A three-legged stool or table is an incredibly stable piece of furniture. A two-legged table is not able to balance, and if you sit a four-legged table on an uneven surface it will rock and wobble; but a three-legged table will sit solidly, balancing itself perfectly.
Likewise, our faith needs three “legs” in order to remain perfectly balanced in all situations. I like to call these legs, “Believing,” “Behaving,” and “Belonging.” Remove any one of them, and our faith will not be able to stand.
I find it sad that many Christians try to avoid the idea of doctrine. So often I have been told, both by individuals and by churches and denominations, “Oh, we don’t believe in doctrine. We just believe the Bible.” The trouble is, there are many different understandings within the Body of Christ as to what the Bible actually says. And, unless we can define what we believe, we have no way of defining what we do not believe.
Believing begins with the very most basic essential: “Heb 11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him: for he that comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. ” That seems pretty obvious. It is impossible to have faith in Someone if we are not sure that He exists.
What is not so obvious to some is that it is not just a matter of believing that there is a God: we also need to know what we believe that God to be like.
Is there only one God, or are there many gods?
Is God knowable, or is a distant mystery?
If God is one, is that oneness a solid, indivisible mathematical unity that “has no son”, or is it a “unity of community” of Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
Is Jesus Christ God in the flesh, or is He just a good man, a prophet, or a martyr?
Let me throw in an illustration here. If someone were to come to me and say, “I know you. You are that lady with no children who lives in Canada,” then I would reply, “No, I’m sorry – I don’t know who it is that you know, but it is not me. I have two children and five grandchildren, and I live in Australia.” Likewise, if someone comes to God and says, “I know you. You are so far apart from man that you never touch us, and you have no son,” then He is likely to respond, “Sorry – whatever god you think you know, it is not Me. I am intimately involved with man, and My Son became man in order to bring man back to Me.”
Going beyond questions about God Himself, we need to know what we believe about such things as:
How can we be saved? Can we just pile up good works to make it into heaven, or do we need the grace of God based on the sacrifice of Jesus?
Is the Holy Spirit a real personal being, or is He just some kind of divine force?
Is the Bible the Word of God, or is it just the writings of man, no more authoritative than the holy books of the world’s religions?
What we believe about all these things matters: it will determine our relationship with God, and ultimately our eternal destination.
Likewise, how we behave matters. From the beginning, Christians have tended to gravitate to either of two equally wrong positions: legalism and license.
Legalism ties “holiness” to the observance of commandments – both those of the Old Testament, and a whole bunch of new ones invented by the Church.
License says Jesus has done away with the Law, we live in the age of Grace, so you can do anything you please and grace will cover it.
Let’s look at it a little more closely. The Law was given by God through Moses, and, contrary to what most people think, it did not just consist of the Ten Commandments, but of 613 separate commands, covering every aspect of life and worship. These commands were not arbitrary, as in the rules of a game, but in every case reflected the nature of God: the laws about separation reflected His holiness, the moral laws reflected His righteousness, the laws dealing with the legal system reflected His justice, those dealing with the poor reflected His compassion, those dealing with the temple and the sacrificial system reflected His redemptive purposes. They were not given to tell people how to come into a covenant relationship with God – that happened by grace, the result of being born into the line of Abraham – but rather to tell them how to live in that relationship.
Importantly, the Law was external to the people. It had to be, because at that time the people did not have the Holy Spirit living within them. However, the fact that it was external created an inherent flaw in the Law: it could set God’s standards before the people, but it could not give them the ability to live up to those standards.
In the fulness of time, God the Son became man in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, lived a life of perfect holiness, and died on the Cross to pay the penalty for man’s sin. In doing so, He both fulfilled the Law and ended the Law: Rom 10:4 “For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness to every one that believes.” New Testament believers are not under the Law. In fact, the Word tells us that if we try to live under the Law we make ourselves subject to judgment. If we want to live under the Law, then we must perfectly obey all 613 commands of the Law, because God sees the Law as a complete whole, and to violate one part of it is to violate all.
Does that mean we can do whatever we want, because grace will cover it? Definitely not! Rom 6:15 “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. ”
God has not just cancelled the Law and left a void. Rather, He has replaced the Law with something far greater: the Spirit. When we are born again, the Holy Spirit, the third Person of the Trinity, comes to live within us. Whilst the Law reflected God’s character, the Spirit embodies God’s character. Whilst the Law set a standard but gave us no means of living up to it, the Spirit gives us both the standard and the ability, as long as we choose to live in His power rather than our own.
Ultimately, how we behave reflects what we believe. If we believe God is holy, we will walk in holiness; if we believe He is loving, we will walk in love; if we believe He is just, we will walk in justice. How we behave is not just a matter of trying to live up to an external standard, but rather of walking in the life of the Spirit Who lives within us.
That brings us to the third “leg” of our faith, belonging. It is not enough to believe the right things, nor is it enough to behave in a right way. Every religion of the world has a system of belief, and a standard of behaviour. What makes Christianity different is that it is not a religion, but a relationship: we have the security of belonging.
Yes, there are some who call themselves “Christian” but mean simply that they have a broad intellectual assent to the teachings of Jesus.
Others call themselves “Christian” but mean only that they try to live by the standards set out in the Gospels (impossible without the Holy Spirit, but they don’t seem to understand this.)
A true Christian, however, is one who has surrendered his or her life to the Lord Jesus Christ. He has recognized that he is a sinner, and that there is absolutely nothing that he can do by his own efforts to make amends for his sin. He has learned that Jesus went to the cross to pay the penalty for his sin, and that as a result God’s grace is extended to him as a free gift. However, he knows that this gift comes attached to the Giver: he cannot accept God’s grace and forgiveness without also accepting the One who made that grace and forgiveness available. So he has turned away from sin and accepted Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord.
When we do that we are “born again” into God’s family. That new birth opens the way for the coming of the Holy Spirit, and gives us a whole new way to live our lives. As part of that relationship, we seek to draw near to God through prayer and worship; we read His Word not just as a textbook to be studied, but as His personal letter to us; we seek to hear the voice of the Spirit directing our lives; and we want to live in a way that brings glory to God.
Because we belong to God, our behaviour will change. Because we belong to God, we will search His Word under the leading of the Spirit to be sure that we are believing correctly. When the three legs of the table are in place, our faith is secure and we can stand solidly no matter how uneven the ground may be.