In my short life, I had to learn rather quickly not only that the women in my life are into details, but also that they want me to be into the details about them! When I first started going out with young women, I quickly realized that I had to start observing what color my date’s eyes were, what she was wearing, whether she was warm or cold, how she was feeling emotionally, and what would make her happy. What’s more, if I were to continue to see her, I’d have to begin to notice and remember all sorts of details about her personal history, her family, her hopes and dreams: to learn everything possible about her. Noticing all these details and others like them not only communicates to a young lady how I feel, but they also actually help me get to know her better and to deepen our relationship. And when I really do care, far from being a burden, it becomes a joy, pleasure, and passion to get to know her by plunging into the minutia of her life.
While this connection between knowing someone and learning about someone makes sense in our human relationships, we often fail to approach our relationship with God in a similar way. Yet as Christians who have a personal relationship with the God of the universe, we definitely need to! When we cultivate a loving relationship with the God who loved us first, we have to get to know the details of who he is and what he is like. This is made possible because he reveals himself through the teaching of the Holy Scriptures, teaching we usually call “Doctrine.”
This word, however, often gives some honest folk real heartburn. Though not everyone articulates it this way, I’ve often heard Christians say something like, “I don’t want to learn about God, I want to have a relationship with him! Learning doctrines and teachings about God and his laws and his character will only distract me from pursuing an intimate relationship with him.”
But imagine if I said this same thing to a young lady (which, for the record, I have not!): “Babe, I want to have a relationship with you, so I really don’t want to know anything about you. The details of who you are, what you are like, what you desire, and what you expect from me are unimportant and useless for me as I get to know you. They may even distract us from actually having a genuine relationship. Please, be quiet, and let’s just smooch!” Somehow, I think that this would be my last conversation with her ever, and, what’s more, I would probably emerge from the encounter with significant bodily injury. After all, when we love someone, the relationship and the learning go hand in hand (or in this case, fist to jaw).
This dynamic of relationship and knowing the details is exactly what the Apostle Paul urges in Ephesians 3:18-19, as he prays that the believers in Ephesus “being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” Paul understands that not only are we personally to know the love of Christ, to love him in return, and to be filled with his love for others, but that in order to do these things we are also to comprehend this love which surpasses knowledge, to examine and inspect it with our minds and hearts, to know its measurements and its details, and in this way to be rooted and grounded in that love. For this reason, Paul and the other writers of the New Testament spend so much of their letters teaching doctrine to the churches, because they know that without it Christians might be uprooted from this love and groundless in their faith. While doctrine without a relationship with God is spiritual death, it is equally impossible to have a long-term relationship with God without receiving and understanding Christian doctrine.
The Apostle Paul also makes it clear in this passage that these doctrines and teachings about God and about Christ are not merely private opinions, but public proclamations. It is only together “with all the saints” that we are able to comprehend the love of God in Christ, to articulate it accurately, and to proclaim it with the kind of spiritual power that raised Christ from the dead (1:19-20; 3:20). That is why we here at Resurrection are up front and public about our doctrine: we believe, teach, preach, and share our Christian doctrine as a community without picking and choosing what we will and will not accept. We live the Christian life in the Spirit together, we have a relationship with God in Christ together, and we believe the teachings of the Bible and the Church together. As we confess the Creeds as a congregation or covenant together to subscribe to the Thirty-Nine Articles because they faithfully communicate the teaching of Scripture, we are actually following through on what Paul has prayed for our church and all Christians everywhere.
So where does this leave you? Do you have a desire to get to know God in all of his glorious details like you would someone else that you love? As we begin our summer sermon series on Christian doctrine, I passionately encourage you to spend time getting to know the God who made you, who saved you, and who will bring you to glory by diving into the details of his doctrine and by finding ways to put it into practice in your life. It’s a fantastic way to show God how much you love him, and to come to love him more!
This is an article which kicked off the Summer 2010 sermon series at Resurrection on the Doctrines of the Faith. It was initially published in the June edition of The Resurrection Times.