1 Then the scribes and Pharisees who were from Jerusalem came to Jesus, saying, 2 “Why do Your disciples transgress the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat bread.” He answered and said to them, 3 “Why do you also transgress the commandment of God because of your tradition?” (Matthew 15:1–3, NKJV)
Religious traditions (formed, validated, and passed down by humans) are not equivalent to God’s will. Many religious traditions fashioned and perpetuated by people contradict and violate the word of God. For example, Jesus not only rebuked the Jewish binding of traditions that were foreign to the Law of Moses, but He also exposed the tradition of Corban that excused violating God’s word (Matt. 15:1-3, 4-6; Mark 7:9-13). He called this conduct hypocrisy (Matt. 15:7). While claiming allegiance to God, they nullified God’s commands by demanding conformity to the tradition of the elders. A notable comparison to this is water baptism by sprinkling instead of immersion. Baptize (baptizo) means “to immerge, submerge” (Thayer, 94). Bible baptism requires much water, going down into and coming up out of the water (Matt. 3:16; John 3:23; Acts 8:38-39). Baptism is a burial (Col. 2:12; Rom. 6:4-5). Sprinkling water as baptism began as an accommodation to the scarcity of water and, later, for clinical (deathbed) baptism in the third century for the bedfast. In some cases, the Roman papacy approved it in the eighth century until it was declared equal with immersion in AD 1311 by the Council of Ravenna (Schaff, History of the Christian Church, II:247-252). We must reject human religious traditions if they (1) Bind what God has not bound upon us or (2) Approve actions that violate the revealed word of God (Gal. 1:6-10; 2 John 9).
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ (Colossians 2:8, NKJV).
Paul’s warning against deceivers who would plunder our spiritual treasures in Christ is not new (2 Cor. 11:3-4, 12-15). Let us give attention to “the basic principles of the world” that are not according to Christ and fuel this deception. The basic principles of the world are not the chemical elements that constitute the physical realm (2 Pet. 3:10, 12). They are the fundamental evil elements that oppose God, His purposes, and His truth. They enslave souls to the service of sin (Gal. 4:3). Consider four basic principles of the world: (1) Unbelief. It plunges souls into darkness, ignorance, and alienation from the true and living God (Eph. 4:17-19). Without faith, we cannot please God (Heb. 11:6). (2) The traditions, commands, and doctrines of men. Human philosophies appeal to the intellect, often seem plausible, yet are “empty deceit” that cannot save us and protect us from sin (Col. 2:8, 20-23). (3) Carnality and its works. The evil world is composed of the lusts of the flesh, of the eyes, and life’s pride. These stimulate all manner of works of the flesh (1 John 2:15-17; Gal. 5:19-21). Carnal-mindedness opposes God and causes spiritual death (Rom. 8:5-8). (4) The will of men instead of the will of God (1 Pet. 4:2-3). Elevating our cravings and will above God is a fundamental element of the world. Be encouraged and beware; Do not let anyone plunder your spiritual treasure in Christ (Col. 2:1-3).
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. 17 And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:15–17, NKJV)
The “world” of which John writes is the system of evil that opposes God. The world is the dominion of Satan and is antagonistic toward the Father, His will, and His love. Many stiffen their necks against God’s commands not to sin (like the command in verse 15, “Do not love the world…”). But, God has a reason for giving us “thou shalt nots” – He wants us to love Him instead of loving the world. God wants us to have eternal life instead of living under the control of Satan, and then dying eternally. Loving the world is set in motion by the things of the world – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. Therefore, we must arrest the cravings of the flesh, the eyes, and the pride of life. From godly sorrow, let us repent of loving the world (2 Cor. 7:10). Let us redirect our hearts toward heaven (Col. 3:1-4). Loving the world gives momentary pleasure (Heb. 11:25). But, the things of the world will never satisfy the heart’s yearning for completeness, contentment, and comfort. Ultimately, the world brings desolation, despair, and death.
“If you love Me, keep My commandments.” (John 14:15, NKJV)
What Jesus said in today’s passage is easily understood. “If” marks it as a conditional statement, with a result to follow when the condition is met. The condition is “love Me.” When we love Jesus the effect or result is that we keep His commandments. Obedience is the result of loving Jesus. Notably, “love” is a verb in this statement. Loving Jesus is active. Therefore, loving Jesus is not a feeling that warms us on the inside even as we are disobedient to His will in our actions. Simply put, Jesus said our love for Him is shown by our obedience to Him. If I am not obeying Jesus, then I am not loving Him the way He wants to be loved. To keep His commandments we must know them. Undoubtedly, that is why His apostles said to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17). God has communicated His will to us through His Son Jesus, and the New Testament is that message (Heb. 1:2; 1 Cor. 14:37). We must listen to God’s word to believe and obey the commands of Jesus (Rom. 10:17). When we come to faith through God’s word, our faith compels us to love Jesus by keeping His commandments. Far from trying to earn God’s grace, obeying Christ from the heart is a full expression of loving submission to Jesus. We need faith that listens to the word of Jesus, and love that obeys Him. This is the obedience to Christ that saves us from sin in order to become a servant of righteousness (Rom. 6:17-18). Do you love Jesus? Then, keep His commandments.
