The word “doctrine” simply means “teaching.” In the Bible the word “doctrine” refers to Bible teachings. When Christ gave the Sermon on the Mount, ” . . . the people were astonished at his doctrine” (Matt. 7:28). Christ had a doctrine that had not been heard before. This same response by the people occurred later when Jesus answered the Sadducees “And when the multitude heard this, they were astonished at his doctrine” (Matt. 22:33).
Understanding true doctrine is very important. The Bible admonishes: “Whosoever [teaches] and abideth not in the doctrine of Christ, hath not God. He that abideth in the doctrine of Christ, he hath both the Father and the Son. If there come any unto you, and bring not this doctrine, receive him not into your house, neither bid him God speed: For he that biddeth him God speed is partaker of his evil deeds” (2 John 9-11). Christ did not bring His own doctrine. He specifically stated: ” . . . My doctrine is not mine, but his that sent me” (John 7:16). “For I have not spoken of myself; but the Father which sent me, he gave me a commandment, what I should say, and what I should speak. And I know that his commandment is life everlasting: whatsoever I speak therefore, even as the Father said unto me, so I speak” (John 12:49-50). Jesus had been appointed by the Father to do His Work. He stated: “I must work the works of him that sent me, while it is day: the night cometh, when no man can work” (John 9:4).
Shortly before His death Jesus promised that He would manifest Himself to those who keep His commandments. He was asked: “. . . Lord, how is it that thou wilt manifest thyself unto us, and not unto the world?” (John 14:22). Jesus told them how: ” . . . If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. He that loveth me not keepeth not my sayings: and the word which ye hear is not mine, but the Father’s which sent me” (vv. 23-24). In brief, Jesus said that obedience to His teaching meant that the disciples were obeying the Father, and that this was the proof they were true disciples. These words to His disciples apply to us as well as to them. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and to day, and for ever” (Heb. 13:8).
The assurance that Christ’s disciples of today can have confidence in the true doctrine is seen in the promise Jesus gave. “But the Comforter, which is the Holy [Spirit], whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you” (John 14:26). Jesus applied these words to “that day,” that is, the day of His return (v. 20). The meaning is clear. The disciples of the last days have been given the true doctrine just as were the disciples during the time of Christ! Christ has not failed to keep His promise.
A New Heart and Mind
The reason people were “astonished at Jesus’ doctrine” was because it represented a complete change in administration. The Old Testament administration was that of “the letter of the law.” No mercy was granted for capital offenses such as idolatry, Sabbath breaking, murder, adultery, rape, incest, bestiality, homosexuality, taking God’s name in vain, and so forth. Obedience was strictly enforced by a stringent penal code. For lesser offenses God did not require the death sentence, but there were toilsome sacrifices, fines, costly compensations, laborious offerings, and an “eye for an eye” restitution. These lesser offenses permitted the offender to be reconciled to the community, but this was all. Many years later at a council of elders, when some insisted on the need to continue these works, the Apostle Peter argued: “Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear?” (Acts 15:10)
Letter of the law obedience could not alter the heart and mind. God knew this. He said: “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep all my commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children for ever!” (Deut. 5:29) But they couldn’t. The Old Testament record clearly demonstrates that righteous behavior was short-lived. Even judicial authorities were frequently dishonest, and the people flouted the laws and statutes of God. Enforced obedience to the Law of God was never effective in changing the hearts and minds of the people. Letter of the law obedience produced outward compliance only. Consider these words of Isaiah: “Wherefore the Lord said, Forasmuch as this people draw near me with their mouth, and with their lips do honour me, but have removed their heart far from me, and their fear toward me is taught by the precept of men” (Isa. 29:13). Obedience at this time was not based on a love for God, but rather on a fear of retribution by men.
Jesus clearly illustrated this outward compliance by His censure of the scribes and Pharisees. He said to them:
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity. (Matt. 23:25-28)
Why did God institute such a system when He knew it could not change hearts and minds? For one reason, it was intended to be an object lesson for us. The Apostle Paul wrote: “Now these things were our examples, to the intent we should not lust after evil things, as they also lusted . . . . Now all these things happened unto them for ensamples: and they are written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the world are come” (1 Cor. 10:6,11). We are admonished not to repeat their example. Compare verses 7-10. The second reason this kind of administrative system was given was to point to the sacrifice of Christ, and the enormity of sin. Christ’s sacrifice was required for our salvation. God is a God of love, but also a God of justice. Sin is the transgression of God’s Law (1 John 3:4). The penalty for sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Since Christ was perfect, He alone could pay the penalty for the sins of mankind because His death was of greater value than the lives of all human beings past, present, and future. He did not sin and He willingly took our penalty upon Himself. The entire ritualistic system pointed to that coming sacrifice.
