Doctrine and Maturity

2015 Mar 5

A friend once told me about a study he was in at church. It covered Christian doctrine; and, he said, "it was good for growing in faith".

The implication of his statement is that the study of doctrine is a way to become mature in faith. However, this is not directly true!


If this were so, then any atheist who is a good student of doctrine could grow in faith. In response to this idea, someone else said, "No, doctrinal study doesn't count for the unbeliever because they don't believe it". So, does that mean that this atheist student of doctrine would instantly become mature in faith if they chose to believe? No, that also is a false idea because maturity is something that takes time. The only underlying truth I see in this line of thought is that the non-Christian will miss out on understanding of doctrine that can come through participation.

Might it be that a Christian, through their doctrinal study, would necessarily have more maturity than a Christian who knows less doctrine? No, because Christian maturity is evidenced by the way a person lives their life (I Tim 3:1-7, James 1:27, 2:14-26). Mastery of doctrine is not a requirement for mature Christian living.

We do know that doctrinal study can be a help to becoming a better Christian. We see this because Paul taught doctrine to help Christians correct errors in doctrine. The errors prevented maturity because the bad doctrine had resulted in bad living. Note however that having good doctrine doesn't automatically result in good living. I have known people that professed good doctrine, but were ungodly and morally corrupt.

So, how do you measure Christian growth and maturity? By how you love.

This answer is deceptively simple, but is highly profound. It is deceptive because everyone likes love, but we don't see love as having the great importance that God puts on it. Love is profound because once understood in context, it can be seen to be basis for the whole gospel.

To be a Christian (that is, a follower of Jesus) we must be like him (I John 2:6, Eph 5:1-2). To be able to be like him, we must be motivated like him. God is motivated by love (John 3:16, I John 4:16). Since we see God most clearly through Jesus (Heb 1:3), we must adopt Jesus' kind of love as our motivating value (I John 2:6, 2:7-8, 3:23, 4:19-21). In fact, this is his new commandment to us (John 13:34, 15:12-14,17). This love is a sacrificial love for the benefit of others (I John 3:16). The commandment of love is the greatest of all (Mark 12:28-34, Luke 10:25-37), and fulfills all previous commandments from God (Rom 13:8-10, Gal 5:13-14). Love is the evidence that we are disciples of Jesus (John 13:35).

When Paul wrote to the Corinthians, they were having severe problems that ultimately all came from a lack of love for each other. So, in the middle of correcting problems in their doctrine, Paul switched to teaching them that, more importantly, they must have love (I Cor 12:31 - 14:1). Paul explains elsewhere that his goal for making doctrinal corrections is that there be love in the heart of his hearers (I Tim 1:3-5). If study of doctrine does not produce love, there is something wrong. So, good doctrine through faith produces love (Gal 5:6).

Love is profound because this one value guides us to good living in every part of our lives. Love powerfully brings us to obedience of the ideal goal of the law. It does this purely as a side effect of our motivation. note Love encourages good relationships, which are the most meaningful parts of human life. Love is taught by doctrine, so also then this doctrine cannot be deeply understood until we participate as Christians in love. When we live love, we please God (Heb 13:1,16). And when we finally appear before God at the end, he will welcome us in his kingdom if we had lived lives evidenced by actions that were motivated (not by law, but) by love (Matt 25:31-46). note

And God will not welcome us in to his kingdom if our actions showed lack of evidence of our love. Note that someone can obey the law without love. Therefore, obedience to law is insufficient to gain entry into God’s kingdom.

You can make people comply to law, but you can’t make them love. God isn’t ultimately interested in lawful compliance; he wants people who have chosen to be motivated like he is - by love for others.

This love fulfills the law (Matt 5:17, Rom 13:10, Gal 5:14), therefore living and acting motivated by sacrificial love like that of Jesus is completely sufficient to satisfy the law.

Jesus came preaching the good news of his new kingdom. This is a spiritual kingdom (John 18:36, Matt 6:9-10) that exists in parallel to earthly kingdoms. The whole of law in this spiritual kingdom is one, the law of love. note And so love is the basis of living the gospel.

Jesus established this kingdom by his death and resurrection. This kingdom therefore is for now, and will continue beyond this world.

If we look at the Jewish 10 Commandments, all of them only have meaning for a kingdom that is of this world. The last 9 talk about physical things (which are only applicable for this physical world). And (with respect to the 1st) only in this material world could people imagine or pursue multiple gods; that is not a mistake we can make once we pass from this world. So the 10 commandments are completely obsolete after this world.

Using the 10 Commandments as representative of all Old Testament commandments, we can also come to see they won't apply in this world to those (already) in the new spiritual kingdom of Jesus. Those in this kingdom of love have a broad motivating principle of love. Transgressing any of the last 9 commandments would first be a failure of love before it became an action of transgression. And for the 1st: worshipping something is holding it as an ideal; all other gods idealize something other than God's value of love; so, to participate and worship in the Jesus' kingdom is incompatible with worshipping other gods. The old commandments are primarily reminders of sin and of failure (Rom 7:7-10) and non-love. These are no longer our standard.

The new standard that Jesus gave us is the one new commandment for his kingdom, the commandment to love (John 13:34). This kind of love is not native for us, so he demonstrated it to us by his positive example on the cross, to ensure that we understood it correctly.

The old commandments continue to be useful in this world as negative instruction of what this love is not. They are a standard, but are a much lower standard than the new commandment. Jesus doesn't call us to follow the old covenant, he calls us to follow his new covenant with a new commandment to love.

Our culture talks a lot about love. One pop song said, “All you need is love." How then is Christianity different from our culture?

This answer comes out of knowing what is this love. There are different kinds of "love", and English in particular is problematic because it mixes many kinds of motivation into that one word. However, as can already be seen, selfish desire, physical desire, even casual liking are not the kinds of love being considered here.

What sets Christianity apart then, is the example and quality of love that is projected as our goal: the example is Jesus, and the quality is sacrificial love for the benefit of others. This love is the motivation to our actions. This love motivated Jesus to live and die for us; it will motivate us to similar action. Having this love is what it means to be Christ-like. Therefore, this love is also the measure of our Christianity, of our maturity, and is our goal for living. When we see that we are getting better through time at living this love, then we can know that we are growing and maturing as a Christian.

 


Some of the ideas on this page are based on the work of Darren Twa, pastor at Life Fellowship and author of several books including God's Value System.

2015-03-05 updated 2021-01-21   © 2021 Larry Grove