Outward Actions, and Inward Meaning

baptism

Outward Actions, Inward Meaning

Outward Actions,

and Inward Meaning

 

·        Is God only interested in our heart attitudes?
Is He only interested in our outward actions?
Or does God focus both on the inner and outer?


God wants outward actions, but He wants us to have the right motivations, attitudes, and meaning!

Why do you do what you do?  What is the meaning, the significance, and the purpose of your actions as a Christian?  If you are a believer in Christ, you know that there are many commands of the Lord and the apostles that require overt action, physical activity, or some outward behavior or obedience.  However, you also know that the way of Christ is deeply meaningful and spiritual, involving the heart and spirit.  God doesn’’t want merely outward conformity to His commands; He also wants a heart that responds and a mind that understands those commands.

I once met a very zealous woman who professed Christ and devotedly read her Bible.  She contended that God is not at all interested in the act of baptism, or the remembrance of Jesus’ death with bread and cup, or literal fasting, or the kind of clothes we wear.  He is only concerned about the heart and the spiritual meaning of outer actions.  She vehemently opposed literal external observances, considering them carnal and worldly.  Do you know anyone who has a similar attitude?  Do you, yourself, minimize the outer aspects of Christianity?

It is clear that God is very much interested in the heart of a person.  We remember that God “searches all hearts and understands every intent of the thoughts” (1 Chron. 28:9; cf. 1 Kings 8:39; Jer. 17:9-10).  Jesus declared, “I am He who searches the minds and hearts” (Rev. 2:23; cf. Acts 1:24).  He told the Pharisees, “God knows your hearts” (Luke 16:15).  David realized that God was concerned about what was in him: “You desire truth in the innermost being” (Psalm 51:6).  Therefore, God does want an inner response to Him, with the heart and mind.  In fact, we must “understand” the Word that is preached in order to rightly respond to it (Matthew 13:23).  The meaning and significance of actions are vital!

God has always opposed those who would do things outwardly while the heart is far from Him.  Jesus spoke against the Pharisees of His day, “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me’” (Matt. 15:7-8).  A heart that is “far” from God cannot really please Him and cannot truly obey Him in the outward actions that He requires.  The scribes and Pharisees didn’t understand this at all.  Jesus warned them:

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” (Matt. 23:27-28).

This passage clearly shows that these religionists were something outwardly, but inwardly they were something very different.  This is why God wants “truth in the innermost being.”  He wants people to be right with Him on the inside, in the heart and spirit and mind, while also doing the right things outwardly.  We cannot have one without the other!

As is often the case, professing Christians have taken extremes in this matter of internal vs. external.  Like the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, some emphasize the external with little interest in the inner meaning and spiritual significance.  They emphasize proper forms, traditional ways of doing things, long-established rituals, and time-honored structures, systems, and orders.  They may look religious and speak religiously, but their heart may be cold, uncaring, and dead.  Jesus said to those of Sardis, “I know your deeds, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead” (Rev. 3:1).  Those in Ephesus had many worthy traits, but Jesus said, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love” (2:4).  We may do many religious deeds and ecclesiastical works, but none of this means anything without a heart of love, faith, and sincere devotion!

Since the time of Christ, there have been other professing Christians who contend that Christianity is so spiritual that it needs no external manifestation.  For various reasons, they say that we must not be bound to external “forms” and “rituals.”  Instead, we must focus on the heart, the spirit, the soul, and the inward relationship with God.

The first centuries of the Christian era saw the rise of a false teaching or heresy that rested on an entirely false philosophy.  Incipient Gnosticism may have had its roots in the first century, combining both pagan and Jewish elements.  Claiming to be the “knowing ones,” from the Greek word gnosis, meaning “knowledge,” these prideful proponents rested their philosophy on the idea that matter was intrinsically evil and spirit was inherently good.  Therefore, the supreme God would have had nothing to do with the world of matter or this lowly earth; a lesser deity or demiurge must have created this material earth.  Beyond this, they asserted that Jesus must not have come in the flesh for He would not have contaminated Himself with any contact with evil matter.

It is not always simple to firmly identify the false teachings that are being opposed in some of the New Testament writings. However, John the apostle seems to combat a form of this early form of gnosticism, labeled “Cerinthianism,” from the false teacher Cerinthus (see 1 John 2:22-24; 4:1-6; 2 John 7-11).  Docetism was another expression of this false Gnostic philosophy and this also is reflected in some of the New Testament letters.  Paul also seemed to be opposing some form of Gnostic thought in 2 Corinthians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Timothy, and Titus.  By the second and third centuries, this false philosophy became a leading opponent of the more orthodox church (that was also in the process of apostatizing!).  The fact that Jesus Christ came in the flesh, should have settled the question of whether the physical and material has a place in God’s plan and in the truth of God (cf. John 1:1, 14; 1 Timothy 3:16; 1 John 4:1-6).

Modern Rejection
of Outward Expressions and Actions

There have been other movements and teachers through history that denigrated the material and the physical while advocating what they deemed was the spiritual way of Christ.  All of these have failed to see basic truths of Scripture.  Today various minority groups continue to teach against certain outward, external forms while claiming that only the spiritual and inward meaning is of any value.

The Salvation Army rejects Baptism and other Outward Expressions

One of these modern aberrant groups is the Salvation Army.  Many people assume that this is a charitable organization, but in reality it is a religious sect or church that has defined beliefs and practices.  It may be surprising to some to realize that this sect rejects both baptism and the Lord’s supper.  “The Army believes that it is possible to live a holy life and receive the grace of God without the use of physical sacraments. . . . It is the inward experience that is the most important thing” (salvationarmy.org.uk).  Instead of baptism, the Salvation Army has another ceremony:

Recruits – as those who wish to become Salvation Army soldiers are known – study the Army’s doctrines and the principles and practice of a Salvationist lifestyle before a swearing-in ceremony takes place, usually in a Sunday meeting. During this, recruits stand under the Army flag and publicly acknowledge their salvation from sin, state their belief in the Army’s doctrines and promise to live by the standards laid out in the ‘articles of war’. They then sign a copy of these articles of war and a prayer is said asking for God’s help in keeping those promises. (2.salvationarmy.org.uk)

It appears that when the Biblical doctrine of baptism is rejected, a sect like this finds another ritual that will serve as a substitute initiation into their organization.  In this case, they stand under the flag, express their belief in the Army’s doctrines, and swear that they will live by the Army articles of war!   The Army uses the same reasoning for rejecting communion or the breaking of bread:

The Salvation Army places the emphasis on personal faith and on a spiritual relationship with God which is not dependent on anything external. . . . the belief of many Christians that the use of the sacrament of communion was commanded by Christ as essential for all Christians for all time, can be no more than an assumption. . . . It should be noted, however that 15 of the 21 New Testament letters make no mention at all of the ceremony which so many Christians now regard as essential to Christian living. (Ibid)

