Obey the Word: No Less, No More
Pastor Eugene exhorts us to hear and obey God’s word, being careful to do neither less nor more than it requires.
As we heard from Genesis 3 this past weekend, humanity’s fall into sin was not just a matter of law-breaking, but also law-making. It involved subtracting as well as adding to God’s commands. When tempted by the serpent to disbelieve and doubt God’s goodness, the woman replied: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.” (Gen 3:2-3)
Besides downplaying God’s lavish generosity in providing every tree of the garden for food, the woman supplemented what God said. She, in effect, put words in God’s mouth for He had never prohibited touching the tree. She made her Creator out to be less generous and gracious than He truly was.
We typically view disobedience as either not doing or doing contrary to what God commands. What may be less obvious, however, is that we can also disobey God when we do what His word does not say. In Isaiah 1, for instance, God takes Judah to task for the nation’s empty religious rituals: “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me.” (Isa 1:12-13a)
A reason why this sort of disobedience is more subtle is because there is often a legalistic bent in our hearts towards self-sufficiency and self-salvation. We think doing more than required might somehow make us “more acceptable” to God and contribute to our standing before Him. It is tempting to think we are “OK”, just because we have “surpassed” what God requires. This plays into our Singaporean mindset, which says we must earn the right to be qualified. Our culture tells us that acceptance depends on performance and having the “proper qualifications”, such as academic or material accomplishments.
When we import such a mindset to spiritual matters, it presents a clear and present danger to the gospel. It undermines the core truth of grace alone, for it makes me think I can do more to merit God’s approval. It fuels pride in my own abilities, attainments, and accomplishments.
This drift towards legalism can happen in subtle ways: For example, it can be helpful to wake up early to read the Bible and pray. Indeed, it is a good practice to start the day by meeting with God in this way. But if I take a helpful and good spiritual discipline and make it a necessary requirement for all Christians, then I have gone beyond what God’s word says. In other words, if I say Christians must do their personal devotions early in the morning, then I have added to Scripture. I might even be critical of other believers who fail to live up to my standards. Thus, by insisting we do more than what God requires, I have become legalistic in my understanding and practice of the spiritual disciplines. In what ways might we be adding to God’s word?
In the Church Matters membership class, I make it a point to emphasise that our fundamental criteria for membership is the same as the biblical criteria for becoming a Christian: repentance from sin, and faith alone in Christ alone for forgiveness. We then obey Christ by being baptised into His body, the church, as a public profession of our union with our Lord. Of course, Christians should grow in their knowledge of the truth, as well as in their love and service of others. But I must be careful not to make church membership conditional on attaining a certain level of “maturity” as a disciple. To do so would be to add to the simplicity of the gospel.
To cite another example: When we appoint new elders/pastors and deacons, we must also take care to abide by the Scriptural qualifications (found in passages such as 1 Tim 3:1-13; Tit 1:5-9; 1 Pet 5:2-4). It can be helpful for leaders to undergo certain forms of preparation for ministry, such as formal theological training. Having completed seminary, I can heartily recommend it to anyone seeking to be better equipped. But to turn such good and helpful things into necessary pre-requisites would be to go beyond the biblical criteria for leadership. Scripture does not merely give us a “minimum” standard to which we add our own qualifications. No, God’s word is the only sufficient and authoritative standard—no more, no less.
Why is it vital that we see this? Because, if we’re not watchful, adding to God’s word can be a slippery slope towards confusing or obscuring the gospel. Paul addresses this in Colossians, where Christians were in danger of being captured by “philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition” (Col 2:8). These believers were tempted to add to the gospel because others were judging them for not adhering to certain religious practices and traditions. False teachers insisted on these things to make one truly “spiritual” and “wise”. But such “self-made religion” (Col 2:23), Paul warns, will only draw us away from Jesus Christ, “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Col 2:3).
The peril of losing the good news is even more urgent in Galatians, where Paul staunchly defends justification by faith alone in Christ alone, against any attempt to add to the gospel. False teachers were teaching that the Gentiles needed to believe in Jesus and be circumcised to be accepted as a part of God’s covenant people. In doing so, they were placing unnecessary obstacles in the way of salvation. Therefore, Paul states in no uncertain terms: “A person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.” (Gal 2:16).
Therefore, I pray for GBC to steadfastly guard the simplicity and purity of the gospel by obeying God’s word—no more, no less. And, by holding fast to God’s word alone, may we testify to the world that our great salvation is by faith alone, in Christ alone, by God’s grace alone, to the glory of God alone.
Our physical services have resumed, so do join us this weekend. Our Foundations sermon series continues, focusing on Genesis 4 and how the fall affected the first family. Yet God remains faithful to His promise to bring a serpent-crushing Saviour. Let’s pray for God to prepare our hearts for worship.
If you are new to GBC, I would like to invite you to our newcomers’ gathering via Zoom at 11am this Sunday (Jul 11) to hear more about how you can get connected with the church community. Please sign up here. For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Our next Church Matters baptism and membership class is starting up soon. It will run for three consecutive Sundays (Jul 18, 25, and Aug 1) over Zoom from 1115am to 1230pm. Please register at: http://gracebaptistchurch.sg/church-matters
Do also check out our weekly EQUIP Christian education class, Marriage Matters. The session this coming Tuesday (Jul 13) will address the question: What are the roles of men and women in marriage? The session will run from 8-9pm over Zoom at this link: http://gracebaptistchurch.sg/equip