Doctrine and Life: Let Us Not Divorce What God Has Joined Together

Doctrine and Life: Let Us Not Divorce What God Has Joined Together

Paul repeatedly refers to sound doctrine in his Pastoral Epistles. He knows that sound, or healthy, doctrine does not give life; the Spirit of God. But anyone born the Spirit needs the know and grow in life-giving doctrines of God. 

Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching [doctrine].
Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.
—1 Timothy 4:16

Doctrine and life. Life and doctrine.

In Paul’s first letter to Timothy, he calls his pastoral protegé to embrace both and not let go of the other. And for anyone who cares about life or doctrine, we must also care about the other also. For doctrine without life is dead and life without sound doctrine is leading to death.

In truth, when doing theology if it does not lead someone to the giver of life, it is dead theology. But simultaneously, life that downplays doctrine is equally deadly. This is why Paul repeatedly refers to sound doctrine in his Pastoral Epistles. He knows that sound, or healthy, doctrine does not give life; the Spirit of God. But anyone born [of] the Spirit needs [to] know and grow in life-giving doctrines of God. This is why he says that by paying attention to doctrine, ‘you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Simultaneously, because he knows that knowledge by itself can puff up (1 Cor. 8:1), and that not all studies in the Law are lawful (1 Tim. 1:3–11), he calls for Timothy to guard his life and his doctrine. Too many are the knowledgable theologians who did not guard their lives. And too many are the false professors who have general sense of theology but no life. Thus, we must always pursue doctrine for the sake of knowing the life-giving God. To expound this idea further, let me turn to two theologians who knew both doctrine and life.

William Ames (1576–1633) on Theology as Living to God

The first is William Ames (1576–1633). And in his Marrow of Theology, he defines theology as the privilege and necessity of finding life in God. As the Puritans always remind us, theology is never an end in itself; it is always a means of communing with the triune God. Ames definition of theology reflects this approach. And in thirteen points, he helps us to see how and why living before God (Coram Deo) is the essence, or marrow, of theology.

  1. Theology is the doctrine or teaching [doctrina] of living to God. John 6:68, The words of eternal life; Acts 5:20, The words of this life; Rom. 6:11, Consider yourselves alive to God.
  2. It is called doctrine, not to separate it from understanding, wisdom, art, or prudence—for these go with every exact knowledge, discipline, and most of all with theology—but to mark it as a discipline which derives not from nature and human inquiry like others, but from divine revelation and appointment. Isa. 51:4, Doctrine shall go forth from me; Matt. 21:25, From heaven . . . Why then did you not believe him?; John 9:29, We know that God has spoken to Moses; Gal. 1:11-12, The gospel . . . is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through a revelation; John 6:45.
  3. The principles of other arts, since they are inborn in us, can be developed through sense perception, observation, experience, and induction, and so brought to perfection. But the basic principles of theology, though they may be advanced by study and industry, are not in us by nature. Matt. 16:17, Flesh and blood has not revealed this to you.
  4. Every art has its rules to which the work of the person practicing it corresponds. Since living is the noblest work of all, there cannot be any more proper study than the art of living.
  5. Since the highest kind of life for a human being is that which approaches most closely the living and life-giving God, the nature of theological life is living to God.
  6. Men live to God when they live in accord with the will of God, to the glory of God, and with God working in them. 1 Peter 4:2, 6, That he may live . . . by the will of God . . . according to God; Gal. 2:19-20, That I may live to God Christ who lives in me; 2 Cor. 4:10, That the life of Jesus may be manifest in our bodies; Phil. 1:20, Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.
  7. This life in essence remains one and the same from its beginning to eternity. John 3:36 and 5:24, He who believes in the Son has eter. nal life; 1 John 3:15, Eternal life abiding in him.
  8. Although it is within the compass of this life to live both happily and well living well (eusōia, is more excellent than living happily (eudaimonia). What chiefly and finally ought to be striven for is not happiness which has to do with our own pleasure, but goodness which looks to God’s glory. For this reason, theology is better defined as that good life whereby we live to God than as that happy life whereby we live to ourselves. The apostle therefore called it by synecdoche, the teaching which accords with godliness, 1 Tim. 6:3.

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