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FIRST-PERSON: Doctrine (theology) and behavior (practice) always go together

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LA MIRADA, Calif. (BP) — No one can really know God and not serve Him, and no one can adequately serve God without knowing Him. Our knowledge of God or theology always has practical implications for our lives. In the same way, we cannot serve, imitate and love a God we do not know. For this reason, theology is always practical, and our practice reflects our theology. We often separate “theory” from “practice,” but this habit is not only incorrect in a general way, but is impossible from a biblical and theological perspective.

In the apostle Paul’s letter to Titus, his disciple, we find an example that reflects the close relationship between theology, doctrine or teaching, and practice. Chapter 2 begins with a clear command to Titus and all Christian leaders, “You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine.” The word doctrine means teaching and refers to the knowledge of God or theology. Sound doctrine is traditionally referred to as orthodoxy (correct teaching) and is indispensable for any follower of Christ. Therefore, the charge to Titus and all who serve Christ is to be orthodox.

However, Paul does not continue his call to preach sound doctrine in the logical or commonly anticipated manner. Instead of defining what orthodoxy is or continuing to explain its importance for ministry, Paul focuses on how different groups of people should behave: elders (2:2), older women (2:3), young women (2:4-5), young men (2:6) and servants (2:9-10). Paul asks Titus to teach these people how they should conduct themselves in daily life. Sound doctrine is manifested in the way one behaves toward others. Orthodoxy always goes hand in hand with orthopraxis (correct practice or conduct).

Amid these indications of how we should behave in daily life, Paul makes a couple of striking statements. Young married women are to be self-controlled, pure, and love their husbands and children “so that no one will malign the word of God” (v. 5). Servants are to obey those in authority over them by demonstrating that they can be fully trusted “so that in every way they will make the teaching about God our Savior attractive (v.10). Our behavior in our most fundamental relationships is the way we publicly respect and make attractive to others the Word of God. Our practice makes our beliefs evident and honest to others.

Paul reminds Titus, and all of us, that he is to be “an example in everything.” And that in his teaching, he must “show integrity, seriousness, and soundness of speech” (7-8a). Titus’ conduct is closely related to his teaching. No one can give what they do not have, and we all must be examples of what we say. This is important because, in this way, “those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us” (v.8b). Integrity in our teaching is not only intellectual but practical.

In verses 11-14 of Titus 2, Paul summarizes the central message of the Gospel. The salvation God offers through Jesus Christ has past, present and future dimensions outlined in the Christian virtues of faith, love and hope. Christ died for us “to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good” (v. 14). Our new life in Christ demands a lifestyle dedicated to doing good.

Paul’s message concludes like his introduction: “These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you” (v. 15). Our doctrine or teaching must be sound, or orthodox. But our practice must also be correct (orthopraxis). There is no difference between our theology and our practice. What we do declares and puts in public evidence what we really believe.

Theology is always practical, and our practice is always theological. We do not need to write our statement of faith to let others know what we believe. Our behavior makes it evident to all.

    About the Author

  • Octavio Esqueda
    Octavio Esqueda is a professor of Christian higher education at Biola University in La Mirada, Calif., and a columnist for BP en Español.Read All by Octavio Esqueda ›