Most believers are familiar with the Biblical story that contrasts Martha’s busyness with Mary’s choice to sit at Jesus’ feet. There is no complicated theology here, just a simple story. But I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Biblical passage challenge people’s sense of practicality the way this one does.
The Bible gives much insight into the love and goodness of God, and these truths are incredibly positive and reassuring. But it’s a mistake to isolate personally gratifying scriptures and treat these truths as if this is all the Bible has to say about God; as if he is always this way and cannot be any other way.
The definition of cherry-picking is to choose and take only the most beneficial items from what is available. This approach to the Bible is a temptation that is quite easy to fall into, but it results in a distorted view of God himself, and an inaccurate assessment of where we personally stand with him. If we value an honest and healthy relationship with the Lord, we must persistently seek and welcome everything that God says to us throughout the scriptures.
A mystery is something that is veiled and not easily understood. The word mystery is used over twenty times in the New Testament. One example is in the last part of Ephesians chapter five. This passage is expounding on the relationship between husbands and wives, but at the end it takes a surprising turn and finishes with an astounding revelation.
This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. (Ephesians 5:32 ESV)
Paul reveals an amazing truth, referring to it as a mystery. But this doesn’t mean that God is trying to keep something from us. It’s a mystery because it’s something so wonderful and so profound that it’s difficult for us to grasp. It’s so beyond our ability to comprehend that God must reveal it to us by his Spirit.
Jesus Christ is the Son of God who came to earth to seek and to save that which was lost 1. However, in the Bible we never see Jesus inviting people to pray a prayer to “receive” salvation. Throughout the four gospels we see Jesus calling people to follow him, and it’s this commitment to follow Christ that leads to salvation 2. How we understand and respond to Jesus’ call will have eternal implications.
Let’s examine some Biblical examples of Jesus calling people to follow him, and the different ways that they responded.
The four gospels of the Bible give us amazing insight into the life of Jesus. We get to see the Son of God living among us as the Son of Man. He models perfectly what it means to love God and to love others. He also models perfect obedience that honors God 1. For all eternity we will marvel at how God’s amazing love caused Him to make the ultimate sacrifice that restores us to right relationship with Him.
As believers we should diligently study the gospels and take to heart the example and teachings of Jesus that are recorded there. However, we are also called to engage in a right-now relationship with the risen Christ. In order to have a healthy relationship with Jesus, we must understand who he is right now, who he is beyond the gospels. Freezing Jesus in time and seeing him only as he was in the time of the gospels will have a negative effect on our present-day interaction with him.
It’s common for most churches to be led by an individual who is recognized as the senior pastor of that church, and that person is usually addressed as Pastor so-and-so, or sometimes just Pastor. This long-established practice is considered a way of showing love and respect. While love and respect are very biblical, addressing a select few within the church by official titles actually goes against the teaching of Jesus. Challenging a practice that is born out of good intentions may seem like nitpicking, but Jesus specifically addressed this issue for good reasons and we should give careful thought to what he said rather than shrugging this off as something trivial.
If a doctor knows his patient has a life threatening disease that can be successfully treated, is he being negative if he tells them their condition, or is he negligent if he keeps quite? If someone knows there are dangerous road conditions ahead, are they being negative if they warn fellow travelers, or are they negligent if they keep quite? I think everyone would agree that in these life-or-death situations, the right thing, the responsible thing, would be to speak up and clearly communicate the truth.
However, in matters of eternal life or death, we don’t seem to have the same clarity. Today’s Christian culture seems to operate from a deep conviction that above all else God wants us to say positive things. This misconception has rendered the church impotent when it comes to speaking life-or-death truths that desperately need to be heard.
Man’s highest calling is to put God first. Jesus made this clear when he said the greatest commandment is to “love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matt 22:37). This statement encompasses everything within our being, and Jesus drives the point home by using the word “all” three times. All that we are is to be directed towards God with loving devotion. Jesus’ statement of man’s ultimate purpose has great clarity in its simplicity, yet is very profound in its all-consuming goal.
Just as man’s highest calling and purpose is found only when we put God first, our greatest failings have their roots in putting ourselves first. Original sin was the result of Adam and Eve putting themselves before God; putting their reasoning before His command; giving in to the temptation that they were somehow missing out if they remained under God’s authority. When man chose to put himself first, sin, and all the suffering and misery it brings, found entrance into the world (Rom 5:12), and our relationship with God was broken by our rebellion (Rom 1:21, 25).
The gospel is God’s message to fallen man, telling us how we can be restored to right relationship with Him. Since the root problem is man putting himself first, the goal of the gospel is to restore God to His rightful position of being first in our life in every way. Yet, the gospel is frequently reduced to a people-centered message of personal salvation. The message I hear most Christians and churches proclaiming is “God loves you and has a wonderful plan for your life”. While this is certainly true, it is only a portion of the truth, and if the gospel is reduced to this message alone, it is not actually the gospel of the Bible that restores right relationship with God.
Every Sunday morning, lots of people head out their door to “go to church”, or as some people put it, to attend a “church service”. The vast majority of these services will have a remarkable similarity, no matter what brand, denomination, or non-denomination the church is. Everyone will sit shoulder-to-shoulder, facing a stage on which a select few people will be actively involved in “ministering” to everyone else. There will probably be a greeting, a time of singing, some form of announcements, a sermon, and possibly an altar call. The style may vary to some degree but the structure will be pretty much the same in every church; so much so that you would think there must be some place in the Bible that clearly outlines this particular structure that everyone is following. But the reality is that nowhere in the scriptures does the Bible give any kind of support for an order of service at all, much less the particular order of service that most churches follow so religiously. Some will argue that the order of service is a minor issue and God doesn’t really care one way or the other. I would agree that God is not hung up on a particular order of service. However, He cares very much about what takes place when His people gather together, and if a rigid order of service is an obstacle to the ministry and interaction that God wants to take place, then yes, He is actually against that particular structure.
In Christianity, there are beliefs and practices that are sacred. They are sacred because they originate from God; things that God has instructed his people to believe and to do. If something is sacred, then it should be honored, advanced, and defended. There are many things that Christians should rightly treat as sacred. However, there are things that many Christians hold to be sacred that are not sacred at all, but are merely traditions. The way we know what originates from God, and therefore is sacred, is the Bible, the word of God. If a belief or practice is not taught or modeled in the Bible, then it must be treated as a tradition, not as something sacred.