This is why the Apostle Paul wrote;
For the law having a shadow of good things to come, and not the very image of the things, can never with those sacrifices which they offered year by year continually make the comers thereunto perfect. For then would they not have ceased to be offered? because that the worshippers once purged should have had no more conscience of sins. But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins. (Heb. 10:1-4)
Conversion begins with an acknowledgement of sin, and a cleansing of the heart and mind. Once the inside is clean, the outside will be clean, but to “clean the outside” without “cleaning the inside” is an exercise in futility. The spiritual application of the Law of God, exemplified by what Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, is what is required. Physical obedience, while honorable, is of no real value compared to the righteousness which God creates in the Christian by means of His Spirit. Obedience by this means is of the heart and will produce the kind of character God requires for salvation.
A Change in Administration
The Old Testament administration was stern and absolute. Christ introduced an entirely new administration, one that brought spiritual truth along with mercy. The death penalty for capital sins was placed on hold and men were given the opportunity to change, though this does not negate the responsibility of the country in which we reside to punish evil-doers (Rom. 13:4). That death was placed on hold is clearly illustrated by the woman taken in adultery. During the Old Testament period adultery was a capital offense. When the woman’s accusers, one by one, melted from the scene, Jesus said, ” . . . Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more” (John 8:10-11). Jesus did not condemn her, but neither did He condone her conduct. Rather He told her to repent-to change. Jesus preached with authority, power, and conviction, yet at the same time practiced forbearance and forgiveness. This administrative change requires time for men to change-the evidence of true repentance.
The Apostle Paul explained the application of the new administration in 2 Corinthians 3. He wrote: “Forasmuch as ye are manifestly declared to be the epistle of Christ ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshy tables of the heart” (v. 3). These Corinthians manifested mercy and the love of God-obedience from the heart. This obedience was the result of a love of the Truth and a love for the Law of God.
Paul went on to say:
Not that we [ministers] are sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God; Who also hath made us able ministers of the new testament; not of the letter, but of the spirit: for the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life. But if the ministration of death, written and engraven in stones, was glorious, so that the children of Israel could not stedfastly behold the face of Moses for the glory of his countenance; which glory was to be done away: How shall not the ministration of the spirit be rather glorious? (2 Cor. 3:5-8)
This means that the Law of God must be applied according to New Testament principles. Not according to the letter of the law but according to the spirit. The spiritual application of the law is immeasurably more important that the physical. The Law of God has not changed, but obedience to it has. Unless one has the right heart and mind, as Jesus taught in the Sermon on the Mount, one cannot live up to the kind of obedience required in the New Testament administration. One is now held accountable not only for what he does, but for what he thinks. Deliberate disobedience, however, does not exact an immediate death sentence. This is reserved for the Day of Judgment. God’s grace-undeserved, unmerited pardon-affords all sufficient time to repent, to have a change in heart and mind. By this means the Christian can mature in obedience to God’s Way of Life. “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised)” (Heb. 10:22-23).
Defining the New Administration
The people of ancient Israel found it impossible to keep even the letter of the law requirements. They failed miserably.
For if that first covenant had been faultless, then should no place have been sought for the second. For finding fault with them, he saith, Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah: Not according to the covenant that I made with their fathers in the day when I took them by the hand to lead them out of the land of Egypt; because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not, saith the Lord. For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, saith the Lord; I will put my laws into their mind, and write them in their hearts: and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people: And they shall not teach every man his neighbour, and every man his brother, saying, Know the Lord: for all shall know me, from the least to the greatest. For I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more. In that he saith, A new covenant, he hath made the first old. Now that which decayeth and waxeth old is ready to vanish away. (Heb. 8:7-13)
God’s Law was never changed, or as some insist, “done away.” What was done away was the limited letter of the law application and the sacrificial system which depicted the sacrifice of Christ. For a more complete explanation of the spirit of the law application, please refer to our website article entitled “The Teachings of Jesus,” Numbers 3-5. This title is found near the top of the home page. The Law of God and His statutes are forever (Ps 111:7-8, Ps 119:160). The difference between the Old and the New administration is the manner in which it is administered. The New Testament administration employs grace, mercy, forgiveness, and forbearance-the time when love and kindness rejoice against judgment. Yet, sin is not overlooked or condoned. The New Testament ministry has been charged with the responsibility of administering the spiritual application of God’s Law.
Each Christian must be given the opportunity and time to overcome the pulls of the flesh. The Apostle Paul describes this struggle: “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would” (Gal. 5:17). Only by trust in God and in the power of the Holy Spirit can one subdue the pulls of the flesh and allow the mind, led by the Spirit, to dominate one’s thinking and actions. The kind of obedience required during the Old Testament period could never accomplish this. The Apostle Paul added: “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:3-5). The New Testament ministry does not have authority over the faith and conviction of any Church member. Since there are levels of faith depending upon one’s spiritual level, faith is an individual matter. “Hast thou faith? have it to thyself before God. Happy is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth” (Rom. 14:22).
