LEGALLY LED ASTRAY
Those who approach the Bible as a legal code of laws to be followed as precept upon precept cannot understand the authority of the word of God that is brought into one’s life through love. They simply cannot understand why the law was not made for the righteous, but for the ungodly. The righteous need no law to take action if their brother is in need. Love is their action. But the legal oriented religionist needs a law before he acts. He prides himself in the fact that he has kept all the law. He has done his duty. But he has forgotten what Jesus said to those who would act upon the basis of legal obedience to law, “So likewise you, when you have done all those things that are commanded you, say, ‘We are unprofitable bondservants. We have done that which is our duty to do’” (Lk 17:10). This statement is explained by Jesus’ response to the rich young ruler who had legally acted according to law by keeping all the commandments (See Lk 18:18-21). He had done all things that he was commanded to do. But Jesus responded to his supposed legal perfection, “You still lack one thing. Sell all that you possess …” (Lk 18:22).
When a legalist realizes that he still lacks something after doing all the commandments, he will do as the rich young ruler whom Jesus said still lacked. “Then when he heard this, he was very sorrowful …” (Lk 18:23). The young man was sorrowful because his performance of law did not qualify him to be a disciple of Jesus. The legalist deceives himself into thinking that he has submitted to the authority of God by submitting to a code of laws. But the problem with this theology is that in some point of obedience we always lack. There is some commandment we may not have obeyed. Keep in mind that the rich young ruler was not sorrowful when he initially came to Jesus. He was sorrowful only after he heard the pronouncement that he was not perfect in all his legal obedience.
The first and great commandment is still to “love the Lord your God will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Mt 22:37). When one loves God in obedience to this commitment, then all the commandments of behavior are covered. Our love of God brings the authority of God’s instructions into our lives for we seek to do His will. “We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:19). The authority of God’s word in our lives, therefore, is not based upon defining laws by which we can determine if we are legally performing perfectly according to His will. The Christian is not as the rich young ruler. Because the Christian loves his Lord above all, it is inherent in his love that he keeps the commandments of God.
Remember what John said? “For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments” (1 Jn 5:3). John added something that no legalist will ever understand. “And His commandments are not burdensome” (1 Jn 5:3). For those who are moved by their love of the authority of God’s word in their lives, obedience is a pleasure, not a burden. And when the loving obedient lack perfect obedience, they do not question their own salvation because they failed to keep all the commandments perfectly. They are driven to the grace of their Father in thanksgiving for His forgiveness.
It is imperative to understand this paradigm of the authority of God in our lives. When most theologians speak of the authority of the word of God, they are speaking of a legal catechism by which the religiosity of man is judged. This catechism is often written and published, and thus, it becomes the catechism by which churches and individuals are determined to be “of the truth.” If some individual or group does not perform exactly according to the catechism of prooftexts, then often the judge becomes almost unloving in his relationship with anyone who would fail to be obedient to every point of the catechism. The problem with this system of religiosity is that the disciples of Jesus are not being identified by their love. They are being identified by legal points that they have drawn up as an outline by which to judge others either faithful or unfaithful to God.
If we move ourselves into the preceding system of religious authority, then we will have to determine who has the authority to produce the correct outline by which everyone is to be judged. And now we have moved ourselves into a most contradictory and condemning predicament. If we must have authorities on earth to produce the correct catechism by which we would judge others legally correct, then we have moved from the authority of God to the authority of some man or group of men. In all this wrangle of theology we have moved from a foundational principle of being identified by love to being identified as those who are exclusively adherent to their self-imposed outline of laws. We have forgotten that the love by which we are to be identified is not presenting our self-imposed legal code of laws to others. It is our love that should draw others to us (See Jn 13:34,35). It is our love that encourages others to ask why we are what we are. Is this not what Peter meant in the following words?
But sanctify Christ as Lord God in your hearts and be ready always to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, yet with meekness and fear” (1 Pt 3:15).
There must be something in the life of the true disciple of Jesus that draws others to ask concerning his hope. It is love that draws others to ask. Peter would conclude, “Finally, all of you be of one mind, having compassion one for another. Love as brethren, be kindhearted, humble” (1 Pt 3:8). When people see Jesus’ disciples behaving according to the principle of love, not law, then they are drawn to ask concerning their hope. They are drawn to ask because they seek freedom from the bondage of law that they have often imposed on themselves.
We would advise the noble-minded Bible student to be as the Bereans who searched the Scriptures daily (At 17:11). Keep in mind the one who was bringing them the teaching that sparked their study. It was the apostle Paul (At 17:10). The Scriptures that they searched was the Old Testament. Paul had sparked their thinking concerning Jesus being the fulfillment of all the prophecies concerning the Messiah (See Lk 24:44). When Paul pointed out the prophecies, they searched the prophecies concerning the Messiah in the Old Testament. They sought the authority of the Old Testament in order to come to the conclusion that what Paul was saying was true. Paul was not their authority. The Scriptures were.
We live in a world today that is flooded with theologians who would come our way to proclaim what they believe to be the truth of God. Too many people have accepted as truth from God those who do not preach the word of God. They have consequently submitted to the authority of the speaker and not the word of God. But we must remember that all great minds are subject to some error somewhere, though not all minds are subject to the same error. When truth is sifted through the minds of men, it sometimes picks up some baggage of past theologies, or is often reflected to us through the theological prejudices of the presenter. The nobility of the Bereans was in the fact that they did not accept what Paul said because Paul said it. Their authority was in the written word of God, the Old Testament Scriptures. What Paul said, therefore, was sifted through the written word of God, not through the next tele-evangelist who might come through town.
Silas was also with Paul, speaking the same thing as Paul. But the Bereans would neither accept a company of preachers as authority, as they would not accept a powerful preacher. They still went to their Bibles. Simply because a company of authorities might be spouting the same thing does not determine that what is said is true, and thus to be accepted as authoritative. God gave no council of men on earth the authority to be authorities on behalf of Him.
The serious Bible student will make use of all the pronouncements of a host of preachers, or commentaries, or books, but he will never give his brain over to “what the pastor says.” Those who have determined what they believe to be truth because of the proclamation of some religious authority, or some quote from a respected book, have placed themselves on a road to apostasy from the word of God. Those who believe something on the foundation of an accepted authority on earth, or group of supposed authorities, have condemned themselves to be tossed to and fro by the passing of one preacher after another. We are now in such a world of theological chaos. Our time is as Paul wrote to Timothy:
For the time will come when they will not endure sound teaching. But to suit their itching ears, they will surround themselves with teachers who will agree with their own desires. And they will turn away their ears from the truth and will be turned to fables (2 Tm 4:3,4).
Someone once wrote an acrostic on how a good Bible student will search for the authority of God in his life.
S – eriously (At 17:11; 2 Tm 2:15)
E – arnestly (Ja 1:8; Ps 119:11)
A – nxiously (Jn 20:31; Ps 119:9)
R – egularly (At 17:11; Ps 1:2)
C – arefully (Lk 24:27; 2 Tm 3:16,17)
H – umbly (Lk 24:45; Js 1:22)