Duty Follows Doctrine

  • Steve Hatter
A Shepard herding sheep through the mountains

   When we learn things in life, there is usually an expectation that the knowledge and skills gained through the education process will be used for the betterment of others. In a sense, we learn to serve. Doctors attend medical school and lengthy residence programs to become certified in certain specialties. When we need them to help us with lifesaving care, we are thrilled for it! Pilots undergo rigorous flight training and testing to obtain the necessary licenses to fly passengers. Again, we are delighted when we board that metal tube—with small rockets strapped to it—called a jet airliner that will hurtle us at thirty thousand feet safely across thousands of miles from takeoff to safe landing!

            Becoming a follower of Jesus Christ is no different. As God does His sovereign work of salvation in our hearts, we are permanently changed. With that change comes responsibilities to learn about God as He has revealed Himself in inspired Scripture and to serve Him with what should be an ever-growing knowledge of sound doctrine. Warren Wiersbe put it this way in his commentary on Paul’s epistle to the church in Rome:

“In the Christian life, doctrine and duty always go together. What we believe helps to determine how we behave. It is not enough for us to understand Paul’s doctrinal explanations. We must translate our learning into living and show by our daily lives that we trust God’s Word.”


God expects us to learn, so we can better serve. What we come to know must be put to work. That work does not in any way earn anything toward our salvation or improve our eternal destiny or standing with God. Our salvation is sure with Christ’s finished work on the cross. However, effort for God is being obedient to His gracious work in us and answering His call on our lives. As 2 Cor 5:17 so beautifully reminds us, we’re going forward as a new creation!


Romans 12:12 illustrates the duty follows doctrine principle:


“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”


Notice verse one. Paul’s use of the adverb “therefore” marks a significant transition in the entire epistle. In chapters one through eleven, Paul explains the doctrine of salvation with courtroom lawyer precision. He builds an airtight case for Salvation coming to God’s elect by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, according to the Scriptures alone, to the glory of God alone. Then based on this sound doctrine explanation of the who, what, when, where, and why of saving faith, our duty is introduced after the transitional adverb. Here, we are commanded to do three things.


The first command is to give God our bodies (v1). Before we trusted Christ, we used our bodies for all kinds of things that generally fall into two categories: sinful pleasures or selfish purposes. With our regeneration—our new life in Christ—we now belong to Him and want to use our bodies for His glory. First Corinthians 6:19-20 explains that our body is God’s temple because the Spirit of God dwells within us (Rom. 8:9). Thus, it is our privilege to glorify Christ in our bodies and magnify Christ in our bodies (Phil. 1:20–21). We should also hate any unholy temptation to dishonor ourselves or God with the Temple of the Holy Spirit.


The second command is to give our minds to God (v2a). In his commentary on Romans, Weirsbe draws a clear distinction between the world’s pull on our minds and what the Holy Spirit would have us think. The world wants to influence, pervert, or even control a person’s mind. Still, God wants to transform the mind of the authentic believer. (Eph. 4:17–24; Col. 3:1–11). The world, which is under the influence of the god of this world, who is Satan, as 2 Cor 4:4 tells us, wants to change your mind. It wants to entice you with temporal temptations and exert pressure from without. But the Holy Spirit changes your mind by releasing supernatural power from within.


Weirsbe, again, provides wisdom and clarity in saying: “If the world controls your thinking, you are a conformer; if God controls your thinking, you are a transformer.” God transforms our minds and makes us spiritually minded by using His Word. We are expected to spend time reading and reflecting on God’s Word. We can certainly memorize it and, in so doing, make it a part of our inner being. As we obediently do this duty, God will gradually make our minds more spiritual (2 Cor. 3:18).


The final ask is that we give God our will. Or, perhaps said another way, we align our will with God’s will (v. 2b). There is no such thing as “Free” will, but as regenerate Christians, we experience “Redeemed” will—which is the ability to choose the flesh or the Spirit—to align with God.

We surrender our wills to God through disciplined prayer. We surrender our will to God and pray with the Lord, “Not my will, but thy will be done.” We must pray about everything and let God have His way in everything. We also are to seek Christian counsel through His Word and through relational accountability within the church. We lean into the church as our Lord has designed and built it for the church age!

So, in summary, duty always follows doctrine. The Scripture clearly explains our responsibility regarding choices we are to make regarding our body, mind, and will. The remainder of Paul’s epistle, chapters 12-16, give us a much more specific playbook for dutifully living our choices commanded in verses 1-2!