Part 1: The Power Of Basics
1-1 The Importance Of Truth
There are a number of serious problems in our spiritual experience which
will exercise all thoughtful believers:
- We realize that for all that we ourselves know, we often behave in
a way totally inappropriate to the wonderful doctrinal knowledge which
- We may convince a person of the truth of our position about, e.g.,
the trinity, but they can respond: " And, so what...?" Why
does it matter what we believe? Does Biblical interpretation matter
very much at all? What is the importance of truth?
- Grace and peace are multiplied to us through the [true] knowledge
of the Father and Son (2 Pet. 1:2). There are times in our own lives,
and in part throughout the life of our community, where this doesn't
seem to be happening. The link between peace and true knowledge isn't
I believe that the resolution to these issues is to understand that our
way of life is a direct outcome of our doctrinal beliefs, and that therefore
it does matter, crucially, what we believe. The problems and disappointments
which we face in our private and collective lives arise from a lack of
appreciation of how doctrine directly affects our practice, if we truly
Faith and " The Faith"
Trust or faith in God comes from not trusting upon human understanding,
but upon the understanding [s.w. meaning, knowledge, wisdom] that is God’s
(Prov. 3:5). In this lies the importance of truth in Biblical interpretation.
So understanding, correctly perceiving meaning, true wisdom…are related
to having a real faith. The Proverbs go on to plead for correct understanding,
because this will be the source of a Godly life of faith in practice.
There is therefore a connection between " faith" in the sense
of belief, and the fact the essential doctrines of Christianity are called
" the faith" ; the noun " the Faith" and
the verb 'to believe / have faith' are related. This is because a true
understanding of the one Faith will inevitably lead to true faith, and
therefore works; for faith and works are inseparable. This relationship
is brought out in Acts 3:16: " His name, through faith in his name,
hath made this man strong...yea, the faith which is in Him (Christ) hath
given him (the healed man) this perfect soundness" . Being unsound
in the Faith is another way of saying that in works a man is denying Christ;
to be " sound in the faith" is to tell the truth and not be
lazy nor gluttonous (Tit. 1:13,16). Good behaviour " adorns the doctrine
of God" , i.e. the basic doctrines of the Gospel (Tit. 2:10); the
practical commandments of Tit. 2:2-10 are " the things which befit
the sound doctrine" (Tit. 2:1 RV) which Titus was to teach. It's
almost as if Paul is telling Titus to bring out the practical implications
of the doctrines which he was teaching.
Keeping the commandments and having the Faith in Christ are paralleled
in Rev. 14:12. To have the commandments is to keep them (Jn. 14:21 Gk.)-
a true understanding leads to obedience in practice. " The faith
in Christ" (cp. Acts 24:24) was what was responsible for the man's
faith and therefore his healing. But that faith involved an understanding
of doctrine; it wasn't just a feeling of trust. Thus the Lord commended
the Canaanite woman for her understanding of the Hope of Israel and the
Gentile's place in it: " Great is thy faith" (Mt. 15:28); great
was her understanding, and therefore her faith. It would appear that in
John’s Gospel, the verbs for ‘to know’ and ‘to believe’ are interchangeable
(e.g. Jn. 17:8). Knowledge in its true and proper sense leads to faith.
Therefore the importance of truth becomes paramount. Jn. 10:38 in the
AV has Jesus beseeching men to " know and believe"
, whereas the RV has " know and understand" . Likewise
the faith of the sick woman is commended by the Lord (Mk. 5:34;
Mt. 9:20)- when it was due to her understanding of the significance
of the hem of the Lord's robe that she had touched Him. She had
perceived the connection with the High Priest's hem; perhaps too she had
added Job's comment about our touching but the hem of God's garment into
the equation. And certainly she perceived that the sun of righteousness
of Mal. 4 had healing in his hems / wings of his garment. Remember that
it was due to His knowing that the Lord gave His life (Jn. 10:15).
Knowledge, in its active and true sense, does have a vital part to play.
Otherwise spirituality becomes pure emotion alone. To " follow after
righteousness" is paralleled with " to know righteousness"
(Is. 51:1,7). To know it properly is to follow after it. The disciples
were rebuked as being " of little faith" in the matter of not
understanding the Lord's teaching about leaven (Mt. 16:8-11).
It has been commented that the sayings of Jesus " are everywhere
too subtly penetrated with theological claims and dogmatical instruction
for the distinction commonly drawn between Christian " ethics"
and Christian " dogma" to be other than forced or artificial"
. His doctrines lead to His practice. Doctrine is likened by the Lord
to yeast- it is going to affect the holder of it (Mt. 16:11,12).
