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There was a German Lutheran pastor who started each confirmation class by displaying a jar full of beans to his students and then asked them two questions: How many beans are in the jar and what was their favourite song? He then wrote their answers beside their names listed on a piece of paper. After this exercise, the pastor revealed the exact number of beans in the jar to see who was closest to the correct answer. He then asked, “Now, which of these favourite songs is correct?” Of course, the students protested, saying, “There is no right answer. A person’s favourite song is a matter of taste.” The pastor then asked, “When you decide what to believe in terms of the Christian faith, is it more like guessing the number of beans in the jar or more like choosing your favourite song?” He always received the same response. “It was more like choosing your favourite song.”

This pastor knew that his first task was not to confirm these young people, but to teach them the Gospel is truth, not guesswork, and does not fall into the category of personal preference. It falls into the category of truth or error; either right or wrong. In today’s world, truth has become very subjective; what is true for one person may not be true for another. The truth of the Gospel, however, is objective and stands on the authoritative word of God, which cannot be changed, added to or taken from.

We live in a day when information has become conveyed in sound byte-size, but we cannot byte-size the Christian life and still be effective and satisfied in it. The problem with many of us is that we often do not have a clear Christian doctrine. We have a bit in the Bible we believe over here and a bit over there, but it is not coherent and is not understood as part of the bigger picture. We appreciate the fact the Bible is divided into books, chapters and verses for easy navigation. The flip side is that we take bite-sized pieces and detach them from the bigger picture, giving them a different interpretation than what is meant when read within their context.

The big picture of the Bible is vital for us to understand. That is why the church of Jesus Christ must major on biblical exposition and biblical preaching. Truth is not found by consensus, but is found in revelation from God. It is in the category of how many beans there are in the jar. Though we may be out of step with the world, we build firmly on the objective truth of Scripture, not because of what it says, but because of who is saying it. 2 Timothy 3:16 says, “All Scripture is God-breathed,” and in Isaiah 45:19, God says, “I, the LORD, speak the truth; I declare what is right.” Jesus said of Himself, “I am the truth…” (John 14:6); not that He will show us the truth, but He is Himself the truth.

This body of truth is what we call Christian doctrine, and is a coherent body of belief where are all the pieces fit together. Doctrine is important in other areas of life. A member of a political party, for instance, normally subscribes to a political doctrine. That means, he holds certain core things to be right, and therefore his position on many specific issues becomes fairly predictable because of the core doctrine, his political beliefs that he holds. In Christian doctrine, many have a right understanding and a wrong understanding. There is truth and there is error, but does this really matter? Is not the all-important aspect of the Christian life found in how we behave? There is no question that how we behave, think and act is vitally important, but the question is why do we behave the way we do?

There are certain things in our lives that are visible and certain things that are invisible. Our actions and behaviours are visible, but the foundation from which they derive lies under the surface, unseen. Our actions and behaviours do not exist in isolation, but are a result of the foundation from which our values and attitudes are formed. What we do and how we behave are extremely important symptoms of the disposition of our hearts, which is the foundation on which we build. This is why the teaching of Scripture is so vitally important, because if we do not get the foundation right, we are likely to be easily swayed into a belief system that caters more to convenience and comfort than to truth. David writes, “When the foundations are being destroyed, what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:3)

When we look at the teaching of Jesus, He cuts right to the heart, and it is primarily about belief, not behaviour, because what we believe is the cause of our behaviour. If there is a disconnect between what we believe and how we behave, the reality is we do not actually believe it. We can say we are a Christian, accept Christian doctrine and attend church regularly, but if we are not behaving during the week as we do on Sunday mornings sitting in the pews, we are in conflict, which if not rectified will ultimately shipwreck our faith, because the secular will always swallow the spiritual.

Our behaviours derive from the result of our believing, which is why Paul tells Timothy, his young protégé, to “watch your life and doctrine closely,” and he tells us why. “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths” (2 Timothy 4:3-4). Timothy is told to persevere in biblical doctrine so that people will understand it and pass the Gospel on exactly as they heard it. In this way, he will save both himself and his hearers. To preach anything less puts lives in jeopardy of not really coming to personally know and experience God.

If our foundation is faulty, we will easily be led on the path of least resistance, but when we apply the truth of Scripture to our actions, we will find there is a logical, coherent connection in which we build on a solid foundation. Our actions, attitudes and behaviour are very important symptoms of the disposition of our hearts, but it is our actions, not our beliefs, that will stand before God on Judgment Day. Jesus tells us, “Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:  for I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me”(Matthew 25:34-36). It is our actions that will separate the goats from the sheep; the goats on the left side of Jesus and the sheep on the right. Of the sheep, Jesus says, “Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me’ (Matthew 25:40 NKJV).

Christian doctrine needs to be the bread and butter of Christian living, because it is then we build upon what God has revealed in Scripture. Jesus Christ is the truth and the only foundation there is, for it is by His indwelling Spirit at work in our lives that our attitudes derive. And from our attitudes, our inner convictions upon which we build, our outward actions and behaviour will be expressed. When they are in harmony in alignment with the will of God, then on the Day of Judgment we will be secure in Christ, standing on His right side… His sheep, inheriting His kingdom!


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