No true Christian would deny the crucial importance of putting God’s Word into practice. Practical application demonstrates trust in His authority, and a willingness to act on that trust. The entire epistle of James focuses on the necessity of proving our faith by acting on the commands of the Lord.
22 But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. 23 For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. 24 For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. 25 But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing. ~~James 1:22-25 (ESV)
In emphasizing practical application, however, Christians dare not ignore the foundational place of sound doctrine. If someone misunderstands the Bible’s teachings, or adulterates those teachings with other philosophies and spiritual disciplines, his deviation from Biblical doctrine will ultimately result in a life that draws him away from obedience to the Lord.
A popular teaching may very well seem consistent with Scripture, particularly if it’s supported by Bible verses that are wrenched from their context and manipulated into mere proof texts. But, as the following graph illustrates, an idea that begins as only a small deviation from God’s Word will, if followed, take a person extremely far away from truth.
Christians, because we are still encumbered with fallen sin natures, can allow false teachers to lure us into all sorts of deceptions. Most of these deceptions start as innocent misapplications of Scripture (barely perceptible), only to lead us miles away from Biblical Christianity. To protect us from such departures from truth, the Holy Spirit prompted Paul to counsel Timothy:
Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers. ~~1 Timothy 4:16 (ESV)
Many translations render this verse, “Watch your conduct and your doctrine.” Indeed, Christian conduct flows out of Biblical doctrine. Until we learn to properly interpret God’s Word, mastering its great doctrines, how can we hope to apply it correctly. By all means, the Lord wants His people to put our faith into action, proving that our faith is authentic. But let’s make sure to apply those principles that Scripture actually teaches.