To achieve a proper understanding of the truth, it is first of all necessary that we understand that God is Truth. He is truth in and of Himself. All truth is in Him and in God there is no lie. Therefore God determines what is true, i.e., what is right and what is wrong. That truth God has revealed to His people in the holy Scriptures. Those Scriptures contain within them the entire revelation of that truth. The Scriptures are the fulness of the revelation of God. They are not the revelation of the fulness of God, for they are the creation of God and cannot contain Him. But as the fulness of the revelation of God they are complete, lacking nothing, most perfect. At the center and heart of that truth which is revealed in the Scriptures is Christ. All truth abides in Him, Who is the perfect revelation of the Father, for He is the way, the truth, and the life.
Out of God’s revelation, the Church of God, which is the Body of Christ, develops the truth. The Church beholds that truth of God in His’ Word and develops that truth into a systematic form. Immediately at the closing of the canon of Scripture, the Church began to develop the individual truths out of the Word of God. That development had to be out of God’s Word because the Scriptures are not a dogmatics. They do not give us in outline form the whole body of truth. But the Church, being led by the Spirit of truth given at Pentecost, sees the Scriptures as a whole and out of them appropriates the individual dogmas which they behold in their particular place within the organism of the truth. By means of faith, the Church consciously appropriated these truths out of God’s Word. Therefore it can be said that the Church does not determine what the Scriptures say, but the Church says what the Scriptures and the Spirit have taught her to say. In that way the Church appropriates consciously the whole body of truth.
Historically that conscious appropriation began with the Being of God Himself. The Church developed terms to describe Scripturally the Godhead, which terms have been used throughout all the history of the Church. They described the Triune God as being three Persons in one Being. They described Christ as having two natures in one Person. And so as history progressed, the Church continued to develop those individual truths out of and on the basis of God’s Word. They developed the truths concerning predestination, depravity and its totality, the truth concerning the guilt of all men in Adam. Slowly the truths of regeneration, of God’s counsel, of the church, of the sacraments, of the covenant, and so on were consciously appropriated by the Church.
In our previous article we saw, that this development took place under certain circumstances. This development and appropriation of the truth occurred under the incentive and guidance of the Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth. They were appropriated because of the thirst of the regenerated heart for the knowledge of God in Christ. This appropriation took place in the sphere of and by the mutual operation of believers under the preaching of the Word. And they were appropriated under the influence of the necessity to defend and formulate carefully the truth against heresy.
But all of these individual truths which arise out of Scripture are not without connection and relation. God, according to His infinite and inscrutable wisdom, has ordained and ordered all things in such a way that all of these individual truths are intimately related and connected so that a discussion of one will inevitably lead you into a discussion of other truths. For example, one cannot talk of the depravity of man without speaking of original guilt and corruption and then of the atonement and cross of Christ which covered all of that depravity.
The divine reason for this intimate relation of all the truths to one another is that all of the individual truths together form one body of truth. Together they make up the truth. Why the truth is one is because God, Who is Truth, is one. That this is true can be seen from the fact that this body of truth developed organically. The truth is an organism. The Church did not have only a part of the truth, as a slice of a pie, early in its history. It possessed the whole body of truth. The conscious appropriation of the truth by the Church was a spontaneous and a principle appropriation. The Church immediately had the whole truth, but only in principle. We must think of it in terms of a sapling and a full grown tree. The early Church had the truth in sapling form, while the Church of today possesses the truth in the form of a full grown tree which is still growing. The same is true of a child. He says and believes, “Jesus loves me.” In that Confession that child has the truth, but none of us would say that he perfectly and completely understands all of the implications of what he said. He has it all principally, but the accuracy, extensiveness and depths of his knowledge of the truth is limited.
That the truth we believe is an organic unity has much significance for the life of the child of God. What he believes determines how he lives. Let us examine that relationship, considering some errant doctrines and how they affect life, as well as how a proper conception of God’s Word affects the life of the believer.
We have already seen what the truth is. Now what is life? Life is our walk in this world; it is our attitude towards the world in which we live. Now what does the body of truth which, we believe, have to do with our attitudes towards the things of this world? Scripture shows us that it has a lot to do with it because what man believes, he believes with his heart. Solomon says that out of the heart flow all the issues of life. (Prov. 4:23) Therefore as the heart is so is the man. None of us would deny that man himself is an organic unity, containing a heart, mind, soul, and strength. That that unity exists, that there is a very intimate relationbetween that which I believe with my heart and that which I do and say, is shown from Proverbs 4:23. Not one of us would say of someone who has committed the act of murder that the mind and heart of that man was not also involved in that act. Man is an organic unity which has as its center his heart. Therefore it can be said that that which is revealed externally is simply an expression of that which is internal.
Also let us turn to James 2 and consider specifically verses 14 and following. James is talking to those who hypocritically say that they are justified by faith only and then proceed to walk in sin. They use the fact that they are justified by faith alone as an excuse to do what they please. James says to them, “Oh no. You say you have faith? If you do not reveal it, you are a liar. That faith is no faith; it is dead, for real faith is manifested in works.” Notice that James point here is that faith is of the heart; it is something we believe experientially. (Heidelberg Catechism, q. and a. 21) The faith that they SAID they had, was not of the heart, only of the mouth. “Shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works. But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” Faith is the root, the principle, and good works are the fruit and evidence of that faith.
