Today’s blog post is a companion to the sermon “Saving Doctrine” delivered by Pastor R. Nethers on January 21, 2024, at Hannah’s Books in Keene, NH.
Doctrine is a word not generally used outside of Christian circles. However, we have experiences with doctrines in countless situations. In numerous trades, codes are essential guides that professionals follow. Electricians in America use the National Electrical Code. Plumbers employ the National Standard Plumbing Code. Such codes were developed over decades and longer, frequently written in the blood of those who were injured or killed by poor installation or maintenance practices. The codes are updated as we learn more and have better materials available. The military, too, has its doctrines of tactics, strategies, and logistics. Some originate from the Roman Empire or earlier. Medical and legal fields have ethics. Examples are nearly as endless as there are arenas of human activity.
It is so with the subject of salvation. Only that doctrine is settled in scripture. The Apostle Paul wrote in his first epistle to Timothy,
1 Timothy 4:13-16
13 Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine.
14 Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.
15 Meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them; that thy profiting may appear to all.
16 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. (Emphasis added.)
I assume the reader is a believer. That being the case, there is no area of concern so crucial as salvation. The Apostle Paul and the other Apostolic authors believed doctrine was key. According to Paul, it is doctrine that saves. How can this be? Doctrine informs action. Just as a map advises the navigator, doctrine informs the believer. We find saving doctrine throughout the New and Old Testaments. Note I did not use the plural. According to Jesus, only one way leads to life, not many, as some assert.
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
14 Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
Many believe there are many ways, but Jesus said that not only is there one but that the way is narrow, so much so few would find it. Was it not Peter’s brother Andrew who showed him the Savior? Were it not for Andrew’s excited introduction, perhaps Peter would have never known the Savior (see John 1:40-41). Who then would have had the keys to the kingdom of heaven?
In the Garden of Gethsemane, the Savior prayed for His disciples. Among His prayers, we find this passage in John 17,
17 Sanctify them through thy truth: thy word is truth.
18 As thou hast sent me into the world, even so have I also sent them into the world.
19 And for their sakes I sanctify myself, that they also might be sanctified through the truth.
20 Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also which shall believe on me through their word;
Jesus states that God’s word is truth. In verse 20, He prayed for the disciples (who would be apostles) and those who would “believe on Me through their word.” When you or I pick up a Bible, we hold a copy of some of those words. We do not have the privilege of hearing Peter or Paul preaching, but we can read their words and learn about Christ and salvation. “Their word” is the doctrine. Jesus bled for our redemption. He empowered Peter and the apostles to preach the gospel and write scripture. Therefore, we must use the writings of Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, James, Jude, and the writer of Hebrews to inform us about “the Way.” Never in scripture was it as simple as idle belief. Belief is normative. The source of Christian saving faith is the doctrine.
17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.
Faith comes by hearing a preacher expounding on the doctrine from scripture. However, we know from the Apostle’s second letter to Timothy that some will not “endure sound doctrine.”
2 Timothy 4:3-4
3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;
4 And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.
The Apostle warned that a time would come. That time came and is now. Yet, there have always been those who would not hear God. Jesus, quoting Isaiah, told His disciples that many would but not understand (Matthew 13:13-14). Had people listened, Adam would not have sinned, Noah would not have needed to build an ark, and the children of Israel would not have wandered in the desert for 40 years. There would be no need for the redeeming Blood shed at Calvary. But we all have fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
Today, some (many) will not “endure sound doctrine.” That statement should give pause to all believers. Recall that Paul warned Timothy to “take heed to yourself.” Will you “endure sound doctrine?” What did Paul mean by “sound?” It means proper or correct, something that will stand the test of time or, in the case of salvation, the test of eternity. God requires it for those “called out ones” who are His. Again, the doctrine is what the Apostolic writers conveyed in scripture.
2 Timothy 3:1-7
1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come.
