The Skeleton of Our Faith (In Praise of Doctrine)
The Type-A in me struggles to believe this wonderful statement from a pastor friend of mine, “God does not love you to the degree that you are like Jesus. Rather, God loves you to the degree that you are in Jesus. And that’s 100 percent.”
The famous story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42) is a story custom-made for Type-A’s like me who default to earning favor versus abiding in God’s favor, having already been united fully with Christ. Martha, feeling abandoned and restless in her work, often gets labeled as the intense, all work no play “busy-body” who doesn’t have the sense to stop and smell the roses. Meanwhile, Mary, having set aside her work, lingers at Jesus’ feet to drink in his every word.
Secretly, many of us share Martha’s anxiousness and resentment toward Mary-types. We work hard, we do our part, and we carry our share of the load, while Mary hits the snooze button and just sits there and takes things in. While we do all the work, she enjoys all the perks…including the praise we think should be ours because of our valiant efforts.
Mary has chosen what is better,
and it will not
What is this “better thing” that Mary has chosen?
She has chosen belief over effort. Saving faith over scurried good works. Resting and receiving over performing. Delight over duty.
Mary didn’t need to work to earn approval from Jesus, and neither do we. Mary knew this—as we can know this—because before Mary got busy for Jesus (and she did get busy for Jesus, by the way), she took the time to pay attention to, and to marinate her whole being in…
Doctrine? Yes, doctrine!
It should always concern us when this part of following Jesus is de-emphasized. And yet some will still say, “I want a love affair with God, not all this theology. I want a faith that feels and a love that does, so don’t give me doctrine…just give me Jesus.”
And yet, what did Jesus give to Mary when she sought an encounter with him?
When Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, Jesus gave her doctrine.
She sat at his feet and listened…to his teaching.
Because you can’t love God with your hands and feet and heart until you have also come to love him with your head.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and
with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment (Matthew 22:38-39).
Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing
you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect (Romans 12:1-2).
We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God,
and take every thought captive to obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
In our very legitimate desire to encounter Jesus, we must pursue the encounter through the avenue of prayer, worship, community and service that is combined with and undergirded with the truth that is revealed to us in the Bible, our modern equivalent of Mary’s place at Jesus’ feet.
Loving God with heart and soul and loving God with our minds are not mutually exclusive endeavors. They are two sides of the same coin. The way to avoid dead, Pharisaical religion is to remain full of grace and truth, to the neglect of neither.
One of my predecessors at Christ Presbyterian Church, Dr. Charles McGowan, says that doctrine is like the skeleton of our faith. We need the skeleton to hold up and support the rest of the body. But if the skeleton becomes the only thing you can see when looking at the body, it means that the body is either malnourished or dead.
This is true of doctrine also. If it’s the only thing visible about our Christianity, it means that our Christianity is malnourished or dead.
But for Mary, it was the “skeleton” of healthy doctrine, of the true-to-Scripture-teaching she received at Jesus’ feet, that became her foundation. It was his teaching that prepared the nerve endings and muscles and skin of her faith to move out into the world in strength. For it was at Jesus’ feet, and nowhere else, that Mary would learn beyond any doubt that, above all else, she was deeply and dearly loved.
But Mary also learned something more than this. At Jesus’ feet, Mary learned that Jesus liked her…in the same way that he likes you and me. And when you know that you are liked, as Brennan Manning says, it changes your outlook on just about everything:
Tenderness awakens within the security of knowing
we are thoroughly and sincerely liked by someone.
The mere presence of that special someone
brings an inward sigh of relief and
a strong sense of feeling safe.
Brennan Manning is merely echoing Scripture here. Scripture tells us that in Christ, we are the apple of God’s eye, that he takes great delight in us, that he rejoices over us with singing, and that he has similar affection toward us as a bridegroom toward his bride, and that nothing in all creation can separate us from his love (Psalm 17:8; Zephaniah 3:17; Isaiah 62:5; Romans 8:38-39).
What if we really believed this?
Seriously, though. Pause for a second. Think with me on this.
What if we really believed that God, through the generous love and sacrifice of his Son Jesus, deeply likes and enjoys us? What if we really believed that in the sight of God, we had nothing left to prove? What if we really believed that being loved was our starting point with God, before we do anything good or bad? What if we believed that more than he wants us to do anything else, God wants us to rest in and receive the work of Jesus? What if we believed that God is quite fond of us and there is nothing we can ever do to change that?
For the Martha in us—that part of us that is plain worn out from trying to prove ourselves to God, to those around us, and to ourselves—what if we started here?
What if we started at the place of resting in the love God says he has for us? What if we started by believing that what Jesus says about us is true of us—that God the Father loves us just as much as he loves God the Son? What if we started by believing that in Jesus, it’s as if we already have the Pulitzer Prize and the Grammy, we’ve already been named parent of the year, and we have better “Likes” and “Follows” than Taylor Swift or Justin Bieber do on social media? Because, as it says in The Book, as we learn with Mary at Jesus’ feet…
Surely goodness and mercy
will follow me
all the days of my life (Psalm 23:6).
If we started here, receiving hospitality from Jesus at his Table of Hospitality, sitting at his feet and being with him…over time we might discover that we have become like him, because…
To see the Law by Christ fulfilled,
to hear his pardoning voice
turns the slave into a child
and duty into choice.
So then, let’s find our rest and resolve there, at the feet of Jesus.