It was in my expository preaching course that I learned it. It was driven into my teaching psyche and intended to become a part of my basic presupposed knowledge of ministry. Without it, all your preparation would be in vain. Lacking this, your message will fail to do what God actually intended it to do.

It is the message for a new generation. It is something emergers know and they know that they know it. It is what  I hear on blogs, read in books, and a continued favorite among those who are despondently depressed and shamed when surrounded by “fundamentalists.” It is pridefully stated as if this epiphany is going to miraculously wake a sleeping Evangelical culture of John MacArthur and John Piper groupies.

What is it?

“Belief is no good without practice.” Wake up and smell the manna!

Sounds reasonable doesn’t it. Let’s put it another way.

“Belief is not the end, it is a means to an end. The end is doing not believing.”

In preaching, it goes like this:

“If you don’t have a way in which people can apply the lesson to their lives today, you have not really done anything.”


“Introduction. Body. Three points of application.”

A friend said it the other day. We visited a church led by a young seeker-friendly preacher. After the lesson he said, “Now I really liked that sermon.” “Why?,” I asked. “Because it has so much application,” he responded. “That is what I need—application.”

The idea here is that belief, in and of itself, is not the end game that God has for us. God primarily wants us to be active in our practice. Good works, being nicer to people, acting out our love, giving to the poor, self-sacrifice, not cheating on tax-returns, avoiding certain web-sites, bringing home flowers to your wife, forgiving your father, protecting the unborn, knowing when to set down the beer, taking your daughter out on a date, remembering to say “I love you” (don’t just suppose they know), and trading your Hummer for a Honda. These are all things I can do today. This is what we need. Right?

emergentos moschos skubula

(Excuse the French). Nice translation: “What a load.”

I am not saying that application is not important or that it is not an essential end. What I am saying is that it is not the only or even primary end.

God cares more about belief than he does practice. Belief, truth, doctrine, theology, and, yes, being correct, is more important than all the good works one can ever practice.

The “why” is more important than the “what.”

The “how come” is more important than the “when.”

The “because” is more foundational than the “so that.”

In fact, I believe the “what?” “when?” and “so that?” have no meaning outside the “why?” I also believe the “what” can exist alone in many cases and serve to bring great glory to God.

What I am saying is that God is glorified in our right belief. God receives great pleasure in correct doctrine. It is God’s first desire that we believe correctly. Belief, truth, doctrine, and theology are not merely a means to an end, but are the end themselves. Yes, this “end” will, more often than not, have natural consequences that will produce certain effects (i.e. good works), but the substance is in the truth understood and believed.

Oh that Jeremiah could be resurrected and speak to this pragmatic generation who wants to set aside knowledge and understanding for minimally based practice. He may say what he said before:

Jeremiah 9:23-24  “Thus says the LORD, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches;  but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the LORD (emphasis mine).

This is about boasting (something we are not supposed to do?). While we are not to boast about things that are of themselves empty, we are commanded to boast about something. Something that our generation is increasing preaching as being among the unboastable areas of life: understanding. “Let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me.”

I was in a small group venting about my expository preaching class ten years ago. I said, “They are trying to get me to pull out direct immediate application—something for the people to do—out of every sermon.” I complained about this. My group of young seminarians were divided. I told them that not only were some passages of Scripture not able to produce direct immediate application without sinful manipulation, but sometimes, I told them, “God simply wants us to believe what he said. This is application enough!”

We have downgraded belief, truth, doctrine, and “understanding” to a secondary level of importance. It has become the handmaiden of immediate application. We are losing our reason for boasting.

In reality, application is the handmaiden of truth. God wants us to know and understand him. Statements such as “Belief is no good without practice” fails to understand that belief is the foundation of practice and that belief—right belief—brings as much glory to God as anything.

Preaching right belief and understanding, unfortunately, has become the red taped taboo of our generation. Avoidance of such is justified in the name of baseless pragmatism. It is the Evangelical and Emerging misdirection that could alleviate the church of the only legitimate reason we have for boasting. I believe that it is the crisis of the church today.

Friends, if people believe correctly—and I mean truly believe—they will act correctly when the situation calls for it. Not only this, but their good works will be done for the right reasons, based on a motivation of truth. Knowing and understanding God will change lives by bringing people in a right orientation with the way things actually are.