2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy,
3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good,
4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God;
5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
6 For of this sort are they which creep into houses, and lead captive silly women laden with sins, led away with divers lusts,
7 Ever learning, and never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.
I find it impossible to use the above passage in part. It is a single thought. Note verse five: some (many) have a form of godliness, yet by their actions—from their internal doctrine—deny the power of God. What is the power of God? The greatest is salvation (see Romans 1:16). Those people have the appearance of the godly. Perhaps they do not publicly do ungodly things, but inwardly, they are “ravening wolves " (Matthew 7:15).” Moreover, they are always learning but cannot come to the knowledge of the truth. What is truth? Wrong question! Christ is the truth. They cannot come to know Christ, and so are those poor souls to whom the Lord will say. “I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.” Only through sound doctrine can we come to know Christ. We are saved in Christ. There is no other way. [In another post, I will discuss the topic of Christ.]
In my preaching and teaching, I often touch on context. Where and how information is presented is often as important as the information itself. Matthew 27:5 says Judas hanged himself. In Luke 10:37, Jesus said, “Go, and do thou likewise.” I could mash the two together and use it to admonish the reader to hang himself. What a horrible thing to say! There is no context. It is an extreme example, but it makes my point. We need to take care to understand to whom information is conveyed.
Many people believe all sorts of things, even beautiful scriptural things, but they are taken out of context, perhaps incomplete, or “just not quite right.” As I mentioned today, I am a good cook and baker. I could make some yummy whole-wheat banana nut muffins. Taking them to a Crohn’s disease recovery group meeting would not be a good idea. (Or perhaps it would be if I aimed to harm or encourage them to lose weight (because no one would eat them).) It is not the right context. I could provide other examples, but I trust the reader understands.
2 Timothy 2:15
15 Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
The word of truth, meaning the Word of God, needs to be treated with understanding. To whom was a writing addressed? What was its purpose?
Dividing the New Testament:
Four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; Biographies of Jesus Christ.
Acts of the Apostles: The actions of the Apostles. It is the only book in the New Testament with the verbatim preaching of the apostles to the lost, telling them how to be saved.
Epistles: Romans through Jude: Letters to churches and saints. They would have had experiences similar to what was recorded in Acts.
Revelation: Book of prophecy (written in symbolic form).
The Gospels were meant for Jews and Gentiles. Of course, followers of “the Way” benefit from them. They are meant to teach about Jesus, who He is, and what He did. We are to believe in Him by “their word.” Jesus told us to believe in Him and His works. However, does it end there? If so, there would have been no need for the rest of the New Testament. Jesus meant for His church to consist of those who act.
12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.
The Acts of the Apostles
The Apostles turned the world right-side up by preaching the good news of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection. Their teaching about applying that good news to the believer’s life was as important. We find that in the Acts of the Apostles. The epistles of Peter, Paul, James, John, Jude, and the writer to the Hebrews are all part of the body of Christ. The body of Christ consists of those with experiences similar to what we find in the Acts of the Apostles. Can there be genuine members of the body of Christ who have not done as Peter told those in Jerusalem or at Cornelius’ house (see Acts 2 and 10)? Or what Paul told the disciples of John the Baptist (see Acts 19)? In each instance, all who repented were baptized in Jesus’s name and filled with God’s (Christ’s) Spirit.
The epistles were meant for members of churches and their ministers rather than for the unsaved. That is not to say the unbeliever cannot gain from reading an epistle. Only I am addressing the concept of context. Many seek information for salvation in the epistles. It is there, but generally as hints to previous experiences (such as why baptism or the purpose of the Holy Spirit). The Apostles taught in the Acts to the unsaved world. The epistles dealt with problems in the church; they were not meant to introduce new doctrines of salvation.
3 Beloved, when I gave all diligence to write unto you of the common salvation, it was needful for me to write unto you, and exhort you that ye should earnestly contend for the faith which was once delivered unto the saints.
I will close with this verse. Salvation is common. It does not matter whether one is Jew or Gentile, free or bond, male or female (Galatians 3:28). By the time Jude penned his short epistle, saving faith (doctrine) had been delivered to the saints. Late in the first century, there was no more new information necessary to secure one’s place in the kingdom of heaven. Anything written two hundred or twelve hundred years after Jude’s epistle contrary to that in the Acts of the Apostles is false.
Take heed to yourself and the doctrine. Then you will save yourself and those who will hear you.