The False Doctrine of Sound Doctrine
"Sound doctrine" is a phrase we Christians throw around quite often. Believing the correct thing on a wide range of biblical issues is very important to us, as it should be for anyone. Whenever I read through Hebrews or 1 John or Ephesians or 1 Corinthians or Romans, I'm reminded that I can't just believe ANYTHING I want. My mind and its thoughts should be submissive to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). But being a fan of "sound doctrine" brings with it a sneaky problem. I'm honest to admit that I have a love-hate relationship with "sound doctrine" because it can be a manipulative jerk. "Sound doctrine" as I have always thought of it isn't my friend, but neither is it my enemy. It's more like the bad roommate I had in college that I hope I never see or hear from again.
There is no denying that Satan so often takes what is intrinsically good and twists it into an obscene perversion of its former self. He did so with Eve in Eden; he turned obedience to God's provision into rebellion against God's prohibition. In a similar way, Satan once took my zeal to obey "sound doctrine" and twisted it until it had become an obscene perversion of obedience, for obedience that does not come from the heart isn't obedience at all (cf. Rom. 2:28-29).
At its core, "sound doctrine" simply means "healthy teaching," i.e. a body of instruction that leads to the full, abundant life Jesus spoke about (John 10:10). Any other form of teaching only steals, kills, and destroys. Too often, I have seen "sound doctrine" steal, kill, and destroy. So it wasn't too "sound" or healthy after all.
Going back to my earlier reference to 2 Cor. 10:5, Paul says, "We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ." This has become a formative statement for me since it reminds me of why sound doctrine is important, and thereby provides a guardrail to keep my doctrine sound and healthy.
Here's what I've seen Satan do with "sound doctrine."
1. It can become a work-based system of salvation, which denies the atoning grace Jesus achieved in his death and resurrection.
I know of no one who would come out and actually affirm this, but they betray themselves in the way they live life and orient themselves to God. I know, because I used to be like this, and I still slip into this thinking every now and again.
It's the thinking that says God will bless me more, or approve of me more, or ignore my other failings if I can only get **insert favorite pet theology here** right. It's like viewing the Christian life as a video game—I get to more advanced levels, unlock special powers, and win the trophy at the end if I input the right sequence of buttons. But God can't be manipulated like that.
An unhealthy view of "sound doctrine" makes me believe that my salvation rests not in trusting Jesus in all things, but more in trying really hard, which gets exhausting after a while. Instead of feeling perpetually free and joyous, I become increasingly guilty and crabby over my repetitive failure. And there's always the dark fear that I haven't got one obscure doctrine completely figured out and will be sent to hell on a technicality. Thanks be to God that he is a rewarder of those who sincerely seek him by faith (Heb 11:6), which means those who seek the Truth will find Him (John 14:6).
2. It can become a convenient way of segmenting my spirituality so that I remain blind to my failures.
If we aren't careful, placing a huge emphasis on "sound doctrine" can lead us to the faulty notion that God cares MUCH more about our beliefs than he does our behavior, or that God cares about our relationship with Him vs. our relationship with others. But when Jesus was asked about the #1 most important commandment, he said, "I can't give you one. There's two." Loving God and loving our neighbor are of equal importance (Matt. 22:36-39). And when Paul told Titus to teach what was consistent with "sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1), he went on to discuss how we get along with other people, instead of a comprehensive list of the doctrines we have to get right.
My point is that "sound doctrine" as understood in the NT has as much to do with behavior as it does beliefs. When you or I take a stand on the essentiality of baptism, but then continue to live as slaves to sin (which baptism freed us from, Romans 6), we just look stupid. And when we insist on the NT pattern of a cappella singing, but never allow corporate worship to put us in our cosmic place (i.e. that God is God and we are not), we've sort of missed the point.
The Pharisees were concerned about tithing their spice cabinet, but in so doing lost their connection to God's sense of justice, love, and faithfulness. When sound doctrine has made us less sensitive to the character of God, it's no longer sound.
3. It can make me forget the "Why" of the Christian life.
Sound doctrine can become a god. There. I said it. I'm glad to have that off my chest. And obviously, when sound doctrine takes on an idolatrous form, it's no longer sound. Believing the right things and behaving the right way is all about Jesus. I love Christ and want to believe what he taught me. I love Christ and want to behave how he taught me. I love Christ and want to be a part of his body, the church.
For that reason, we should never adhere to “sound doctrine” so that we will continue to be accepted by our peers or community, or so that we can remain employed, or… Such motives will eventually breed hypocrisy. Believing the right things and behaving the right way, yet still not having a relationship with Christ, gets you no closer to heaven. Instead, your life will remain a living hell, and you will have missed the joy that comes from seeking to glorify Christ in all things.
Seeking to exalt Christ in everything we say, do, and believe—now that’s a very healthy way to live. In our quest to be the body God wants us to be, let's make sure that we don't become disconnected to the head, Christ (Col. 2:19).
Father, we love you and want to believe and behave as you have taught us. But Satan perverts this desire in sneaky ways. Help us never to become SO consumed with believing and behaving as you have taught that we lose sight of YOU, for that would be a great tragedy. Help us always to define “sound doctrine” by what is healthy, by what glorifies and exalts you. Help us never to become so obsessed with obedience that we become disconnected from your character, from your nature, from your Son. Help us to remember that everything, our beliefs and behavior, is about Jesus. In His name…
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