by Steven Chan
“Form over substance” is a problem that often plagues many situations in life. Jesus charged the religious leaders of His days as blind guides and hypocrites because they practice a form of religion but in reality, they were far from what they tried to portray. We should be careful lest we too fall into the same condemnation.
In Matt 23:24, Jesus accused the religious leaders for “straining out the gnat and swallowing the camel”. His concern was with those who seemed particularly “strict” on the peripheral matters of our faith but they were not particularly bothered about the very core or substantive aspects of our faith. Modern day examples include those who make a big fuss about non-obligatory matters of the faith but do not conduct their lives honourably – whether at home, in their marital relationships, at work, in their working relationships or in the community (I Pet 2:12). Jesus accused them as being hypocrites in Matt 23:25-27 because inside them, they are “full of extortion, excess and uncleanness”. In Matt 23:28, He said: “ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but inwardly ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity”.
Hundreds of years earlier, God speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, had said that He would replace the old covenant with a new covenant (Jer 31:31) and He said that “He will (then) put His laws into their minds and write them in their hearts” (Jer 31:33; Heb 8:10).
The apostle Paul alluded to this prophecy in his epistle to the Christians at Corinth in 2 Cor 3:2-3 as follows:
“Ye are our epistle, written in our hearts, known and read of all men; being made manifest that ye are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in tables that are hearts of flesh.”
God wants the practice of our faith to be internalized – written in our hearts – and not demonstrated externally only. Christians are described as epistles or letters “known and read by all men” as their lives are composed, shaped and formed by the teaching ministry of the apostles – described as “written” “with the Spirit of God in tables that are hearts of flesh”.
With regards to the Jews at the time of the apostle Paul, he wrote in 2 Cor 3:14 that “their minds were hardened: for until this very day at the reading of the old covenant the same veil remaineth, it not being revealed to them that it is done away in Christ. But unto this day, whensoever Moses is read, a veil lieth upon their heart.”
The minds of the Jews were veiled or blinded to the fact that “old covenant” is “done away in Christ” (2 Cor 3:14) and that “its glory was passing away” (2 Cor 3:7). But “when one shall turn to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Cor 3:16). The apostle Paul clearly and unequivocally taught that the old covenant had been “done away in Christ” (2 Cor 3:14); “that which passeth away” (2 Cor 3:11), and that therefore its glory was passing away, consistent with what was also stated in Heb 8:13. The law of commandments was abolished on the cross (Eph 2:15-16). Those today who teach that the old covenant was NOT done away UNTIL the Destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 are sadly mistaken in their understanding and teaching.
According to the apostle Paul in 2 Cor 3:18, Christians are being transformed into the same image as Christ (Col 3:10; Rom 8:9; 12:2) as we behold the glory of the Lord as revealed in the New Covenant: “But we all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are transformed into the same image from glory to glory, even as from the Lord the Spirit.”
Christians are expected by our Lord to be transformed into same image as Christ. In his letter to the Christians at Galatia, the apostle Paul said: “I am again in travail until Christ be formed in you”. The transformation is within us; not merely external.
Let us therefore make every effort to transform the inside of our lives such that we “12 put on a heart of compassion, kindness, lowliness, meekness, longsuffering; 13 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: 14 and above all these things put on love, which is the bond of perfectness. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to the which also ye were called in one body; and be ye thankful. 16 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. 17 And whatsoever ye do, in word or in deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Col 3:12-17).
Let us put off: “sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry… anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices.” (Col 3:5,9).
Will we allow God to write His laws on our hearts as we meditate on His Word so that we can be transformed by the renewing of our minds, and thereby become an epistle read and known by all men for His glory?