Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
2 Timothy 4:15-16.
By watching your life and your doctrine closely, perservering in them, you save yourself and others.
BUT….How does this square with the following?
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faithâ€”and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of Godâ€” not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was clearly portrayed as crucified. I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort? Have you suffered so much for nothingâ€”if it really was for nothing? Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you because you observe the law, or because you believe what you heard? Consider Abraham: “He believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”
Are these hopelessly irreconciliable? Is Paul telling the Galatians and the Ephesians that faith alone saves, even that a gift of God’s grace, but telling Timothy that he can save himself by good doctrine and good works?
I think not. But what gives?
Here’s my opinion, and I’d like to hear from others, because I’m thinking out loud here, and I am fully aware that I mess up on understanding God quite often.
I believe we misunderstand the word doctrine. We want doctrine to be complex teachings about theology and the bible. But, if it is, then it would seem that Paul is telling Timothy that he better have his understandings of theology (e.g., soteriology (the doctrine of salvation), baptisms, Holy Spirit, Christology, eschatology (the study of end times), missiology, spiritual warfare, and all such things) straight or else he may risk his and others’ salvation. This is what some appear to teach today in churches that like to call themselves “conservative.”
It strikes me that Paul isn’t talking about such theological concepts, however. It seems he must be talking about the “teaching” (that is the meaning of the Greek word for doctrine) that there is only one thing that saves: God saves us, by His grace, by giving us the faith to believe on Jesus Christ and what He did for us at the cross.
That’s it. That is doctrine. That is what matters. God saves. That’s what Galatians says. That’s what Paul preached and only preached when he went to the church at Corinth. 1 Corinthians 2:2. Given that, why do we get so complicated? Why would we want to complicate something when God says that coming to Him takes coming to Him as a child does. I’ve yet to meet the child who articulates their faith in what we would normally call “doctrinal” terms.
The story is all about God, and His work, not about our ability to pontificate on Who God Is or how much we know about arcane or disputable issues of theology. It simply is about getting to know God in a personal and real way, and the only way we can do that is to be reconciled to Him through the work Jesus did at the cross. Once we are reconciled and receive the Holy Spirit, then we are new creations and can move on to learning more about Him. Hebrews 6. In the meantime, while we are reaching out to the lost and dying world, we need to start loving more, showing them Who Jesus Is in our own lives rather than trying to make sure that everyone understands exactly what they “have” to believe to be a good Christian. None of that knowledge will ever save them, and, if they learn it all but have not the love of Jesus in them, and begin to see that they are still lost, then they will likely feel duped and begin to doubt the real Truth of the gospel altogether.
All they need to know is that they need Jesus because without Him they are separate from the Father and will be forever unless they submit to Jesus as Lord. They need to know God loves them. They need to see how gracious God really is. You can’t see God for Who He Is and not make a decision about Him.