A gracEmail subscriber asks, “How can we know which interpretations of Scripture are correct, seeing the many doctrinal differences among professing Christians? How can we be sure which teaching we ought to receive?”

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Jesus once indicted a religious crowd with the charge: “You go halfway around the world to make a convert, but once you get him you make him into a replica of yourselves, double-damned” (Matt. 23:15, The Message). The recipients of this accusation were long on religious theory but short on practice. They valued doctrine more than they did the people on whom they piled it like a load of bricks. They scrupulously observed the most insignificant practices of their religion while totally neglecting the things that mattered most. And at the end of the day, Jesus had nothing for them but warnings and woes.

Healthy teaching (“sound doctrine,” KJV) is important. Not for doctrine’s sake, but because it shapes and motivates a godly life. The primary goal of Christian instruction is not mental modification but a transformed character, what Paul describes as “love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5). Unrelated to that, doctrine quickly degenerates into fruitless talk and malignant behavior of all kinds: envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, 5 and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth” (1 Tim. 6:4-5).

How can we recognize wholesome doctrine and distinguish it from teaching that is unsound? Look at its fruit, Jesus tells us. “Every good tree bears good fruit, but the rotten tree bears bad fruit” (Matt. 7:17). Healthy teaching regularly results in lives that look more like Jesus. Even unbelievers can recognize that when they see it – and they also can tell when they do not! It’s a shame that Christians sometimes have their heads stuck so deep in doctrine that they miss seeing the obvious. Are you curious about the validity of a particular teaching? Watch how those people behave who feed on that teaching. It’s not the only way to assess doctrine but it is an important start.

Copyright 2010 by Edward Fudge. Permission hereby given to reproduce, reprint or forward this gracEmail, but only in its entirety, without change and without financial profit.