“Have you done what the Bible teaches you need to do to go to heaven?” Bob asked.
“I don’t think we’re saved by doctrine. I think our relationship with Christ is the important thing,” Mike replied.
Have you ever heard or taken part in a conversation similar to that? If you haven’t, chances are you soon will. We hear more and more these days of the importance of having a “relationship with Christ.” Some questions are in order about this statement.
First, what does it mean to “have a relationship with Christ?” Second, does the Bible tell us to have “a relationship with Christ” to go to heaven? Third, does doctrine take a back seat to this “relationship?”
We can kill the first two birds with one stone. No one can go to the Bible and show us what it means to have “a relationship with Christ” or where that instruction is given, because that specific language is not used in the Bible.
This takes us to the third question. The burden of proof rests upon those making this claim. Since the Bible is silent on the subject, the supposed superiority of a “relationship” over doctrine is already proven to be a myth.
First of all, biblical passages explicitly teach this. In Romans six, Paul deals with leaving the life of sin and living a life of obedience to God. He contrasts those who serve sin with the servants of righteousness. In verses 17 and 18 he says, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.”
According to Paul, the saints at Rome had once been servants of sin, but by the time he wrote them they were servants of righteousness. He even says they were “made free from sin.” When did this change take place? Paul says it was when they “obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered” to them.
Paul makes a similar statement to Timothy, instructing him to, “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (1 Tim. 4:16). Timothy was a preacher and Paul told him to make sure he lived a clean life and heed the doctrine. By doing this, Timothy would save himself and those to whom he preached.
These two passages from an inspired pen make plain the close relationship between doctrine and salvation. But there’s a second line of thought to consider. The word doctrine has been given an ugly connotation by the world. Many think of words like “legalistic,” “cold,” “rule-keeping,” “Pharisaical” and other nasty epithets when one speaks of doctrine. But what is doctrine?
According to Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance and Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of The New Testament, the word “doctrine” in Romans 16:17 and 1 Timothy 4:16 comes from two different Greek words which mean the same thing—teaching. Doctrine equals teaching.
Teaching is what Jesus spent the bulk of His last three years on earth doing. He said that we come to God through “teaching.” (John 6:44-45). Teaching is what He sent his apostles into all the world to do after He ascended back to heaven. (Matt. 28:18-20). What did Jesus and the apostles teach? Doctrine!
To say that one’s salvation depends on having “a relationship with Christ” sounds very pious. But all it really amounts to is yet another vague, postmodern, religious catch-phrase. The Bible does not tell us to be saved by “having a relationship with Jesus.” But the Book does say that if we love him we will keep his commandments. (John 14:15). Isn’t that another word for “doctrine?”