In a previous post, we have addressed our responsibility to share the truth. Now we ask, do we get to pick which truth we believe, obey, and teach, and which we don’t? Or are we responsible for the whole truth?
I recently came across an example of this, where a blog author concludes that we can dismiss one part of Scripture in light of another part. He referenced Matthew 22:35-40:
"Then one of them, a lawyer, asked Him a question, testing Him, and saying, “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the law?” Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.”
The blog author said he wondered what Jesus meant when he said “On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets,” and he had “come to believe” that this was meant as a replacement for the old testament. There was no other context, no other scripture referenced. He was just “wondering” about that one verse, and concluded it meant the only commandment we have now is to “love God and others.”
While we agree that we absolutely are commanded to love God and others, does that negate the entire Old Testament, or the rest of the New Testament? This is an example of the error in taking a tiny part of the truth, such as a single verse out of the Bible, and building a belief system around that. If we believe the Bible is the Word of God, we have to take it all, even the difficult parts. In
Matthew 5:17-18 Jesus says:
“Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill. For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.”
Till heaven and earth pass away. Not one jot or one tittle (meaning not even the tiniest part of a single letter).
Jesus also said in the next two verses:
“Whoever therefore breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Clearly, Jesus did not dismiss the Old Testament.
The Law and the Spirit
To explore this example further, let’s ask what the law is. The Hebrew word for law (torah) actually means “instruction” from a root verb “to throw” or “to teach.” The point of the law is to teach us what sin is and how to “love God and others.” Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, and is a powerful declaration from David about how much he loves God’s commands. Following God’s instruction is what loving God and others looks like!
Those two great commandments are the spirit of the law (what we want to accomplish), and the individual rules are the letter of the law (how we accomplish that). But we know we cannot accomplish that in our own strength. The law teaches us we are sinners and we cannot please God. More than 500 years before Jesus came to earth God promised He would solve that problem for us — we would be able to obey Him through the gift of His Spirit:
"Moreover, I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; and I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.
Although it may seem overwhelming to us that there are over 600 commands in the Old Testament, the New Testament contains even more, over 1000:
In the New Testament we are commanded to “be perfect” (Matthew 5:48). That is harder than all the commands of the Old Testament. It is impossible to be perfect. And that is why Jesus had to die for us.
However, we cannot interpret that to mean “we get to do whatever we want now because Jesus took the penalty” which is what many desperately want that to mean. God is the same yesterday, today, and forever, there is still such a thing as good and bad, and he is still calling us to be perfect. Paul explains that we are free from the punishment of the law (eternal death), but not not from the call to obedience. Jesus does not give us an open invitation to continue to sin all we want.
Now, some responses to this are:
Jesus saved us from sin! It doesn’t lead to death anymore! (Romans 6:23)
The only sin that is unforgivable is blasphemy of the Holy Spirit! Every other sin will be forgiven! (Matthew 12:31)
The law can’t free people from death! Only love! (Romans 8:1-3, John 13:35)
These are partly true, but not the whole truth.
Jesus did save us, but we can’t willfully continue to live a life in sin.
Sin can be forgiven, but we have to repent and turn from it.
We do show Jesus to others by our love.
Turning from sin
All sin leads to death. The Bible is very clear on that.
"For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
"Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am tempted by God”; for God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He Himself tempt anyone. But each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death."
So sin leads to death. But we know we can be forgiven if we “repent, believe, and be baptized.” The part we’re talking about here is repenting. Anyone can be forgiven, but only if they repent and turn from their sin.
We know Jesus “got real” with people, and “met them where they were at.” He ate and spent time with sinners. But what did He tell them? As in the example of the woman caught in adultery:
"When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, “Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said to her, “Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.”
The ending of that is crucial. He doesn’t say “Neither do I condemn you; go and do whatever makes you feel good.” He says “Go and sin no more.” Jesus forgave her, but if she went right back to adultery, that would be direct disobedience to what he said, wouldn’t it? If I don’t turn from a sinful lifestyle, I clearly haven’t repented, so how can I expect to be forgiven? I can’t live in sin and be a follower of Christ. They don’t mix. It’s one or the other. Paul says in Romans chapter 6:
"What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?"
