“We are saved by Jesus, not by doctrine.” I’ve heard this statement on numerous occasions. Or “we are not saved by doctrinal precision, but rather by the death of Jesus.” It is a powerful argument really. You pit doctrine against Jesus and Jesus wins every time. And the way the argument normally goes is that since we are saved by Jesus and not by doctrine, then doctrine doesn’t matter.
Why people accept it?
This argument works for a few reasons. First, it is true in as far as it goes. Salvation is because of Jesus. No amount of doctrinal precision and understanding can provide salvation apart from Him. Our salvation and our boasting is in Christ alone. Second, it fits the thinking of our world. Truth has taken a hit in our present world. People are uneasy about truth and especially if a certain truth is exclusive. Therefore the argument is well placed in the ears of many who hear it. Third, there are a lot of Christians who do in fact seem to put their trust in doctrinal precision over Jesus, and have no place in their system for grace. Fourth, it provides a false dichotomy that many people do not pick up on. Is it really Jesus or doctrine? If that is really the case then put me on the side of Jesus every single time. However, as I will argue for the remainder of this post that is a too simplistic argument.
Why it should be rejected?
Again let me repeat that doctrine is not our source of salvation and that we put all our hope in Jesus. The problem is to say doctrine doesn’t matter at all. First, ironically enough, the statement”Jesus is the source of our salvation” is a doctrinal statement. One learned that by studying Scripture, drawing inferences, and then articulating a doctrinal statement. Therefore, even in our statement that the source of salvation is Jesus is a statement of doctrine. To argue that doctrine doesn’t matter because salvation is by Jesus, is to argue that doctrine doesn’t matter by stating a doctrine! You cannot have it both ways. You cannot both say doctrine doesn’t matter, but then base your argument off a particular doctrine!
Second, Jesus stated that doctrine plays a role in salvation. In John 8:24 Jesus says, “that unless you believe that ‘I AM’ you will died in your sins.” Jesus states we have to believe in a particular doctrine or we will die in our sins. Thus Jesus did not believe that since He is the source of salvation, doctrine does not matter. Rather, he argued that doctrine most definitely matters. In fact not believing in a certain doctrine concerning Jesus, namely that He is the ‘I AM’ leads one to “die in sins.” Examples of the like could be repeated throughout Scripture.
Sometimes a phrase can take a life of its own. In this case that is exactly what has happened. The simple statement that we are saved by Jesus, and not by doctrine is true. We should never put our trust in doctrine and think that is the source of our salvation. Jesus is the source of our salvation. But like many sayings, even Biblical ones, they are twisted in a way to portray something that is false. In this case to argue that doctrine does not matter. I hope this article has shown that it isn’t Jesus versus doctrine. Rather we must embrace true doctrine if we are going to trust in the real Jesus.