September 26, 2016

From Doctrine to Duty: Walking Worthy

by Clint Archer

My first job after college was as a high school Computer Science teacher. To further my usefulness to the school they paid for me to attend an advanced computer hardware course. About half way through the twelve-week course I was summoned to the headmaster’s office. He informed me that the lecturer of the hardware course happened to be a parent of a kid at our school. This dad had told the headmaster that the grade I had gotten on the first module of the course was the highest grade in the (four year) history of the computer school, namely 99%. I began basking in the proverbial pat on the back I presumed I was about to receive, when the whole experience took an unexpected turn.

the-theoryThe headmaster then held up two sheets of paper for me to inspect, and said, “I was wondering if you could explain this: here is one bill for your computer course tuition which we paid in full on your behalf. And here is another bill, payment pending, which has been authorized by you, for hiring an outside computer technician to install and repair the computer network in the school’s Computer Science lab.”

So that’s where this pat on the back was going! Blushing from embarrassment, I then had to explain that the first module, which I had aced, was the theory part of the course. It consisted only of facts and diagrams that had to be memorized.

I had regurgitated the text book and aced the exams, but I still had never actually seen the inside of a computer. I had never laid eyes on a network card, never installed a program, never as much as plugged in a monitor!

But I assured him that the following week we were starting the practical module where I would be taught how to install and repair the items I’d read about. (I barely passed that module, which was evident in my incompetency as a network administrator, and I was presently transferred to teach in the English department).

Often Christians score highly in the theory module of faith. We can memorize verses, recite creeds, debate deep theology, and explain complex doctrines. But unfortunately we frequently fail to actually apply what we learn to our own lives.

Doctrine must always produce practice.

3 parts of the practical module of the Christian life…

  1. The call: walk worthy

Eph 4:1 “I therefore….urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

The first three chapters of Ephesians are the theory module; it consists of doctrine, data, and information about how God saves, who God saves, why God saves. It’s all about salvation. And it’s glorious.

But it’s all useless unless it changes you.

The order is very significant. Paul began the letter with doctrine, not duty. Our tendency is to come up with things to do. A teenage boy struggles with lust so he thinks “I must stop watching movies and move my computer into a public place.” Good, but soon that to-do list will be a burden of duty, not a delight based in relationship with Christ.

But let’s say he first starts by studying God’s holiness, the price Jesus paid for him, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit indwelling him, and the biblical view of manhood and womanhood. Now he says “I view God as holy, women as image bearers of God, and purity as an expression of worship, not as a set of limitations, and I therefore perform these duties as a delight.”

That’s what Paul means by “therefore”, because of how and why God called you, “walk worthy of that calling.”

So you ask: How? What must I do?

I’m glad you asked, but that’s the wrong question. The right one is found in our next point…

  1. The means: internal attitudes

Eph 4:2 “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.”

Let’s say you meet a Goth. He’s got long purple hair, black nail polish, a lip ring, and a tat of a vampire on his forearm. Because you have stopped being a narrow-minded, self-righteous Pharisee you share the gospel with him. And guess what…he gets saved.

He asks you, his default discipler,  “Now what must I do?”goth

The knee-jerk reaction of a moralist would be: “Get a Christian haircut and some long-sleeve shirts to hide your vampire tattoos, take out your lip ring, burn your secular CDs, buy an ESV Study Bible, join a cell group, read this Spurgeon biography, stick to this reading plan, and your Bible muscles will grow.”

Before you know it this former misfit is clean-cut, catechized, and serving communion.

Mission accomplished. Or is it?

That is not what Paul says. He says “Be like this…” Not do this.

The worthy walk is not a list of rules and regulations to keep. It’s not learning Christianese jargon, like knowing what TULIP stands for, and using the word beseech in your prayers.  It’s about an internal change that produces external fruit: humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love.

If you want to work on being godly, start with your attitudes.  Behavior will follow.

  1. The outcome: unity

Eph 4:3 “Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

What is the outcome of this worthy walk? Unity. When we are walking worthy of Christ we are marching in lockstep.

You don’t get to choose who joins your church. Jesus builds his church. He saves and he adds souls. But we are still united. And we need to have a bond of peace. The attitudes above lead to this unity.

There is no place in the Christian walk for denominational partiality outweighing Christian fellowship. And while we do not sacrifice doctrine and truth on the altar of false unity, we must remember that we have one God who is the Father of us all.

Remember, it’s no use scoring 99 on the doctrine and flunking the real test of application.

Clint Archer

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Clint has been the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church since 2005. He lives in Durban, South Africa with his wife and four kids.
  • Cathy

    I was wondering if you could help me to explain to someone how to start changing their attitude? My husband and I just had this discussion yesterday. It seems every article I read does a really good job of explaining what it looks like to change the outer man, as you did in this article, and then to say how it’s not changing the outer man but the inner man, but then doesn’t say how to actually start changing the heart, it just says that we need to do it. Can you give me some practical suggestions on how to start changing the inner man?
    Thank you

    • Jason

      The biggest thing that I think has resulted in change in my life is letting the Holy Spirit work through other believers and scripture. Sometimes we get convicted about things directly, but a lot of times we end up quenching the Holy Spirit and shearing our conscious when we have no standard outside ourselves.