I know that not everything can be understood. I know that God has not revealed himself to us fully. And I know that there is legitimate room for disagreement on many things. But this does not alleviate us of our search for God. Theology, truth, doctrine, understanding, and belief are foundational to all else. God rejoices in correct doctrine.

Lewis Sperry Chafer, the late founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, used to end each class with this statement, “Men, give them something to believe.” I end with the same.

See Part 2

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    73 replies to ""Belief is No Good Without Practice" . . . and Other Stupid Statements"

    • Susan

      Here’s the link to the Piper, Keller, Carson conversation:

    • John C.T.

      I contend that there is little of value in the post, except in so far as it is a general urging to study God’s Word and to act out of love. That is, it is incorrect to make a blanket statement that it is stupid to state, “Belief is no good without practice.” CMP in fact acknowledges later on that there are circumstances in which the statement is true. Moreover, what he is really attacking is the denigration and neglect of the learning of doctrine–which is not what that statement is typically about.

      Whether it is stupid to state, “Belief is no good without practice” depends, of course, on what is meant by “belief” and “no good” and “practice”. As noted in several comments above, the Bible is quite clear in a number of places that, indeed, without practice one’s belief is no good. If faith without works is dead, surely belief without works is dead as well. So, the blanket assertion (“it is stupid”) is wrong, because the statement is true in the right context.

      The statement “belief is no good without practice” can be understood in more than one way, and CMP makes a blanket object to that statement without initially indicating which way he understands it. Moreover, as becomes clear in the remainder of the post, he is not attacking those who have belief without works (which is the usual thrust of the statement) but those who denigrate doctrine, the learninf of things about God.

      CMP later states, “Friends, if people believe correctly—and I mean truly believe—they will act correctly when the situation calls for it. Not only this, but their good works will be done for the right reasons, ” If this latter statement is true, then there will never be a situation in which belief is without works, which makes the initial assertion nonsensical.

      While I do agree it is possible to learn doctrine that does not have immediately obvious application, I do disagree with CMP’s statement that practise is not a primary object of doctrine: “I am not saying that application is not important or that it is not an essential end. What I am saying is that it is not the only or even primary end. God cares more about belief than he does practice. Belief, truth, doctrine, theology, and, yes, being correct, is more important than all the good works one can ever practice.”

      The Bible consistently states that an essential and key purpose of learning truth is to produce good works done in love. 1 & 2 Timothy contain only a few of the illustrations of that. 1 T 2:10 – women are to profess godliness with good works. 1 T 4:13f – Timothy is to study doctrine so that everyone will see his progress. 2 T 2:15f – the purpose of Timothy’s study is to be approved by God, to be a workman, and to rightly divide truth. Both right belief and right practice. And what happens when Timothy purges himself of the errors and deeds of the false teachers? he is set apart for good work, for acts of righteousness, faith, charity and peace.

      Furthermore, CMP’s blanket statement ignores the issue of how much do we have to have right in our doctrine and the issues of greater and lesser doctrine. Infant baptism or adults only? immersion v. sprinkling? symbol v. real presence? TULIP or not? tongues or not? current charismata or not? sacred life at conception or permitted abortion? closed or open communion? women teachers of men? There are multitudes of disputed doctrines.

      The gospel is not doctrine. God states that the gospel is Jesus Christ. The gospel is a person, not propositions. Of course, any belief about anything implies the use of some propositions (e.g., Jesus is God’s son, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is real, etc.), but the key is that the propositions are oriented in relation to, and subordinate to the person. Someone who trusts Jesus as their saviour and has a bunch of the doctrines wrong but who serves a glass of water in Christ’s name and in love will be rewarded far greater that one who has right doctrine but does not.

      The continually and heavy emphasis on good works in the Bible certainly seems to indicate the priority of their importance. And the very structure of Paul’s letters stresses works: he teaches doctrine as grounds for his urgings to right action. He teaches doctrine so that he can teach how to live. Take a look at Ephesians, he teaches doctrine, then states in 4:1 “I therefore . . . beseech you that ye walk worthy of the vocation wherewith you are called”. And earlier, in 2:10 he wrote, “we . . . are created in Christ Jesus unto good works . . .”

