I have been thinking a lot lately about the disconnect that often exists between our functional and our confessional theology. Our doctrine is firm and fixed but we waver and vacillate in our disposition.
What I mean is that if asked, we are quick to declare Jesus as Lord over our life. We confessionally submit to the authority of Scripture. But often, our life does not reflect our doctrine. Sometimes it may be difficult to draw a parallel between our theology (what we believe) and our methodology (how we live). What is the reason for this great disconnect between doctrine and disposition?
We experience the tension that Paul talks about in Romans 7:15. Here, he says the following:
For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate.
I want to love people who are difficult to love. But, at times, I fail to do that. I am commissioned to love my spouse as Christ loved the church. But, at times, I fail to do that. I fight against the temptation to think I am more important than someone else. But, at times, I fail to do that. I want to focus my entire energy on serving others first. But, at times, I fail to do that. I want to think nothing of myself, but at times, I can become full of myself. I want to outdo others in showing them honor. But, at times, I fail to do that. Why does this failure happen? One minute you are done with your devotion and ready to take on the day from a Christ-centered perspective. The next minute, you are having a heated argument about a trivial matter that has little significance from an eternal perspective. The above will happen in our life. But, it should not characterize our life.
In his letter to a young pastor, Paul reminds Timothy to “keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching.” (1 Tim. 4:16). Paul is emphatically reminding Timothy here to do the following six things:
- Pay attention to the way in which you live
- Make sure that what you teach coincides with how you live
- Apply earnestly that which you have been taught and strive to teach others
- Persistently persevere in living a life from a distinctly gospel centered perspective
- Do not become lazy or passive in your zealous desire to imitate and demonstrate Christ daily
- Do not slacken the labor that you put in to living a distinctly Christian life
Paul wants Timothy to do all of the above so that His progress would be made manifest to those that surround him. He says “practice these things,” “immerse yourself in them.” For what purpose? Why all the spirit-empowered effort? So that — “all may see your progress.” It is our goal as leaders to effect the process of edification in the people that surround us, every single day. We must not only seek the advancement of our own spiritual growth but that of the people we come in contact with.
Here are three observations based on this text that will empower us to connect the doctrine with our diposition:
1. This will not happen in one single day. It takes a long time. But it needs to be done consistently. If we want to make an impact for Jesus during our temporal stay here on earth, we must do the work. We must allow Christ to do the work in us so he can do a great work through us. We must not quench the Spirit. We must be filled with the Spirit (Eph. 5:18) We must be keenly aware of the direction our life needs to be aligned as outlined for us in Scripture.
2. The ability to connect doctrine and disposition does not come from our own futile efforts but we still must do the work. Yes, we are saved by grace. Yes, it is not any of our doing. Yes it is a gift. Yes, we did nothing to deserve it. Yes, it is but by the grace of God we are able to do anything that brings Him glory and joy to others. This is all true. But Paul here is saying to Timothy: “practice these things.” This includes putting in the effort. It is one thing to carry the popular moniker of being a Christian. It is a complete other idea to actually be one, in a distinctly identifiable manner.
3. The only way we can avoid the disconnect between our functional and our confessional theology is to do what Jesus did. He was constantly obsessed about doing the will of His Father. This was his life mission. This was the banner under which he functioned every single day. He did not neglect his spiritual disciplines. He continuously went to God the Father for the renewing of His strength. He persistently prayed that God will give him the fortitude to go through what he needed to get through. He was precisely vigilante. He was undoubtedly alert at all times.
We are not to go alone into battle to connect our doctrine with our disposition. We have been crucified with Christ. We have been raised with Christ so that we can live a life of triumph in Christ. We have Christ who lives in us. It is he who ultimately provides us with the power and strength needed to live a life from a distinctly Christian disposition.
Question: What do you think are other reasons for the disconnect between our functional and our confessional theology?