Arthur L. Farstad states,

The Toronto War Cry for August, 1959, lists eight reasons why the Salvation Army abandoned the ordinances: “In discarding the use of sacraments the Army Founder was led to do so for the following reasons: 1. There was no uniformity of practice. 2. There was great argument and conflict between religious denominations. 3. The bitterness engendered was harmful to the interests of the kingdom. 4. A large proportion of Church members gave no outward sign of an inward change, although they placed great importance upon the observance of the sacraments. 5. There was no scriptural warrant for the way the sacraments were observed. 6. They were not necessary to salvation or spiritual progress. 7. Some forms were positively harmful to the Army type of converts. 8. Salvation by the blood of the Lamb and regeneration by the Holy Spirit were the essentials. The only baptism enjoined in the New Testament was the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Quoted by Alfred Gibbs, Christian Baptism (Kansas City, KS: Walterick Publishers, 1966), 109.

Let every reader who feels obligated to support this human religious society remember this clear rejection of Scriptural teaching and norms.

The Quakers Reject Baptism and other Outward Expressions

The Salvation Army is not the only group that rejects baptism and the Lord’s supper.  The Society of Friends (the Quakers), founded by George Fox in the seventeenth century, is another sect that rejects outward observances:

The sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper have no place in Quaker Meetings. All life being considered a religious sacrament, occasional ceremonies were thought to obscure the need for continual spiritual striving, and just as a special oath was dispensed with by speaking the truth at all times, in the same way special sacraments were considered unnecessary. Sidney Lucas, The Quaker Story (New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers 1949), 52.

One Quaker authority puts it this way: “Of Baptism and the Lord’s Supper: There is only one Baptism (Eph. 4:5).  This is the Baptism of the Holy Spirit not the baptism in water (Acts 1:4,5).  The Lord’s Supper is also Spiritual (not with the elements of bread and wine) (Jn. 6:32-58 and Rev. 3:20).”  (bible.ca/cr-quakers)

The Quakers do not practice baptism, the Lord’s Supper, or any physical rite; instead, they believe in the ‘baptism of the Spirit’ and having meetings where the communion is in the unity of the spirit.  Quaker theology is essentially the working of the Spirit, with little to be left for the physical nature: man comes to God by the working of the Spirit, and his only comprehension of God can be through the Spirit. (deusvitae.com/faith/denominations/quaker)

Thomas Clarkson writes in his book, Quaker Baptism,

If, again, I were to make an assertion to divines, that Jesus Christ came to put an end to the ceremonial parts of the Jewish law, and to the types and shadows belonging to the Jewish dispensation, they would not deny it. But baptism and the supper were both of them outward Jewish ceremonies, connected with the Jewish religion. They were both of them types and shadows, of which the antetypes and substances had been realized at the death of Christ. And therefore a presumption arises again, that these were not intended to be continued (worldspirituality.org/quaker-aptism.html+quakers).

Quaker theology, therefore, rejects outward observances as unchristian and unspiritual.

The Ultra-Dispensationalists Reject Baptism and the Lord’’s Supper

Another faulty theology found in our contemporary religious world may be thought of as innocuous, but it is actually very dangerous.  While dispensationalism has grown in favor and now is quite popular, an extreme form of this has been labeled ultra-dispensationalism. (Obviously, this label has not been coined by adherents to their own system.)  This view holds that the gospels and part of Acts should be relegated to the Jewish age and has nothing to say to us today.  They would say that the various practices we read about in the New Testament are actually Jewish or Mosaic rituals and have no place in a spiritual religion.  They refer to the “gifts and sacrifices” mentioned in Hebrews, then they quote Hebrews 9:10 (in the KJV), “. . . which stood only in meats and drinks, and divers washings, and carnal ordinances, imposed on them until the time of reformation.”  These “divers washings” (KJV) or “various washings” (NASB), actually refer to various immersions (baptisms) in the Greek, thus they say that water immersion is a Jewish ordinance or practice and was not meant to be in Christianity that only has a “spiritual” baptism of the Spirit.  Most commentators believe that the Hebrew writer is here referring to the various “washings” or “immersions” in the Jewish system, but Christian baptism is vastly different.

At a certain point in Acts, it is thought that God turned to the Gentiles and the gospel of pure grace is now God’s plan for the world.  The requirement of baptism for the forgiveness of sins, taught by Peter in Acts 2:38, is thought to be God’s will for the Jew at that time, but this is now in the past.  Today, faith alone saves and any form of baptism for whatever purpose is now passé.  There is now no water baptism, but only a spiritual baptism or a Spirit baptism.

Proponent Charles H. Welch, in Dispensational Truths, states:

The preaching of the Baptist had been, ‘I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He that cometh after Me is mightier than I . . .  . He shall baptize you with the holy spirit [sic] and fire’ (Matt. 3:11).  During the Gospels we find water baptism and the promise of the baptism in spirit [sic].  During the Acts we find water baptism and the baptism in spirit [sic] together.  During the present period we find no water baptism, but the baptism in Spirit [sic] only.

While the more moderate ultra-dispensationalists will allow for the Lord’s supper, the more extreme form will deny this as well as water baptism.  One of the proponents of the more extreme view is Ethelbert William Bullinger (1837-1913), although there were others who espoused this radical dispensational teaching, which has sometimes been called Bullingerism.  Notice this quotation that refers to the fallacious reasonings of this theological view:

Bullinger based some of his arguments upon dichotomies of words that did not refer to incompatible realities. For example, the ordinances of baptism and the Lord’s Supper had to do with the flesh only and so had no place in the body of Christ alleged to be of the Spirit only. Bullinger failed to understand that just as the inner and outer man can be one man, so the inner Spirit baptism and outer water baptism can constitute one baptism.  The church, as many recent studies have indicated, is made up of tangible people in bodies meeting together in visible gatherings for the purposes of ministering to the whole person, both spirit and body. Christ’s reference to baptism in the Great Commission need not exclude it from application to today’s church (mb-soft.com/believe/text/ultradis.htm+Stam,+baptism).

Another false teacher who rejected water baptism was Maurice Johnson.  In an article entitled, “Saved by Dry Baptism,” Johnson wrote:

Surely every honest reader is convinced that the ‘baptism that saves us …’ does not have a drop of water in it. It is the miraculous baptism that Christ endured for us and that is put to our credit when Christ baptizes us with the Holy Spirit, thereby uniting us to Himself and everything in the way of law-keeping and ordinance-keeping righteousness, that He fulfilled for us.

