Doctrine in its simplest definition is a teaching. The Bible describes doctrines of man, doctrines of demons, and doctrines of God. Discernment is the practice of determining whether what is being taught it a true teaching or a false one. Being able to discern between false and sound doctrine is how we gain the wisdom in which to make decisions in our life and what we teach others as the truth.
“Doctrinal study grounds our morality in the truth of Scripture and enables us to live God-honoring lives. It also allows us to articulate our beliefs in a consistent and biblical manner.
“Studying doctrine allows us to live out the Christian faith with clarity, confidence, and consistency.” ~ Clayton Kraby
What is the difference between false and sound doctrine?
Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isaiah 5:20)
False doctrine is any teaching that distorts, is contrary to, adds to, or takes away from what is taught in the Bible. Sound doctrine is teaching found in and consistent with what is taught in the Bible.
It is important to acknowledge denominational differences do not always necessitate false doctrine being taught. These doctrinal differences may be based on secondary issues such as church policies, worship styles, and church government designs. There are some issues that cause doctrinal divides that the Bible does speak on such as baptism in which some denominations disagree on the mode and who should partake. While such issues often generate great passion and disagreement, if the issues does not attack the Trinity, salvation, or the Word of God, they do not constitute false doctrine that requires a breaking of fellowship. Because we are fallible humans still affected by our sin nature, we do not have a perfectly sanctified theology yet, thus we have areas in which we disagree. As long as the issue is not one that impacts one’s salvation, we can continue to call each other brother and sister.
Can a Christian have believe in a false doctrine?
As I said above, none of us have our doctrine/theology 100% correct. We all hold to false doctrine to some point. However, as Christians, we are always striving to be more like Christ, to be more holy, and to be more precise in knowing the True Living God. It is our greatest desire to be more correct and behold Him more clearly. Yes, a Christian can believe in a false doctrine, however, as that Christian grows closer to Christ, her doctrine will become more and more sanctified and she will begin to discard false doctrines for true doctrines. She will come to see her old beliefs as those that lead to death and see the doctrines taught in the Bible as those that lead to life and will submit to them. This is not a process that happens immediately upon conversion or even within a few days, months, or years but one that is lifelong.Christians are always striving to be more like Christ and more precise in knowing God Click To Tweet
There are, however, some false doctrines that a Christian cannot hold to and claim to be a child of God. These doctrines directly attack the nature of the Trinity and salvation. For example, denying man is sinful and in need of a Savior, denying Christ’s divinity, or believing a person can work their way to heaven.
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19)
A person can hold to a false doctrine, even a serious one, after conversion. Because we do not immediately know everything contained within Scripture upon conversion, a new convert may not fully understand the Trinity and may deny certain Biblical doctrines regarding it. This is why Christ commands His followers to disciple those who come to salvation. We are to teach new Christians how to properly read and understand the Bible. When she encounters a teaching that she may have believed differently before, the Holy Spirit now gives her the ability to understand it more clearly, to repent from her errant belief, and believe in the true doctrine. Sometimes this comes with a bit of wrestling with the Scripture, but in the end, a true follower of Christ will submit to His teachings.
Our battle is not with people or demons but with false doctrine, the “schemes of the devil.” Click To Tweet
Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. (Ephesians 6:10-13)
Our battle, our wrestling, in this life is not with people or demons, but with ideas, with false doctrine, with the “schemes of the devil.” We must always be learning and studying God’s Word. One anthem taken up by Reformed Christians has been “Semper Reformanda,” which means “always reforming.” We should always be diligent in reforming our minds to align more closely with God.
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:2)
“Purity of doctrine is the crucial foundation upon which everything else in the Christian life rests. If we would be people who practice personal holiness and show forth true integrity, our doctrine must be sound and unwavering.” ~ John MacArthur
These essentials do not mean that other doctrines are not equally important. It also does not mean that just because you agree with this list that you are a Christian or that once you do believe these, you are good and no longer need to keep striving to learn what else God’s Word has to tell you. However, this is the bare minimum upon which we might be able to call someone a brother or sister in Christ. Also, keep in mind that just because a person says he/she believes these, that does not mean he/she is a Christian. As a false convert, I would have agreed to every one of these essentials but the Holy Spirit did not dwell within me. This is not a grading scale upon which to determine whether a person is in or out of eternity in heaven but rather, if a person claims to be a Christian, he/she must at very least hold to these doctrines.