      As members of the body, our job is to be looking for ways we can renew our own minds to better discern the will of God and use our gifts to build up and encourage our brothers and sisters. We need a deep personal fellowship with other believers.

      • Cathy

        Jason, thank you for responding. Good advice. And yes, it’s the Holy Spirit’s working in the new Believer that will change the heart (and us old Believers too!) . It seems it’s much easier to explain the change to the outer man than the inner man, just as it is easier to actually change the outer man, than it is to change the inner man. It’s supernatural change that is done to the inner man.

        • Jason

          Absolutely. I think that’s why we see so much psychology repackaged as Christian counseling and so many best sellers in the church are ultimately just self-help books.

          Changing the inner man is impossible for men (and that’s okay: Matthew 19:26). We’d be much better off if we spent our time working out of our salvation (the new life, which is a gift from God) instead of living out 10 steps to wherever the pied piper has people marching!

    • Jane Hildebrand

      I would suggest the best way to change the heart of man is to study the heart of God. Study His attributes, His sovereignty and His love for us and then through faith surrender to God to make that inward change. Bad attitudes are changed when we have a right attitude of God.

      • Cathy

        Thank you Jane. This, along with other comments people have made, is about the supernatural work that God is doing in us and not just behavioral changes, the behavioral changes come as a result of the work the Holy Spirit does in our lives.

    • alexguggenheim

      Though you have asked Clint and he has yet to respond, may I offer this. The first thing is to go beyond academic knowledge of God’s Word and to belief or faith. That may seem obvious but that is the most overlooked part of our interaction with God’s Word of which we are guilty.

      Now, sometimes it takes time for us to understand and test what we are being taught before we can apply faith, sometimes it is more immediate and sometimes it requires prolonged chewing. As Hebrews says it has to be “mixed with faith”.

      When it is mixed with faith we are what is called “edified” or built up in our inner man, those mechanics are not precisely described in the Bible. From that we have greater illumination which we carry into our lives which enables us to have a greater divine viewpoint thus, responding with a greater divine disposition via the control of God’s Spirit.

      Then, we add to this, more understanding and mixing God’s Word with faith. Slowly but surely we are transformed from faith in basic doctrine to a complex understanding of God’s Word which is mixed with faith.

      I always recommend beginning with basic promises and teaching people to practice believing them in their circumstances over what their human perspective informs them. Of course, we do misapply Scripture at times so we must always be auditing our understanding.

      • Cathy

        Thank you Alex for your comment, I really appreciate it. I especially like your very last paragraph about starting with the basic promises and believing God over our own feelings. That is very practical advice.

        • alexguggenheim

          I am so glad it was helpful.


    • Maranatha

      Dear Cathy, if you read Galatians 5,22 and want to bring more fruit then pray for each of them in single daily situations. E.g. you hav an argument with your husband, you are feeling right about sth and he is getting unjust, pray for longsuffering and you will get even more love complimentary added. If you are talking to an annoying neighbour, pray for gentleness and patience, you will get it, and peace even added. If you fail, pray for another occasion to train this, like in a sports training. You will get occasions with Jesus, therefore more experience with your own sinning nature and with His heavenly work on the inner man.

      I do reccomend very much a book by the founder of the ‘Torchbearer movement’ Major Walter Ian Thomas (1915-2007) “The saving life of Christ” to get more of an idea what happens in this context and how you can live a life of Christ very practically and fruitfully.

    • This is a great question. I’m sad that I was in the wi-fi-free mountains and unable to comment. But it seems the fellow Cgaters did a good job. I’d actually like to do a blog post on this topic someday (soon?) so watch this space.

  • alexguggenheim

    What you post is a principle we must keep in front and let it drive the bus as we are transformed by the renewing of our mind to prove what is the good acceptable and perfect will of God.

    This takes patience on the part of the discipler, something that we often forgo in trying to protect our disciple or ourselves in earnest.

    Crticism – sometimes, no matter how high-minded and principled we are, “flee youthful lusts” may not be spiritually aristocratic motivation but it is a Biblical prescription.

    Also – if I read “image bearer of God” one more time used as a valid description of any and all human beings I swear I’m going to blog about its utter and irreconcilable conflict with Scripture. Too late, I’ve decided I will.

    And since I am going to write a blog article suffice it to say, when Adam and Eve fell, they lost that image and now we bear the image of sin from our farther, Adam. As well, those who are not redeemed belong to another Fathet, the Devil, as the NT often repeats.

