You are what you eat. If you want to lose weight, you can exercise more, get more sleep, get outside more. You can change lots of things, but if you don’t change what you eat, the other changes won’t matter much in the long run. Your food is your health or your sickness.
Your soul isn’t so different from your body in that regard. What your soul chews on, drinks down or is force-fed will make it either healthy or sick. Every day we “eat” and “drink” some message, some idea, some image, some emotion, some memory. These could be the doctrines of God as He reveals them in Scripture (Rom. 16:17, 1 Tim. 1:10, or “teaching” in Deut. 32:3 and John 7:16), or they could be the doctrines and teachings of someone else. Like food for your body, your soul lives and breathes doctrine, either God’s or someone else’s. You can’t live without doctrine. It’s impossible to have a soul that does not cling to doctrine.
The real question is not whether you’ll care about doctrine. Everyone does. Everyone’s soul was made to trust, to believe, to love, to hope, and souls go on trusting, believing, loving and hoping even when they don’t know God’s doctrine, His promises or His love in Christ.
Junk food doctrine
We can seek out wholesome food, or we can go looking for junk food. Satan offers humans what their sinful souls most want. He deprives them of God’s Word and offers instead the false hopes, false loves and false truths; he offers junk food that tastes extremely good in the moment. You can face the consequences later. In the moment, just enjoy the sweet taste of falsehood and the easy way it goes down.
Like junk food, false doctrine is everywhere. You can get it more easily than wholesome biblical doctrine. You don’t even have to find an obviously religious outlet for false doctrine. You could unlock your phone, open up your laptop, turn on your TV, and false doctrine would be right there for your soul to eat. You can use such falsehoods as a cover for your rage, your resentment, your misery, your terror, your uncertainty about whether your life has amounted to anything, your bitterness. False doctrine will always adapt to you, giving you what you think you need most (2 Tim. 4:3).
You can’t eat junk without being filled with junk. You will become angrier, more lustful, more self-righteous, whatever Satan can use to enslave you again to sin. Satan will use lying preachers or lying journalists as long as the false teaching digs into your soul and satisfies your needs and wants.
False doctrine and the church
You know a church is on its way to death when it stops worrying about doctrine. Maybe it will assume that its doctrine is fine; maybe it won’t worry much about it anymore. In a particularly late stage of the terminal illness, it will deny that doctrine matters. It will bend with the desires of the world and flesh. At last it will break. A preacher on his way to hell won’t worry about what he says, so long as he says it winsomely (Jer. 5:12; 2 Cor. 11:13).
Any church worth its salt will be obsessed with doctrine as any good chef will be obsessed with his ingredients. It will stand firm when told to bend (Gal. 5:1), and the gates of hell will not prevail against its Gospel onslaught (Matt. 16:18). A preacher worth his salt will be obsessed with the doctrine he teaches as the chef will obsess over how he prepares and serves nourishing and delightful things. Doctrine makes or breaks souls because it teaches them to trust in either the Truth Himself or in the infinite variety of falsehoods available as soon as you open up your browser. Paul commanded Timothy, “Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).
Wholesome food for the soul
Consuming “good food” for the soul is hard but not impossible, and the place to start is with hearing good preaching. All books could be destroyed. All e-readers could become lost technology. Preaching would go on. Christ did not write books, but He did preach the Gospel. He did not commission books to be written, but He did send out preachers. The sermon is written for you and served to you in flesh and blood — fresh, home-cooked and nourishing.
If you’re a preacher reading this: Serve only wholesome food. Paul commanded Timothy to teach “sound doctrine” only (1 Tim. 1:10, 6:3; Titus 1:9, 2:1). Preach and teach only the things that keep Christ’s body healthy, nothing that makes it fat and sluggish or starves it of nutrients. Feed His sheep (Ezek. 34). You have neither command nor promise about what your preaching will achieve. You have only commands and promises that you must preach the Word and only the Word. Don’t alter. Don’t take away. Don’t add on. Preach the Word.
For you hearers: Eat only healthy food. God’s people in the Old Testament did not endure times of famine because they listened to and trusted in nothing. They failed to listen to and trust in God’s Word (Amos 8:11).
Eat what He has prepared. Feast on the sermon. Feast on the Bible. You have no command or promise that anything else in life — no Instagram influencer, no Twitter account, no celebrity, no best friend, no one, nothing — will feed your soul with truth and only truth. You have every command and every promise of God that His Word will prove wiser, better, sweeter, higher, deeper and healthier than any word of men.
Don’t skip church. Don’t skip reading your Bible. Don’t skip over something you don’t like or don’t understand. Keep reading. Keep listening. You will find His Words like honey to your taste and life to your soul.