FORM AND FAITH
By Larry White
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone.
Blind guides, who strain out the gnat and swallow a camel!”
Here Jesus is pronouncing woes on the strictest religious sect of that day. They had the reputation of keeping the Law perfectly. No one could out perform or know more about the application of the Law than the Pharisees.
However, Jesus tells them here that in their efforts to get it just exactly right - they lost track of the deep principles behind what they were doing: justice, mercy and faith. But it is not that they shouldn't have got it exactly right - they should not have left the other undone either, they should have done both.
From my experience, I think we in the churches are in danger of doing the same thing, and in some instances have done the same thing.
I have three points to illustrate this and their ordered in increasing difficulty to understand - so if we can see one we may be able to see the others.
I.) What is the basis of a valid acceptable baptism?
A brother in Christ asked me this question a few years ago. We had been out contacting people who were out of duty and we ran across a little lady who said that she would like to start attending again. She wanted to know what she had to do. She had grown up in the Christian church.
I asked her if she had been baptized for the remission of her sins.
She said, "Oh yes!"
Then I asked, "And how do you feel about it, were you saved then?
She said, "Oh yes!
Then the other fellow interrupted and said that if she were baptized in the Christian church then she would have to be baptized again.
I said, "Well ..."
Then he held up a hand and said, "We'll talk about this later."
Later, he asked me what constituted a valid baptism?
I said, "Faith."
He stared at me for the longest time. He couldn't argue with that simple truth. What he was probably thinking was that she had to be baptized by a member in good standing of the churches of Christ.
So, what then is required?
Do I have to investigate whether the guy baptizing me is faithful in his life? Does he have to be a preacher from the church of Christ? Is the place where I am baptized critical to my salvation?
The important thing in baptism is my faith.
“Buried with him in immersion [Greek: baptism], in which you also were raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, he has made alive together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses.”
If I believe that God is forgiving my sins and that I am going to have a new life in Christ (i.e. that I am being saved) when I am baptized, then my baptism is valid.
Well, if faith is the most important thing, does that mean that the form doesn't matter at all, like the Lutherans and Catholics say?
No. The Greek word βαπτίσμα means immersion.
***** But my point here is; What is the form of baptism without the faith? "This ought we to have done and not leave the other undone." We have been so worried about the form of baptism - we aren't concerned that much about whether the person has faith in Christ. As long as it looks right, we aren't concerned too much about what goes on in the heart.
II.) What is the basis of valid acceptable worship?
It is amazing how well brethren have honed and refined exactly what is needed in worship.
One time in another congregation I was in charge of preparing the Lord's supper for a month. While I was putting things away, an old brother walked in and pointed to the bottle of grape juice that I was holding and said, "You'd better watch this stuff and be careful."
I asked him what he meant, and he pointed to the label and said, "This has extra vitamin "C" added to it. It's not pure grape juice."
So I thought to myself; Is my worship to God going to be found unacceptable because I have extra vitamin "C" in the fruit of the vine?
What is then, the basis of an acceptable worship?
I had one man in the Navy say he could not worship if the supper was not served and taken from his silver chalice and bread platter. Is that what makes our worship acceptable, the utensils we use?
But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for the Father is seeking such to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.”
The spirit here is the highest aspect of the nature of man, the thing about us that gives us the ability to commune with God in the spiritual realm. It is the seat of the inner man where we come near to God, and where this true worship is accomplished. Paul served God in his spirit, (Rom.1:9). We are to pray in the spirit, (Eph.6:18).
In truth, I believe, means that we do not worship in shadow like the Jews any longer. We are the true worshippers in the true church worshipping the true God in the spirit. It is the fulfillment that comes of reality.
So all this points to the inner quality of our worship to God. If our worship is not from our hearts, in the spirit - by faith, then any outward form we may have gotten right, is invalidated and empty. Untrue. Unreal.
Well, does that mean then, that the form of worship is not necessary?
No. I'm not saying that.
***** But what good is the form of worship without faith? "This ought we to have done and not leave the other undone." We have gotten our worship so exactly right on the outside - fine, but there is a danger that our hearts are not right on the inside. The most important thing in our worship is our inner communion with God, which takes much more faith than just worrying about the mechanics of it.
III.) What is the basis of valid, acceptable living as a Christian?
I attended a congregation in Washington. A strong congregation that stands for the truth and boldly proclaims it. But people from another congregation in the area found out that one of the Elders smoked cigarettes. As far as I can tell of what happened, this other congregation made a ruling and told the congregation where I was attending that this man who smoked was not qualified to be an Elder and that he should step down.
Well, he didn't - and they basically told this other congregation to take care of the work in their own area and we will take care of the work of the Lord in our own congregation.