“Nevertheless, for all its virtues, good doctrine is not magic. It is possible for someone to profess right doctrine and yet remain an unbeliever. That is called hypocrisy. It is also possible for one to live well and yet confess bad doctrine. That is blessed inconsistency. Neither Scripture nor history commends either option. We should rather think that good doctrine is salutary— healthy and helpful in the same way that sunshine, clean air, and rain are salutary for living beings.” ~ Dr. R. Scott Clark
Essential Doctrines of the Christian Faith
There is only one God. He is omniscient (all-knowing), omnipresent (everywhere), omnipotent (all-powerful), sovereign (over and in control of all), self-existent (was not created, has always existed even before time began), immutable (unchanging), perfect, holy, just, merciful, and righteous. There are not multiple or lesser gods. Humans do not become gods.
“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3)
“I am the Lord, and there is no other, besides me there is no God; I equip you, though you do not know me,” (Isaiah 45:5)
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”—yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. (1 Corinthians 8:4-6)
There is one eternal God existing in three distinct, coeternal and coequal Persons: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. These are not three separate gods (Pleuralism) and the Trinity does not represent three manifestation for different times or modes (Modalism).
And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” (Matthew 3:16-17)
“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,” (Matthew 28:19)
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Corinthians 13:14)
- Deity of Christ
Jesus Christ is the second Person of the Trinity, God the Son. He was not created but submitted Himself to the Father to become human. He became flesh, was born of a virgin and conceived of by God the Holy Spirit. Two whole and perfect natures, the Godhead and manhood, were perfectly united without change or distortion to either nature. Jesus is not only a man or only God.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God…And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:1, 14)
Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58)
For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, (Colossians 2:9)
He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, (Hebrews 1:3)
- Resurrection of Christ
Jesus rose from the grave three days after being crucified upon a cross.
For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
“Brothers, I may say to you with confidence about the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:29-32)
Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live,” (John 11:25)
Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9)
- Salvation by Grace Alone
Salvation is by the grace of God alone. It is a gift of which He bestows upon a person and is not a “payment” for good works performed.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)
But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace. (Romans 11:6)
But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. (1 Corinthians 15:10)
- Salvation Through Christ Alone
There is no other means of salvation other than through the redemptive work of Christ.
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40)
“I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9)
Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)
Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:1)
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to deliver us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Galatians 1:3-5)
But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (Titus 3:4-7)
- The Gospel
Man is naturally sinful and deserving eternity in hell. Jesus, God the Son, lived a perfect life, died for the atonement for sinners, rose three days later, ascended to Heaven, and will return again one day to judge the living and the dead. God grants salvation by gifting believers with the ability to believe and repent. Christians do not earn their salvation but do good works to honor and glorify the Lord. For more on the Gospel, please read my Gospel page.
Knowing the difference between false and sound doctrine can mean the difference in where you spend eternity, it can mean the difference in properly practicing apologetics and evangelizing, it means a great deal in how you disciple a new Christian, and most of all, it means a great deal in how you worship and glorify God. We glorify God when we obey Him. We cannot know how to properly obey Him unless we can discern between false and sound doctrine.
Put on the full armor of God for we wrestle in the spiritual world (Ephesians 6:11-12), not the physical. Anchor yourself in God’s Word so that you will not be tossed by every wave of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14) but hold fast to the Rock that is not moved (Habakkuk 1:12).Put on the full armor of God, anchor yourself in God's Word, and hold fast to the Rock. Click To Tweet
- Clark, R. (2012). Drawing the Line: Why Doctrine Matters by R. Scott Clark. [online] Ligonier Ministries. Available at: http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/drawing-the-line-why-doctrine-matters/ [Accessed 15 Nov. 2016].
- GotQuestions.org. (n.d.). What are the essentials of the Christian faith?. [online] Available at: https://gotquestions.org/essentials-Christian-faith.html [Accessed 15 Nov. 2016].
- GotQuestions.org. (n.d.). What is false doctrine?. [online] Available at: https://gotquestions.org/false-doctrine.html [Accessed 15 Nov. 2016].
- GotQuestions.org. (n.d.). Why is sound doctrine so important?. [online] Available at: https://gotquestions.org/sound-doctrine.html [Accessed 15 Nov. 2016].
- Kraby, C. (n.d.). The Importance of Studying Doctrine. [online] Reasonabletheology.org. Available at: http://reasonabletheology.org/the-importance-of-doctrine/ [Accessed 15 Nov. 2016].
- MacArthur, J. (1997). How can we determine what doctrines are essential and what are they?. [online] Gty.org. Available at: http://www.gty.org/resources/questions/QA146/how-can-we-determine-what-doctrines-are-essential-and-what-are-they?Term=doctrine [Accessed 15 Nov. 2016].
- MacArthur, J. (2015). Holding to Sound Doctrine. [online] Gty.org. Available at: http://www.gty.org/blog/B150803/holding-to-sound-doctrine [Accessed 15 Nov. 2016].