If you think of theological “doctrine” as irrelevant, you aren’t thinking of the right doctrine. Or maybe you’ve heard the right doctrine served up in dull and uninspiring ways. If so, I’m sorry this has been your experience, because doctrine is the very thing that ties you to the story of God’s saving power. Looking for something that makes the Bible relevant to your life? If that’s your primary goal, you may actually have a hard time finding it. But if you simply study its teaching, then it’s importance to you personally will not fail to jump out.
The Bible records a lot of history. It tells us story after story about things that have happened. Those things are interesting. They are often fascinating. But so is a history of World War II. So is the Lord of the Rings, for that matter. The stories in the Bible are not just true stories, however. They are a purposeful weaving together of the acts of God on behalf of his people, in anticipation of the coming Messiah, of the coming Messiah himself, or of the acts of the apostles after the Messiah had come. But what of it? What does that mean for me?
Well, these are stories of God acting to save his people from their sins. Are you one of God’s people? How do you know? That’s a doctrinal question, and the answer is not in the story, but in its explanation. Doctrine explains the meaning of the story and our part in it. For example, here’s story: The promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. Okay, great. Now here’s doctrine: So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith …. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.
The doctrine takes the historical fact and applies it to YOU. The doctrine tells us what the story means to us personally. Let’s take another example. We know Jesus was delivered up to Roman crucifixion by Pontius Pilate. We know that he was subsequently raised from the dead. That’s interesting—especially that last part. And it’s a great story. But without the doctrine it remains mostly disconnected from us in time and space. So now, let’s allow the apostle Paul to apply the doctrine. Jesus, he says, “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” The doctrine, which gives us the meaning of the story and reveals where we come into play and how it affects us, is what draws us in and makes the ancient history our story too. Jesus was raised, yes … but he was raised for OUR justification. Ah, now that’s doctrine!