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From Doctrine to Duty: Walking Worthy

My first job after college was as a high school Computer Science teacher. To further my usefulness to the school they paid for me to attend an advanced computer hardware course. About half way through the twelve-week course I was summoned to the headmaster’s office. He informed me that the lecturer of the hardware course happened to be a parent of a kid at our school. This dad had told the headmaster that the grade I had gotten on the first module of the course was the highest grade in the (four year) history of the computer school, namely 99%. I began basking in the proverbial pat on the back I presumed I was about to receive, when the whole experience took an unexpected turn.

 

The headmaster then held up two sheets of paper for me to inspect, and said, “I was wondering if you could explain this: here is one bill for your computer course tuition which we paid in full on your behalf. And here is another bill, payment pending, which has been authorized by you, for hiring an outside computer technician to install and repair the computer network in the school’s Computer Science lab.”

So that’s where this pat on the back was going! Blushing from embarrassment, I then had to explain that the first module, which I had aced, was the theory part of the course. It consisted only of facts and diagrams that had to be memorized.

I had regurgitated the text book and aced the exams, but I still had never actually seen the inside of a computer. I had never laid eyes on a network card, never installed a program, never as much as plugged in a monitor!

But I assured him that the following week we were starting the practical module where I would be taught how to install and repair the items I’d read about. (I barely passed that module, which was evident in my incompetency as a network administrator, and I was presently transferred to teach in the English department).

Often Christians score highly in the theory module of faith. We can memorize verses, recite creeds, debate deep theology, and explain complex doctrines. But unfortunately we frequently fail to actually apply what we learn to our own lives.

Doctrine must always produce practice.

3 parts of the practical module of the Christian life…

 

  1. The call: walk worthy

Eph 4:1 “I therefore….urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

The first three chapters of Ephesians are the theory module; it consists of doctrine, data, and information about how God saves, who God saves, why God saves. It’s all about salvation. And it’s glorious.

But it’s all useless unless it changes you.

The order is very significant. Paul began the letter with doctrine, not duty. Our tendency is to come up with things to do. A teenage boy struggles with lust so he thinks “I must stop watching movies and move my computer into a public place.” Good, but soon that to-do list will be a burden of duty, not a delight based in relationship with Christ.

But let’s say he first starts by studying God’s holiness, the price Jesus paid for him, the doctrine of the Holy Spirit indwelling him, and the biblical view of manhood and womanhood. Now he says “I view God as holy, women as image bearers of God, and purity as an expression of worship, not as a set of limitations, and I therefore perform these duties as a delight.”

That’s what Paul means by “therefore”, because of how and why God called you, “walk worthy of that calling.”

So you ask: How? What must I do?

I’m glad you asked, but that’s the wrong question. The right one is found in our next point…

  1. The means: internal attitudes

Eph 4:2 “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.”

Let’s say you meet a Goth. He’s got long purple hair, black nail polish, a lip ring, and a tat of a vampire on his forearm. Because you have stopped being a narrow-minded, self-righteous Pharisee you share the gospel with him. And guess what…he gets saved.

He asks you, his default discipler,  “Now what must I do?”

 

The knee-jerk reaction of a moralist would be: “Get a Christian haircut and some long-sleeve shirts to hide your vampire tattoos, take out your lip ring, burn your secular CDs, buy an ESV Study Bible, join a cell group, read this Spurgeon biography, stick to this reading plan, and your Bible muscles will grow.”

Before you know it this former misfit is clean-cut, catechized, and serving communion.

Mission accomplished. Or is it?

That is not what Paul says. He says “Be like this…” Not do this.

The worthy walk is not a list of rules and regulations to keep. It’s not learning Christianese jargon, like knowing what TULIP stands for, and using the word beseech in your prayers.  It’s about an internal change that produces external fruit: humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love.

If you want to work on being godly, start with your attitudes.  Behavior will follow.

  1. The outcome: unity

Eph 4:3 “Eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

What is the outcome of this worthy walk? Unity. When we are walking worthy of Christ we are marching in lockstep.

You don’t get to choose who joins your church. Jesus builds his church. He saves and he adds souls. But we are still united. And we need to have a bond of peace. The attitudes above lead to this unity.

There is no place in the Christian walk for denominational partiality outweighing Christian fellowship. And while we do not sacrifice doctrine and truth on the altar of false unity, we must remember that we have one God who is the Father of us all.

Remember, it’s no use scoring 99 on the doctrine and flunking the real test of application.

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