We live in a world that disparages dogma almost as much as it despises dogmatism. Experience is the currency of our age. To enjoy the journey is our standard reason for going anywhere. We have replaced the good/evil ethic of yesteryear with a new primary standard of measure: is the thing in question entertaining or boring?
This poses a distinct challenge to Christianity, a religion that begins knowing as the route to loving, feeling, and doing. As one wiser than I has said: "Christianity is only a life to be lived because it is a truth to be known." It is a reformed life flowing from a renewed mind (Romans 12:1-3).
In response, you might find yourself pushing back, "Isn't the Christian faith more personal than that? Even more than a truth to be known, and a life to be lived, isn't it really all about a Person to be loved, Jesus Christ?" This is a fair point, but it also fails to escape the question of doctrine. For it begs the original question: Which Jesus are we to love? There are, after all, many from which to choose.
For this reason, a Christian cannot afford to be ambivalent about serious reflection. Doctrine matters. It is the doorway to experience, not its enemy. In our devotion this morning, in order to drive this home, I would like to inspire you with fresh resolve to sharpen your pencil and think deeply about God and for God. It is one of the ways we are to love Him (Matt 22:37-40).
First, the Facts of our Faith call for deep thought. Writing 150 years ago, Benjamin Warfield noted that the facts of Christianity are its doctrines -- The creation of the world, the fall of mankind, the flood of Noah, the call of Abraham, Sinai's law, the incarnation, the life, death, burial, and bodily resurrection and return of Jesus, God's Son. The same can be said of the gospel -- Christ's death in our place and for our sins, the necessity of the New Birth, the nature of faith, union with Christ, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. These are our doctrines because they are facts, and it is precisely because they are facts that they are our doctrines. Strip Christianity of these things and there will be nothing left -- nothing, that is, except perhaps the empty, naked, and limp imperative to be "nice!"
Second, the nature of God calls for deep thought. God is a Spirit. Our eyes cannot see Him. Our hands cannot touch Him. Our instruments cannot measure Him. Our ears cannot hear Him. Our minds dare not picture Him. In our quest to find Him, and worship Him, nothing matters more than truth. Surely we cannot hope to imagine our way to Him. God must show us Himself or we will never see Him at all. It is through the doctrines of Scripture that God unveil's Himself to the eyes of faith. Yes, we see echoes of His glory in the cosmos (Psalm 19:1), but we see Him best of all in the Bible. Here is God's self-portrait, drawn with words on a canvas of story, law, song, proverb, apocalypse, gospel, and letter. Even in the case of Jesus, the clearest picture of the Gospel-heart of God ever gave to mankind, the best way to see Him is through the Word. God could have given us a DVD, instead, He gave us a book.
John could have said, "In the beginning was the Picture.... He that has seen the Son has seen the Father!" He began instead with a different message: "In the beginning was the Word...." Clearly, God wants us to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest. We cannot honor and worship a God we don't know. True doxology always deals with tangibles and realities. Which brings me to my next thought.
Third, the danger of idolatry calls for deep thought: Our vision of God will always drive our practice of worship. As attractive as it might sound to our sound-bite, image conscious world, a barebones approach to theology poses significant danger to the soul. It is not enough to call God by the right name if we get His nature wrong. We learn this, do we not, in the story of Aaron, and His lonely wait for Moses to come back down the mountain. The people approached him. They wanted some reassurance that God had not forgotten them. What did Aaron do? He gave them a visible representation of God. You remember what he said as he unveiled the golden bull: "These are the gods, Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt... Tomorrow shall be a feast to the LORD!" Aaron seemed to have it all here -- all, that is, except Truth, which is always the first and best defense against idolatry, the ever present human impulse to form a god in our own image, for own pleasure, according to our own thoughts, and all to our own ends.
Fourth, the method of Satan calls for deep thought (to spot and reject): The devil is the master of using words against us, even at times God's own word (Matt 4:6). You remember how he approached Eve in paradise, "Has God indeed said?" "Are you really sure of truth?" "Are you really sure of judgment? You will not die!" "And are you really sure of God? Don't you know that God doesn't have your best interests at heart? He wants to keep you back, from being really like Him. Yes, He made you in His image, but this only goes so far. If you want to really be like God, you have to listen to me," the devil said.
Like a parasite, lies derive their identity from the truth. Without the truth, lies will always sound like the best show in town. In all of this, the devil is a master of disconnecting the Words of Scripture from its doctrines. As if the words of Scripture came directly from God, but its doctrines came through the grubby little mind of man. Following such logic, many wrongly view doctrines as non-essential No, what really matters, they think, is the gospel. Give me the old, old story of Jesus and His love. But not so fast. What is the gospel? Why is it necessary? How does it save my soul? How can God punish Jesus for my sins and bless me for Jesus' sake? We can't answer any of these questions without words -- doctrinal words, theological words.
Fifthly, the allure of "now" calls for deep thought (to see beyond): The Christian lives as an alien in the "now" of this world. Our home is elsewhere, beyond this world in a glory that looks like nowhere to our "now" eyes and feels like nothing in our "now" hands. Jesus warned against the temptation to trade our soul for the "now" world. Doctrine helps us see a better choice, by it we can almost hold the soil of the New heavens and earth in our hands today.
So dear brothers and sisters, let us gird up the loins of our minds as we press on and lay hold of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.