    This is not to say humans are not to be valued as God’s creation, (obviously Christ died for all humans hence, God’s love, but it was not because they view his image but had fallen from that, now condemned) and that the Bible does not give us reasons to value humans but it is not because we are all default image bearers, we are not. And even when we are born again, that image, while restored spiritually still awaits material restoration in our bodily form. This one makes me Grrr….

    • Jason

      I know what you mean. This misconception is often used on a local radio station (which I’m still very grateful for) as the go-to reason why we need to be protecting the vulnerable in our society.

      There are a lot of good, Biblical reasons why we ought to care for those in need, but the idea that everyone is born in the image of God tends, in our perspective, to degrade God or elevate man to a very unhealthy level.

      Adam was made in the image of God. However, Seth is explicitly said to have been in the image of post-fall Adam (Genesis 5:3). The game of telephone isn’t even necessary for people to realize that the image that Adam was created in is hardly recognizable today (just look at how the second Adam [1 Corinthians 15:45-49] was treated!)

      • Maranatha

        Thank you very much Jason for this hint to Gen5,3! Indeed, this is the clue to resolve the misunderstanding about creation of man in Gods image. I myself always had a problem to see really perfectly (and willingly!) evil-minded persons to be created in Gods image – and therefore I felt the discrepancy between ‘loving the sinner’ but ‘hate the sin’ or Matthew 5,44 and verses like Psalm 139,21-22 because there ARE wicked people on earth who really are incarnated evil and they WANT to stay like this. I really had a problem to see them in Gods image though. But this is the hint for the solution, Thank you again.

        • Jason

          It’s an important understanding when talking about the depravity of man (even believers are not the prefect reflection of our heavenly father yet).

          That reality is balanced by the fact that God is capable of giving a new life to some of the most evil-minded people out there (as even an apostle can attest [1 Timothy 1:15]).

          That new life *is* in God’s image and will be finally complete at death, when the last of the old man is put away and we put on imperishable bodies.

    • Cathy

      Hi Alex! This is the first time I have ever heard the argument that we are not created in Gods image, but in Adams image. I must admit that it has bothered me and I have gone to the Word to investigate! I am the director for a Pro Life Pregnancy Center and you are correct that we often say that a baby in the womb is created in the image of God. But, we also use many other verses, specifically Psalm 139:13-16, as well as many others that speak of God forming us in the womb, knowing us before we were born. Anyway, I am no Theologian for sure, but I’m not convinced that we aren’t created in Gods image, although based on some of the other comments to your post, I can understand why people would want to think that we aren’t, because of evil. But, according to what I read, evil existed before Adam. Anyway, I don’t want to go down a rabbit trail, but my head is spinning!
      Just some thoughts I had.

      • Your instincts are correct, Cathy. Genesis 9:6 and James 3:9 seem to indicate pretty clearly that even fallen man is properly said to be made in the image and likeness of God. Though we severely marred the image of God that we were by our sin, and though Christ has come to restore us to that perfect image (indeed, to the image of Himself, Rom 8:29, who is Himself the image of God, Col 1:15), nevertheless Scripture still affords a dignity even to fallen mankind that distinguishes him from the other creatures, such that it forms the basis for prohibitions against killing another human (Gen 9:6) and cursing him (Jas 3:9).

  • LeeRaleigh

    Thanks for helping me laugh at myself and learn something at the same time, Clint. I really enjoyed this piece. I beseech thee to write more. 🙂

    • Thanks Lee. I’ll write here every Monday as long as they let me.

  • Jason

    Shoulder length red hair. Black t-shirt… Give that man a labret and it could have been me, junior year in college. I never wore an ankh though.

    Needless to say, my now wife’s father was not impressed when we first met. 😛

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  • Connie Abbott

    You have written a terrific article, and I am thankful for your clarification. Still I would like to point out that without knowing the doctrine, it’s going to be impossible to live out the rest, so it’s a matter of being the second without foregoing the first. Our pastors have been saying lately how we’re great at taking it in and it stops there (which I think of as the stinky wet sponge or the Dead Sea illustrations). But if we didn’t take it in we’d be a mess…it’s just learning to pull out the stops and move in the direction the doctrine is meant to take us. Some of it becomes part of our identity as we grow and learn and change; I feel that Christ is doing the work in me. But I have such areas of weakness and less-giftedness, no matter how much I study, and I need encouragement to challenge those areas. Also at first I was far more about the externals than the outworking of what was going on inside; I don’t know how it changes, but it does, and not always in a conscious way. It’s great to be aware and reminded, though, and pray for help submitting to the needed sanctification process. Thank you for your article!

    • Well said Connie.

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  • tovlogos

    ‘That is not what Paul says. He says “Be like this…” Not do this.’ Absolutely.
    The gifts of the Spirit must be given, which takes place as one walks in sanctification to
    through dedication, to maturity — The Spirit responds — and John 3;3, 4;24 becomes a
    practical reality. No one can bluff, no matter how pious.