Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Even the demons believe?

I would guess that most kids dread parent-teacher conferences. During my middle school years (4th - 6th grade) there were some occasional differences between what I told my parents and what I told my teachers. My troubles started in 4th grade when I decided that I didn't want to do my math homework any more. Don't get me wrong; I wasn't a trouble-maker. I was more of an underachiever. Still it made the prospect of my parents meeting with my teachers nearly unbearable. Of all the things that came out of those conferences there is one thing that I still remember. One of my teachers remarked to my parents that I like to argue.

I am guessing that the shoe still fits.

To this day I enjoy lively conversations. I love those conversations where ideas are freely debated. The topic that I enjoy most is theology. And while I enjoy most theological discussions I really enjoy discussions around doctrine. Theology is defined as:

"The field of study and analysis that treats of God and of God's attributes and relations to the universe; study of divine things or religious truth; divinity."

And doctrine is defined as:

"A particular principle, position, or policy taught or advocated, as of a religion or government."

It is a subtle difference but an important one. Theology is the overarching study while doctrine is how the church applies that study. You can have theology without doctrine but you can't have doctrine without theology. For example we can have a theology that holds that God is a graceful God. Which means that God gives out grace, or unmerited favor. That theology becomes doctrine when the church takes that theology and makes it an official position which needs to be taught. In essence doctrine is where the theological rubber hits the road.

Yet even when we talk about doctrine we can still fall into the trap of speaking in theoretical terms rather than in practical terms. James 2:19 says:

"You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe–and shudder!"

James is pointing out that just believing something is not the same thing as allowing those beliefs to affect how you live your life. So just believing the right things isn't enough. He goes on to say in James 2:26:

"For as the body apart from the spirit is dead, so also faith apart from works is dead."

It is interesting the comparison that James is making. He is equating the body with faith and the spirit with works. The point that he is making is that you cannot separate faith from works–or the things that we do–just as you cannot separate the body from the spirit. The spirit is what gives the body life and our actions is what brings our faith alive. James 2:14-26 is not saying that we have to do good things to earn our salvation. What it is saying is that having all of those theological and doctrinal discussions that I enjoy don't mean anything if I don't allow them to affect how I live my life. My belief in Christ must have a very real affect on my day-to-day life otherwise my belief is not just useless; it is dead.


Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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