13 Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. 14 You are My friends if you do whatever I command you. (John 15:13–14, NKJV)
The sacrificial quality of love is unsurpassed. It is this love that prompted the death of Jesus and provided the world our only means of redemption (Romans 5:8-10; 1 John 4:8-10). The question for us to ponder is whether we have the love it takes to be a friend of Jesus. We hear much about needing Jesus as our friend. True, and He has shown the measure of His loving friendship by His death. Now, do we show the measure of our friendship to Him? We are not His friends when we disobey Him. It is quite ironic that many who speak loud and long about being friends with Jesus refuse His clear commands. For example, many reject His command to believe and be baptized to be saved in Mark 16:16, and yet claim friendship with Him. How can that be? Indeed, they say any necessary obedience nullifies God’s grace. If true, then we cannot be a friend to Jesus without denying His word and His grace! Our plea is to return to the simple harmony of gospel of salvation by grace, through faith. Salvation is an unearned, yet conditional gift (Ephesians 2:8-9). God receives sinners when we fear God and work righteousness; the gift is thus received (Acts 10:34-35). Are you a friend to Jesus? That is answered “yes” when you obey Him in faith.
Whatever I command you, be careful to observe it; you shall not add to it nor take away from it. (Deuteronomy 12:32, NKJV)
God has consistently told mankind to carefully obey whatever He commands. Such vigilance is manifested by not adding to His commands and by not taking away from them. God’s word sufficiently explains the commands of God (2 Peter 1:3-4). Therefore, we do not need more revelation, creeds, confessions, councils, synods, or conferences to bind on us what These things have no such power. No document drafted and codified by men contains God’s power to free men and women from the commands of God. God has already commanded in His word. We live under the authority of Jesus Christ, and we must respect His word and obey it in all things. As the apostle said, “And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him” (Colossians 3:17). Therefore, let us “give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away” (Hebrews 2:1). Do not add to or take away from what God commands you through Jesus Christ, for “He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (Hebrews 5:9).
But he who looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues in it, and is not a forgetful hearer but a doer of the work, this one will be blessed in what he does. (James 1:25, NKJV)
Apparently some believe that since Christians are under the “law of liberty” they are at liberty to adapt the law of liberty to current cultural norms and expectations. We are told that what worked in the first century to draw people to Christ for salvation is antiquated in the twenty-first century. Such a relativistic view of truth is ready made for this present age, but it is not the nature of the abiding truth of Jesus Christ (Matthew 24:35; John 17:17; 2 Peter 1:3-4). Others say the law of liberty frees us from the regulatory demands of law-keeping (as if the commands of God are burdensome, 1 John 5:3). Yet, James is very clear in saying there is a “law” that one must continue in as a “doer of the work” in order to be blessed. If today’s verse does not say we must keep God’s law, then I must confess ignorance as to what it means! Later, James made it clear that Christians will be judged by the law of liberty: “So speak and so do as those who will be judged by the law of liberty” (James 2:12). Beware if you use the law of liberty as a license to change and discard the commands of Christ. To do so is to rob yourself of eternal blessings. The law of liberty frees us from sin, not from the restrains of following the law of Christ.
3 But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one. 4 And we have confidence in the Lord concerning you, both that you do and will do the things we command you. (2 Thessalonians 3:3–4, NKJV)
Christians are urged to never doubt the faithfulness of the Lord. “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you’” (Hebrews 13:5). The Lord is always present to strengthen and preserve us from the devil and secure us in times of trial. However, this does not free us from our personal responsibility to watchfully “resist the devil” so that he will flee from us (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8). As verse 4 of today’s passage indicates, it is as we obey the commands of Christ’s apostles that our assurance of His strength and protection is realized. Standing fast in the Lord is inseparably connected to holding to the truth handed down to us by the apostles (2 Thessalonians 2:15). It is precisely when we choose not to hold fast this pattern of sounds words that we falter and give the devil an opening to settle into our hearts, much like he did in the life of Judas (2 Timothy 1:13; John 13:2, 27). Although Judas was with Jesus, he fell because he chose defiance and betrayal over trusting obedience to Jesus. Put all your trust in Jesus by obeying His commands. The Lord is faithful to secure you, and all who do so.
Then God saw their works, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster that He had said He would bring upon them, and He did not do it. (Jonah 3:10, NKJV)
The Protestant Reformation of the Roman Catholic Church fell far short of restoring New Testament Christianity. One such area was its failure to return to the Scriptural (and thus, essential) place of obedience to God to be saved “by grace through faith” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Obedience is an “unprofitable” servant’s faith at work (Luke 17:10). Protestantism opted to demonize every kind of work while codifying salvation by faith only, even though Scripture says, “faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead” (James 2:17). And, “You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only” (James 2:24). Nineveh’s salvation from God’s imminent destruction well illustrates the part that a working faith plays in salvation. Why would God consider Nineveh’s “works” at all, if works have nothing to do with God’s gift of salvation (Jonah 3:7-9, 10)? Jesus endorsed their works as proof that “they repented” (Luke 11:32). Even so, we do not earn salvation when we obey God’s command to repent (Acts 17:30). But, without obeying God and repenting of sins, we will not receive His grace that saves our soul. Repentance is a work of faith, a condition we must meet to be saved (Acts 3:19). God has given commands we must obey as conditions to be saved “by grace through faith.” Unless we obey them, we do not trust God. All we have is a dead faith.
1 Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God; 2 for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 4:1–2, NKJV)
While some say obeying the commands of God is not essential for eternal salvation in Christ, the apostle encourages Christians to abound more and more in that very lifestyle. The word “ought” conveys a moral obligation. That is, we are morally required before God to walk (live) so as to please Him (2 Corinthians 5:9). Living to please God is accomplished by keeping the commandments we have been given by the apostles “through the Lord Jesus” (1 Corinthians 14:37). Stay the course of faithfully obeying the commands of the Lord Jesus, and Christ will give you eternal life (Hebrews 5:8-9). We can never be content with not pleasing God, as if our sin carries no eternal consequence. They do. Therefore, let us “abound more and more” in a life of faith that keeps the commands of God.