There is no doubt that darkness is pervasive and wickedly resilient in today’s society and culture. News outlets absent of a tragedy, natural disaster, genocide or adulterous scandal simply do not exist. We are plagued by the horrid stench of sin that engulfs our very senses. For the Christ follower, this stench has the capability to be both nauseating and fragrant—nauseating to the spirit, and at times fragrant to the flesh. We live in a world in which we yearn to escape, yet cannot. Thankfully, we are not hopeless orphans without a means of defense. We are not weak soldiers commissioned for an impossible mission. We are good news light in bad news darkness. We are heralds, adorned with beautiful feet, equipped with a gospel that is sufficient to save and keep—penetrate and deliver. We are children of the masterful Creator who initiated and completed an elaborate plan for redemption and never once allowed sin to have the last word. We serve a God who is victorious!
Clearly, this gospel is the reason for the believers’ hope. Yet it seems, in an effort to combat sin and make Christ known, believers in this day and age have two drastically different approaches when confronting issues of social justice in particular. Some believers choose to fight this battle exclusively on their knees. No protesting or advocating necessary, they will solely pray to the Father to intercede for a dying world. Other believers would prefer to fight this battle on their feet. Doing the work that is necessary to implement social change and advocate for the needs of the marginalized and oppressed, they might bring a glimmer of hope to a dying world by physically catering to the needs of the people.
Prayer without action can sometimes breed calloused Christians who would prefer to put off the world around them instead of engaging with it. Action without gospel proclamation can sometimes produce good-hearted advocates who get caught up in ‘woke’ missions and they forget about the ultimate mission of the gospel. The right gospel requires a holistic understanding of it, so that we may be beacons of light and justice in the world around us—effectively meeting the needs of the people in a very tangible way, yet concurrently pointing them to our God. The right gospel requires us to be like Jesus.
A believers’ life and doctrine are both essential to the right gospel.
Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.—1 Timothy 4:16 (NIV)
In this verse, Paul explicitly instructs his son in the faith, Timothy, to watch his life and doctrine closely. In previous chapters, Paul had already expressed his disdain against teachers who were leading people astray via false doctrine, myths and endless genealogies (1 Timothy 1:3). Paul goes on to lay out structural elements that the church ought to have, as well as godly expectations for men , women, overseers, deacons, teachers and widows (essentially the entire church). The common denominator for all those mentioned is fundamentally this: Know the gospel and make sure your life lines up with that same gospel. This is especially critical for teachers and preachers because without sound teaching people can be greatly influenced by the deceptive influences of Satan. I believe that is why Paul encourages Timothy here to persevere in watching his life and doctrine closely, that he may save both himself and his hearers. Authentic salvation is in jeopardy when there’s an absence of sound teaching. Likewise, authentic salvation is on the line when there’s an absence of sound living that reflects the sound teaching initially given. It is not enough to be a “solid” believer doctrinally without caring for the marginalized and oppressed—specifically the widow and the orphan (James 1:26-27). It is also insufficient to be a “good works” type of believer if one’s faith is out of step with the truths of the gospel.
In a dark, pervasive and wickedly resilient world—let’s dedicate ourselves to being the light of Christ. May we watch both our life and doctrine closely.