Traditions and God’s Law

In Mark 7:1-13, the Pharisees questioned Jesus and His disciples about washing their hands before they ate. This was not simply a matter of hygiene for them. To the Pharisees, this was as good as Law. Of course, there was no law that said this. Certainly, the Law spoke of cleanliness and defilement. But there was no law that mandated the washing of hands, cups, pots, and vessels simply to make sure they hadn’t been defiled. The philosophy was apparently that any time they had been out in public, they needed to wash just in case they came in contact with someone or something unclean. By washing, they wouldn’t make their food unclean and wouldn’t internalize any uncleanness while eating.

That makes some sense to me. I can see how a logically minded person might take these steps, just to be on the safe side. After all, defilement is serious business. For the Pharisees it became extremely serious business. It was a test of spiritually. It was a test of fellowship. They were sure that through their logical deductions, it was part of God’s pattern for them.

Yet, Jesus turned that understanding on its head. This was a tradition they had built up around the Law. It was not God’s Law itself. Jesus accused the Pharisees of hypocrisy. They honored God with their mouths and not really with their hearts. They elevated the teachings of men to the level of God’s command.

Was it wrong to wash their hands before eating? No. Was it wrong to wash their hands if they feared defilement? No. What was wrong was to mandate this tradition as if it were equivalent with God’s law and treat others as if they were disobeying God when they didn’t follow the tradition.

If we are not careful, we can make the same mistake. I can and have heard some similar questions today. “Why don’t you have two assemblies on Sunday as is the tradition of other churches?” “Why don’t you have Gospel meetings that last an entire week or two weeks as is the tradition of other churches?” “Why don’t all of you wear a suit and tie or a dress to the assembly as is the tradition of the older generations?”

Is it lawful to have two assemblies on Sunday, Gospel meetings that last all week, and to dress up for our assemblies? Of course it is. Does God mandate it? No. Are we allowed to do these things? Certainly. Are we allowed to mandate these things for anyone else? No. Are others allowed to mandate these things for us? Absolutely not. Are we more spiritual for doing these things or for not doing them? Of course not.

However, Jesus didn’t stop with this. He continued His rebuke. The Pharisees had another problem. While they were willing to elevate their pet traditions to the level of God’s Law, they were equally willing to disregard the laws of God that they didn’t really like. God’s Law said they were to honor father and mother. Obviously, God saw caring for father and mother as they aged as a necessary part of honoring them. The Pharisees didn’t seem to like this Law or pattern. They dispensed with it by coming up with another seemingly great tradition. They declared the portion of their goods with which they would have supported their parents as Korban, or devoted to God. “Sorry, Mom, Dad, I would take care of you, but I can’t give you what is devoted to God.”

Today it is pretty to vogue to notice the side of this teaching that rebukes equating our traditions with God’s law and pattern. But we must not forget this other side. We cannot refuse to follow God’s pattern and Law by our traditions. Do you notice that nowhere does the Law specifically say that caring for elderly parents is part of honoring them. Rather, God expected right thinking people to realize caring for elderly parents was part of that pattern. They had to use their logic to realize this. But it was, nevertheless part of God’s pattern.

We certainly cannot mandate traditions like multiple assemblies, week-long Gospel meetings, or formal dress for assemblies. However, when the pattern says sing, we can tell folks they should sing and not add instruments. When the pattern says celebrate Jesus’ death through the Lord’s Supper, we can tell folks they should not add extra holy-days. When the pattern demonstrates using unleavened bread and fruit of the vine for the Lord’s Supper and taking it only on the first day of the week, we can rebuke others for violating it.

God expects us to use our common sense and our logic. But He also expects us to use it to understand what He has written, not mandate whatever we like and disregard whatever we don’t. We must not add our traditions to God’s laws. Neither must we allow our think-sos to disregard God’s laws.

We must forever recognize that God’s word provides us the pattern and authority for good works and continue to look to it as the guide for our behavior as Christians and work as congregations (II Timothy 3:16-17).

Share

Quit Relying On Yourself for Salvation; Start Relying on Jesus

“What if I get in a car wreck and just before my head slams into the steering wheel I take God’s name in vain, will I go to heaven?”

Are you ready for my newest answer to this question?

“Who are you relying on for your salvation? Yourself or Jesus?”

Romans 10:3 says the Jews were ignorant of the righteousness of God, therefore they were trying to establish their own righteousness. They weren’t relying on Jesus to save them. They were relying on themselves. They were going to keep the law so well that God would have to save them.

The problem was no one could keep the law that well. Every single one of them sinned (Romans 3:23). In fact, we learn that God didn’t establish law to save anyone. He established law to convict us that we need saving.  Romans 3:20 says, “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.”

