What we believe is crucially important to how we live. To a very large extent, what we believe actually shapes how we live. We are not always conscious of our beliefs: sometimes, they are ingrained in us and are at a subconscious level. But for Christians, it’s especially important not only to believe – for faith is absolutely crucial to becoming a Christian and living the Christian life, as Paul teaches us in the book of Galatians especially – but to know what we believe and who we believe.

2 Timothy 4:1-5 looks at Paul’s instructions to Timothy about what to teach and how to live in an age when ‘itching ears’ will not want to put up with ‘sound doctrine’. ‘Sound doctrine’ means the set of beliefs by which we live; ‘sound’ indicates wholeness, wellness, goodness and purity. Paul is Timothy’s role model, urging him to imitate his lifestyle and continue teaching all he has learnt from him:
“What you heard from me, keep as the pattern of sound teaching, with faith and love in Christ Jesus. Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you—guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” (2 Tim 1:13-14)

In the church, each generation has a responsibility to ‘pass the baton on’ to the next generation. We need to teach others ‘sound doctrine’; we need to pass on what we have seen and heard, as John says:
“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1 John 1:1)

We also need to ‘correctly handle the word of truth’ (2 Tim 2:15), cutting the word straight and evenly so that we do not take things out of context or misinterpret what the Bible has to teach us. We need to understand that faith and belief go hand in hand. It’s no use simply collecting ‘facts’ or head knowledge; these must be translated into living faith. Sound doctrine must always lead to sound behaviour.

The Bible has many types of language with which to instruct us. There’s the language of command: ‘do this,’ ‘don’t do that’. There is the language of the gospel, the ‘good news’. But there is also the language of encouragement, for the Holy Spirit is the Comforter or Encourager, there to give “comfort or encouragement or discernment in the muddled details of dailiness.” (Gerhard von Rad, quoted by Eugene Peterson, ‘Practise Resurrection’ P 173). We need God’s guidance in everyday living, not just in crisis moments.

What we believe is not something to be relegated to dusty tomes of theology. It’s the heartbeat of everyday life!