5 Steps to Sound Doctrine (Even When Everyone Disagrees)

When Jeremiah delivered God’s Word, King Jehoiakim pulled out his penkife (Jeremiah 36:23). Page by page, he sliced it into the fire.

Today, many supposed Christians do the same. Which is more harmful? To attack God’s Word openly, or twist it while claiming to be its representative?

Today I’m asking:

  • How do we rightly handle God’s Word and not follow the way of Jehoiakim?
  • Where does sound doctrine come from?
  • How can we be confident in it?

In How to Understand the Bible More Clearly I argued that the Bible is already clear and unified in its message: a faith once and for all delivered to the saints. To understand the Bible we need to acknowledge that Jesus is Lord, obey Him, and then learn the raw material of Scripture.

How do we move from these foundational steps to the goal of rightly handling God’s Word? In this article we’ll look at 5 steps to sound doctrine. By these steps we can battle against the tendency to depart from the faith (1 Timothy 4:1-2, 18-20).

1. Ground your beliefs in specific Scripture. Do not make arbitrary assertions. It is your responsibility to know sound doctrine. Problems of doctrine usually come when people speak without knowledge. Paul wrote to Timothy about this kind with their vain jangling, “Desiring to be teachers of the law; understanding neither what they say, nor whereof they affirm” (1 Timothy 1:7).

2. Keep your thinking fresh and honest. Be willing to look at any question with fresh eyes. Avoid coming to conclusions too quickly. Be willing to take the whole message of Scripture into account. Acts 17:11 praises the nobility of the Bereans, because “they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the scriptures daily, whether those things were so (Acts 17:11). They heard Paul’s preaching, but they didn’t believe it blindly. They resolved to spend much time checking what he said against all of Scripture. When we hear a perspective on Scripture different from our own, we owe it to ourselves to judge it not by our own previous conclusions (which could lead to bias), but by the source on which all conclusions ought to depend: Scripture itself. It is better to “believe again” than to “still believe.” So keep an active mind.

3. Integrate Scripture with other Scripture. There are no contradictions. All of Scripture is inspired by God (2 Timothy 3:16), and God cannot lie (Titus 1:2). We should diligently check passages against others. We should expect coherence and harmony, and we should work to find it wherever it seems lacking. A great method of Bible study is to read a passage and then ask if there are other passages that would seem to contradict it. Then study both and try to find the solution. You do not “lack faith” when you search to see for yourself. In fact, it takes faith to make such a journey. The one not willing to look does not really want to know, possibly for fear that there is no answer. Is that faith?

4. Shape your thinking into Scriptural categories. As you read the Bible, think in terms of concepts and definitions. God expects us to learn broad spiritual principles from His Word. Jesus criticized the scribes and Pharisees, saying, “Hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matthew 23:23). As we read the Bible we need to look for what it says about “weighty matters.” What are the big concepts in Scripture? What are God’s foundational priorities?

5. Show others how to handle Scripture. Paul told Timothy to show himself approved (2 Timothy 2:15) and to keep giving attendance to reading, to exhortation, and doctrine (1 Timothy 4:13). Sound doctrine is not something to be acquired and then put in a closet. We should continue in the things we learn and have been assured of (2 Timothy 3:14). By meditating on these things and giving ourselves wholly to them, we profit so that it becomes obvious to others (1 Timothy 4:15). We continue in the doctrine, “for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Timothy 4:16).

God has given us the knowledge of Himself—all things that pertain unto life and godliness (1 Peter 1:3). He has given us what we need to stay faithful to Him. Does doctrine matter? Yes, because faithfulness matters. The faithful will live and reign with Jesus. Those who deny His Word will be denied by Him (2 Timothy 2:11-13).

These steps help us gain sound doctrine:

  1. Ground your beliefs in specific Scripture.
  2. Keep your thinking fresh and honest.
  3. Integrate Scripture with other Scripture.
  4. Shape your thinking into Scriptural categories.
  5. Show others how to handle Scripture.

By these means we save ourselves and others. This is the way to see God’s goodness.