Friday, July 3, 2009

Orthodoxy and Obedience

So I seem to keep encountering points of view that make a contrast between the need for right doctrine, and the need for right practice. A point of view that sees these two focal points of the Christian life in terms of "camps" or opposite ends of the spectrum. A dichotomy between orthodoxy and obedience. There's a lot of "evangelicals" today who want to focus on "following Jesus", but not so much on knowing doctrine. After all, doctrine divides, right? And isn't the church of Jesus Christ supposed to be marked by unity and love for one another, not debates and battles over fine points of theology? Can't we just follow Jesus and His teachings and forget about all that messy doctrinal stuff? Isn't it enough to just love Jesus and be like Him?

While reading again through Colossians this past week, I came across a passage that seems to put aside this notion of separation between orthodoxy and obedience, and instead proves them to be inextricably linked. Read with me Colossians 2:6-7:

Therefore as you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, having been firmly rooted and now being built up in Him and established in your faith, just as you were instructed, and overflowing with gratitude.
Paul starts this passage with a command, to conduct ourselves in a manner consistent with how we have received Christ. Note that this is different than his command in Ephesians 4:1 to walk in a manner worthy of our calling. Here instead we're commanded to walk in Christ in the same way we have received Him as Savior and Lord. So how do we do that? Paul goes on to explain.

Look at the tense of the next phrase - "having been firmly Him" Past tense, referring to the point of conversion. We as believers in Christ have been firmly rooted in our salvation in Jesus Christ, in His person and His work and His gospel truth. In a word - doctrine. And this past tense occurrence has an ongoing present tense work - "now being built up in Him." Growing in Christ, in our knowledge of Him and our depth of relationship with Him and in our conformance to His character. Again, centered on the person and work and gospel truth of Jesus Christ. Founded on sound doctrine.

Which is exactly what Paul says next - "established in your faith." Here referring to the foundation of our receiving and being built up in Christ as our "faith", the body of sound doctrine that constitutes true Christian faith, the faith once for all handed down to the saints, and not simply our own personal trust in that body of truth.

And to make that clear, Paul points to where we received these sound doctrinal truths that are the root, the building up, the establishment of our faith - "just as you were instructed." Teaching, instruction in the word and truths of the gospel and the sound doctrines of the faith. This whole passage assumes the doctrinal teaching of the essential truths of Christian faith as the basis for receiving Christ and as the basis for living in obedience to Christ. To paraphrase: you were taught the truths of Jesus Christ, you received Him based on these truths, your faith in Him is founded on these truths, you are growing in grace and knowledge through the ongoing teaching of these truths, so now continue to live in them the same way. A continuous line linking orthodoxy and obedience.

And finally, Paul describes the outcome of such a life of obedience based on orthodoxy - "overflowing with gratitude." Obedience that is based in and founded on doctrinal truth will be accompanied by, and in fact motivated by, an overwhelming thankfulness for the gospel of Christ. The more we understand the deeper doctrines of God's grace and mercy and justice in Jesus Christ, the more we are aware of how great our salvation is, and the more grateful we will be to Him for His sovereign grace, and the more motivated we will be to live a life that pleases and glorifies Him. A superficial understanding of the doctrinal truths of the gospel of Christ will inevitably lead to a superficial obedience.

So, do you want to be an obedient follower of Jesus? Then drink deep from the well of doctrinal truth that He Himself has revealed about Himself. Go beyond the simple "Jesus loved me and died for my sin" statement of faith and discover the how, why, what and who that lie beneath that simple statement. Embrace the sound teaching of sound and orthodox truths of the gospel of Jesus Christ, and so receive Him, so grow in Him, and so walk in Him.

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