When I think about the discipline of theology I often remember my first semester of formal theological study in college. I was a freshmen and taking my first course in New Testament with a professor, Dr. Bill Barcley, whom I dearly loved and was one of the most important early influences in my life. He was a careful theologian and sought to instill that same care in his students.
I was studying in the library the night before the mid-term surrounded by many other desperate students. As I sat reviewing my notes I heard another student express criticism about the material we were studying. “I hate this class,” she complained. “I don’t want to know all of this doctrine. I just want to know Jesus and figure out how to please him.” The irony of this statement was not lost on me then, but only appears more thick to me now.
That student’s statement was based upon a dangerously wrong assumption. The assumption is that there is a distinction to be made between the study of Christian doctrine and a relationship with Jesus that leads to practical life change. This assumption is corrected by every page of Scripture. Just one example where we see this correction is in 1 Timothy 1:9-10, “The law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers and immoral men and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars and perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound doctrine.”
In the passage Paul connects categories of practical living with things that are at odds with sound doctrine. The point is that tangible acts like lying, homosexuality, and rebellion flow from unsound doctrine. The corollary point is that wonderful realities like truth-telling, chastity, and submission to authority flow from a commitment to sound doctrine. In other words, the life we live is founded on the truths we confess. The theology you believe has everything to do with the life you live. No ultimate separation exists between these two realities.