Johnson thought that water baptism has no place in this age of grace.

So-called Christian Science, Unity, and other pseudo-Christian mind cults also deny a place for literal water baptism and other Christian physical actions found in Scripture.  Since these cults are far removed from God’s word and are not founded on Scripture, it is easily seen that they would refuse to be subject to the Biblical teaching on any external form.

In the following section, we want to show that God requires both inward attitudes and meanings, while also requiring outward actions.

Outward Actions and Internal Meaning

Outward actions in the way of Christ and the new covenant have true spiritual meaning.  God didn’t merely command certain external forms, procedures, acts, and expressions.  No, he wanted us to obey His will by means of certain forms, but these must have the right inward significance.  Otherwise, they are meaningless rituals that have no place in a spiritual religion.  Those who would deny any outward forms fail to understand God’s intention for outward expressions of our inward spiritual response.

Let’s notice several of the outward actions of Christ or the apostles, along with actions commanded by Christ or His apostles, or practiced by the early believers, taking special notice of the inner meaning of these actions.  Let’s also notice God’s view of outward actions (such as the incarnation of Christ) and His insistence that outward actions have the right meaning.

1.     1.Jesus washed the disciples’ feet.

 You may recall that in the upper room, before His arrest and crucifixion, Jesus was willing to wash His disciples’ feet (John 13:1-17).  Was this an empty ritual?  No, it was deeply meaningful and that meaning is found in the account itself.  It expressed Christ’s humble servant attitude (vv. 13-16).  The washing may also have symbolized His spiritual cleansing of the disciples (vv. 7-11).

2.     2.Christ was crucified.

An obvious example of an outward action with spiritual meaning was the crucifixion of Christ.  This was described by all of the gospel writers (Matt. 27:33-54; Mark 15:22-39; Luke 23:33-49; John 19:16-30).  It was important and imperative that Jesus actually die and shed His blood.  But why?  Thousands of Jews had been crucified on the hills surrounding Jerusalem in former years, but what made this death so different?

It was the meaning that God attached to this death.  Christ’s death was to pay for the sins of mankind. It was the means by which we could be forgiven of sin, redeemed from the enemy, reconciled to God, and washed from our transgressions (cf. Romans 5:6-11; 1 Corinthians 15:1-4; 2 Corinthians 5:19-21).  It is this inner spiritual meaning that made a simple death on a cross of utter importance!  This is the point that the early Gnostics failed to understand and accept.

3.      3.Baptism in the name of Christ Jesus. 

Although the Salvation Army, the Quakers, and the ultradispensationalists see no place for literal water baptism in contemporary Christianity, the Bible clearly says that baptism was to be practiced until the return of Christ.  Jesus commanded water baptism, and as the apostles were to go into all the world with the message of salvation, Jesus promised, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matt. 28:18-20).  This baptism was to continue to the very end of the present age.  Was this a baptism of the Spirit or a water baptism?  Baptism has both an earthly element (water) and a spiritual element (the Holy Spirit of God).  In this passage, we know that water baptism was commanded,  for the apostles were the agents in the baptizing (v. 19).  Spirit baptism or baptism in the Holy Spirit has Christ Himself as the agent (with the Spirit as the element) (cf. Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16).

What about other references to baptism in the New Testament?  In Acts 2:38, Peter commands, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”  Then in verse 41, we read, “Those who had received his word were baptized.”  In this passage, it is clear that an outward action (immersion in water) had an inner purpose and meaning—the forgiveness of sins and reception of the Holy Spirit.  This was not “Spirit baptism” for the baptism in this verse could be commanded; it had to be water baptism—but not mere water baptism, as we shall notice later.

When Philip preached Jesus to the Ethiopian (Acts 8:35), the latter said, “Look!  Water!  What prevents me from being baptized?” (v. 36).  The record then recounts how both Philip and the Ethiopian “went down into the water,” the Ethiopian was baptized, and they both “they came up out of the water” (vv. 38-39).  Again, it is clear that this was Christian water baptism, but it manifested the Ethiopian’s inner faith and commitment.  Both the inner and the outer were important in this baptism.  In the case of the conversion of the Gentile Cornelius, once again we have reference to water baptism (10:47-48).  Later, Paul and Silas preached to Lydia in Philippi, then this sincere woman must have been baptized in water at the river where the preaching occurred (16:13-15).  But it was not a mere water ritual—it was a deeply meaningful action that revealed this believer’s faithfulness (v. 15).  In the case of the baptism of the jailer, this action manifested his repentance and faith in both Christ Jesus and God (16:31-34).  Paul’s own baptism at the hands of Ananias in Damascus, was not an empty ritual, but Ananias related it to the washing away of Paul’s sins (22:16).

Other baptism passages show a deep inner meaning to baptism.  Romans 6:3-5 and Colossians 2:11-13 say that in baptism, one is identified with the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.  One dies to sin, is buried in baptism (an immersion in water), and rises to walk in newness of life, expressing a faith in the Lord (Romans 6:4; Colossians 2:12).  In Galatians 3:26-27, baptism expresses a faith in Jesus Christ.  While passages like these do not mention water, surely water was the external element while the internal expression included such truths as a deep repentance of sin, a faith in Christ and His death, a reception of the Holy Spirit, a death to sin, a beginning in righteousness, and an identification with Jesus Himself.  1 Peter 3:21 says, “Baptism now saves you,” and this must refer to water baptism because of the reference to “water” in the previous verse (v. 20).

Although we have no way of knowing for sure, Jesus may have had this internal-external experience in mind when He said to Nicodemus: “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5).  The early post-apostolic church generally held that this was a reference to baptism, but we would not insist on this since baptism, baptisma, is not mentioned in this verse.  Both literal water (cf. John 1:26, 31, 33; 2:7, 9; 3:23; 4:7, 13, 26; 5:4, 7) and symbolic water (John 4:10, 11, 14, 15) are found in the surrounding context.  The context also does mention water baptism (John 3:22, 23, 25?, 26; 4:1-2).  But because of the lack of clarity here, we would suggest that this birth of “water and Spirit” should not be taught dogmatically; we should look on this with some humility and caution.  On the other hand, both water baptism and the inner experience of the Holy Spirit are sometimes found together (cf. Acts 2:38-39; 9:17-18; 19:5-6; Romans 6:3-6 with 7:6; 1 Cor. 12:13?; Gal. 3:27 with 4:6; Titus 3:5-6?).

All of this means that baptism is not merely an external action; it is also a significant response of faith, repentance, and commitment of life.  Without this inner response, baptism indeed is meaningless.  This is one reason why infant baptism is unscriptural (we have dealt with this in other writings).

