Trickle-down economics, stated simply, argues that if the wealthy are given tax cuts which allow them to flourish economically, their money will find its way down to the middle and lower classes. Whether or not trickle-down economics works is a matter of debate. Though it is not universally agreed upon that economic success flows down from the top, I would propose that when it comes to our study of theology, the trickle-down principle is absolutely true. Our theological beliefs impact our lives. What we know and believe to be true in our heads ought to find its way to our hearts. If we want to grow and mature as believers, we must adopt a trickle-down approach to theology.
1. To Grow as a Christian, You Must Study Theology
Doctrine refers to our set of beliefs about a given topic. In The Christian Life Sinclair Ferguson writes, “The conviction that Christian doctrine matters for Christian living is one of the most important growth points of the Christian life” (2). Just as a plant needs water and sunlight, if we desire to grow in faith and grace, we need to know and study doctrine. If we know and meditate on the truth, it will trickle down into our hearts and influence our thoughts, feelings, and actions. As we grow in the knowledge of the truth, it will apply to the way we think and act.
Unfortunately, doctrine is often seen as irrelevant to everyday life, or worse, some see it as divisive. Though this can sometimes be true, it is not the way things should be. The church is supposed to be a place where doctrine leads to good works and unity. Paul writes,
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. (Ephesians 4:11-14)
Christians are to grow in knowledge in order that they may serve one another, working in harmony. This is what mature faith looks like. The truth is that every doctrine applies to how we think and live, and every part of the Christian life is informed and regulated by Christian doctrine. It is important to know what you believe and why so that you will not be easily led astray or manipulated.
2. To Stand Firm as A Christian, You Must Examine Why You Believe
Christians are not brainwashed simpletons or mindless robots. We are not called to memorize doctrine so we can repeat it back regardless of whether we understand what we are saying. Our faith is not blind; it has reasons and evidence supporting it. If this is the case, then we can share and, when necessary, defend our beliefs. Paul exhorts us, “In your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Timothy 3:15). We are to firmly yet kindly, teach, affirm, and defend true doctrine. A mature Christian who is not easily swayed will be able to do this.
What does this mean on a practical level? In addition to knowing true doctrine, we must know false doctrine. We must study the arguments for and against different beliefs and be able to explain why we arrive at our conclusions. The Christian faith is not a blind leap into the dark; it is belief based on reason and experience! In order to stand firm in our faith, we must learn how to articulate our faith and defend the gospel.
3. To Mature as a Christian, You Must Disciple Others
If water flows into a pond with no outlet, then the pond will become stagnant and fetid. In the same way, if we study and learn doctrine but do not share it with others, we will become spiritually stagnant. The author of Hebrews warns of this danger:
For though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you again the basic principles of the oracles of God. You need milk, not solid food, for everyone who lives on milk is unskilled in the word of righteousness, since he is a child. But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil. (Hebrews 5:12-14)
The audience of this sermon has failed to delve deep into the rich truths of doctrine. They learn the basics but act as if they do not need to go beyond to a greater understanding and application of the truth. They are not letting their theology trickle down into their lives and influence their thoughts and actions. As a result, they are spiritual children; the spiritual adult, in contrast, is marked by the ability to teach others. When this happens the church can grow and spread. Jesus gives all believers the task of making disciples of all nations: whether it is mentoring a co-worker, raising a family, or teaching Sunday School, every Christian is to take the truth that they learn and use it to serve and enrich others.