      I also take issue with CMP’s assertion that true belief will produce the right works in the appropriate circumstances : “Friends, if people believe correctly—and I mean truly believe—they will act correctly when the situation calls for it.” They do nothing of the kind, it is the Spirit working within us that produces the fruit. How often do we know what we should do, because we have the right doctrine, but do not do it because of our sin, weakness, and failure to dwell in Christ and be empowered by His Spirit? (true belief producing works was a rather odd assertion in the first place for a Calvinist).

      Both right division of the truth and right practice are expected of us by God. When we do good works we do them not because of right belief, but in love and the name of Jesus Christ. Learning doctrine, however, is essential in figuring out what the good work is to do in a particular situation (beyond the obvious ones that are listed, such as visiting prisoners), what we should have hope in (there is a resurrection), and in ensuring that we are not lead astray, and, of course, truth does give glory to God.

      regards, John

    • C Michael Patton

      John, wonderful contribution. While I believe my post speaks for itself and people understand the provocation intended, I only have one question for you.

      You said: “The gospel is not doctrine. God states that the gospel is Jesus Christ. ”

      Who is Jesus? Or as Christ put it, “Who do men say that I am?” Be careful not to introduce doctrine or your comments above will lose much of their intended value.

    • John C.T.

      Thank you for your kind comment, Michael. Your blog is one of the few that I read daily. You are informative, interesting, thinking, and as I posted in one of my comments on another thread, deliberately provocative so as to get discussion going. Since you deliberately get discussion going, and since you have a PhD, my assumption is that you can carry your own and are not offended when people disagree. I’m a trial lawyer, so I don’t usually pull punches either. I say what I think, and try to support it. I say that, lest anyone should think from my disagreements with you indicate or imply that I think less of you. I also find it good practice for shaping my thoughts by putting them down and then finding out how others agree/disagree with me.

      As to “who do you say I am”, I did indicate in my reply that it’s impossible to hold beliefs without propositions (i.e., doctrine; propositions are the content of belief) and that it’s impossible to know someone without at least some holding propositions. As I think Paul makes clear in Timothy and elsewhere, both are needed–doctrine and works in love. If we don’t have the right doctrine about the resurrection, we will not have the hope that Christ gives us. If we do not have the correct doctrine that Christ is God’s son, then we will not know Him, we will only know a few things about Him.

      So by no means am I siding with those who dis’ doctrine, or have no time for it, or don’t apply themselves to it.

      Anyway, I now have to revise a lease.
      bye for now,


    • Sara

      The post is going towards a both/and stance (with correct belief being the stronger of the both/and). But at the same time it doesn’t seem to give enough respect to those who radically change their lives in order respond to those who are hurting and sufffering in this world.

      When Jesus healed lepers and the paralyzed because of their faith, there was no “correct doctrine” at that point in history for them to have faith in. They would have no way of knowing, other than experiencing Jesus, what his divinity or power was. Yet their faith made them well, and they were called to respond to that faith.

      We should constantly question our faith and grow in discipleship. Otherwise, our attempts to minister to the brokenness and suffering in the world and in ourselves will fall apart. Without God’s grace and God’s foundation we will not have enough strength to respond to this pain. But the transformation that faith brings about the key part. God calls us to hear and respond. Through hearing we are transformed through a deep relationship with God. Through responding we grow in that relationship by engaging the world around us. Studying doctrines, creeds, and scripture helps us grow and helps us question God so that God can better reveal God’s nature to us. But the transformtion, the hearing and the responding, are at the heart of the Gospel.

    • steve martin

      We say “do”.

      The gospel says “done”.

      Otherwise…it wouldn’t be such good news…would it?

    • Truth Unites... and Divides

      Susan: “What I appreciate about this post, is that it is God magnifying, Christ-centered, and gospel-centered.

      I agree. This post should be posted on Doug Pagitt’s, Tony Jones’, Brian McLaren’s, Tony Campolo’s, Jim Wallis’s, Randall Balmer’s, Rob Bell’s, Donald Miller’s websites (if they have websites). I assume they would not be opposed to any writing that is “God magnifying, Christ-centered, and gospel-centered”, would they?

      Sara: “The post is going towards a both/and stance (with correct belief being the stronger of the both/and).”

      I agree!