4.      4.Communion or the Breaking of Bread

communion (10)

Another physical action in the New Testament is meant to commemorate the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ.  In the upper room, while Jesus and the disciples were celebrating the Jewish Passover feast (Matt. 26:17-26), the Lord initiated a related remembrance—one that would always serve to focus the minds of His followers on Christ’s death for our sins.  Jesus took unleavened bread that was present on the Passover table and said, “Take, eat; this is My body” (v. 26).  He took the cup that was also on the table, and said, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins” (vv. 27-28).

From this, as well as other passages in the new covenant writings (Mark 14:22-25; Luke 22:14-20; Acts 2:42; 20:7; 1 Corinthians 10:15-17; 11:17-34), it is plain that this simple remembrance was not a mere external form.  Rather, it was meant to take the minds of believers back to the sacrifice of Christ’s body and blood for the sins of the world.  Perhaps it also was meant to remind us that true believers are part of the one body of Christ, ones who are united by a common allegiance to the crucified and living Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 11:23-34; Eph. 4:4; Rom. 12:4).  How long was this observance to last?  Paul answers: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (v. 26).  In this sharing in the body and blood of Christ, the disciples “proclaim” Jesus’ death and this is to continue until “He comes”—a reference to His coming for His faithful followers (cf. John 14:1-3; 1 Thess. 4:14-18; 2 Thess. 1:7-10).

It was not temporary, it was not a merely Jewish feast, but it was meant for Jews and Gentiles, an expression of the “new covenant” of Christ.  The Lord said, “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood” (Luke 22:20; cf. 1 Cor. 11:25).  Far from being a Jewish Passover feast, as given by Moses to Israel as part of the Old Covenant (cf. Exod. 12), this memorial given by Jesus was for all of His disciples, who are under the New Covenant, until His return in glory.

We can see that many professing Christian groups go through an external ceremony that they call Communion or the Eucharist, but they fail to appreciate the deep significance that this really has.  Commonly, it is a form, a ritual, a church requirement.  It is far removed from the spiritual, intimate communion (sharing) that the poor, despised, persecuted, and simple believers experienced as they gathered in common dwelling places of the first century to remember their crucified Lord (cf. Acts 2:42-46; 20:7; Romans 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19).  Evidently, they remembered the Lord in this manner each first day of the week (cf. Acts 20:7; 1 Cor. 16:1-2), something that continued in the following centuries.

5.     5.Singing to the Lord.

The early believers sung to the Lord and to each other.  Paul commanded, “. . . be filled with the Spirit, speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody with your heart to the Lord” (Ephesians 5:18-19).  In another place, he writes, “Let the word of Christ richly dwell within you, with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in your heart to God” (Colossians 3:16).

People gather on Sundays in tens of thousands of “church buildings,” presumably to worship God, but where are the hearts of the worshippers?  God does not just want a vocalization of certain religious words; this will never suffice!  He wants a people whose heart is fixed on Him, His glory, His majesty, and His wisdom.  According to the passages above, God wants people to sing with thankfulness, with a reverence, with a joy and gladness, and with a longing to please the God of heaven.  He wants our singing to take various forms (songs, hymns, and spiritual songs), and this is to express a filling with the Holy Spirit.  Instead of a melody that comes from lifeless instruments, we are to make melody with the “heart” to Lord!

Have you ever sung a hymn and later reflected, “What did I just sing?”  Too often we allow our mind to wander in other directions, while we continue to sing with our mouth.  We should sincerely pray, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer” (Psalm 19:14).

Jesus said that mere words mean nothing if the heart is not right.  He declared to the Pharisees: “You hypocrites, rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you: ‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me; but in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men’” (Matt. 15:7-9).  We can “honor” God with our lips, but this means nothing at all unless the heart is transformed and in tune with God and His will.

Every “Christian” radio station airs songs every day, sung by worldly and hypocritical and sometimes even immoral singers, yet they presume to lift their voice to the awesome and holy God (along with the blare of loud instrumentation)!  They seem unafraid to desecrate the name of God or offer praise to a God who will not accept songs from their prideful hearts and their compromising, worldly lives, and sometimes greedy lusts.

Instead of focusing on the correct notes, we are to concentrate on the meaning of the words, the worship that this entails, as well as the way we can build up and teach other believers with all wisdom (Col. 3:16-17).  We can see that singing is external (it involves actual words with the mouth), but it is more than this—it is very internal, involving the mind and heart and spirit before the Lord!  Jesus said, “The true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers.  God is spirit [or Spirit], and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24).  This may mean that our worship (including the expressing of singing) should be in truth (according to God’s truth and word) and in spirit (with the right attitude) or in the Holy Spirit (cf. Eph. 5:18-19; Phil. 3:3).

6.     6.Fasting to the Lord. 

Fasting is another external activity—but it means nothing unless it comes from sincere and godly motivations.  Jesus said, “Whenever you fast, do not put on a gloomy face as the hypocrites do, for they neglect their appearance so that they will be noticed by men when they are fasting” (Matt. 6:16).  He goes on to say that your fasting will be noticed “by your Father who is in secret” (v.18).  Jesus said that His disciples will fast (Matt. 9:15), but how and when?

In the Old Testament, fasting manifested a repentant heart (Jonah 3:5, 10), as well as an attitude of contrition while seeking God and His will (Daniel 9:3).  Jesus Himself fasted (Matt. 4:1-2), as did Moses (Exodus 34:28), and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8).  Among the early Christians, people fasting when serving the Lord (Acts 13:2), when appointing elders (Acts 14:23), and at other occasions.

However, fasting is not merely external—the abstinence from food, and sometimes even from water.  It must be accompanied by and expressive of a deep honor and reverence before the Lord.  It is an action directed to the Lord (Matt. 6:18) and He is the one who will reward the one who fasts.  Moreover, God makes it clear that he abhors fasting or any other exercise if one is hypocritical and disobedient.  True fasting must come from a life that is merciful to the needy, generous with one’s substance, and caring of the poor (Isaiah 58:4-12).  The Pharisees fasted twice a week—but it did them no good at all (cf. Luke 18:11-12).

7.     7. Laying on of Hands. 

We might remember that Jesus often laid His hands on people to heal them (cf. Matt. 8:3, 15; Mark 1:41; Luke 5:13) and His apostles were to do the same (Mark 16:18).  Paul laid his hands on the father of Publius on the island of Malta (Acts 28:8).   Jesus sometimes laid His hands on people to bestow a blessing or offer prayer (Matthew 19:13-15; Mark 10:16).  The apostles prayed and “laid their hands” on the seven men who were chosen to “serve tables” and care for the widows in Jerusalem (Acts 6:6).  The elders also laid their hands on Timothy (1 Tim. 4:14).  Further, the apostles laid their hands on the Samaritans to receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:15-17), and Paul laid his hands on the twelve disciples in Ephesus that the Holy Spirit might come on them (Acts 19:6).   Apparently the laying on of hands was part of the “elementary teaching about the Christ” (Heb. 6:1-2).  But we must note that this was not merely an external action, but a very significant physical action.