The primary responsibility of the ministry is to preach the Truth of God. Truth is revealed by the Holy Spirit (John 16:13). Therefore, true doctrine is revealed and cannot be changed. Why? Because God does not change. (Mal. 3:6, Heb. 13:8). Jesus Christ was the God of the Old Testament (1 Cor. 10:1-4). The only change ever instituted was a change in administration-the letter of the law replaced by the spirit of the law. Any doctrinal “change” that is contrary to the original revealed truth is invalid in the eyes of God. To accept such a change means one of two things: (1) The Church was apostate. Jesus did not lead it into truth-thus making it a false Church, or (2) Doctrinal changes are a departure from Truth and a rejection of the revealed Word of God. A true minister must hold ” . . . fast the faithful word as he hath been taught, that he may be able by sound doctrine both to exhort and to convince the gainsayers” (Titus 1:9). One who disagrees with revealed doctrine and stirs up dissention among members is guilty of one of the seven things God hates-causing discord among brethren (Prov. 6:19).
Another responsibility the ministry has been given is to supervise the Church. A number of passages in the New Testament make this plain. See Luke 12:42, Romans 12:8, 2 Corinthians 10:13, 15, 1 Thessalonians 5:12, 1 Timothy 3:5; 5:17, Titus 1:5, Hebrews 13:7, 17, 24. With respect to supervision, the ministry has three basic responsibilities: (1) It must not countenance false doctrine or anything that causes divisiveness among the members. Heresy must be quickly dealt with. (2) Since “a little leaven leavens the whole lump,” blatant sin must quickly be dealt with and not tolerated. If allowed to fester, others will be adversely affected, either by doing the same thing or by constantly manifesting anger and resentment toward the offender. Weaknesses and sins of a private nature that do not affect others are the responsibility of the guilty party. Normally these weaknesses do not rise to the level of blatant sin-sin that is obvious and obtrusive. The Bible does not delineate a time schedule which indicates when a weakness must be overcome. (3) The ministry must see to it that all church functions, activities, and needs are organized and run smoothly, and it must handle disputes that may arise among members. The ministry must be impartial and fair, not showing respect of persons yet be firm in handling whatever decision is made. Harmony and peace must be maintained at all times. See 1 Corinthians 14:40, Philippians 2:14; 4:2.
Supervising the Church does not include exercising authority over the personal and private affairs of Church members. The primary responsibility of the ministry is to preach the Truth. Only those areas that affect the membership as a whole must be directly handled. Beyond that it is the responsibility of each member to live up to his own convictions and faith. We are all free moral agents. God has never given us the right to decide right from wrong. He has already decided that, but He does give us the right to decide whether we will obey or not. It is not the responsibility of the ministry to force or coerce members to obey out of fear of the ministry. Members must come to fear and respect God, but also respect the ministry as it faithfully upholds God’s Law. Patience and understanding are required for the development of character and employing true Christianity, best achieved by continually examining the self (2 Cor. 13:5).
Doctrine is Absolute
Doctrine-the inspired teaching of the Bible-is absolute. It cannot be changed. Doctrine is distinct from administration. Doctrine is the teaching, while administration is the application of that teaching for each individual and for the Church as a whole. The Truth of God remains the same forever “The works of his hands are verity and [justice]; all his commandments are sure. They stand fast for ever and ever, and are done in truth and uprightness” (Ps. 111:7-8). “Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help . . . which keepeth truth for ever:” (Ps. 146: 5-6). “Thy righteousness is an everlasting righteousness, and thy law is the truth” (Ps. 119:142). The only thing that has been changed is the administration of that Truth. That change involves a change in the individual. Letter of the law obedience cannot change the heart and mind, but the spirit of the law can. Many have been misled to believe that the Law of God has been changed rather than that there is the need to change human nature. The notion that all one has to do is to “accept Christ” in order to be saved is patently false. Indeed one must accept Christ, but accepting Christ means fully obeying Him. Jesus said: ” . . . Why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Only the Spirit of God dwelling in each individual can bring about a change in human nature.
The Apostle Paul described this change:
Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like: of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law. And they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts. (Gal. 5:19-24)
But that Spirit is not given unless one repents and is baptized (Acts 2:38). One must repent of sin. Sin is the transgression of the law (1 John 3:4). Upon receipt of the Holy Spirit one can begin, for the first time, to live according to the spirit of the law. This is the distinction between the Old Testament administration and the New. This difference is plain to see.
Who, then, will be in the Kingdom of God? David tells us:
LORD, who shall abide in thy tabernacle? who shall dwell in thy holy hill? He that walketh uprightly, and worketh righteousness, and speaketh the truth in his heart. He that backbiteth not with his tongue, nor doeth evil to his neighbour, nor taketh up a reproach against his neighbour. In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honoureth them that fear the LORD. He that sweareth to his own hurt, and changeth not. He that putteth not out his money to usury, nor taketh reward against the innocent. He that doeth these things shall never be moved. (Ps. 15:1-5)
With the power of God’s Spirit, the converted Christian can achieve this goal. How? By applying the principles of the New Testament administration in his heart and mind.