Further proof that doctrine and life are inseparable is seen from Romans 6:1 and from the Heidelberg Catechism, q. 64. In Romans 6 Paul shows us that a belief or confession requires a certain kind of life. He very emphatically denies that it does not make any difference what kind of life we lead, by showing that a careless and profane Christian is an impossibility. In fact, it is a contradiction. The power of the cross of Christ in him bears the fruit that he abhors sin and fights against it with his all. He is not only redeemed from sin, but also is delivered from it and renewed unto a life which is the life of Christ. By a true and living faith the Christian is legally and organically united with Christ. How can he that is dead to sin, live any longer therein? Living out of Christ, he is in principle liberated from the dominion of sin through the Spirit of Christ that dwelleth in him (Rom. 8:2). Sin is still present in him, but all that is within him according to his inner man hates and abhors it.
More proof can be found in the Heidelberg Catechism, q. 28. In that question, the catechism speaks of the confession and walk of those who declare themselves unbelieving and ungodly. Listen to what Rev. H. Hoeksema says, concerning this question, in his exposition in The Triple Knowledge, vol. II, p. 671. “There is a most intimate relation between these two, confession and walk. A true confession reveals itself in a sanctified walk. And the latter is based on and motivated by the former.” Let us interrupt here and notice that the relationship between confession and walk, between doctrine and life is a mutual relationship. It is a reciprocal relationship, going both ways. What I confess determines how I live. However, it is also true that if I want to live in a certain way, then that will affect what I believe. Rev. Hoeksema continues, “A false confession is motivated by the desire to cover up and to justify a walk according to the flesh and according to the world, and the former gives rise to the latter. It is certainly utterly false to maintain that it matter not what we believe, if only we do something in life. Principle and practice are most intimately related. Doctrine and life are inseparable. The Scriptures therefore everywhere emphasize the necessity and obligation of the church and of the individual believer to maintain true doctrine. And everywhere the Word of God warns against heretics and false teachers . . . The false prophet is one that deliberately speaks lies in the name of the Lord and that to entice and deceive the people to wickedness and idolatry.”
There is, then, a very close and intimate relation between what one believes and how one walks, between his doctrine and his life. To show that this is true historically, let us examine a few false beliefs or doctrines and see how they affect the lives of those who believe those false beliefs.
First of all, let us consider that of the evolutionist. The evolutionist believes that the lower forms of life developed in the course of time into higher forms. Somehow life arose out of dead material and developed into higher forms of life. Therefore as time goes on, things get better and better, from a biological sense of the word. Things are always improving. Slowly and surely there is a development and progress that ultimately will lead to a perfect man in a perfect world. Such a belief is a denial of God, of Christ and, of course, a denial of Scripture. As to their life, the evolutionists would necessarily believe that men must pull together. There is a brotherhood of man and together we will always try to attain that perfection in life. We will always try to get rid of all sicknesses and diseases and all imperfections so that we can have a perfect man in a perfect world.
Another example of this intimate relationship between one’s life and belief is seen in the view of post-millennialism. Post-millennialism teaches that the second coming of Christ shall take place after the millennium. This millennium is a period of 1000 years in which the church has gained the complete victory over the world and has established herself as the power that is triumphant. The point is that there is a continual evolution in the world’s history. The evolution is not biological, but in a social sense. As history progresses, this world becomes better. The result is that all the difficulties are resolved in the world as the world comes under the influence of the church. Sin is even banished from the councils of man and a utopia of peace and prosperity arises. Heaven is on earth and the kingdom of Christ is victorious here in this present time. The calling of the post-millenialist is to make the world a better place to live, to Christianize everything. There is very little concern for the coming of Christ at the end of time and far more concern for the cares and troubles and social ills in this world. Every attempt is made to attain peace on earth, and religion in politics. The basic error of such a belief is that it is a denial of Christ’s rule over the world. Christ rules over the world, sovereignly controlling their actions. The danger of this belief is that at the end of time there will be a Kingdom of peace, which will be of Anti-Christ, but the post-millennialist will identify it with the kingdom of Christ.
Another example of how a false doctrine results in an errant conception of life is that of common grace. The doctrine of common grace, by its very nature, speaks of the life of the Christian in the world. The second point of the three points of common grace teaches a restraint of sin by an inward operation of the Holy Spirit on all men. The Holy Spirit operates on man so that man does not sin as much as he otherwise would. The result is that the natural man is capable of performing many good deeds which are good in God’s sight. This is the third point. Then man is capable of moral and civic good and righteousness. He lives a good life in which he contributes much toward the benefit of his fellow man. Thus the natural man can meet with God’s approval and satisfaction.
