What We Believe Matters

Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth
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So what’s your first reaction to the word doctrine? Sound dull? Dry? Divisive or disagreeable? Maybe you share the sentiment of a man who once told a friend of mine, “At our church we don’t preach doctrine. We just love Jesus.”

But the fact is, every one of us and every situation we encounter in life is fueled by some kind of doctrine. It is the ground we stand on as we build our lives.

Doctrine Is Everywhere

Your kids may go to public schools—supposedly religion-free zones. But don’t think for a minute that doctrine is not being taught in secular grade schools, high schools, and colleges. Every course taught in every school is informed by some sort of doctrinal framework.

The afternoon talk shows have a doctrine. The evening dramas and sitcoms have a doctrine. Books on the New York Times bestsellers list, just like the ones on the feature display at your local Christian bookstore, all contain doctrine. Even atheists have a doctrine. Not good doctrine, but a doctrine that leads them to certain conclusions and values and that determines the way they think and live.

Doctrine, you see, simply means teaching. It’s the content of what we believe, the understanding of reality that shapes our faith. Like soil in a garden, doctrine provides the context for growing character.

The soil of doctrine in which we’re planted can make us beautiful and help us point others to the beauty of Christ and His gospel.

But only if it’s the right doctrine.

Doctrine Affects How We Live

Even those of us who are longtime Christians can be misled by false or skewed beliefs we’ve picked up somewhere. If we aren’t intentional about where our hearts and minds are planted and watered, we can’t expect to end up with a healthy crop. Bad doctrine, bad fruit. Good doctrine, good fruit.

Let me give you an example: my longtime friend Holly Elliff is a pastor’s wife, the mother of eight children. She has a vibrant ministry to her family and to other women. But there was a time in her late twenties when her experience of the abundant Christian life was hindered by a bad case of bad doctrine.

Early on, Holly, like many, had somehow picked up the belief that if she did her best to be a good Christian woman, if she prayed and read her Bible faithfully, if she loved her husband and children and checked off all the right religious boxes, then God could be counted on to return the favor by placing her in a no-trouble zone. Given this assumption—this incorrect doctrine of God—you can imagine how Holly’s world was shaken when trouble started showing up.

After giving birth to her first two children, she had a miscarriage. Her next child had a birth injury that required months of therapy. In the midst of all this, her father-in-law, who had been a godly role model for many years, was unfaithful to his wife, resulting in her in-laws divorcing after forty-three years of marriage. Then her mother-in-law developed Alzheimer’s disease, and Holly—now with four young children still at home—became the primary caregiver.

“The soil of doctrine in which we’re planted can make us beautiful and help us point others to the beauty of Christ and His gospel.”

As if that wasn’t enough, a loud, vocal faction began stirring up dissent in their church and targeting her husband, Bill, with their criticism. Something like that is hard enough to take when you’re the object, but even harder when it’s someone you love.

On Sunday mornings, one of Holly’s jobs was to serve at the welcome table. This task, which she had always enjoyed, became uncomfortable during this season, when contentious conversations were taking place in the church hallways and meeting rooms, around dinner tables, and on phone calls. Nor did it help that the saccharine-sweet woman who sometimes shared Holly’s hospitality duties was married to one of Bill’s most outspoken critics.

Now, put yourself in Holly’s place. If you were faced with this set of circumstances and were coming from the doctrinal standpoint Holly had embraced as a young woman—the one that says God shields obedient believers from overwhelming challenges or difficulties—what would your response be? Would you be “reverent” in your behavior, “self-controlled” in your demeanor, “kind” in your remarks, as Titus 2 urges you to be?

You see, belief affects behavior. Doctrine matters.

This whole experience forced Holly to examine what she really believed; it challenged her to build a solid foundation for her life by getting into the Word more seriously and getting to really know God. The fruit of that resolve, coming out of a difficult season in her life, has been extraordinary and beautiful.

So the starting place—the foundation—for becoming Titus 2 women is exactly where Paul begins—by calling us to a life that “accords with sound doctrine.”

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by Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth

Known for her wisdom, warmth, and knowledge of Scripture, Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth has encouraged millions through her books, radio programs, and...

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