8.     8.Anointing with oil. 

The early followers of Christ anointed people in connection with healing (Mark 6:13).  James states that elders are to pray over a sick person, “anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord” (James 5:14).  This was an outward action, using oil—perhaps olive oil—but it had to be used with good and proper inner motives.

9.     9. Marriage and Sexuality. 

God created Adam and Eve at the very beginning and instituted marriage as the common, normal relationship between a man and woman through history (Gen. 1:26-28; 2:18-25).  The Lord Jesus referred to the Genesis account of this first marriage, saying, “the two shall become one flesh” and “they are no longer two, but one flesh.  What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matthew 19:5-6).  Paul also discussed the relationship of the husband and wife in 1 Corinthians 7:1-5, and offers additional instruction in Ephesians 5:22-33 and Colossians 3:18-19.

It is vital that we understand that the husband and wife enjoy a relationship that is patterned after the relationship of Christ and His people (the body of Christ).  The wife is to be subject to her husband, “as to the Lord” (Eph. 5:22), and “as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything” (v. 24). Conversely, the husband is to love his wife “just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word” (vv. 25-26).  The remainder of this section continues to compare the relationship of the husband and wife with that of Christ and His people.

It would be dreadfully wrong to simply see marriage as a formal, external agreement and relationship.  Instead, marriage involves a solemn covenant before God (Prov. 2:17).  God says that a wife is “your companion and your wife by covenant” (Mal. 2:14).  The relationship is a deeply spiritual one, something that only two genuine Christians can fully understand (cf. Eph. 5:22-33).  It involves not only a physical relationship, but also an emotional and spiritual one!

1 10. The Christian Woman’’s Veiling. 

Paul the apostle wrote a long section of Scripture, expressing the need for order in the arrangement that God has made between man and woman.  The basic principle: “Christ is the head of every man, and the man is the head of a woman, and God is the head of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:3).  Based on this fundamental truth, Paul commended the saints, “[You] hold firmly to the traditions, just as I delivered them to you” (v. 2).  “Tradition” comes from the Greek, paradosis, meaning “a handing down or on,” from the term, paradidomi, meaning “to hand over, deliver.”  Paul had handed down certain practices when he had been with these saints, and he commended them for observing them.

One of these practices was the Christian woman’s covering or veiling (vv. 4-16).  The apostle instructs the Corinthian Christian sisters to wear a covering or veiling as an expression of humility and submission, while “praying or prophesying” (v. 5), according to the order of creation (vv. 7-9), “because of the angels” (v. 10), while forbidding the Christian man from praying or prophesying with something on his head (v. 4).

Although this is somewhat of a controversial subject, the apostle seems to base his reasoning on several points, thus it was not a meaningless clothing requirement, or merely a cultural tradition or local custom, as many people seem to assume.  “None of these reasons was based on contemporary social custom” (Ryrie Study Bible, note).  Because of the man’s natural headship over the woman (v. 3), the woman is to cover her head when speaking for God or to God.  It is likewise worth of note that nature says that a woman’s long hair is a kind of natural covering, the woman’s “glory,” which may denote “’the way things are’ because of God’s design” (The Net Bible, note).  Paul also says that it is “dishonor” for a man to have long hair (1 Cor. 11:13-15).  Again we see that outward actions reveal inward meaning

11. The Kiss of Greeting. 

Scripture refers to the early Christians greeting each other with a kiss, the common form of salutation in the first century.  This was an outward action.  But this outward action could be hypocritical, as in the case of Judas when he betrayed Jesus our Lord (Luke 22:47-48; Matt. 26:47-50).  In contrast, the Christian kiss was to express right motives and a right attitude of heart.  It was to be a “holy kiss” (Romans 16:16; 1 Cor. 16:20; 2 Cor. 13:12; 1 Thess. 5:26).  Peter adds to this by writing, “Greet one another with a kiss of love” (1 Peter 5:14).

12. Giving to the Lord. 

Throughout Scripture, God has given instruction regarding giving part of our income or possessions to Him, to His work, and to needy people.  The new covenant writings give many directives on this subject.  While apparently the tithe is no longer technically required of the new covenant believer, as it was for the Israelite under the Law of Moses (cf. Matt. 23:23-24; Luke 18:12; Num. 18:21-29; Deut. 12:6-18; 14:22-29; 26:12; Lev. 27:30), surely it would be appropriate for those under grace, who have been showered with the blessings of the gospel through Christ Jesus, to give a tithe as a minimum, but even much more, if possible.  (See our study, Christian Giving.)

The new covenant writings indicate that Christians are to give to other poor brothers and sisters (cf. Romans 15:26; Gal. 2:10; 2 Cor. 8:4; 9:1, 12), to those who teach the Word (Gal. 6:6), to those who are elders or overseers (1 Tim. 5:17-18), and to those who preach the gospel (1 Cor. 9:3-14; cf. Phil. 4:10-18; 3 John 5-8).  As Paul said, “The Lord directed those who proclaim the gospel to get their living from the gospel” (1 Cor. 9:14).

This financial giving should be generous and sacrificial (2 Cor. 8:1-5), as a proof of one’s love (8:8, 24), following the example of Jesus in true sacrifice (8:9), to establish a measure of equality among believers (8:11-15), with purpose and cheer (9:7), bountifully (9:6), and not affected by a covetous spirit (2 Cor. 9:5).  It should result in thanksgiving to God (9:11-12), glory to God (v. 13), prayer to God (v. 14), and is an expression of God’s grace in the giver (v. 14).  We can see that giving is not merely an external act (although it does involve literal money and possessions) but it is an expression of an inner attitude toward God and fellow-saints (James 2:15-16; 1 John 3:16-18), as well as outsiders (cf. Gal. 6:9-10).

Giving, along with our view of material things, may be considered a barometer of our spiritual life and our relationship to both God and people!  Few things reveal the condition of our heart as much as our view of money and our handling of money (Luke 16:10-15; 21:1-4; Mark 10:21-27)!

13. Christian Meetings. 

We know that the early believers met together frequently.  For the first couple of centuries, they normally did this in private homes (cf. Rom. 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:19; Col. 4:15; Phile. 2; Acts 12:12).  The early believers recognized that they were brothers and sisters in God’s family (cf. James 2:14; 2 Cor. 6:18; Eph. 2:19; 1 Tim. 3:15).  This family relationship was fostered by the family atmosphere that must have prevailed in the home groups of which they were part (cf. Acts 2:41-46).  The early Christians were not to stay away from the gatherings: “Let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near” (Heb. 10:24-25).

