Today doctrine is often downplayed in favor of ecumenical unity, evangelism, social work projects, and other pragmatic goals. The following statement by popular Christian singer Pat Boone, who is charismatic in theology and practice, typifies an attitude that is widespread: “Doctrine divides, experience unites. We don’t all have our doctrine all completely correct, but God doesn’t judge us on our understanding of doctrine.” (Aug. 17, 2001).
This thinking is refuted by the Scripture.
The Bible teaches that sound doctrine can be known.
- Christ taught that right doctrine can be known. He promised that it is possible to “know the truth” (Joh. 8:31-32) and to “know of the doctrine” (Joh. 7:17).
The Bible tells us how to know sound doctrine.
Following are some of the things that are necessary to come to a proper understanding of the Bible so that its doctrines are rightly known.
- Sound doctrine is known by the new birth. The natural man cannot know spiritual teaching (1 Co. 2:12-14). There is a spiritual veil over the unsaved man’s eyes. He is blinded by the devil because of his unbelief (2 Co. 4:4). When the sinner believes the gospel and receives Christ as Lord and Saviour, God gives deliverance and spiritual sight. By turning to the Lord from the heart, the spiritual veil is removed (2 Co. 3:14-18).
- Sound doctrine is known by walking in the Spirit (1 Co. 3:1-4). The carnal believer does not let the Spirit rule his life, so he does not grow in spiritual understanding. He can take the milk of God’s Word, but not the meat. The carnal does not become skillful in the Word (Heb. 5:12-14).
- Sound doctrine is known by prayer (Ps. 119:18, 125). The saints are perpetually dependent upon God’s enlightenment. Every individual believer should pray earnestly and continually for spiritual enlightenment. The Psalmist exemplified this. “Open thou mine eyes eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law” (Ps. 119:18), and, “I am thy servant; give me understanding, that I may know thy testimonies” (Ps. 119:125). To read and study the Bible without such prayer is presumption. To preach and teach the Word of God without prayer is presumption.
- Sound doctrine is known by obedience (Joh. 7:17). If a man is open to the truth and willing to obey God, the Lord will give him wisdom to discern sound doctrine from false. In Proverbs 1:23 God says, “Turn you at my reproof: behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.” God has promised to make His truth known to those who submit to Him.
- Sound doctrine is known by continuing in God’s Word (Joh. 8:31-32). To continue in God’s Word is to continue reading and studying it, to continue obeying it, to continue pursuing a right understanding of it. It requires patient continuing. To continue means to not quit, to not get sidetracked, to not slack off. Those who do not continue in God’s Word will not know sound doctrine.
- Sound doctrine is known by diligent study (2 Ti. 2:15). The word “study” is the Greek spoudzao, meaning to “use speed, i.e. to make effort, be prompt or earnest” (Strong). It is elsewhere translated “do diligence” (2 Ti. 4:9, 21; Tit. 3:12), “labour” (Heb. 4:11), and “endeavor” (1 Th. 2:17). Learning the Bible requires serious labor. The effectual Bible student must be “a workman.” He must aim to become “skillful (Heb. 5:12-14). He must set aside a good portion of time for this endeavor. He must make it a major priority. He must develop a daily reading and study habit. He must learn the sound principles of Bible interpretation. He must learn how to use the excellent tools that are available in our day, and he must use them diligently. It’s not enough to have a good concordance and Bible dictionary, the Bible study tools must be at hand (not across the room or in another room) and must be used continually. I nearly wore out a Strong’s Concordance the first year I was saved by looking up hundreds of Bible words in the Hebrew and Greek dictionaries.
- Sound doctrine is known by the Bible student who wants to be “approved unto God” (2 Ti. 2:15). The effectual Bible student who learns sound doctrine is the student who wants to be approved unto God. This is his motive for study. He knows God in salvation, and he studies the Bible in fellowship with God. He loves God and wants to live his life in such a way that God is pleased.
- Sound doctrine is known by rightly dividing the Scripture (2 Ti. 2:15). “Rightly dividing” is orthotomeo, meaning “to make a straight cut, i.e. (figuratively) to dissect (expound) correct” (Strong). It refers to right interpretation. The first rule of sound Bible interpretation is context, and the second rule is comparing Scripture with Scripture. See The Effectual Bible Student (a beginning course) and Understanding the Bible for Yourself (an advanced course) for a study of the rules of Bible interpretation. These are available from www.wayoflife.org.
- Sound doctrine is known by avoiding false doctrine (2 Ti. 2:15-18). Avoiding false teachers and false doctrine is in the context of rightly dividing the Scripture.
- Sound doctrine is known through sound teachers in sound churches (Eph. 4:11-14). The New Testament church is the pillar and ground of the truth, and it is God’s ordained Bible teaching institution (1 Ti. 3:15). See also Ac. 18:11; Eph. 4:11-12; 2 Ti. 2:2; Tit. 1:9-11; 2:3-5. The church is God’s truth institute. It is where the Word of God is to be preserved, taught, and obeyed. After I was saved, I didn’t know where to go to church and I floundered around in the midst of the heresies that abound today. I was studying the Bible diligently with a desire to know the truth, and I was crying out to God for guidance, but I was encountering false teaching on every hand. I found Herbert W. Armstrong on the radio and sent for some of his literature, not knowing that it was filled with heresy. I found a book on Seventh-Day Adventism at a public library and was confused about the sabbath and soul sleep. I attended some Pentecostal services and was confused about the sign gifts. Finally, the Lord led me to a little fundamental Baptist church where the pastor and the kind people grounded me in the fundamentals of the faith. It was like a refuge.
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Publisher of Bible Study Materials