Which is greater, moral purity or doctrinal truth? Some say "purity" in life is more important, while others say "truth" in doctrine is the more excellent way. Why do we have to make a choice? Does the word of God encourage us to choose one above the other? One may be right on every point of doctrine, but go to hell for an impure life (1 Cor. 9:27; Rev. 2:2-5). One may live a "good, moral life" and be lost in doctrinal error (Jas. 5:19, 20; 2 Jn. 9).
How, though, may we have moral purity without doctrinal truth? Someone must teach the truth about moral purity in order to establish it in the lives of Christians. The context of the statement, "Ye have not so learned Christ," shows that pure, godly living is a taught and learned behavior (Eph. 4:17-5:18). Indeed, it is the grace of God which teaches us to deny "ungodliness and worldly lusts" (Titus 2:11-14). Doctrinal truth, the teaching of the word of God, is essential to righteous living. "By the word of thy lips I have kept me from the paths of the destroyer" (Psa. 17:4). The word from God's lips is imparted by teaching, by doctrinal "instruction in righteousness" (2 Tim. 3:16).
Observe the combination of "doctrine," the teaching and instruction of the word of God, and the ability to lead a clean, pure life. "Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word. With my whole heart have I sought thee: O let me not wander from thy commandments. Thy word have I hid in mine heart that I might not sin against thee" (Psa. 119:9-11). Likewise, Peter's admonitions to avoid "former lusts" and to "be holy" are rooted in the command to desire the spiritual milk of the word "that ye may grow thereby" (1 Pet. 1:15-16; 2:1, 2, 11). In other words, one will grow in holiness and will lay aside his former lusts only as he desires, imbibes, and ingests the teaching of the word of God.
The corruption of "doctrinal truth" leads to moral impurity (2 Pet. 2:1, 2; Jude 3, 4). That is cited as a reason why we must earnestly contend for the faith. Doctrinal impurity leads to moral corruption. It is not, therefore, an "either/or" situation ("either" holy living, "or "doctrine"). Ignorance of "doctrinal" truth, a lack of instruction in the word of God, leads to moral depravity.
Can there be "moral purity" where "doctrinal error" is preached regarding social drinking (1 Pet. 4:3, 4)? Can there be "holy living" where no "doctrine" or teaching is done with respect to gambling, modest apparel, "and such like" (Gal. 5:19-21). Will there be holiness and godliness in a congregation of the Lord's people where "doctrinal truth" is not taught about social drinking, beach attire, idle words, profanity, "and such like" (Gal. 5:19-21)?
Is it possible to raise up a generation of young people without definitive, doctrinal truth on marriage, divorce, and remarriage and still have pure homes and faithful families? If the truth is not taught, if there is not rebuke, reproof, correction, and instruction in righteousness on what constitutes a marriage and home relationship as God would have it, churches will soon be filled with adulterous marriages. Men and women will be living together who have no right to one another if they are not taught "doctrinal" truth on "the marriage question." Yet, there are those who decry all this "doctrinal teaching" on marriage, and who insist that we must leave that alone and teach more about how to live a pure life before God. Such advice is a recipe for both doctrinal and moral corruption. Some hate all the "wrangling" and "doctrinal" fusses over drinking, immodest dress, and dancing, and they insist that we quit such strivings and simply "encourage people to live right." It is a nice thought, but it will not work. If certain "doctrinal" truth is not taught about behavior that affects one's purity, there will be neither truth nor purity.
Rest assured that there are those who are tired of fighting the battle we appear to be losing on the moral front. Some may "cave in" to the pressure. They are ready, not to attack the compromise and doctrinal softness that brings impiety and impurity, but they are ready to assail those who stand. Their's is an appealing message. It promises peace. It soothes the conscience of those who want to sip their liquor at a business convention and who want to drink an "occasional glass of wine" at the country club. It comforts the teenager who can drink and undress "like everyone else does." It will fill churches of the future with worldliness. Broken candlesticks will litter the highway of heaven (Rev. 2:5).
This is the lesson of ancient Israel. Immoral lives of sexual debauchery and riotous drinking parties with music and dancing were a part of the lives of those who had "no knowledge," and who were not instructed in "doctrinal" truth regarding the word of the Lord (Isa. 5:11-13; Hos. 4:6-11). Will we never learn?
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