Why should I be concerned with doctrinal nuances? Isn’t that stuff just for preachers? This is a common question, or at least a common attitude, with which I have come into contact as a pastor. The richly diverse and meticulous language of Scripture, and a careful theology of Scripture, is often seen more as professional jargon for clerics than every day food for the souls of every day people. But nothing could be further from the truth.
We sometimes make the mistake of thinking we must choose between knowledge and passion; but in fact the two feed each other, especially in relation to Jesus (2 Peter 3:11-18). The more we learn about Jesus, the more we will love and trust him; on the other hand, it is impossible to genuinely love or truly trust someone you don’t even know (Matthew 11:28-29; Romans 10:14). This is why knowledge is so important. And this is why every Christian should be a dedicated, life-time learner. A heart cannot be renewed by knowledge that the head never took in.
Christians have for centuries maintained that the doctrine of the Trinity is crucial to the faith. Yet many Christians seem at a loss to understand or explain the Trinity. Why then is the truth surrounding the Trinity so important? Whether Christians are willing to verbalize the question or not, it is a query lurking in the back of many minds. And so it is good to consider the answer. The importance of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity ultimately arises out of the urgency of affirming unequivocally, and yet harmonizing, such Bible passages as these:
From the outset of any discussion about God, his being, and his attributes, there must be the open admission that we cannot possibly fully comprehend an infinite God with our simple and finite minds. Yet, because God has revealed certain things about himself in his Word, the Bible, we must strive to describe God so as to communicate and understand who this God is and how he reveals himself to us. While we cannot fully define God, our best description is nonetheless necessary.
Imputation is the act of one person adding something to another person’s account (Genesis 15:6). As believers in Jesus Christ, we have this clear assurance in Scripture: at the cross, our sins were imputed to Christ and Christ’s righteousness was imputed to us. The imputation of sin, as we see in Romans 5:12-15, is the way that God made for us to be saved. Our sin was placed upon Jesus Christ, and his righteousness was given to us, in order that we be saved.
Not long ago I lead a study on the doctrine of “Glorification” in a systematic theology series for the Baptist Collegiate Ministry at the University of Cincinnati. I was greatly blessed in considering the eventual, promised perfection of the people of God. Yet I was also impressed all over again with the fact that every aspect of our salvation — including even our glorification — is not ultimately about us, but about God.
If you are a believer, then you are “sanctified”, you are a saint (same root word). The word sanctification means “to set apart for a particular purpose.” There is no ceremonial act—not even baptism or the Lord’s Supper—which is needed in order to be saved, or sanctified. This may be confusing, however, because the Bible often talks about, even exhorts us to, sanctification as a goal. This is because there is more than one aspect to God’s setting us apart; he sets apart in different ways and for different purposes.
Many people misunderstand the truth of God’s omnipotence — the fact that he has all power. So one might sincerely wonder why the cross of Jesus Christ was necessary. Why didn’t God just waive his omnipotent “wand” and make everything okay without his Son having to die? The key is to remember that, while God has the power to do anything he wishes, what God wants to do is always in accord with the rest of his attributes and character.
Whether we are consciously aware of it or not, interpretation is part of almost every human’s daily life. Communication would not be possible without a common understanding and means of interpreting. However, even with years of practice, we can all misjudge or misinterpret someone else’s—even our own spouse’s—words, actions, or facial expressions. This danger of misinterpretation is even greater when we come to the Bible.
The doctrine of the “perspicuity of Scripture” is a well-known and important teaching within the Christian faith. This doctrine refers to the fact that the Bible is clear, that it communicates perfectly. All scripture is profitable (2 Timothy 3:16). The Bible can be understood by anyone, barring mental handicaps (2 Timothy 3:15). This doesn’t mean it is easy to correctly understand; rather, the Bible requires careful, thoughtful study (2 Peter 3:16). Equally vital as the doctrine of Scripture’s perspicuity, however, is the balancing consideration of the “perspicacity” of the reader.
David Brainerd observed, “The idea that everything would happen exactly as it does regardless of whether we pray or not is a specter that haunts the minds of many who sincerely profess belief in God. It makes prayer psychologically impossible, replacing it with dead ritual at best.” The answer to the question “Does prayer make a difference?” is definitely, “Yes!”. But let’s consider how and why the Bible teaches us that prayer matters so much.
Greet one another with a holy kiss (1 Corinthians 16:20). Before we titter nervously like preteen school boys at Paul’s exhortation to kiss, consider this: a kiss in New Testament times was used as a warm greeting between those of the same sex. Many countries in Europe, Asia, and the Middle East still kiss on the cheek or on the forehead as a part of greeting one another affectionately. How is this exhortation still relevant to us today, in America?
The book of Revelation is perhaps the most controversial book in the Bible among Christians. Even sincere, Bible-believing Christians seem to come up with more widely varying interpretations of this book than of any other passage or prophecy. The variety and severity of these disagreements can be intimidating or discouraging to the simple reader, who may feel that there is no one Truth to be found within its mysterious pages. But it is vitally important to remember that God did not inspire the writing of Revelation to bring confusion, but hope and joy to his suffering church.
Those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified (Romans 8:30). Here Paul lays out the Ordo salutis, the order of salvation. He describes for us the consecutive steps by which God accomplishes the work of redemption in each person’s life.
Jesus paradoxically describes those as happy who are poverty-stricken in their souls. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3). As upside-down and inside-out as this may sound, if we believe Jesus then we certainly want to know what he is talking about. What does it mean to be “poor in spirit”?