Gospel-Centered Ministry: Right Doctrine, Persevering Faith, Godly Conduct

This post completes the four-part series I began last August on Paul’s Threefold Gospel Ministry. Without question, the semester assignments have taken their toll on the daily calendar, and thus on my own blogging regularity. However, classes are now finished. I pray that these conclusions will provide you with a synthesis of the previous three posts, and at least reveal how doctrine, faith, and godliness are so closely interrelated.

In the opening post for this series I stated that Paul mentions these three items (Doctrine, Faith, and Conduct) as separate items within the letter, and yet he never allows any one of them to stand alone. These three are never to be separated from one another theologically or practically. In a word, God reveals in these three topics what he demands always be held tightly together in the Christian’s, especially the pastor’s, life. Thus, Paul means for revelation and demand to coinhere for the church.

One of the verses Paul mentions at the beginning of his letter provides a clear example of the fact that he expects doctrine, faith, and conduct to be intertwined throughout the remaining exhortations in 1 Timothy. Verse 1:5 states, “…the goal of our instruction [doctrine] is love from a pure heart and a good conscience [conduct] and a sincere faith [faith].” Here and in only two other places Paul uses the word paraggelias, translated “instruction” or “charge”, to reference the unique exhortation known and recognized by the apostles (1 Thess 4:2; 1 Tim 1:18). In all three cases, he follows his employment of this word with many councils concerning matters of faith, or the faith (1 Tim 1:6-14, 18b-20), and godliness (e.g. 1 Thess 4:3-8). There is in this apostolic instruction, therefore, something distinct; namely, it always shows how the truth of the Gospel manifests itself in the faith and practice of the individual as well as the broader Christian community. Indeed, the very aim and goal of their instruction is, as it says, love from a pure heart, good conscience, and sincere faith. (For other texts in 1 Timothy that include these three items closely together see 3:15-16, 4:12-16, and 6:11-12.)

What flows from this understanding of Gospel-praxis, then, is a letter filled with instruction that is based on theological truth. A few examples will suffice. Christians should pray for kings and authorities to be saved, because there is only one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus (1 Tim 2:1-6). Women should not exercise authority over a man, for it was Adam who was created first (2:12-13). The aim of Christian discipline should be godliness, for it holds promise for the present life and the life to come (4:7-8). The labor and struggle in ministry is not in vain, because our hope is in the living God, the Savior of all men (4:9-10). Children should provide support for their widowed parents, because this is pleasing to God (5:4). Those pursuing godliness should also be content with what they have, not lovers of money, for we brought nothing into the world and cannot take anything out of it either (6:3-10). Without question, these examples show that Paul considers all Christian action to be based on theological conclusions gathered from the whole of Scripture. The structure of genuine faith and godliness only stands when the beams of its foundation are held together by the steel of biblical truth.

At the same time genuine faith and godly conduct rely on right doctrine, right doctrine also informs genuine faith and demands godly conduct. Right doctrine informs genuine faith on several different levels: (1) it defines the faith, especially in relation to Jesus Christ (1:2; 3:9, 13; 4:1; 5:8; 6:12, 21); (2) it specifies the kind of faith characteristic of the Christian, one that endures temptation and perseveres in truth (1:18-19; 4:12; 6:11, 12); and (3) it encourages faith by supplying promises to trust and warnings to heed (). Right doctrine demands godliness in that it calls the Christian to obey the very affirmations it proclaims. 1 Timothy 3:15 states, “…[I write] so that you will know how one ought to conduct himself in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and support of the truth.” Paul makes a connection here: being the pillar and support of the truth demands we act a certain way. Gospel-truth is always to be accompanied by Gospel-conduct, otherwise, our confession only pays lip service to what the Scriptures testify the Gospel really accomplishes: deliverance from bondage to sin and bestowal of freedom in the Spirit.

In sum, at least three things ought to stand out for us in this attempt to explain Paul’s threefold Gospel ministry. First, right doctrine must inform and ground the Christian in the Gospel. Second, persevering faith must be placed in and encouraged by the Gospel explained by right doctrine. Third, godly conduct must flow from a persevering faith as demanded by right Gospel-doctrine so as to reflect the truth of the God’s triumph for sinners in Christ.

Bridging the Gap

Therefore, a great rebuke it ought to be for each of us and the broader community of believers if we assume that, indeed if we live as if, (1) knowing right doctrine by itself makes us Christian, or (2) faith in false doctrine is acceptable for being Christian, or (3) godliness neither accompanies our faith nor testifies of sound Gospel-doctrine. As brothers and sisters in the faith, therefore, let us be diligent to help each other maintain all three in ministry and life. For those strong in doctrine, let what you know not only be manifested in good deeds, but also used to encourage those not so knowledgable of biblical truth, biblical truth which Grace taught you in the first place. For those strong in faith, let your zeal for Christ and confidence in God’s promises be uplifting to the entire body, especially to the doctrine-pusher-have-no-joy-because-I-like-books-and-not-people types. Furthermore, accept the rebuke if you are wrong about Christian truth. Lastly, let the knowledge of the Gospel and faith in the Christ of the Gospel result in godly conduct reflecting the worth of the Gospel. 

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