    • […] that question reminds me of the current discussion over at Parchment and Pen regarding the foundational importance of right belief. I would probably feel a little less cynical […]

    • […] have to say that I agree with his assessments.  There are two parts to his post.  They are here and […]

    • Kara Kittle

      Ok interesting thing there…God is glorified by right belief. I just read that other blog and it made me think of something…if we did not exist, would God still exist? Does our right doctrine glorify Him at all?

      No, because He was before doctrine was in place, before people even entered into the picture. God is going to be glorified because He is God. He does not need any one of us thinking our highest intellectual latitude is going to glorify Him and in fact it does not because He hath confounded the wise and teaches the simple things to simple people.

      All God asks of us is to believe in Him, to receive His Son and do those things like “present our bodies a living sacrifice” as reasonable service…wait..we…us…you and I? Present ourselves…a living sacrifice…which is not great service…merely reasonable?

      Doctrines have changed over time, but if we all lived the way the first church did, we would throw up our hands in a minute because none of us ever were sawn in half, or boiled in oil or any of those other nasty things that happened to early believers. In fact, we got it made so easy we can sit here and blog about how we should conduct ourselves as Christians.

      God is glorified in His Son. And we have that Living Son abiding in us, so God should be glorified in us, in our lives, in our being and get this, in our conversation.

      I seem to recall the verse “all scripture is given by inspiration of God..and is profitable for doctrine, reproof, correction and instruction in righteousness….”

      next verse “that the man of God may be thoroughly furnished unto all good works”

      Somehow that second verse never seems to be remembered when people are talking about doctrine….but it says we need correction also…we need reproof..we need instruction in righteousness. Who cares who got doctrine right or wrong, if it does not lead you into instruction of righteousness so you may thoroughly equipped to do good works..then doctrine is just merely a church creed hung over the pastor’s desk…

    • […] point out that right doctrine and theology pleases and glorfies God, as C. Michael Patton argues here. That goes along with loving God with all of your mind. But it isn’t the main point–the […]

    • C. Barton

      In James, there is an exquisite tension I see in the passages regarding faith (belief in God) and “works”, or the everyday things we do.
      The tension is in a question: Isn’t belief enough? You mean I’ve gotta do stuff to prove I’m saved, I mean, what about the sinner’s prayer, and public confession, and baptism, and . . . Hey! Wait a minute! All those things are all “works” based on my (enlightened) faith!
      Whew! I guess I’m OK. I mean, I don’t see demons kneeling at the altar and putting on baptismal robes, but I’m sure they know God is real – after all, many of them were up there in Heaven before the great battle in which they were thrown out.
      I do not advocate that subtle dysphoria produced by the error of always having to do “works” to prove my faith. I do advocate doing things for God to be like Him, and to give evidence of His eternal love for others.
      Paul said all is rubbish in comparison to KNOWING Christ, and when you have a true friend who loves you, you feel that kind of perspective and loyalty.
      James was perhaps presenting us with a straw man, playfully asking us to knock it down. I conclude that real faith must by definition produce works, and continue to do so. We are not demons, who although believe, are in no position to show proof of redemption; we are people, saved people, who delight in doing things for God.

    • Joe B

      “Think of the incarnation, hypostatic union, the Trinity, the eternality of God. These are create a context in which right worship, the most important “application” of all, can take place.”

      I selected this phrase because it so elegantly captures the thesis.

      Zacchaeus in his tree, the woman at her well, the blind man by the road…did they give any thought whatever to hypostatic union? Was a fully elaborated doctrine of the trinity what made Thomas fall at his nail-pierced feet?

      Do you actually believe that someone with an IQ of 85 who cannot even read words like “hypostasis” are less able to worship Jesus? Less able to know him?

      We jabber on in our echo chamber about “understanding God”, ignoring that “God has chosen the foolish of this world to confound the wisdom of the wise.”

      Can’t we even hear what we’re saying?

    • Dwight

      that’s a fine argument Joe B, but it’s an argument to another question. You bring up Zacchaeus, the woman at the well and the blind man by the road. You’re answering a different question, I believe. “Does a person need to fully understand right doctrine in order to be converted?” No. But that’s not the question. Jesus tells us to come as we are. The question here is this: “Once a person IS converted, then what do they follow? The doctrines laid out in scripture, properly interpreted, or their own flights of fancy and fuzzy feelings? If the latter, who knows what their walk will look like.

