Monday, November 3, 2008

God's Truth vs. Man's Tradition pt. 2

For striving to be holy one is commended. For striving only to appear holy one is condemned. In Mark 7:1-5 Christ is confronted by the empty ritualism of the scribes and Pharisees. In Mark 7:6-13 Jesus condemned their useless and fruitless worship when He said, quoting Isaiah 29:13: "This people honoureth me with [their] lips, but their heart is far from me. Howbeit in vain do they worship me, teaching [for] doctrines the commandments of men."

Commenting on this section of Mark, JC Ryle wrote:
Let us remember this in the public congregation. It must not content us to take our bodies to church if we leave our hearts at home. The eye of man may detect no flaw in our service. Our neighbors may think us patterns of what a Christian ought to be. Our voice may be heard foremost in the praise and prayer. But it is all worse than nothing in God’s sight, if our hearts are far away. It is only wood, hay, and stubble before Him who discerns the thoughts and reads the secrets of the inward man.
Christ used a name for those people who paid Him lip service but had hearts that were far removed from Him. That name was (and still is) “hypocrite.” The word translated “hypocrite” means ‘an actor, stage player.’ In the ancient world actors wore masks that represented their character. Just as the real personality of the actor was hidden by his mask, so the Pharisees' heart were hidden by their traditions. Their lips said one thing; their hearts something else. Publicly they appeared devoted to God, privately their attitudes and actions revealed just the opposite, and in only a matter of time those private attitudes and actions became public.

It is always thus. You do not need to belong to the sect of the Pharisees to share their sin.

Religion that is solely based upon adherence to ritualistic ceremonies is external and superficial only, because it may be outwardly practiced with great zeal regardless of the heart’s condition. A religion that is more concerned with ritualistic purity than realistic purity is a dead, dangerous, and damnable religion. There is a substantial difference between appearing righteous and being righteous.

Christ condemned these men because they sought to be holy according to their standard rather than God’s standard. Three times after quoting Isaiah 29:12, Christ mentioned that their traditions had supplanted God’s truth in their lives.

V. 8“For laying aside the commandment of God, ye hold the tradition of men, [as] the washing of pots and cups: and many other such like things ye do.”
V. 9“Full well ye reject the commandment of God, that ye may keep your own tradition.”
V. 13“Making the word of God of none effect through your tradition, which ye have delivered: and many such like things do ye.”

Isaiah had accused the people of his time of elevating man-made traditions over the Word of God. Christ saw the identical behavior in the Judaism of His day. In effect God’s truth was made subservient to man’s tradition. Man-made external rules had replaced inward spiritual graces. Holiness was strictly judged only by what could be seen, whereas God measures holiness by what is in the heart. As God said to Samuel before he anointed David as Israel’s future king, “Look not on his countenance, or on the height of his stature; because I have refused him: for [the LORD seeth] not as man seeth; for man looketh on the outward appearance, but the LORD looketh on the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7).

As Sinclair Ferguson writes:
It was not that they had replaced God’s love by God’s law. How could they, when love is the fulfillment of the law? No, they had replaced God’s love with self-love, and God’s law with man’s tradition. Having made themselves their own gods, they were insisting that others follow them or perish.
The scribes and Pharisees were critical of and resistant to Jesus’ message of salvation by grace alone because they well understood that such teaching would destroy their influence as well as their reputations. They rested their hope of acceptance with God based on what they were and what they had done. This group was infuriated with Jesus because He taught that God saves sinners by grace, whereas they taught that by definition sinners would not be saved. They did not see themselves as sinners.

What is at stake here is the Gospel, and, behind that, the very nature of God. The Pharisees saw God as one who was pleased with their fastidious observance of arcane traditions. Jesus, on the other hand, taught that God was a gracious Father willing to forgive sinners. This was a major stumbling block to the Jews. For them to follow Jesus would have required not only a new view of God, but a completely new view of themselves.

This is still true today. Whether one is a Pharisee, pagan, cultural Christian, or adherent to any other religion or creed, to follow Jesus – to be saved – requires a right view of God and a right view of self.

The Pharisees were also critical of justification by faith alone because it seemed as if men would then live as they pleased. That men would flout God’s Law while enjoying God’s salvation. Paul addressed this subject in Romans 6:15 when he said: “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” The one who has been accepted by God’s grace is the one who will be consistently devoted to pleasing God. To quote Paul once again: “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness.” (Romans 6:18)

Make no mistake, righteousness, holiness, and purity are worthy goals, and they are traits for which all believers should continue to strive. It is God’s will for every believer to be sanctified (1 Thessalonians 4:3-8). “God has not called us to uncleanness, but unto holiness” is what Paul wrote to the Thessalonian church, and that is just as true for churches today. Since He who has saved us is holy, we also should be holy in all of our conduct. We are to be holy, because God is holy. This pursuit of holiness, however, is driven by the Holy Spirit who resides within a humbled, converted, and redeemed heart. It is motivated from the inside and cannot be manipulated from the outside.

If the inside is not made new by Christ, then all of the “good” religious works and posturing on the outside is meaningless. Christ used Corban as an illustration of this truth (vv. 9-13). Corban simply means an offering to God. That is a good thing. Scripture clearly teaches that God’s people should joyfully, abundantly, and consistently give of their financial resources in support of the work of the Lord; however, it is also clearly taught that we should love and honor our parents, which includes financially taking care of them as they age. Nevertheless, man’s tradition had created a seemingly pious Fifth Commandment loophole. One had only to declare all his material goods as “Corban”, as a gift dedicated to God for “spiritual purposes,” and one was exempt from materially meeting his parent’s needs.

This ostensibly exempted them from keeping the Fifth Commandment. Of course, they would say that their tradition was based in the scriptures, because Numbers 30:2 says: “If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.” But Numbers 30:2 cannot be used to countermand Exodus 20:12. You cannot have a scripturally based tradition if the tradition violates another part of God’s Word. The Bible cannot contradict itself. This was a direct violation of God’s truth by one of man’s traditions. It was nothing more than self-righteous. It perverted the meaning and usage of scripture, and it proved that they loved themselves much more than they loved God or their parents.

Kent Hughes writes:
Those who try to justify themselves by the Law end up modifying it in order to escape its authority. In the same way, those who handle God’s Word without submitting to it are in the constant process of conforming it to their self-complacency.
Jesus is not interested in vain tradition, or people who honor Him only with their mouths but not with their hearts. That is empty and unacceptable worship.

May our worship be true, and what God wants it to be. Examine your own heart. Do you love Jesus Christ with all your heart, soul, mind and strength? Do you long to be with Him, in His presence, like Him, to obey Him from the heart? That is the stuff of true religion.

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