There is likewise an intended ambiguity in the phrase " the faith
of Abraham" (Rom. 4:16); this 'ambiguous genitive' can mean those
who share " the (doctrinal) faith" , which Abraham also believed;
or those who have the kind of belief which Abraham had. Like Abraham,
we are justified by the faith in Christ; not faith in Christ,
but more specifically the faith in Christ (Gal. 2:16). The use
of the definite article surely suggests that it is our possession of the
same doctrinal truths (the Faith) which Abraham had, which is what leads
to faith in Christ and thereby our justification. The life Paul
lived was by the Faith of Christ; not simply by faith, as a verb,
which is how grammatically it should be expressed if this is what was
meant; but by the Faith (Gal. 2:20).
The Power Of Truth
Truth of itself changes us. Hence the importance of truth. We must grasp
the reality of the fact that either what we believe and stand for is indeed
" the truth" , or a very carefully fabricated pack of philosophy,
commended to us by many experiences of auto-suggestion and complex psychological
tricks we are playing upon ourselves. For me, and I suspect for you, the
awesome conclusion is that no, this is the truth. The real thing.
Daniel speaks of repentance and obeying God's voice as being a result
of 'having discernment in thy truth' (Dan. 9:13,14 RV). To grasp the endless
depth and height of the fact we are in touch with ultimate truth inevitably
affects our lives. 3 Jn. 3 in the AV speaks of " the truth that is
in thee" ; but the Greek can also mean, as in the RV, " thy
truth" . To really believe true doctrine leads to repentance, and
to our being truthful at the very least. Our contact with God's truth
results in our being truthful not only to others but to ourselves, and
this, as Daniel observed, gives rise to true repentance.
We must be careful not to separate doctrine from practice. Our concern
for truth and for the importance of truth must always remain with us,
but truth sets free, not enslaves us to forms of words and the inevitable
division which such slavery will bring. Doctrines lead to faith, but faith
is not total certainty we know everything; faith is essentially trust,
trust in those things we do not and cannot know in the ultimate sense.
It is the basic Gospel itself which has the power to bring forth the new
man, after the image of Christ. It is crucial to what I would call 'true
theology' [defence of first principles, upholding the Truth, call it what
you will] that it is not separated from the call of doctrine to be the
vital force for the transformation of human life. We must be careful not
to develop (either in our ecclesias or in our own minds) a complex intellectual
theological system that lacks a praxis. That praxis, I submit, is in the
preaching of the Gospel to the world. Out there, there is plenty of praxis,
striving to find an adequate theological / doctrinal underpinning. We
must realize that the true theologian, the real believer in the Truth,
cannot avoid the challenge of knowing personally life in its most traumatic
forms. It has been truly observed: " theology cannot but have a mission"
. Unless 'theology', doctrine, defence of it etc., are put at the service
of our mission, to save men and women and glorify the Lord, then there
can only be an ever increasing gap between the theory and practice in
our lives. I fear that we have come to worship a theology, rather than
the living and real persons of the Father and Son to whom that theology
should lead. We have come to love and concern ourselves with the doctrines
which comprise our theology, and we tend to leave it there. And
thus that theology has of itself become empty, and sooner or later thoughtful
folk start asking ‘What ever are we spending our lives worrying about?
Let’s quit this for something more practical!’. When paradoxically enough,
it is the actual doctrines which comprise the theology, or at least, the
correct theology, which ought to be transforming lives in practice.
It is worth observing the very simple fact that the New Testament
is essentially a missionary document- all the expressions and articulations
of doctrine / theology found there are all in the context of the
preaching of the Gospel and the immediate problems of men and women
in responding to it. This is why we aren't given a cold statement
of faith or catechism in the New Testament, but rather the history
of the mission of Christ at its first beginning. Even parables like
that of Mt. 25:31-46 were relevant in a missionary context- regarding
the perils of not supporting the itinerant missionaries in the first
century. And this is why the power of the early Christian witness
lay in who they were- for this was the real advertisement for the
doctrine they preached. The importance of truth was reflected in
how their personalities and characters differed from those around
them. There should be no disconnection between the message we preach
and ordinary life. Life, our actual existence, should be at the
heart of the doctrinal message we preach. It is not only
a message of future things- that message must touch and reach deeply
into life at home, work, family, and into the unshareable self of
the human psyche. Our belief in any statement of faith should be
just that- a statement of our living faith, rather than a mere statement
of our intellectual, academic, theoretical opinion. Our lives and
personalities above all are our individual statement of faith. The
doctrine of the cross, of the Gospel, of the man and Lord Christ
Jesus, is to be the centre of not merely our mind and reason, but
at the core of our actual life and conscience. For we become like
what we believe in- if we believe in the light, we become children
of light (Jn. 12:36).