What I understand of what was reported to me was that several members in that other congregation from that point on began saying when asked about a work in our area, that there was no congregation in our area. Which is basically saying that, if you think a Christian can smoke if he wants to, then you are not a Christian. And if your church holds to that position of liberty, then it is not a church.
So, what is the basis of my acceptance with God?
Is it based upon my outward observance of a moral code that everyone around me thinks a Christian should be following, and that if I live up to it, then I'll be acceptable with God? Or is it rather based upon my position as God's child by my faith in Jesus Christ, my position as a living spiritual man, renewed in knowledge after the image of him who created me?
How do I decide whether I should smoke, or drink some wine, or gamble or a number of other things on which I do not have a clear scripture? Do I let a man legislate for me and bring me into bondage to a set of rules that a Christian doesn't do "this or that" and if you do "this or that" then you are not a Christian? Or do I stand fast in my liberty in Christ and decide for myself what will hinder me or promote my spiritual life and be motivated, not by fear of breaking a rule, but by my position and life in God?
Isn't that how Paul handled it in Galatia?
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!
I say then: Walk in the spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusts against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.
Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.
He is talking about liberty and the abuse of liberty. Then he lists the works of the flesh. Does he tell them not to do any of these things with a commandment? No. What he does, is he shows them the practical end or result of practicing these things. (They will not inherit the kingdom of God.)
Then he admonishes them that if they live in the spirit, then they should keep in line with the spirit (v.25), and that if they are led of the Spirit then they will not be doing these works of the flesh.
In other words, on the basis of who you are; a living spiritual creature, the new man in Christ - then act like it.
That is my motivation, and it is based on faith. The more faith I have in what God says about my new life in Christ, the less I will have trouble with the flesh hindering me.
It is the difference between the advice of wisdom and the rule of legislation. Someone can tell me the practical end or fruit of my actions - but on the basis of my liberty in Christ, no man can legislate on what I should or should not do. The basis upon which I live before God is my maturity in Christ, my spiritual life as a son of God by faith.
If I live like that, then I will know what is right or wrong; what will hinder me or edify me; what the flesh and the spirit are. The Christian says, "My motivation to serve God stems from his love for me and who he has made me to be in Christ. I know I am his. We have a family bond. I know I have all his resources of power for godly living at my disposal."
You start considering and accounting to yourself who you are and what you have in Christ, and the will and attitude for a godly life will be there in your heart and mind. And you will not have to keep track of every little thing you should do to walk righteously or to live godly. You will know it already, because godliness will be in your heart. You will be godly, and righteousness will be your inner character and life.
That is the sanctifying and renewing power of the Spirit in Jesus Christ.
If I base my whole life as a Christian on a set of rules that say a Christian does "thus and so" and doesn't do "thus and so" and to me that is Christianity, and I make my performance of this set of rules the measure of my acceptance before God, then I will start judging other people to the point of saying that if they do that particular thing, then they are not Christians.
The danger in this, is not only that you may cause others to stumble, but if your right standing with God is based on a set of moral rules that you must keep, and you are not trusting in Christ for your acceptance with God - then what happens when one day you find that you yourself have sinned and you haven't lived up to the standard that you required of a Christian? You are going to pass the same judgement down upon yourself, and your self-righteous acceptance before God is going to crumble. Since you have done this horrible thing, this terrible sin that no real Christian would commit. You will conclude that you are not a Christian either.
And guess who is going to agree with you, - Satan. He'll sit back and laugh and say, "Yep, that's right. A real Christian would not Eeever do that!"
At that point what faith you did have could fail completely, because you haven't put your faith where it is suppose to be - in Jesus Christ who justifies the ungodly by faith in him and his sacrificial death on the cross for our sins and assures us our right standing before God. The faith of who we are in him.
Does this mean that there is no form to the life of a Christian? Can I just do anything I please?
No. We cannot use our liberty as license.
For you, brethren, have been called to liberty; only do not use liberty as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another.
We cannot use our freedom as an excuse to indulge the flesh, because the end result of that is death.
***** My point is - What is the outward form of a Christian without the inner faith?
But just like baptism and acts of worship, we tend to worry about and emphasize the outward lifestyle of a Christian and not concern ourselves too much with the deeper faith of who we are in Christ. "This we should have done and not leave the other undone."
If we concern ourselves with our faith and hope in Christ, then the lifestyle will take care of itself.
Like the Lord said to Samuel, "Man looks on the outward appearance, but Jehovah looks upon the heart." (1Sam.16:7)
(Originally delivered as a sermon in Eagle Point, OR. March 10, 1985)