Biblical Definition. Doctrine is not just teaching...it is specific teaching about absolute truth. Noah Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines doctrine: "That which is laid down as true by an instructor or master.” Scripture is the sole source of sound doctrine. When the Bible speaks of sound doctrine, it speaks of absolute truth as laid down by God in His word.
Importance. The preeminence of doctrine can be seen in (2 Tim. 3:16) “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness…”
Notice what heads the list of profitable things. Doctrine is the fundamental truth of God’s word, the indispensable component of spiritual growth...the catalyst of change. Our doctrinal beliefs are the basis of our convictions, and our convictions form our world view, which in turn should determine how we live our lives.
Learning. Doctrine is learned progressively through a guided process involving instruction, faith, and obedience: “precept must be upon precept, precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little…” (Isaiah 28:10). As the Truth of God's word is understood, assimilated and applied it gradually forms Christ-like character in, “those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb.5:14).
Sound Doctrine, the Source of Life
The doctrine of salvation by grace though faith in Christ imparts eternal life. In the beginning, God spoke and instantly life began, and so it is with the second birth. When a person repents of their sin and accepts Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour, the Spirit that raised Christ from the dead immediately indwells and quickens the believers spirit. This causes a vital inner change, two spirits become one (1Cor.6:17); a supernatural transformation from spiritual death to spiritual life occurs.
Prior to salvation, the devil used the false doctrines of religion, philosophy, evolution etc. to deceive us, keeping us blind to God’s truth. The second birth is a classic example of how the sound doctrine of God's living word imparts life.
“But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you” (Rom. 6:17).
Spiritual life began when we were exposed to the sound doctrine of God’s word.
“That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9). “Being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth for ever” (1 Peter 1:23).
There are a multitude of various religious teachings (doctrines) concerning the salvation of man, yet only one is true! “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). “…I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
Sound Doctrine: Truths that Transform
“Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new” (2 Cor 5:17).
Being born again is all about supernatural CHANGE: “new creature”, “new man”, “newness of life”, “newness of spirit." It’s not about getting religion or converting to another denomination, turning over a new leaf, or vowing to be a better person. New life begins where there was none before.
However, the wonderful miracle of the second birth is only the beginning of CHANGE; the starting point of a whole new life, “…he which hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ” (Phil. 1:6).
The purpose of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection was not only the salvation of soul but the transformation of life. The cross not only secures eternal life but also enables the transformation of present life. The goal is a total change of HEART, OUTLOOK and PRIORITIES "...by the renewing of your mind" (Rom.12:2).
This involves a process of yielding, by which we allow the truth of God's word to reshape our thinking, restructure our priorities and refocus our outlook...so that our way of thinking, living and responding lines up with His. Many are the believers who seem to be ignorant of this foundational truth, failing to fully comprehend the purpose of salvation.
It is obvious that contemporary Christianity has left off teaching the vital fundamental doctrines of the Bible: “co-crucifixion”[Gal.2:20], the distinction between the believers “standing and state”, the significance of “spiritual circumcision” [Col.2:11], the mechanics of inner struggle between the "new man" and the "old man" [Eph.4:22-24] etc. Sound doctrine is designed to produce sound Christians...believers who understanding their identity, authority, and freedom “in Christ”. "Therefore my people are gone into captivity, because they have no knowledge..."(Isa.5:13).
Week after week many well meaning pastors and Bible teachers exhort God's people to live sanctified lives...to be filled with and led by the Spirit...mortify the flesh and abide in Christ; without sufficiently teaching them HOW. Without a good understanding of the afore mentioned doctrinal truths, most of which are contained within Romans chapters 6-8, it is impossible to "...be renewed in the spirit of your mind; And that ye put on the new man" (Eph.4:23-24).How can a believer obey the command to, "...yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead..."(Rom.6:13) without a thorough understanding of the doctrine of co-crucifixion?
Two Types of Christians
In Paul’s epistle to the Corinthians, he divides all Christians into two categories, the spiritual and the fleshly or carnal; consider:
“And I, brethren, could not speak unto you as spiritual, but as unto carnal, even as babes in Christ. I have fed you with milk, and not with meat: for hitherto ye were not able to bear it, neither yet now are ye able. For ye are yet carnal: for whereas there is among you envying, and strife, and divisions, are ye not carnal, and walk as men?” (1 Cor 3:1-3).
The above verses clearly portray two types of believers; those that are spiritual, and those who are carnal.
That is, believers who have grown in the grace and knowledge of Christ and understand who they are “in Christ” and those who have unfortunately remained babes in Christ. Growth is the difference between Christians and fruit-bearing Christians.
It is quite natural for young believers to be carnal or fleshly. Spiritual maturity doesn’t happen over night, it requires time and opportunity. The fledgling must learn to resist the flesh and yield himself to a refining process, learning first hand, through a struggle with sin and self that, “the flesh profiteth nothing” (John 6:63).