Galatians 3:21 says, “If a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.” God hasn’t given a law that could give life. Did you catch that? The Old Law doesn’t give life. The New Law doesn’t give life. If a law could give life, then God would let us earn life through a law. However, God gives us life as His free gift (Romans 6:23). Romans 3:24 says we are justified as a gift from God through the redemption that is in Jesus.

What all this means is, instead of relying on ourselves and our law keeping to save us, we need to rely on Jesus Christ. If we plan to stand before God and demand we should be saved because of all the great works we’ve done, we’re going to be in trouble. If we plan to stand before God with any other defense than Jesus Christ and His death, we are going to be lost. When we try to be saved by establishing our own righteousness, we’ll fail every time.

Does this mean I can take God’s name in vain with impunity and not worry about my salvation? Do those who aren’t trying to establish their own righteousness sin so the righteousness of God’s grace can abound? Of course not. Romans 6:1-4 demonstrates that is wrong. However, what we really need to recognize is that this mindset demonstrates we don’t understand what it means to rely on Jesus for our salvation.

We think “rely on Jesus for salvation” means I live however I want and Jesus will save me anyway. Nothing could be further from the truth. The wages of sin is death even for the Christian (Romans 6:23). Relying on Jesus doesn’t mean living my way and expecting salvation anyway. Relying on Jesus for salvation means turning my life over to Him, living by faith in Him (Galatians 2:20), and letting Him lead me to salvation. It means trusting God’s promise that I am His, therefore He is conforming me to the image of Christ (Romans 8:29-30). It means trusting Jesus to deliver me from my body of death (Romans 7:24-25) so that I overcome these sins that will kill me. It means that my continued struggles as I grow in Christ do not destroy my salvation but my progress in Christ provides me an entrance into the eternal kingdom (cf. II Peter 1:5-11).

Back to the question that started all this off. If you are relying on Jesus to save you and trusting God’s promise to conform you, why are you worried that God is going to let you so sin in the last minute of your life to destroy your relationship with Him?

Quit relying on yourself. Quit trying to establish your own righteousness. Believe Jesus. Turn your life over to Him. Let Him guide you to salvation.

Share

We Must Heed God’s Warnings About Sin

God has always exhibited His care for his children. One of the greatest ways to show His concern for us is to warn us of impending danger. He knows Satan and He knows us; He made us after all. Satan is the master liar and a great manipulator. We first become acquainted with him doing his best work in evil in Genesis 3. With his cunning, he was able to convince Eve that he was not evil or a liar, but God was. By this deception, sin entered the world, and Satan has not stopped his war against God and mankind since. But God, through His great love for His creation, has not ceased to warn us of the great evil Satan can do to us.

God warned His children through Isaiah in Isaiah 5:20 that there would be those who would be so diluted by Satan as to call evil, good and good, evil. Nothing has changed since the woe was pronounced on those who did this. We are bombarded through every conceivable method with this same message. Movies, mass media and even our lawmakers and judges preach the word of Satan; evil is good and good is evil. The most deceptive part of this is the fact that this perversion is taught us by the seemingly wise of this world.

These are warnings given by Paul in Romans 1. In verse 18, Paul warns us about those on whom God’s wrath would be revealed; those who “suppress the truth in unrighteousness.” Verse 22 says, “Professing to be wise, they became fools.” How do we know who they are? Just as Isaiah had warned, they called evil, good and good, evil, and Paul said in Romans 1:25, “For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie.” How often have we been shown by men’s actions that greed is good or homosexuality is acceptable? The sad part of Paul’s warning was that those who practiced these things were ones who knew the “ordinance of God” according to verse 32. But, Paul also said in verses 19 and 20 that no one is without excuse because God has made Himself evident within them and through His creation.

Paul explained to Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:1-7 what the practices of men would be like so he could recognize them. They would be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power. He further told Timothy to avoid such men. Look at this list and see if you recognize people in the news, those in Hollywood, and maybe your neighbor. May we never find these characteristics in ourselves. We need to be like the man Paul described in Timothy; followers of Paul’s teaching, conduct, purpose, faith, patience, love, perseverance, persecutions and sufferings. We must recognize and avoid the people Paul described in verses 2 through 7 and never forget the power of the Scriptures. Paul tells us in verses 16 and 17 that they are inspired of God and profitable for teaching, reproof, correction and training in righteousness. As God’s children, we need to avoid the cunning of Satan and his servants and be transformed by the renewing of our minds as Romans 12:2 tells us. The power of renewing our minds and thus our lives lies in the work of God’s word in our lives as described in 2 Timothy 3:16,17. Live it, teach it to your children and to all who will listen. Do what Paul told us in Romans 12:9, “Abhor what is evil and cling to what is good.”

Share