woman, having come under Law, that He might redeem those under Law, so that we might receive the adoption of sons. And because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into your hearts, crying, Abba, Father. So that you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, also an heir of God through Christ.” (Gal 4:4-7)
If Christ Jesus did not come, civilization would be much harder, more pagan, deeper in disgust, exhausted. If Christ Jesus did not come, man would still be under the law, unredeemed and orphaned. If Christ Jesus did not come, man would remain slaves and without inheritance.
How does this tie in with doctrine? All things implied in an obedient belief system (man, sin, salvation, heaven, hell, angels, demons, the church, future things, etc) seem to be more hindrance than help because somewhere along the line one accrues the idea that he must master it all in order to become a sincere believer. The reason why people are scared of church is because they feel fire-hosed so they look for man-centered “tone down” doctrine that is less threatening; or they avoid the fellowship altogether.
But think about this: when Jesus walked this earth, people wanted to hear what He believed because what He believed mattered. His beliefs mattered because 1) He enjoyed a perfect relationship with God and what He believed showed; 2) He enjoyed abundant living because what He believed made a difference. What He believed were absolutes—unchanging.
Satan would have the world believe otherwise. Imagine my shock while watching Star Wars, Episode III, “Revenge of the Sith” and looking for something of redemptive value (I did not see the movie until two weeks ago), hearing Supreme Chancellor Palpatine declare to Anakin Skywalker in the heat of battle that the Jedi are deceived, only believing in mythical absolutes. What an oxymoron! Yet the language is so intentional! [From the “what it’s worth” department, my kids hate me. They scattered like roaches in the daylight when the movie was over because I had my list of “teachable moments” ready—but I’ve not unrolled it all on them . . . yet] [[how did I get off on that?]]
“ . . . when we say with our whole heart that Jesus is Lord, we have thereby accepted much more besides, for we have committed ourselves to Jesus’ teaching about God, the human race, sin, redemption, and the various other topics he discussed. If Jesus is Lord, he is Lord of our beliefs as well as of the other areas of our lives.”[ii]
I think the reason why people ask the initial question is because of so-called Metathesiophobia[iii] (I say “so called” because at it’s root is the more accurate "rejection of change"). Change is painful and can be very costly and if people are expected to believe something they have not before, huge adjustments must be made. This is a primary reason many shy from studying theology. While I certainly understand the problem, I would say it is a good one to have. This is why we begin doing theology be starting with the study of God through His Word. Can we study God apart from His Word? We will address the another time, but the short answer is “no.”
The fact of the matter is that what we believe about truth has a affect on how we live out reality. The tendency is to do this backward, allowing reality to define truth, and this cannot happen. Correct belief is to wrap the mind around what is true, then act on it.
Erickson gives a small list of objections some may offer concerning the study of doctrine, giving us a little insight into why people are concerned about “going deep”:
- The study of doctrine unduly complicates the Christian faith, taking the simple and making it complex.
- Doctrine Divides Christians.
- Doctrine may distract us from other aspects of the Christian life.
First, I think Charles Schultz thought otherwise about the complexity of doctrine. A Peanuts cartoon pictured Lucy and Linus looking out the window at a steady downpour of rain.
"Boy, " said Lucy, "look at it rain. What if it floods the whole world?"
"It will never do that, " Linus replied confidently. "In the ninth chapter of Genesis, God promised Noah that would never happen again, and the sign of the promise is the rainbow."
"You've taken a load off my mind, " said Lucy with a relieved smile.
"Sound theology, " pontificated Linus, "has a way of doing that!"
Second, I find intrigue in noting how non-Christians seem to be more observant of division and the importance of settling on the absolutes of scripture than we are. While we can’t let people continue disbelief at our expense, we need to learn which doctrines are central and act accordingly.
Finally, J.C. Philpot (1802-1869) in his sermon, “The Precepts of the Word of God” had this to say about doctrine and the aspects of the Christian life: “All doctrine, all experience, all precept center, as one grand harmonious whole, in the glorious Person of the Son of God. From Him they all come; to Him they all flow. Severed from Him . . . doctrine is seen to be but a withered branch; experience but a delusive dream; precept but a legal service. But His light enlightening, His life quickening, His power attending the word of His grace—doctrine is seen to be no longer doctrine dry and dead, but glorious truth; experience to be not a mere matter of fluctuating feeling, but a blessed reality, as the very kingdom of God set up with a divine power in the heart; and obedience not a legal duty, but a high, holy, and acceptable service.”
In closing, (did I just preach a sermon? Adrian Rogers used to say that one should be ready to preach at the drop of a handkerchief and be on the second point before it hit the ground) some reflection on Luke 24:13-27: Jesus meets two disciples on the road to Emmaus. What would you say was important to Jesus concerning how and what the disciples believed about Him in light of the teaching of scripture and His resurrection? What was His attitude toward their lack of knowledge of scripture concerning Him?
[i] Edwards, Jonathan. The Religious Affections. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1984.
[ii] Erickson, Millard. Does it Matter What I Believe? Grand Rapids: Baker, 1992.
[iii] In case you suffer from Sesquipedalophobia (fear of long words), Metathesiophobia means “the fear of change”.