The ancient Greek word translated as "doctrine" at its root means, "instruction, especially as it applies to lifestyle application." In the Bible, the word doctrine is specifically used to refer to spiritual topics and areas of study. Essentially, doctrine is teaching that is shared by a scholarly or definitive source. The Bible itself is profitable for doctrine (2 Timothy 3:16–17).
As Christians, we are supposed to keep a close watch on our doctrine (1 Timothy 4:16). Biblical doctrine instructs us in godly living, and the spiritual gifts given to us and others in the body of Christ enable us to stay on the right course: "so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ" (Ephesians 4:14–15).
Biblical doctrine informs our knowledge of God's will. It enables us to better understand:
• The path of salvation (Ephesians 2:1–10; Romans 10:9–10)
• Instructions for the church (1 Corinthians 14:26, 40; Titus 2:1–10; 1 Timothy 3:1–13)
• Holy living (1 Peter 1:14–17; 1 Corinthians 6:18–20)
• The nature and character of God (Psalm 90:2; 97:2; 103:8; John 4:24)
God's Word is the foundation for all Christian doctrine. Second Timothy 3:16–17 tells us: "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work" (see also 2 Peter 1:20–21). There can be differences in the church over secondary doctrinal topics, such as church government or eschatology, but all biblical doctrine should incorporate and be based on the whole Bible or counsel of God (Acts 20:27) and on the unchanging character of God (Hebrews 13:8; Numbers 23:19).
Sometimes churches or Christians do not build their doctrine on the Bible, which is a dangerous mistake. Our sinful nature's inclination is to pick and choose the parts of the Bible that we like and which allow us to remain comfortable and then leave the rest behind. This unchallenging approach to our Christian beliefs causes our faith to stagnate and makes us susceptible to false teaching. Paul told Timothy, "preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions" (2 Timothy 4:2–3). Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for following the traditions of men as if they were doctrines of God (Mark 7:7; cf Isaiah 29:13). False doctrine was a problem in the Scriptures and it continues to be a problem today (Matthew 7:15; 2 Peter 2:1; 1 John 4:1).
The Bible warns against teaching false or incomplete doctrine, especially in order to please more people or stir up controversy. The prophet Jeremiah warned about falling prey to false prophets who "speak visions of their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord" (see Jeremiah 23:16–17). The truth of God's Word means more than the approval of others or the gain some may think comes from dissension (1 Timothy 6:3–5). Paul went so far as to say that those who teach false doctrine should be under God's curse (Galatians 1:7–9).
Doctrine dictates worldview. If our doctrine is based on the Bible, we can be confident that we are staying on God's path for us. We should listen to sound teachers as well as study the Bible on our own and with others (2 Timothy 2:15). The Holy Spirit can give us the discernment we need to interpret the Scriptures' true meaning, rather than a meaning we create to suit our own individual preferences. He helps us to know what is sound doctrine, and what is false. As we study God's Word, we better understand God and how we fit into His kingdom plans and purposes.
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