Does God Require any Outward Expression or Action to Obey Him?

piety

 

QUESTION: “Does God Require any Outward Expression or Action to obey Him?”  

 

“Isn’t God only interested in the heart, instead of being concerned about the external things of life?  Instead of water baptism, I think that an inner, spiritual baptism is what God really wants.  Instead of external elements of the bread and cup, I think that the Lord just wants an internal communion with Him.  Instead of being concerned about clothes or our external appearance, I think that God just looks inside us and that is sufficient.  What do you think?”

 

ANSWER  

 

Indeed, you have seen one important point in Scripture, and that is the fact that God is highly interested in our heart, our mind, and out spirit.  You will remember that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day had overlooked this fundamental principle in our dealings with God.  Our Lord charged these religious scribes with hypocrisy: “You clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.  You blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the dish, so that the outside of it may become clean also.  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness.  So you, too, outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:25-28).  Jesus said that outward actions like giving (Matthew 6:1-4), praying (vv. 5-15), and fasting (vv. 16-18) mean nothing to God unless our heart is right with Him.

On the other hand, the Lord Jesus didn’t just sweep away the outward and the external things of life.  Not only did He insist on certain outward actions and observances, He attached very deep significance to them!  He insisted on baptism—an immersion in water and rising from the water—but He said that this physical action inwardly was like Christ’s own death, burial, and resurrection (cf. Acts 2:38; Romans 6:3-5; Colossians 2:11-13).  He required eating of the unleavened bread (bread without yeast) and drinking from a cup of the fruit of the vine, but He emphasized that this was to memorialize His own body and blood, given for our sins (cf. Matthew 26:26-28; 1 Corinthians 11:17-32).

There were other external actions that were found in the early body of Christ as well—prayer (Acts 12:12), laying on of hands (cf. Acts 6:6), teaching the word of Christ (Matthew 28:20), wearing modest clothes (1 Timothy 2:11-12), women’s wearing a head veiling (1 Corinthians 11:2-16), women’s long hair (1 Corinthians 11:14-15), reading the Scriptures (Acts 17:11), fasting (Acts 14:23), anointing with oil (James 5:14), and other outward, physical actions.

It is important that we focus on the internal elements of the Christian way, but we should also take care that we do not reject the outward manifestations of these internal attitudes and understandings.  Certain groups like the Salvation Army, the Quakers, and the Ultra-dispensationalists have rejected such outward observances as water baptism and the breaking of bread, and in this rejection, they have rejected the God who requires these acts (Matthew 28:18-19; 1 Corinthians 10:16-17).

You may also want to check out the article, “Outward Actions, Inward Meaning.”

Richard Hollerman

 

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