It is important to observe that this meeting with each other was not merely a physical matter; it was deeply spiritual.  Like other elements of the Christian life that we have seen above, there is the outward or external, but there is the inward and spiritual as well.  The outer means nothing without the internal!  Conversely, the inner means nothing without the outward expression!  Sadly, we know that many and perhaps most people go to church “to fulfill their duty” or “to hear a good sermon,” but there is much more to the meetings than this.  The Christian gatherings (if they are what God wants them to be) should be the context for sharing, edifying, teaching, learning, serving, helping, admonishing, warning, growing, worshiping, praying, studying, confessing, and loving.

The body of Christ is vital in God’s plan.  Only those who are in Christ’s body can be saved, since Christ “loved the church and gave Himself up for her” and is “the head of the body” Eph. 5:23-24).  We should never renounce the true community, assembly, or body of Christ since He is “the Savior of the body” (v. 23)!  Paul refers to “the church of God which He purchased with His own blood” (Acts 20:28).  He also writes to Christians, asking, “Do you not know that you are a temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?” (1 Cor. 3:16).

Therefore, we should not consider God’s people, who are formed into groups who gather locally, to be obsolete, unimportant, or dispensable. No, Christ died for these people, He is the Savior of these people, He is Head of these people, He purchased these people, and He indwells these people!

We know, of course, that there is massive apostasy in our day and most of what purports to be God’s church is a counterfeit of the devil, thus we must not be deceived about this.  Most of those professing to be Christians and saved, have been deceived by the spiritual enemy.  Further, we must not mistakenly believe that God’s people or Christ’s body can be identified with a particular denomination, sect, or religious organization.  This entirely misses the point.  On the other hand, we need to acknowledge that Christ does want His people to gather with other loving, faithful, genuine, zealous, separated, holy, and evangelistic disciples of Christ for the glory of God!

  14. Preaching and Teaching the Word.

We are commanded to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).  Jesus said that “repentance for forgiveness of sins would be proclaimed in His name to all the nations” (Luke 24:47).  Based on His universal authority (Matt. 28:18), Jesus declared, “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (vv. 19-20).  From these accounts of the Great Commission, it is clear that the apostles and all believers are to share the good news of Jesus Christ to the ends of the earth, and those who respond to this and are saved are to be taught to observe all that the Lord commanded.

We can see that we are to proclaim the gospel and teach the word of God.  The early believers recognized this responsibility and “those who had been scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).  But sharing the good news of Jesus and His word is not merely an external activity that involves the communication of words (in person, in print, or by recordings), but it has a deep meaning.  Paul says that preaching is the communication of “the unfathomable riches of Christ” (Eph. 3:8).  Preaching and teaching involves the sharing of the very words of God for the blessing and benefit of the hearers.  This message is to be shared with love (Eph. 4:15), courage and boldness (Eph. 6:19), clarity (Col. 4:3-4), wisdom (2:28), kindness, patience, gentleness (2 Tim. 2:24-25), truthfulness (Eph. 4:15), a sense of responsibility (James 3:1), and authority (Tit. 2:15).  Words spoken without the right inner attitude mean nothing at all (Matt. 12:34-37).

Paul mentions two different motivations in preaching: “Some . . . are preaching Christ even from envy and strive, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love. . . ; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives” (Phil. 1:15-17).  We can see from this that preaching must have the proper content, but it must also have the proper motivation if it is to be pleasing to God.

15. Clothing. 

Clothing is something that we all know something about, for we all wear it!  Ever since Adam and Eve fashioned their own clothes, and God gave them other clothes (Genesis 3:7, 21), clothing has been an important factor in human lives.  Clothing can be used to entice others (Proverbs 7:10), to display a prideful attitude (Isaiah 3:16-23), and to express one’s riches (Luke 16:19; James 2:2-4).  While God looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16:9), we know that God wants our outward appearance to display an inner spiritual attitude before Him and others.  We must not dress to receive praise from others, as the Pharisees did (Matthew 23:5; Luke 20:46).

We are to be adorned with “proper clothing, modestly and discreetly, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly garments” (1 Timothy 2:9).  Scripture says, “Let your beauty not be external—the braiding of hair and wearing of gold jewelry or fine clothes—but the inner person of the heat, the lasting beauty of a gentile and tranquil spirit, which is precious in God’s sight” (1 Peter 3:3-4).  All of this shows that God definitely is interested in the clothes that the Christian wears, but these clothes must express a heart of reverence, humility, and spirituality.  We must refrain from being “conformed to this world” in our clothing (Romans 12:2).  (See our pamphlet, Pleasing God in Personal Appearanc.

16. Confession of Christ.

Paul says that we must confess Jesus to be saved: “If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation” (Romans 10:9-10).  This shows that a confession that saves is a confession that expresses the heart’s belief and commitment.  Paul wrote, “Having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we also believe, therefore we also speak” (2 Cor. 4:13).  The apostle also said to Timothy, “You made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses” (1 Tim. 6:12).

In the context of being persecuted for Jesus Christ, our Lord said that a confession of Him is vital: “Everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven.  But whoever denies Me before men, I will also deny him before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32-33; Mark 8:38).  This would mean that we cannot just think that believing in our heart is sufficient.  We must confess with our mouth as well (cf. Romans 10:9).

Sadly, we know that many have uttered some kind of public confession without really acknowledging that Jesus is Lord, Ruler, Owner, and Sovereign over their lives and over heaven and earth!  Further, surely many have confessed to Jesus Himself, without really knowing the significance of their words.  Many confess with words that Jesus is the Son of God, the Lord, and the Savior—but it does them no good.  “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter” (Matt. 7:21).  Our confession must mean something!  It must mean that we believe in Jesus and will be totally submissive to Him.

17. The Word of God. 

The Bible is God’’s word regardless of who believes this fact and who doesn’t.  It is objectively God’s inspired, revealed, and authoritative word, the holy Scriptures, and we must believe that with all of our hearts.  Paul states, “All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).  Peter adds that “Men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God” and wrote Scripture (2 Peter 1:20-21).  That Word is the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17) that pierces the heart and soul (Heb. 4:12-13).  Jesus said, “Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; Luke 4:4).  That word is what will judge us on the great Day of Judgment (John 12:48).

While the Bible is God’s word and totally accurate in all it affirms, whether anyone believes this or not, we must respond to that word in faith and obedience if it would profit us spiritually.  Some unbelievers and even atheistic professors may read the Bible, perhaps for their interest or for some academic investigation, but this will not spiritually and eternally profit them unless they believe what they read and submit themselves to God’s word in obedience.  Jesus said, “Everyone who hears these words of Mine and acts on them, may be compared to a wise man who built his house on the rock” (Matt. 7:24).

