The pagan religion of Rome was a series of rites rather than a body of doctrine. In effect, the emperor declared, "This you must do, but you can think as you please." Roman worshippers believed they needed only to perform the proper ceremonies of religion, whether they understood them or not. As far as they were concerned, a hypocritical skeptic could be just as "religious" as a true believer as long as he offered sacrifice in the temples of the gods.
Conversely, it is vital that true Christians believe and behave in accordance with God's doctrine. Jesus states unconditionally, "[T]rue worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship Him. God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:23-24). What we believe in our minds and feel in our hearts, we will perform in our actions. When based on truth, Christianity follows this principle. As John writes, "My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth. And by this we know that we are of the truth, and shall assure our hearts before Him" (I John 3:18-19). Jesus Christ's way of life requires genuine obedience to God's doctrines, the subject of this Bible Study.
1. What are the fundamental doctrines of Christ? Hebrews 6:1-2.
Comment: The seven doctrines listed in Hebrews 6 are not all the doctrines of the church, but represent a basic understanding of God's truth early in the process of conversion. These fundamental doctrines are going on to perfection, repentance from dead works, faith toward God, baptisms, laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. The first, "go[ing] on to perfection," means pressing on to or striving for spiritual maturity. It is not enough for a Christian to maintain a basic level of understanding—He must grow toward perfection, completion, or maturity in the doctrines of Christ. Part of this process we call "overcoming sin."
2. What happens if we do not grow in understanding and application of the elementary principles? Hebrews 5:12-14; I Corinthians 3:1-3; Psalm 111:10; Ephesians 4:14-16.
Comment: When a Christian does not apply himself to God's way of life, he continually needs to relearn the basic principles of the knowledge of God—the milk of the Word—rather than the more "solid" spiritual food. One who can digest only the basic doctrines is immature in the Word of righteousness. He can acquire a deeper understanding of godly wisdom only by active use or practice of God's standard of righteousness. In turn, this enables the maturing Christian to discern both good and evil.
3. Why are the basic doctrines called "the elementary principles of Christ"? Hebrews 5:9; 12:2; Revelation 1:8; 21:6; 22:13.
Comment: Jesus Christ, as the author and finisher of our faith, begins and ends every Christian's eternal salvation. It is self-evident, however, that, when working with humans, God must begin with the most fundamental truths. Every Christian, then, starts out as a spiritual infant, a babe in Christ—not as a full grown, mature Christian. Just as human parents commence their young children's education with the ABCs, God teaches us the elementary truths of Christ's gospel. Thus, these seven doctrines are the foundation upon which the deeper, more complicated theology of a mature Christian rests.
4. How important is doctrine to a Christian? I Timothy 4:6-7; 6:3; II Timothy 1:13; 4:3; Titus 1:9; 2:1; Jude 3.
Comment: Paul's repeated emphasis on sound doctrine implies that the body of teaching in the church is more than just a gospel about Christ. It is the gospel of Christ—what He taught and lived in His own life, and what He expects us to follow as well. His doctrine is "the pattern of sound words," the body of truth, once for all delivered to the saints. God inspired the writers of the New Testament to warn us that His church must have a solid foundation in the truth of Christ to defend and contend for the faith because of the constant bombardment of false doctrines.
Just as counterfeit money is recognized by studying the real thing, so we can recognize false doctrine by becoming well acquainted with the true doctrine of Christ. For this reason, God warns us not to learn the ways of the Gentiles (Jeremiah 10:2), which are full of counterfeits of God's doctrines. Every major religion of the world has claimed that its "founder" had unique insight into the eternal truths of life. Nevertheless, true Christian doctrine claims far more: Jesus Himself tells us that He is the truth, not just a teacher of truth (John 14:6).
More important than exposing false teaching, true doctrine is the teaching that will guide us to salvation (Romans 1:16-17). The truth reveals how to live in a way that will please God and instill in us the fundamental traits of His very character. Only by His doctrine can a person hope to find and remain on the path to the Kingdom of God!