by Steven Chan
26 April 2009
During His ministry on earth, Jesus Christ appealed to the sentiment expressed in the title of this article, in His conversations concerning God and man’s relationship with Him with some of the religious leaders of His days (Matt 9:13; 12:7). He quotes this statement from the Old Testament (Hosea 6:6), thereby endorsing the importance of the Old Testament scriptures as well as emphasizing that God changes not (Mal 3:6: “For I, Jehovah, change not”; Heb 13:8; James 1:17) – thereby underlining the need for us all to study the Old Testament to learn there-from. The God of the Old Testament is also the God of the New Testament.
The problem that God was highlighting to His people in the Old Testament was the same problem that plagued the religious leaders at the time of Jesus during His earthly ministry – and it is also evident among many religious people today (Matt. 23:23) – and that is the propensity of man to be willing to offer sacrifices or display an outward show of religious activities without the accompaniment of a personal inward life of mercy (or charity, piety, love & goodness) or knowledge of God (as the apostle Paul said of the Jews in Rom 10:2 – ‘zeal without knowledge’) or obedience to God (as pointed out by Samuel in I Sam 15:22: ‘Hath Jehovah as great delight in burnt-offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of Jehovah? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams?’). As the Psalmist testified in Psa. 51:6, “Behold, thou desirest truth in the inward parts”. Is our religion only skin-deep?
After listening to the answer of Jesus to the question of which is the first of all commandments, the scribe replied in Mark 12:33: “Of a truth, Teacher, thou hast well said that he is one; and there is none other but he: and to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love his neighbor as himself, is much more than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.” Jesus commented thus to him: “Thou art not far from the kingdom of God” The emphasis cannot possibly be missed: Loving God with our all and our neighbour as ourselves is of first importance and far exceeds any outward show of religious rituals or activities.
Whilst baptism is important for our salvation (Mark 16:16), it does not guarantee that one who has been baptized will be spared from still being ensnared by this potential duplicity in one’s life. In the account of the baptism of Simon the Sorcerer in Act 8:20-23, the Bible records what was said to him by the apostle Peter shortly after his baptism: “But Peter said unto him, Thy silver perish with thee, because thou hast thought to obtain the gift of God with money. Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter: for thy heart is not right before God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray the Lord, if perhaps the thought of thy heart shall be forgiven thee. For I see that thou art in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” Baptism washes away our past sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16) and in our baptism “our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away, that so we should no longer be in bondage to sin” and we should not let sin therefore reign in our mortal body, that we should obey the lusts thereof” (Rom 6:6,12). So according to Col 3:1-3: “If then ye were raised together with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated on the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things that are above, not on the things that are upon the earth. For ye died, and your life is hid with Christ in God.” The one who has been baptized still needs to “work his salvation with fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12) as he learns to put to death the deeds of the flesh: Col 3:5 -9: “Put to death therefore your members which are upon the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry; for which things’ sake cometh the wrath of God upon the sons of disobedience: wherein ye also once walked, when ye lived in these things; but now do ye also put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, railing, shameful speaking out of your mouth: lie not one to another; seeing that ye have put off the old man with his doings” – and as he learns to “put on the new man, that is being renewed unto knowledge after the image of him that created him: where there cannot be Greek and Jew, circumcision and uncircumcision, barbarian, Scythian, bondman, freeman; but Christ is all, and in all. Put on therefore, as God’s elect, holy and beloved, a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering; forbearing one another, and forgiving each other, if any man have a complaint against any; even as the Lord forgave you, so also do ye and above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to the which also ye were called in one body; and be ye thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts unto God. And whatsoever ye do, in word or indeed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Wives, be in subjection to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives, and be not bitter against them. Children, obey your parents in all things, for this is well-pleasing in the Lord. Fathers, provoke not your children, that they be not discouraged. Servants, obey in all things them that are your masters according to the flesh; not with eye-service, as men-pleasers, but in singleness of heart, fearing the Lord: whatsoever ye do, work heartily, as unto the Lord, and not unto men; knowing that from the Lord ye shall receive the recompense of the inheritance: ye serve the Lord Christ. (Col 3:11-24)
One will notice from the account of the baptism of Simon the Sorcerer that after baptism, if one does not set one’s heart aright by seeking the things above, one’s heart may still become not right with God and that one may yet be overcome by gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity – and be in need of repentance of wickedness. One should be wary of falling into a complacent attitude of thinking that one’s salvation is assured merely because one has been baptized. The apostle Peter exhorted thus in 2Pet. 1:10,11: “Wherefore, brethren, give the more diligence to make your calling and election sure: for if ye do these things, ye shall never stumble: for thus shall be richly supplied unto you the entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” One needs to be diligent to make our calling and election sure by “doing these things” so that our entrance into the eternal kingdom of God may be “richly supplied”. What are “these things” that the apostle was referring to? They are stated in 2Pe 1:5-8: “Yea, and for this very cause adding on your part all diligence, in your faith supply virtue; and in your virtue knowledge; and in your knowledge self-control; and in your self-control patience; and in your patience godliness; and in your godliness brotherly kindness; and in your brotherly kindness love. For if these things are yours and abound, they make you to be not idle nor unfruitful unto the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Brethren, in the practice of our faith, we need to be aware of the importance of having truth in our inward parts. The changes should be evident in every part of our lives including our marital relationship as stated in I Peter 3:1-6: “Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct. Do not let your adorning be external–the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear– but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. For this is how the holy women who hoped in God used to adorn themselves, by submitting to their own husbands, as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord”.
Let’s remember that God desires truth in our inward parts. Be not deceived: Putting an outward show just will not cut it!