What then is the view of life of one who holds to the doctrine of common grace? That one begins to hate the antithesis of the church from this world and he begins to hate the narrow confines of his existence in the church. The child of God alone possesses the grace of God which can save, yet he is in a world of men who are in many respects as good as he is, as far as his deeds are concerned. He is in a world of wicked men who do the same good he does, seek the same goals he seeks and usually are better qualified to do anything in science, art, music, politics, etc. Because he sees much in the world and outside of the church with which he can agree, he decides that the world is the place for him. The result is that he joins in worldly organizations, enters into fellowship with them, adopting their goals and approving their works. And so he enters into the world as Lot did, at first very carefully and later abandoning all caution. He finds out that he cannot protest against the wicked, for all that the wicked do is marked by a measure of good. If he should protest, then he runs the risk of criticizing that which is the fruit of God in that man. Then one can join a labor union because it seeks the good of the worker. Then all movies are all right, because there is some good in them which was produced by common grace. Very briefly, the world is good. We can enter into the camp of the enemy to make common cause with them. Any kind of antithesis is completely wiped out. Soon the goals of the world are adopted in opposition to the cause of the kingdom of heaven.
What one believes determines how he walks. But we must also beware lest false doctrine is developed, motivated by the desire to cover up and to justify a walk which is according to the flesh and according to the world. It can be said that essentially every step of apostasy down the road of false doctrine is a justification of what and/or how we want to live. We can see that in ourselves. We always want what we do or say to be justified. We come up with all kinds of excuses for our sins. Common grace is a justification of worldly-mindedness. The truth of the Word of God directs the child of God to a proper walk. While he pursues his pilgrimage in his world, the Word of God informs him what his life and belief must be. All the principles of the life of the believer are set down in Scripture. Therefore, we can say, “Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path.” (Ps. 119:105) Scripture is not specific, but the truth of God’s Word as it has been developed implies exactly what our walk must be. Therefore one must not separate doctrine from practice. Doctrinal preaching is practical and practical preaching is doctrinal.
But now, what are the truths of God’s Word on which we must base our life? First of all, there is the truth that God is sovereign. This sovereignty which God possesses is due to the fact that he is God alone and the Creator of all. All things are dependent for their life and existence on Him. Because of that sovereignty, God is the sole criterion and standard of what is right and what is wrong. Thirdly, because God is sovereign and free, He is the divine ruler of all. He rules over all He has created in order that the purpose for which it was created might be realized. This purpose is the glory of His name through Jesus Christ Who came in our flesh to suffer, die and rise again for our sins and guilt.
Therefore the sovereignty of God is a sovereignty which is revealed and exercised through Christ. God chose a people to be His and placed them in union with Christ. Christ defeated the power of sin over God’s chosen so that they are citizens of the kingdom of light. He establishes His throne in their hearts and they become His willing subjects. This is not always and is not completely true in this life, for they only very imperfectly recognize this and direct their life according to this principle. But they cling in faith to the cross where all of their sins are washed away. With all their heart, mind, soul and strength as that is governed by the new man in Christ, they hate and abhor all that is sinful in them. They seek to be holy even as He is holy.
Fifthly, there is also a sovereignty of Christ over the world. Satan enlists the aid of man in his opposition against God to set up his own kingdom. In Adam’s fall into sin all men became totally depraved, sinning in all that they do. With all the things that are his and with which he lives, man only increases in iniquity. When he can sin as much as he wants and yet avoid the dire results of sin, then he will have attained his goal. But this can never happen, for God still rules as sovereign. Christ rules supreme NOT in spite of all wickedness, but He rules supreme, using all things to do the will of God.
What is our calling on the basis of these truths? Our conception of the order in God’s counsel is a truth or tradition passed down to us. This truth which teaches us that God ordained a1l things to give Himself the glory, shows us that man in every aspect of his life has the calling to glorify God. The truth of God’s Word tells us that the child of God is a regenerated saint, born again, not unto this life, but unto an heavenly kingdom. He is born unto a hope, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever. He is born unto an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you, who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. The result is that the child of God is incorporated into the army of God and marches under the banner of Christ. By that second birth, he is no more a member of this world, but is a pilgrim and stranger. He is a citizen of the heavenly kingdom with the calling to glorify God in every aspect of his life. That means that he must submit to the government and to his employer. He must be a proper wife and a proper husband, being of one mind, having compassion one of another, loving as brethren, being pitiful and being courteous; not rendering evil for evil or railing for railing, but contrariwise blessing. Therefore he has the calling which demands that he cannot and may not be a partner with the world. (II Cor. 6:14-18) He has the calling that he must let his light so shine that God may be glorified.
All that the child of God has in regard to the riches of salvation are literally in Christ. Christ is the Head, from Whom flows all the fulness of grace and salvation. Just as a tree strikes its roots into the soil, to seek nourishment, so the believer has roots that strike themselves into Christ, in order to seek all the nourishment it needs out of Christ. Therefore we can see how dangerous it is to tolerate false doctrine. As soon as one departs from the truth of Scripture, one leaves Christ and the roots of the soul go into the wrong soil.
Hence doctrine and life are inseparably connected with each other. False doctrine leads inevitably to a life of corruption and sin in the world. But a belief which clings to Christ will be a life which goes on growing in sanctification.
May our beliefs be based solely on God’s Word so that our life in the midst of this world likewise reveals that it is rooted in that same Word.