5 Ways Doctrine Helps You Live
In Paul's letter to Titus, we find an oft-overlooked exhortation: "But as for you, teach what accords with sound doctrine" (Titus 2:1). Paul then launches into a list of characteristics fitting for all ages in the Christian life with such speed we easily forget this verse is the launch pad. Sound doctrine is the foundation for Christian living; in other words, sound doctrine helps us live.
Doctrine is often seen as tedious, divisive, or at least unnecessary for Christians to live godly lives. All we think we need is to be told what to do and how to live. We think that will help us live a "victorious," "overcoming," and "blessed" life. But not Paul. Paul is convinced the only way we will live the Christian life is if we build it not only on doctrine but sound doctrine.
What is sound doctrine?
It is the gospel. It is God's promise of eternal life from before the creation of the world, shown to us in Christ, and carried throughout the whole world by preaching (Titus 1:2-3). God's grace is demonstrated in Jesus Christ, who gave Himself to redeem, purify, and justify us (2:11-14; 3:3-7). This is the doctrine on which we are built into the image of Christ.
Building our lives on the sound doctrine of the gospel is a fitting metaphor. Just as houses are built on a foundation, never exceeding the limits of the foundation, so our lives are built on the gospel, never exceeding the limits of the gospel. That is exactly the same message Paul rebukes the straying Galatians with: "Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?" (Galatians 3:3). In other words, "Are you so foolish, having begun on the foundation of the gospel, are you now being perfected by the Law?" Building on the foundation of the gospel requires us to saturate ourselves in the gospel. It means constantly teaching, preaching, hearing, reading and thinking gospel, not Law. The moment we turn to Law (read: self-help motivation), we not only stray from the limits of the foundation of life but also begin to build on a completely different foundation—the foundation of death.
With this in mind, the remainder of Titus 2 tells us five ways this sound doctrine helps us live:
Paul first turns to the Christian character and tells us sound doctrine creates it. The list describing a Christian character is long: clear-minded, respectable, self-controlled, sound in faith, love and perseverance, reverent, not slanderers, not slaves to pleasure, teaching what is good and right, pure, kind, a model of good works, showing integrity and dignity, acceptable, not argumentative, not thieving, and demonstrating faithfulness.
The one thing to notice from this daunting list is that it is not the natural character of people. We often think of people as having good hearts, even if their actions say otherwise. Paul disagrees. And the longer we look at this list, we are compelled to agree. Paul says these must be taught to us, not as things we must attain through rigorous dedication and hard work, but taught to us as it accords with sound doctrine. Sound doctrine is our driving force for a godly, gospel-shaped character.
2. Hope and Peace
"Waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ" (Titus 2:13).
Both hope and peace are perhaps the most sought-after assets in our world today. Some seek them through material wealth, while others think political influence will produce them. Still, others seek them through various lifestyles and religions. However, all these tangible attempts cannot acquire the intangible cure for our great intangible problem: guilt and sin.
The doctrines of the gospel are only promises, never commands. They inspire hope. They produce peace. Hope and peace aren't found in the commands of the Law but in the promises of Christ. Thus, doctrine produces in us what we cannot receive from merit.
Life in Christ is a life of joy. Paul tells us those who are redeemed are purified, belong to God, and are zealous for good works (Titus 2:14). Joy is not explicitly stated in these descriptions, but each produces joy.
Think about it; if we live the way our creator intended, we live at our potential with maximum benefits. One of those benefits is an unshakable joy which influences our actions through motivation, desire, and worldview. Joy is similar to hope and peace in that it is not something we achieve through action but is instead produced by the doctrinal promises of the gospel.
There once was a time when wisdom was valued more than life. That time is not our time. We are preoccupied with trends and information, and wisdom requires more patience than we are willing to dispense. Yet, wisdom is what we need to live careful, precise, and abundant lives.
Wisdom shows up in being self-controlled, sound in speech, trained in renouncing ungodliness and worldly passions, upright, gentle, and discerning. Our efforts do not produce wisdom in each of those areas, but as hope, peace, and joy, it produces an upright life.
For the Christian, godliness is the essential goal. God adopts us, and He works to conform us to His image (see Romans 8). Thus, godliness is our priority to be formed and shaped to look more like His children. Yet, we often think godliness is nothing more than the outcome of trying our hardest to be godly.
Such an attitude directly contradicts Titus 2:12, where we are told, "the grace of God has appeared…training us to renounce ungodliness…, and to live…godly lives in the present age." It is by God's gracious work in our lives that we learn to be godly, and God's gracious work is produced in us as it appears to us in the form of gospel doctrine.
If we walk away from reading Titus 2, thinking we must strive as best we can to live pleasing to God without the influence of sound doctrine, we miss the point entirely. Think of doctrine as a bottomless well and our lives as water. Sound doctrine creates a bottom for our wells, causing the water of a good character to be like a spring swelling up and overflowing.