DOCTRINE AND PRACTICE

by Bob Wheeler

 

Paul, the inspired apostle, was undoubtedly, after Christ Himself, the greatest Christian theologian of all time.   And yet he was no arm-chair, ivory tower academic theologian.  In fact, he never even wrote a treatise on systematic theology.  Instead he was what we would call today an “occasional theologian,” i.e., he wrote as the occasion demanded, and addressed specific issues as they arose.  Thus what he has left us is a series of letters, letters in which he addresses specific issues facing the churches of his time.  The result is a theology which, while not necessarily systematic, is at the heart of it practical and edifying.

One such example, of course, is Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.  Written from a jail cell (probably in Rome in the early 60’s) to the church at Ephesus in Asia Minor, possibly with a wider group of churches in view as well.  And like many of his epistles, the one to the Ephesians begins with a doctrinal section and concludes with a section devoted to practical exhortation.

The transition from the doctrinal to the practical occurs at Eph. 4:1: “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you are called” (NKJV).  Notice in particular the word “therefore.”  What he is saying, in effect, is that the practical section of the letter logically follows from the doctrinal.  For Paul the two cannot be separated.  There is no such thing as a purely speculative theology that is not related to Christian living, and there is no such thing as Christian living which is not grounded in an understanding of God’s workings with men.  The two are intimately connected together.

So Paul says that we should “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called.”  The “calling” was the way that they had been brought to Christ, to become Christian believers, as described in the first half of the letter.  And in that section Paul has laid out the great doctrines of election and predestination, of redemption, of total depravity and salvation by grace through faith.  Salvation is fundamentally a work of God’s grace.  Thus Paul summarizes his argument in the last two verses of Chapter 3: “Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us, to Him be glory in the church by Jesus Christ to all generations, forever and ever.  Amen” (3:20,21).  The glory goes to God, and the glory goes to Him because of the greatness of His power that works in us.  Salvation is a work of God’s grace.  We do not save ourselves; it is God who saves us. And He does not just forgive our sins; He changes us inwardly as well.  Thus the church, as a body of saved believers, should be a monument and testimony to God’s grace and power.

But then, that being the case, how does that affect the way we live?  We are to “walk worthy of the calling with which you were called” (4:1).  We are God’s church; we have been adopted into His family.  Christ His Son died on the cross to save us from our sins.  We have the Holy Spirit living inside of us.  Two conclusions follow from this: first of all our conduct should be consistent with our status.  Every Christian is a “saint” by virtue of his salvation; he should not be seen living like a criminal or a derelict.  Christ did not die on the cross in order to make us self-righteous hypocrites; He died to make us monuments to His grace.

The second implication is that there should be evidence of God’s transforming power in our lives.  If there is no evidence of the fruit of the Spirit, then we do not gave the Spirit.  And if we do not have the Spirit, we are not saved.

In other words, salvation makes a real difference.  It changes us.  We are no longer what we once were.  Let us live accordingly, and to God be the glory.

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