James says that hearing (or reading) the word of God will be of no value unless it is expressed in overt obedience: “Prove yourselves doers of the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves” (James 1:22).  He goes on to say, “One who looks intently at the perfect law, the law of liberty, and abides by it, not having become a forgetful hearer but an effectual doer, this man will be blessed in what he does” (v. 25).  Vast numbers of people will be rejected on the Day of Judgment, even though they have dutifully been “daily Bible readers” and listened to sermons and teachings!  They simply did not obey what they read from God’s own Word.

18. Good Works or Deeds

Good deeds definitely are outward activities, ones that should be found in every true Christian’s life.  Paul emphasizes this to Titus.  This young man was to be “an example of good deeds” (2:7).   Christians are to be “zealous for good deeds” (2:14), and “be ready for every good deed” (3:1).  We are to “be careful to engage in good deeds” (3:8), and to “learn to engage in good deeds to meet pressing needs” (3:14).  The disobedient, on the other hand, are “worthless for any good deed” (1:16).

These good deeds or righteous works must be done with the right motives.  Jesus gave the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:30-37), and noted that the good deed that this worthy man did manifested love (vv. 27-29), compassion (v. 33), and mercy (v. 37).  The Lord Jesus gave a description of the judgment scene after He returns (Matthew 25:31-46), and He indicated that those who enter the kingdom and receive eternal life (vv. 34, 46) will be ones who have shown compassion and care for Christ’s “brothers”—evidently fellow-Christians (vv. 34-40).  Qualities and fruit—such as love, mercy, kindness, and compassion—must always be expressed in overt, outward ways to bring glory to God.

Hasn’’t God Rejected All Outward Actions and Forms?

Some people may superficially read the old covenant writings (i.e., the Old Testament), and see certain condemnations by God of outward forms and external worship.  However, we must not misunderstand these condemnations that are found in several places.  Notice a few of these.

1.     Did God reject the Mosaic sacrifices? 

We know that God commanded many different sacrifices and this was an integral part of the Mosaic Law (cf. Lev. 1-7).  Throughout the old covenant period, faithful believers were required to offer sacrifices at the temple.  When they did this, with a faithful and honest heart and repentant attitude, they would be forgiven (cf. Lev. 4:31, 35; 5:10, 13, 16, 18; 6:7).  These sacrifices included the various feasts, such as Passover with its required lamb or goat, as well as the Day of Atonement with its sacrifice of the goat and ram.  There are a few passages that might make the cursory reader wonder about this.  For example, God says:

“What are your multiplied sacrifices to Me?”
Says the LORD.
“I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed cattle;
And I take no pleasure in the blood of bulls, lambs or goats” (Isaiah 1:11).

However, we must see the context and realize that God is condemning the sacrifices of hypocritical and evil people:

Alas, sinful nation,
People weighed down with iniquity, Offspring of evildoers,

Sons who act corruptly!

They have abandoned the LORD,

They have despised the Holy One of Israel,

They have turned away from Him (Isaiah 1:4).

Again and again in the old covenant writings, God shows His displeasure of those who would bring offerings to the temple but do this with an evil heart:

Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings,

I will not accept them;

And I will not even look at the peace offerings of our fatlings.

Take away from Me the noise of your songs;

I will not even listen to the sound of your harps.

But let justice roll down like waters

And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” (Amos 5:22-24)

Therefore, God rejects the sacrifices because of the evil heart of the one who sacrifices.  The sacrifices themselves are required of the Israelite with a humble, contrite, and repentant heart.  (See also Isaiah 66:3; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8).

2.     Did God reject the Mosaic Festivals?

In a similar way of condemning the hypocritical sacrifices, God also rejected the feasts or festivals of fallen, compromising, and dead Israel:

I hate, I reject your festivals,
Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies (Amos 6:21).
Bring your worthless offerings no longer,
Incense is an abomination to Me.
New moon and Sabbath, the calling of assemblies—
I cannot endure iniquity and the solemn assembly.
I hate your new moon festivals and your appointed feasts,
They have become a burden to Me;
I am weary of hearing them (Isaiah 1:13-14).

As in the case of the sacrifices, God is not really rejecting the festivals.  In fact, He commanded them and required them of faithful Israel.  But He hates those who pretend to worship the Lord but have evil in their heart.

3.     Did God reject fasting?

We know that God required fasting on the Day of Atonement (cf. Lev. 16), but did He become dissatisfied with this?   Did He discontinue his requirement of this activity?  No, his command continued, but Yahweh God did reject hypocritical fasting that arose from an evil heart.  Fasting was part of the life of faithful men and women who had a heart of faith and love for Him. Notice the case of Daniel: “I gave my attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth and ashes” (Dan. 9:3).  Think also the prophetess Anna, who “never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers” (Luke 2:37).

God, however, commanded that the Israelites “fast” by their works of mercy:

You fast for contention and strive and to strike with a wicked fist.
You do not fast like you do today to make your voice heard on high.
Is it a fast like this which I choose, a day for a man to humble himself?
Is it for bowing one’s head like a reed
And for spreading out sackcloth and ashes as a bed?

Will you call this a fast, even an acceptable day to the LORD?
Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’ (Isaiah 58:4-9a)

Just as God didn’’t change His mind on sacrifices and yearly feast days, so He didn’t discontinue His requirement of fasting.  He did emphasize that none of these external Mosaic requirements meant anything at all if the Israelite didn’t have a humble, contrite, and repentant heart that had mercy and compassion on others.  The same is true today: God requires all of our external activities to be carried out in the right spirit and attitude.

Outward Actions, Inward Meaning

We began our discussion by pointing out that God does require outward actions of the Christian today.  In the period before the Christian era, sometimes called the Mosaic age or the period of the Law, many external requirements were imposed by God.  We all are aware of the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17; Deuteronomy 5:1-21), but He also gave the Book of the Covenant (Exodus 21:1-24:8), and the entire books of the Law (Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy).

Today, it is true that God no longer requires physical animal sacrifices, special Mosaic feast days, Kosher food, or other requirements of the Mosaic code.  Paul speaks of the Jews and Gentiles becoming one in Christ and, as this happened, God took away the Mosaic commands: “He [Christ] Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace” (Eph. 2:14-15).

Paul also tells the Colossians, “No one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day—things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ” (2:16-17).  The writer of Hebrews says the same thing: “The Law, since it has only a shadow of the good things to come and not the very form of things, can never, by the same sacrifices which they offer continually year by year, make perfect those who draw near” (10:1).  God has brought in a new covenant, a second covenant—and the old covenant, the first covenant, is now “obsolete” (Heb. 8:7-13).  Now, “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4).  (See our study, The Old Covenant and the New Covenant.)

