You may’ve seen a meme that’s circulated on social media. One man says, “I don’t care about doctrine, I just follow Jesus.” His friend responds, “Oh, and tell me about Jesus?” With great passion, the first man responds, “He’s God incarnate, who lived a perfect life, died a substitutionary death, was raised from the tomb…” His friend smiles, as do readers who catch the irony.
Doctrine is the essence of our beliefs, the truths on which we build our faith, our hope…and our sermons.
In our sermons, we expound on the great doctrines of the faith. We support them with biblical teaching and historical perspective. As best as we can, we raise our listeners’ eyes from the humdrum of earthly living and point them toward the lofty glories of heaven. We expound, explain, point, and perhaps even illustrate.
But we struggle to apply doctrine. Perhaps our struggle is based in fear—we worry that these truths are so grand that we mustn’t diminish them by connecting them with day-to-day living. If the great truths of Scripture do not impact our daily living, however, have we really understood and trusted them?
Though maybe we struggle to apply doctrine, not out of fear, but because we aren’t sure how to develop such applications in a way that honors the gravity of the truths while also connecting them to our listeners’ lives.
A simple process will help:
- State the doctrine.
- Fill in the blank: “Therefore, we ______________.”
- Give specific examples.
- God is sovereign.
- Therefore, we trust him.
- If your marriage is falling apart, you can continue in faithfulness to God because you can trust he hasn’t abandoned you. You can, as much as it depends on you, do the right things, and make the godly choices. Or, maybe you’ve been confronted with an ethical dilemma at work—it’s either obey your supervisor and get a promotion, or obey God and get fired. You can choose the godly path, trusting that even if you do lose your job, our sovereign God sees, hears, and provides.
We can walk the other great doctrines of Scripture through this same process—God is creator, God is holy, Jesus resurrected, Jesus will return. With each, fill in the blank: Therefore, we ______. Then, describe particular scenarios in which we live in response to these eternally significant truths.
My father has preached for sixty years and continues to demonstrate a life of faith. Over the years, whenever I’ve hit a rough patch in life or ministry, I’ve called or visited, seeking his guidance. He listens, offers words of wisdom and comfort, then like clockwork reminds me, “God is on his throne.” In those moments—when the opportunity fell through, when the board meeting got contentious, or when I messed up—the great doctrine matters. God is on his throne. It’s not a lofty truth with no relevance, but an anchor for hope and life.
Doctrine matters. It applies.
Daniel Overdorf is Professor of Pastoral Ministries and Director of Preaching Programs at Johnson University in Knoxville, Tennessee.