The longing to know God more sometimes causes us to scrutinize His Word in a way that blocks us from His presence. That which we intend for good becomes a wall keeping us from the Father. It is easy to see it in the nation of Israel; they added hundreds of “laws” to the Ten Commandments. The extra clarifications eventually obscured the original intent of the Word. It is easy to fall prey to the same error of legalism.
The heart-breaking division and strife within the Church, Christ’s body, clearly reveals the same propensity exists today. Denominational division, even individual bickering, shows we seek to make converts to our opinions more than converts to Christ. Emotions run high on matters of faith, but unity is the passion of God. Let’s look at a low emotion example to explore this serious issue: the command to keep the Sabbath. Christians argue about what day God meant, how to “keep” it and whether those who watch football on Sunday sin. None of that really matters. We are to live the Word, not debate the Word.
Isaiah shares God’s dismay with this sort of behavior when he says, “You fast for the purpose of arguing and debate.” The fasts God wants us to practice are those that help others see and desire His glory and goodness! Debates about Scripture seldom—if ever—help someone draw closer to God. That does not mean personal convictions are bad; they are very useful. If I am convicted that shopping on Sunday draws me (and store employees) from spending time with God, fasting from Sunday shopping will be a pleasing sacrifice unto God. However, if I seek to convert everyone else to my way of thinking, I am “fasting for debate” and not bringing pleasure to God.
The heart of the Sabbath rest command is that we cease from work and rest as God did at the end of Creation. The goal is to focus our heart on the completed work of God, not on our ability to define or obey detailed instructions. As Christ said, “God created the Sabbath for man, not man for the Sabbath.” The Law is to instruct us, the Spirit is to control us. When we live by the Law, we miss the heart of the Word. The Sabbath rest is not about a day of the week, it is about a heart attitude that says, “I trust God. I will rest in His design.”
The Sabbath rest is just an example. As Christians, we do the same thing with many issues of life: prayer, Bible study, church attendance, tithing, sexual purity, etc. All of those things matter and heeding the Scriptural commands about them brings blessing. But the commands are not a list of things to do so we can celebrate our accomplishments. The common goal of every Scripture is the revelation of God in all His glory. Growing closer to God requires us to seek the heart of His Word and live from our understanding of His heart. The rules we follow and the disciplines of faith are doorways to His presence, not an end unto themselves. .
What command or Christian discipline can you identify as helping you enjoy the presence of God most effectively?
Has a discipline ever become an idol for you? If so, how did God reveal that to you?