What’s Wrong With the Right Doctrine?

Why do so many people fail to make a distinction between finding Life in Jesus and overemphasizing biblical knowledge, information and doctrine?

Even the biblical narrative in Genesis identifies two distinct trees that reveal this contrast. There is The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and The Tree of Life. God invited Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Life and commanded them to steer clear from the other tree because it would lead to their demise. We keep choosing the wrong tree. We keep gaining knowledge that is absent of the Life we long for—and it keeps hardening our hearts.


In the religion of Christianity, the strategy to move forward is fueled by church leaders and pastors striving to transfer the right biblical knowledge ("doctrine") to as many people as possible. Spiritual maturity and growth is equated with the attainment of the right information and maintaining precisely the correct biblical doctrines.

But there is something clearly wrong with this emphasis on biblical knowledge and right doctrine.

The Pharisees knew more about the Bible than most people will ever know—and it hardened their hearts.

Their hearts had become seared even as they gained knowledge about the most sacred of writings. They clung tightly to this knowledge with a belief that it would give them life and produce spiritual maturitybut that’s not what happened at all.

According to Jesus, they clearly missed the point. If you don’t believe me, just read the Gospels. These religious leaders put their hope in the information they had gained because they believed it to be the primary pathway to spiritual growth and maturity. They held strong to this thinking that the Life that Jesus offered was found through biblical knowledge—but it was not.

On one occasion, Jesus said to them: “You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me! And here I am, standing right before you, and you aren’t willing to receive from me the life you say you want” (John 5:39-40, MSG).

When we take an honest look at the Pharisees, we can’t help but see that attaining lots of biblical knowledge and solidifying the right doctrine isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be. And according to Jesus, it’s certainly not the pathway to finding what we all most deeply want—Life.

With their knowledge, the Pharisees made sure they did the right thing in perfect fashion, but along the way, they obliterated the deepest longings of their soul, not even realizing how destructive their pursuit of knowledge had become, and not recognizing the hardening of their own hearts. When we gain knowledge alone without allowing our deepest desires to guide us to God, we end up clinging to information rather than Jesus Himself.

But why do so many people fail to make a distinction between finding Life in Jesus and overemphasizing biblical knowledge, information and doctrine?

Even the biblical narrative in Genesis identifies two distinct trees that reveal this contrast. There is The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil and The Tree of Life. God invited Adam and Eve to eat from the Tree of Life and commanded them to steer clear from the other tree because it would lead to their demise. We keep choosing the wrong tree. We keep gaining knowledge that is absent of the Life we long for—and it keeps hardening our hearts.

Knowing the right doctrine or information doesn’t eradicate sin, it doesn’t improve our capacity to make better moral decisions, it doesn’t assure us of salvation and it doesn't offer us life in all its fullness.

Jesus promises to bring us life in all its fullness, but we have buried our pursuit of it beneath the rubble of religious teachings that overemphasize biblical knowledge. We think it will cure our tendency to sin, we believe it’s the solution to our immorality and we keep hoping it’s the pathway to salvation—but it is not.

Right doctrine alone does not lead to Life. We see this in the Pharisees. We see this in certain religious people in our own lives. And perhaps we see this failure of biblical knowledge alone to help us find that Life Jesus promises to each of us when we seek Him.

It's not that biblical knowledge is unimportant, but it certainly isn’t the most important path to finding Life.

There is a very clear distinction displayed through Jesus’ conversations with the Pharisees between the attainment of biblical knowledge and the experience of life in all its fullness. The kind of Life every human being longs for can only be experienced when we experience the person of Jesus Himself.

2 Comments

85,034

ken commented…

Except that the Pharisees did not have the right doctrine.

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85,034

Steve Manatt commented…

You sound like you are minimizing the importance of knowing God's Word and are pitting the study of Scripture against developing a relationship with Christ. That dichotomy doesn't exist and any attempt to create one is evil.

Scripture is God's tool to change our paradigms (beliefs) about God and those core adjustments are made real in the context of our relationship with Him. Pursuing Biblical knowledge without a passionate pursuit of the PERSON of Christ doesn't produce life - agreed. But you leave a gaping hole in your logic because you don't explain how to pursue the relationship with Jesus.

That pursuit is through applying the inerrant Truth found in Scripture to our life and asking (via prayer) God to make the major adjustments in our heads and hearts toward spiritual maturity.

The Pharisees were not applying anything - they were merely following a set of rules. A heartless discipline that had no power to transform. Christ came to fulfill the Law, not make it obsolete. You need to be careful about that nuance - it reveals more about you than you realize.

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