However, the nature of Paul’s admonition reveals that he felt the believers at Corinth should have grown by the time of his writing. Those at Corinth who were genuinely saved had sufficient time and opportunity to grow, yet they had failed to do so. For whatever reason they hadn’t experienced normal spiritual growth and were still walking in the flesh. They hadn’t yet learned, or failed to apply, the basic doctrines necessary to “walk in newness of life” (Rom.6:4).
So "then", So "now"
The tragic situation which occasioned Paul’s rebuke to the Church at Corinth is similar to the crisis we face today, only on a massive scale.
The Prophecied Rise of False Doctrine in "the latter times"
There are many portions of Scripture that provide insight regarding world conditions in the end times. Second Timothy 3:1 for example, is a picture into the latter days, depicting the total moral breakdown of a godless society, “…in the last days perilous times shall come”.
But what about Christianity? What will the Church look like? I believe the third chapter of the Book of Revelation provides the answer. In verses 14-22, the word of God reveals the deplorable state of the Church of Laodicea, the last of seven churches mentioned.
The Laodicean Church depicts the widespread apostasy and spiritual famine of the latter days, a sobering snapshot of contemporary Christianity.
Modern Christianity is a victim of liberalism and has drifted far from its Biblical roots, away from the fundamental doctrines which are vital to its effectiveness and well-being. Even among good Bible-believing churches, the disparity of doctrine demonstrates the depth of deception in these last days.
This current crisis within Christianity should not come as a surprise considering the fact that there are numerous prophesies in the New Testament which clearly state that the end times will be characterized by a dramatic increase in demonic activity and false doctrine.
The apostle Paul repeatedly warned that as the Church Age drew to a close, “…evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived” (2 Tim. 3:13).
“Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils...” (1 Tim.4:1).
Day by day, as we draw closer to the return of the Lord, satanic influences are increasing, and contemporary Christianity moves further and further away from the fundamental truths of Scripture.
In the book of 2 Thessalonians, Paul made it quite clear that the coming of Christ would not occur until certain conditions are met: “…a falling away first, and that man of sin be revealed, the son of perdition” (2 Thess.2:3). A falling away or mass apostasy, along with the revealing of the antichrist, will precede the "Day of Christ".
If we believe the word of God, then we should expect to see in these last days a progressive falling away from the pure word of God (K.J.B.) and sound doctrine to religion, philosophy and compromise with the world.
“For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine…” (2 Tim. 4:3). That which was prophesied regarding the decline of sound doctrine has indeed come to pass in our day and is, in many ways, responsible for the current spiritual famine.
The crucial need of the hour is for leaders like the men of Issachar, “men that had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do…” (1Chron. 12:32). Many of today’s pastors and Bible teachers are failing to adequately equip the saints to meet the extraordinary challenges of these perilous times.
Much of today’s Bible teaching is shallow, lacking the necessary "spiritual understanding" to perfect the saints for battle; leaving God's people unable to discern and resist the forces of darkness working in and through a secular society.
For example, in our present self centered culture, the doctrine of "self-denial" is a major stumbling block to spiritual growth.
“Then said Jesus unto his disciples, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me” (Matt.16:24) .
Selfish living is precisely what prevents the believer from experiencing “newness of life." Yet many contemporary Bible teachers fail to adequately, if at all, stress the extreme importance of this doctrine.
Mordern churches consider such teachings "hardboiled doctrine" impractical and unpalatable. As a result, multitudes of believers fail to, “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ", remaining self-centered, worldly and unfruitful. The need to thoroughly instruct God’s people in the life changing doctrines of the Scriptures is greater now than ever.
Once again, consider the Apostle Paul’s timeless exhortation to the believers at Ephesus:
“And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers; For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, [ babes in Christ ] tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ…” (Eph. 4:11-15) [Emphasis mine].
The doctrines of the Bible are, “For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). Notice, the perfecting of the saints is prerequisite for the work of the ministry. In order for believers to, “...be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh” (1Peter 3:15) they must first be discipled and grounded in sound doctrine.
The most effective tool of evangelism is a changed life. Spiritually mature believers don’t need to be prompted to serve the Lord. For them evangelism is a way of life; the natural by-product of a close walk with the Lord.
“That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in to deceive”.
Sound doctrine exposes false doctrine and prevents us from being deceived.
“Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16).
Paul obviously is not referring to Timothy’s salvation when he said, “save thyself and them that hear thee”. The context of this chapter deals with deception. So when Paul says “save thyself,” he’s speaking of being delivered from false doctrine. Save thyself and those whom you teach from being deceived. Sound doctrine is of utmost importance...especially in the latter days.
"Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world." (1 John 4:1). The first step to being deceived, is believing that you can’t be. Ignorance is the primary condition for deception by evil spirits, (2 Cor.2:11). Consider the end time Church of Laodicea, (Rev.3:17-18).
God promised to preserve His word (Ps.12:6-7, Matt.24:35 K.J.B) but not sound doctrine; He entrusted the Church (pastors, teachers, and elders) with that responsibility (1 Tim.5:17).
Next Lesson:"The Falling Away"