Tuesday, April 04, 2006

How Important And Relevant Is Truth?

Perhaps the most significant growth point in a Christian's life is when it dawns on him or her that doctrine matters. Too often there is the fatal (and I mean fatal) tendency for Christians to assume that doctrine is an optional extra, something that is not really needful to living a godly, faithful, obedient life. Far from being a luxury, Christian doctrine is the warp and woof of the believing life. The Christian faith is pervasively and essentially doctrinal.

We see this somewhat dramatically highlighted in John 14-17. Jesus would soon be betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter and deserted by all his disciples. Soon he would hang broken and alone on a Roman cross. As he tells his disciples that he will be with them "only a little longer" (John 13:33), he sees and senses that the bottom is falling out of their world. What will our Lord Jesus do to encourage and help his distressed and bewildered disciples? How will he help them to cope with the turmoil that is engulfing their lives? What follows is staggering: Jesus instructs his spiritually debilitated disciples in the doctrine of the Trinity.

Our Lord did not think that doctrine was redundant to the pressing needs of his disciples. On the contrary, he patiently unfolds to them, as much as they are able to bear (and more), the intra-Trinitarian life of their Triune God. He tells Philip that anyone who has seen him has seen the Father (14:9). He tells them all that he is in the Father and that the Father is in him (14:10). Jesus wants his disciples to know that though he is the Son and not the Father, nonetheless, he and his Father mutually indwell one another (three times he tells them this). And then, when he proceeds to speak of the Holy Spirit, Jesus tells them that he will be to them "another Counsellor" (14:16), i.e. a Counsellor (Helper, Encourager, even Comforter) like himself. What is Jesus doing? Very simply, he sees the distress and depth of need in his beloved disciples and ministers to them the spiritual medicine that will best strengthen and encourage their flagging spirits. How could the doctrine of "mutual indwelling" (the early Greek fathers called this "perichoresis") help storm-tossed believers?

First, it would encourage them to know that Jesus was not acting alone in his life and ministry. All Jesus did, he did in holy concert with the Father and the Spirit. They are One in their Three Persons. His mission was a Trinitarian mission. Second, they would be encouraged to know that Christ's work was under-written, guaranteed by the Godhead. How could the Saviour fail when he and the Father were One? Third they would be reassured to hear that the love Jesus had for them was a love he shared with his Father and the Holy Spirit. He tells them in 14:23 that the Father loves all those who love him and that they will come together and make their home with them. Just as the whole course of our Lord Jesus' earthly life was shaped, guided and under-written by the Godhead and so gave him poise and assurance, so he seeks to anchor his disciples' lives in the same truths that anchored his life.

Doctrine is not an optional extra; it is vital to our spiritual well-being and sanity. Truth is the currency of the believing life. The moment you discount doctrine or relegate it to the periphery of your life, that very moment you will begin to slip and slide in your faith and become a prey to every passing wind that blows through Christ's church. Of course doctrine is no substitute for a living relationship with the Lord; but every living relationship with the Lord that grows is fuelled by the great doctrines of the Faith. On the 7th January 1855, Charles Spurgeon opened his morning sermon with these words; "the highest science, the loftiest speculation, the mightiest philosophy, which can ever engage the attention of a child of God, is the name, the nature, the person, the work, the doings, and the existence of the great God whom he calls his Father ... the most excellent study for expanding the soul, is the science of Christ, and him crucified, and the knowledge of the Godhead in the glorious Trinity. Nothing will so enlarge the intellect, nothing so magnify the whole soul of man, as a devout, earnest, continued investigation of the great subject of the deity. . . Would you lose your sorrow? Would you drown your cares? Then go, plunge yourself in the Godhead's deepest sea . . . " What more needs to be said?

Ian Hamilton
revianhamilton@ntl.com
Pastor of the Presbyterian Church in Cambridge
www.cambridgepres.org.uk

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