“One of the most significant growth points in the believer’s life is the dawning realisation that Christian doctrine matters for Christian living. How we live as God’s children will be shaped by the impact of God’s truth upon our minds and hearts. This is so basic; and yet it can hardly be denied that many Christians languish in the shadows of God’s love when they should be basking in the noon-day sunshine of his love, and all because they fail to make the connection between believing the truth and enjoying the truth.
This is perhaps nowhere more evident than in the lack of assurance that blights the lives of many Christians. Lack of assurance is due to many reasons. But is it not true, that for many, if not all, lack of assurance that we are truly Christ’s is due to a failure to think through the implications of one of the gospel’s foundational doctrines, justification by faith alone in Christ alone?
Consider Paul’s glorious conclusion to his exposition of God’s justifying righteousness in Romans 5:1: ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ Having put our trust alone in Jesus Christ, ‘the Lord our righteousness’, ‘we have peace with God’. It is a once for all, eternally settled fact. God is at peace with us and we are at peace with Him. No longer does he count our sins against us–he has counted them all against Christ. No longer are we under God’s wrath–Christ exhausted his wrath against us by his sin-bearing death on the cross. No longer do we face the nightmare prospect of being forever banished from God’s presence in hell–Christ took our banishment upon himself and went into ‘the far country’, that we might never be separated from God. This is what it means to be ‘justified’: to be, by faith alone, in the saving work of Christ alone, eternally and irreversibly right with God. This means that the weakest, most stumbling believer is no less justified than the Apostle Paul or John Calvin or Jonathan Edwards or William Carey! Is this not the sweetest and most reassuring of all truths? Of course, it can be abused. But the abuse of it does not detract from the truth and glory of it.
Now do you see the connection between Christian doctrine and Christian living? Every believer is at ‘peace with God’. Augustus Toplady put the issue memorably in his glorious hymn ‘A Debtor to Mercy Alone’:
More happy, but not more secure,
the glorified spirits in heaven.
This is a truth that every Christian needs to ponder and out of which to suck the strongest encouragement. It is little wonder that Martin Luther called justification by faith ‘The article of a standing or falling church.’ He could equally have said that it is the ‘article of a standing or falling Christian.”
This is why we should be deeply concerned about the near eclipse of doctrine in modern day evangelicalism. The spiritual fallout from doctrine-less Christianity (if such a thing exists at all!) is, and cannot but be, immense. When our Christian life is not securely anchored to the mighty, unrepeatable, saving acts of God, we become a prey, not only to ‘every wind of doctrine’, but to the deceits of the devil and the fluctuating moods of our temperaments. We begin to look for signs of assurance in our experiences, in our feelings, in happy providences. Our spiritual gaze becomes narcissistic: what I am, not what God has done in Christ, becomes the controlling focus of my life. Assurance almost becomes a quest for self-validation, not a rejoicing in the finished work of Christ and the grace of justifying righteousness.
It is a constant ploy of the devil to absorb us with ourselves; to turn the Christian faith into an exercise in acquiring self-esteem. Our great weapon against his insidious self-promoting, Christ-dishonouring tactics is to live out the connection between God’s justification of the ungodly through faith alone in Jesus Christ, and the relationship every believer now enjoys with God on account of that: ‘Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.’
Christian doctrine matters for Christian living. That was once an evangelical commonplace. Is it a truth that shapes and styles how you live? Are you learning to suck the sweet marrow of blessedness from gospel doctrines? The proof that you are will not be a swollen head, but an enlarged heart.”
Ian Hamilton, The Faith Shaped Life (Banner of Truth Trust, 2013), 35-38.