"What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? Certainly not! Do you not know that to whom you present yourselves slaves to obey, you are that one’s slaves whom you obey, whether of sin leading to death, or of obedience leading to righteousness?"
"What fruit did you have then in the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now having been set free from sin, and having become slaves of God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end, everlasting life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord."
He says multiple times: the end of those things is death. James also explains that if you are truly saved, how you live your life and what you do will show your faith:
"What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe–and tremble! But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, “Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness.” And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only. Likewise, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out another way? For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also."
We are either slaves to sin, leading to death, or slaves to God. We have a problem in the thinking of the Christian world these days: we deny the seriousness of sin and outright dismiss God’s instruction. So when Christians are called intolerant for saying something is wrong, we are tempted to retreat and say, “Oh, well, if we’re offending people, we must be wrong. That’s not loving.” But if we are following God, living an abundant life, seeking His kingdom and His righteousness in Christ, and trying to teach others to do the same, the world is going to hate us. That is promised:
"Adulterers and adulteresses! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."
"If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before [it hated] you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own. Yet because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you."
The Bible is full of hard truths.
"You shall not lie with a male as with a woman. It is an abomination."
"Brethren, if anyone among you wanders from the truth, and someone turns him back, let him know that he who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins."
Abomination is a very strong word. If something is an abomination to God, that is of the utmost seriousness. If we should ignore that commandment, why should we listen to the rest of the chapter that forbids incest or relations with animals? If we should ignore that chapter, why should we follow any other commandments? Why shouldn’t I steal and murder?
We do not pick and choose which of God’s commandments we like and which we don’t. The Bible is a package deal.
Of course, no one wants to be told that something they are doing is wrong, especially if that is something they like doing. “I wanna do what I wanna do, and that’s none of your business,” right? That’s what society insists: Keep your morals to yourself please, telling someone what they are doing is wrong is “intolerant” and “bigoted.” Loving and accepting someone means accepting everything they do. The problem is this is the complete opposite of the truth. As an example:
If I saw somebody walking with their eyes closed towards a cliff, I can clearly see that what they are doing is going to kill them. What should I do? Warn them of the impending danger, or accept that person and everything they do, and watch them die? What is the loving thing to do? If I know that that person is slave to sin leading to death then, would it be loving for me to just ignore it and not say anything? No! Absolutely not! I would have to hate that person to do that! I love them, so I want to warn of the dangers of their behavior so that they do not suffer the consequences.
In Acts 20 there is a heartbreaking scene where Paul is saying goodbye to the Ephesians, knowing he will not see them again. He says in verses 26 and 27:
"Therefore, I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God."
Paul did not avoid addressing sin, and fulfilled his responsibility to tell the whole truth. This is difficult to convey in a world ruled by political and societal “correctness.”
This includes such hard commands as “esteem others better than yourself” (Phil 2:3) and “deny yourself, pick up your cross and follow Jesus” (Mt 16:24) and “forgive others or you won’t be forgiven” (Mt 6:15).
This leads into a host of other subjects not addressed here: how we as Christians relate to other Christians, how we relate to non-Christians, how we discuss right and wrong with each group, etc. For now the focus is simply on our attitude toward sin, our response to the Word of God, and our responsibility to tell the truth.
To do this, our challenge as Christians is to avoid picking one verse, or a few, and building a belief system. We have to consider, obey, and teach the “whole counsel of God.”
Consider the strong admonition Paul gives both Titus and Timothy:
"For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Christ Jesus, who gave Himself for us to redeem us from every lawless deed, and to purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.These things speak and exhort and reprove with all authority. Let no one disregard you."
2 Timothy 4:1-5
"I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry."
But don’t just take my word for it, or even the word of a popular theologian. Each of us is responsible for our own faith and we should to read the entire Bible ourselves (not just our favorite parts) as often as possible, and with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we can know if what we believe or what someone says is true or not. We are guaranteed to be guided in truth and be convicted of our sin. And then we can know, obey, and tell the whole truth. In the process we all should “tremble at His word” (Is 66:2) and “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12).
"For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.
Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."