1-6 The Doctrine Of Christ
Jesus Epitomizes The Faith
My final point revolves around the way that the NT speaks of " the faith in Christ" or " the doctrine of Christ" . " The faith" , the body of doctrine comprising the Gospel, is all epitomized in a real person. To know we are " in the faith" is to know that Christ is in us (2 Cor. 13:5). " The faith" , the set of doctrines we must continue believing, is paralleled with the man Christ Jesus. Jesus was " the word made flesh" , and " the word" very often refers to the word of the Gospel rather than the whole Bible. The life which the corpus of doctrine brings forth is essentially the life and living of the man Christ Jesus. He was and is the supreme and living example of the living out of all the doctrines. It has been well said by Frank Birch that " Faith is not simply the intellectual acceptance of a body of doctrine. Faith is ultimately shown in a person, the man, Christ Jesus" .
We can too easily assume that the purpose of the Bible, or the teaching of Jesus, the doctrine of Christ, is merely and solely to impart information. We can underestimate the degree to which the immediate intention of doctrine, of Jesus, was the transformation of human life. Many of us have been educated in an environment where the aim of teaching is to bring people to know things that have no practical effect upon their lives; yet this is most decidedly not how we should approach the words of the Gospel. Our model of learning has been 'from jug to mug', i.e. there is the assumption that the teacher simply pours out their knowledge into the student's passive mental space. And then the student is tested as to the degree of retention of that knowledge. But as disciples, students, of the Lord Jesus, we are about something different. If the Lord were scheduled to give a class in one of our ecclesial halls, my sense is we would turn up with our video cameras, tape recorders, note books, pens and pencils. But when in reality He delivered the 'sermon on the mount', His listeners simply beheld a life lived, the reflection of His words in practice, " the word made flesh" . He both preached and shewed the Gospel- in His life as well as His doctrinal teaching (Lk. 8:1). And so it should be with our teaching of others.
The word is to be made flesh in us as it was in the Lord. " The word" in the New Testament often refers to the basic Gospel rather than every inspired word which there is in the whole Bible. " The word of God (a title of Jesus)...the word of the Lord...is the word of good tidings which was preached unto you" (1 Pet. 1:23,25 RV). It is this word of the basic Gospel which is the " milk of the word" which enables us to " put away therefore all malice...guile...hypocrisies" (1 Pet. 2:1,2). And having spoken of tasting / drinking the word of God (the same figure is in Heb. 6:5), Peter then speaks of tasting the grace of the Lord Jesus (2:3). He is the word of the Gospel made flesh- to taste His Gospel, the word, is to taste of Him. The truth makes free; and yet it is Jesus who makes free (Jn. 8:32,36). The Truth in the person of Jesus, not just in our perception of doctrines in intellectual purity, is what liberates our personhood. When the blind man asks Jesus to tell him who the Son of God is, I don't think it was because he didn't recognize Jesus to be Messiah. He was surely saying 'Tell me more about Him / you, that I may believe properly' (Jn. 9:36). Jesus didn't give a doctrinal exposition. But instead He just tells the man to keep looking at Him and hearing Him. And in the next chapter, Jesus says that His sayings and His works are the same thing (Jn. 10:32,33,38)- whereas the Jews kept making a distinction between them. They said that His words, not His works, were the problem. His works, they said, were OK. But not His words. And Jesus tells them to " believe the works" - for they are His words to men. Thus the Lord showed that His actions were His words made flesh.
This basic message of the Gospel was " in the beginning" , in John's language, right from Eden and Abraham, and was made flesh in the person of Jesus. God could have left it at just " the word" , but to make it powerful and compelling of acceptance it had to be made flesh in a person. That word must become flesh in us too. This is why James 3:17 speaks of " wisdom" as if it has been made flesh in the believer: " The wisdom that is from above is pure peaceable, gentle, easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and hypocrisy" . Abstract wisdom can't be spoken of in those terms; but wisdom made flesh in a person can be. The " wisdom" of which James speaks is " the truth" (3:14). The true Gospel, the doctrine of Christ, must be lived out in flesh; this is the whole intention. It isn't merely an intellectual test to see who can figure it out, and on that basis a relationship with God is given as a reward. One of the Hebrew words for " wisdom" also means " practical working" - and as so often in the Hebrew language, the Divine perspective is reflected in the language. Wisdom is " manifold in effectual working" (Job 6:11 RV); and compare the AV and RV of Job 12:16: " With him is…wisdom [AV] / effectual working [RV]" . The man Christ Jesus was made unto us " wisdom" ; in Him wisdom was made flesh.
Eph. 4:13 parallels the knowledge of the Son of God with "the
unity of the faith". To know the one faith is to know Christ
as a person. He is the essence of the one faith. Academic
knowledge of a series of theological propositions in a 'statement
of faith', no matter how accurate their formulation may be, is still
not the same as 'knowing Christ'. To perceive those doctrines as
they really are, to know the unity, the sum of the one faith, is
to know Christ as a person and come to "the fullness of Christ".
The unity of the faith thus parallels the fullness
of Christ. Those doctrines as propositions are a means to an end;
and unless that is perceived they are little worth. So very often
men have argued over those propositions, and in their argument have
revealed that they really 'don't get it'- they simply don't know
Christ as a person. They got caught up on the means rather than
perceiving the end- which is to know the Son of God.