Nothing to Prove

Those of us who have been churched for awhile have heard a lot of sermons, and been part of many conversations, that show us two radically-different ways to live: “You can live God’s way or you can live the world’s way. If you do it God’s way you’ll be blessed, and if you do it the world’s way you won’t. So be a good person and do it God’s way.”

There is truth in this, but as NYC Pastor Tim Keller points out, there are really three ways to live.

  • irreligion – “I don’t have to obey anything; I can do whatever I want”

  • gospel – “God accepts me, therefore I obey”

  • religion – “I obey God; therefore I’m accepted”

Christians know that #1 is wrong and that #2 is the “right answer”, but we often live like #3. We “know” that we can’t earn God’s favor by our performance – Jesus did that by living and dying for us – but we often act as though it’s all about how well we’ve done on a given day.

What does all this have to do with your calling to healthcare? Everything, actually.

The reality is that we live in a fallen world where we are tempted to find our value in what we achieve. Christians are not immune to this. Like other vocations, medicine has its own set of “rules” that must be obeyed if we want to be “successful.” In practice, the path of “religion” can become become even worse than its incarnation above, morphing into “I obey the rules of Medicine; therefore I’m accepted.” Never stop working or studying. Don’t admit you’re wrong. Stay up on all the latest journals. Be in control… You get the idea.

Some of these things are good, like studying hard.  It becomes a problem, though, when you only feel good about yourself when you’re “obeying” all the “rules.”  Our exhaustion and low-level anger from living this way usually indicate something is wrong.

So what can we do about it? God points us in the right direction in Philippians 3. In verses 4-6, Paul essentially lists all his former achievements: he obeyed all the rules of his world.

But it didn’t matter – after all his efforts, God still wasn’t pleased. He came to realize that he could not “have a righteousness of [his] own that comes from [obeying] the law” (verse 9). So instead, he had to lean on the righteousness “that comes through faith in Christ… that depends on faith.” At the end of the day, Paul realized that it was Jesus’ performance that counted, not his.

Again, as Christians, we believe that Jesus’ performance saves us initially (“gospel”), but then we often live like what matters after that is ours (“religion”). So the question we have to wrestle with it this: what do you practically “need” to have a “good” day, to feel like you matter? Maybe it’s knowing you studied all day. Maybe it’s living up to your expectations on an exam. Or pleasing your attending. Or typically knowing more than your peers. Or knowing that your specialty is highly valued. Your answer to this question is your “righteousness”, your functional Savior.

Of course, this is something we’re all working on. We make progress, though, as we see “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus [our] Lord” (8). After all, it’s not wrong to study hard, please your attending, or go into a particular specialty. It’s just that Jesus is infinitely better than all of them. While we’re working on this, He patiently accepts us, and we no longer have anything to prove. As we realize that, medicine and everything else find their proper place.

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About Bryan Stoudt

On my personal website (bryanstoudt.com), I help Christians follow Jesus in a noisy, broken world. I also have the privilege of helping Philadelphia's healthcare students and professionals do this as Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA). More information at cmdaphiladelphia.org. On a personal note, I'm fortunate to be married to my wonderful wife, Sharon. Together, we have four fantastic children. In my spare time, I enjoy roasting coffee, running, reading and learning foreign languages.
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