    • Joe B

      Dwight #65
      You are correct that my argument addresses a separate question, but it is a question that is begged by this discussion.

      I’ll let my point stand: The holy spirit that works conversion…is he not the same spirit who leads us into all truth and teaches us all things?

      A sharp mind that can make subtle distinctions may be an advantage in teaching about God, but it is no advantage toward knowing, worshipping, and serving God.

      My favorite Pharisee, St. Paul, taught me that our earthly endowments are worthless towards knowing Christ. He also said this:

      Though I…understand all mysteries, and all knowledge…and have not charity, I am nothing. Though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, but have not charity, it profiteth me nothing.

      It is not a question between orthodoxy and orthopraxy. It is between love and pride.

      Was Jesus too subtle about this?

    • Dr. Paul W. Foltz

      Charity is not love. Love is not charity. The king james Bible reverted back to the Wickliffe reading in I cORINTHIANS 13. Tyhdale used the word love in his Bible, but the King james translators rejected his translation of the word agape. In the context of I Corinthians it is impossible for the word love to be used. the greek can have shades oif meaning.
      Icorinthians challenges us to consider Paul’s state if he were to have all faiith, but have not charity. If

    • Joe B

      Interesting translation note Dr Paul.

      The words agape, pistis, gnosis, and even propheteia have a broad range of potential meaning, as do all of their English equivalents, approximates, and counterparts. It’s the nature of language. I’d like to see Venn diagram that! I can picture a blog thread on the conceptual relationships among those three that would stretch all the way back to Wittgenstein’s ink well.

      As it happens, we can be content to just call it agape. Since St. Paul was so considerate as to spend the remainder of chapter 13 to expounding agape–you could practically put an X in there as a placeholder.

      I am tantalyzed by the sentence fragment with which your comment ends. I assume you may have been ready to ask what is this hypthetical state in which one has all pistis but zero agape? Is that condition a practical possibility, or would one need to torture the definitions of pistis and or agape to accommodate it in fact?

    • Vinod Isaac

      Belief will produce action automatically. We act according to the meassure of our faith and trust on the Lord. Correct doctrine is essential for spiritual growth but the question is do we trust Bible fully the way it is or do we need to match our doctrine with a pre established dotrine?

      Most of the times we compare things with pre existing doctrine and try to interpret Bible through the glasses of those doctrines. Probably that is the reason we have so many different views and most of the time these views contradict each other. Bible doesn’t contradict itself but the derived doctrines do.

      Every single doctrine we come accross we need to check them out in light of the Word of God to figure out if they are really true to the Word of God.

      Word of God is the ultimate template not a pre existing doctrine. How ever profound the pre existing doctrine may be or How ever popular it may be we still need to come to the Word of God to verify it.

    • […] “Believe is No Good without Practice” […]

    • Mario

      Could not disagree more with your assertion of

      ” God cares more about belief than he does practice. Belief, truth, doctrine, theology, and, yes, being correct, is more important than all the good works one can ever practice.”

      First, it is incredibly arrogant to speak for God. Second, the lack of action and the self-righteousness of faux-christians has led to a rise in judgement and lack of compassion. We are literally doing the opposite of what the bible asks for, while wrapping ourselves in a nice, warm, yet delusional blanket of Christianity.

      We need more action and less words.

    • Gordon

      Even Satan believes the Gospel.
      The only time “Faith Alone” is mentioned in the Bible is in James, who explicitly denies its power. Whenever confronted with this, you change the definition of Faith between books to preach about it when the exact same word is used in the Greek. Attitudes are what bring good works which show ones status on the vine, not belief.
      You somehow believe that the virtuous pagan who loves and obeys Jesus in-all-but-name is sent to hell by Jesus at the door, while the evil Christian who adopts a creed (that even the Devil agrees with) and hates Jesus in-all-but-name gets welcomed by Jesus at the door.
      The goats were rejected and thrown into the trash pit for their evil deeds, while the sheep were taken into the pen for their hospitality to the weak and the stranger, not for their lack of belief.

    • Gordon

      “He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to believe and get saved?” Micah 6:8

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