This is the important point that we must learn: God required outward actions and observances under the old covenant, the agreement that He made with Israel.  As we noted above, this first covenant was embodied in the ten commandments, the book of the covenant, and the broader commands that God gave to Israel through Moses (Exodus-Deuteronomy). The new covenant is characterized by its inward character.  God says, of the new covenant, “I will put My laws into their minds, and I will write them on their hearts.  And I will be their God, and they shall be My people” (Hebrews 8:10).  Throughout the period of the Law of Moses, God hated outward observances that were carried out by sinful Israelites who played the hypocrite while their hearts where far from God.

Likewise, God requires many outward actions in our day, during the so-called Christian age (or the age of grace, the age of fulfillment).  These are outward, external, or physical activities.  However, none of this avails if our heart is far from God, if we allow known and unrepentant sin in our life, or if we do not have the right inner, spiritual, Scriptural meaning reflected in the outward actions.

This is only a sample of how God attaches inner meaning to outward actions.  Some professing Christians seem to espouse a view akin to the Catholic ex opera operato, or opus operatum.  Roman Catholic theologians use these terms to mean that “the benefit of a sacrament is conferred ‘by virtue of the work wrought.’ In other words, the grace is in the sacrament which conveys it to the passive recipient without the necessity of faith and repentance” (Alan Cairns, Dictionary of Theological Terms).  The Catholic Cardinal Bellamine says that “it confers grace by virtue of the sacramental act itself” (Ibid.).  This false teaching means that a Christian act is effective and acceptable to God regardless of the inner meaning or the significance that the participant places on the act.

Many Protestants rightly reject this heretical doctrine, but they come close to believing it in their own practice.  Some would say that baptism is valid and acceptable to God even if the one baptized doesn’t understand the Scriptural meaning of the act—or even denies it.  Some would even say that baptism is effective even if the baptized person has no idea whatever of the act that is being performed, as in infant baptism.  Some Protestants, such as some Presbyterians, offer communion to little children, but we know that partaking of the bread and cup is only for those who understand the significance of the body and blood of our Savior, something that a little child cannot do.

Many professing Christians sing without a real understanding of the words that come from their mouth!  Sometimes the words may be false in theology and unbiblical in content, but many have little interest in knowing this; they think it is sufficient that they like the tune and musical arrangement!  Surely many people just read the Bible out of habit, or to become a daily Bible reader, or to follow a lesson plan, but they have little real interest in hearing God speak through the printed words of the Biblical text, and have no serious interest in taking the words of the Bible as a mandate to obedience.

How many people attend Christian meetings, but simply go as spectators without a desire to participate, to express one’s spiritual gifts, according to God’s directives?  How many listen to “sermons” and Bible teachings, with little interest at all about what is being taught?  How many women give serious consideration to the clothing that they wear, asking whether it is truly feminine, whether it manifests a humble or prideful attitude, and whether it could be enticing to the opposite gender?  How many give money simply because it is a habit, because the church demands it, or with an effort to promulgate the doctrines and agenda of a denomination—even when all of this manifests a faulty theology, a sinful activity, or a diluted Biblical message?

Two points are important here.  One is motive.  A motive is “something that causes a person to act in a certain way, to do a certain thing” (Random House Webster’s College Dictionary).  The other point is meaning.  This may be defined as “what is intended to be or actually is expressed or indicated. . . . the end, purpose, or significance of something” (Ibid.).

God wants our motive to be pure, godly, and Scriptural.  He commands certain overt actions, but He wants those actions to be carried out because we have a desire to serve and glorify God, a desire to love Jesus, a desire to love and serve our fellow Christians, and a compassion on the poor and needy.  Further, in commanding certain actions, God wants us to attach His purpose and significance to those actions.  God only accepts our obedient, external actions when they are prompted by the proper motive and attitudes, and when we attach a proper Scriptural meaning to the actions that conforms to the truth.

This means that baptism, for example, is not merely an immersion in water, in obedience to God’s command.  It must be motivated by a sincere repentance of all sin, a renunciation of self, a genuine faith in Jesus Christ, and the intention of committing our life to Jesus as Lord.  Futher, Scripture teaches that baptism had a very profound inner meaning.  It is meant to identify us with Christ’s death and resurrection, it relates us to the forgiveness or washing away of sin, it is the embodiment of surrender and dependence on Christ’s blood, it binds us to a life of obedience and discipleship, and it relates us to the body of Christ or family of God.  One must not think that he has actually been Scripturally baptized if his was only an external action, a mere lowering into water and rising from water, or going through a certain religious ritual in a church building.  True baptism is much, much more than this!  True Christianity is a spiritual way of life and baptism partakes of this spirituality and deep significance.

The same can be said of the various other external or outward actions that we examined on the previous pages.  Much that passes as Christianity today and much that occurs in the name of Christ, is empty, vain, and useless.  Someone has said, “We must do Bible things in Bible ways with Bible meaning!”  This is good, if we mean that what God wants us to do must be done with the proper motive and with the proper significance.

One final example must suffice.  We know that Jesus wanted His followers to partake of a loaf of unleavened bread and partake of a cup of the fruit of the grape vine.  Why should we do this?  Do we do it just because Jesus tells us to do so?  Jesus didn’t leave that as an option, for He said that we must come to the communion table with love for Him, with a humility before Him, with a gratefulness for His sacrifice, with a faith in His sufficient redemption, and with a regenerated heart.  Further, we must come to the bread and cup with the proper meaning attached to the elements and with the proper understanding of this simple remembrance.  We must see through the bread to the very sacrificed body of our Lord, and we must see through the cup to the redemptive blood of our Savior.

This is not mere bread and fruit of the vine, but it is special and significant, according to the meaning that Jesus attaches to this act. To show how vital it is to think proper thoughts and have a proper spiritual attitude as we partake, Paul makes this very sobering warning: “Whoever eats the break or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.  But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly” (1 Corinthians 11:27-29).  This should always be a warning to us to do the right thing, in the right way, with the right motive, with the right significance, and with the right Scriptural understanding!

We could continue with a further discussion like this to cause us to think about why we do what we do.  We can do the right thing with wrong motives, with a wrong understanding, and with a wrong significance.  God wants us to do the right thing, with the right meaning, and with the right understanding!

 

Finally, let us remember that God does want and even requires certain outward actions, but He also insists that these external, outward, and physical actions conform to His holy will, in accordance with His Scriptural principles, and in harmony with what He has revealed.

Richard Hollerman

 

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