“No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main.” These famous words were written by the 17th century British poet, John Donne, about the communal nature of mankind. These words ring true. Try as he may, a man cannot isolate himself from others. We are all part of the human race and therefore, we affect and are affected by those with whom we share a common ancestor in Adam.
I think the same can be said of the doctrines of the Christian faith – No doctrine is an island. The doctrines of Christianity necessarily affect and are affected by each other. Think to yourself, what would the gospel become if we kept God’s mercy, but chucked his justice? Since we can define mercy as not getting what you deserve (justice), then mercy would not exist without justice. Also, what if we emphasized the doctrine of sanctification (growing in holiness) but de-emphasized the doctrine of the Holy Spirit? What would that do to our Christian life? We would become self-dependent, pull-yourself-up-by-your-own-bootstraps Christians, trying to obey the commandments of Scripture and grow in Christ-likeness in our strength… and failing miserably.
Another example of “doctrine-detachment” that we have been known to pursue is found in our perspective of heaven. We enjoy thinking about what heaven will be like. Our hearts anticipate the absence of pain, sadness, conflict, and death. We long for the day when we will see loved ones who died in Christ and enjoy a glorious reunion. Thoughts of perfect rest and joy for all eternity resonate within our souls. But often these things come first in our desires and God himself is an afterthought.
But this was not the case for the Apostle Paul who, speaking of leaving this world for heaven, said, “My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Philippians 1:23). For Paul, heaven is where he would be with Christ and that is what made leaving this world far better than staying. We must not… no… we cannot separate the doctrine of heaven from the doctrine of Christ. The Apostle John tells us in Revelation 21 that in the new creation (heaven) God’s dwelling place will be with his people and there will be no need of a sun or moon because God’s glory and the lamp of the Lamb (Christ himself) will be the light that illumines it (vv. 3, 23). Then Father and the Son in these verses are central to the reality of heaven. In fact, we can say that God is what makes heaven heaven; there is no heaven without him. The reason why there is no sadness, pain, or death is because God’s perfect presence in heaven makes it that way (Revelation 21:3-4).
Church, let us remember that the Bible is God’s story and the nature of stories is that they cannot be broken up into pieces and separated or else a story ceases to be a story altogether.