Teaching as Doctrines the Precepts of Men

 

It is common to hear people assert that “everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” and there is certainly some truth to that statement. At the end of the day, we have the ability choose for ourselves what we believe; no one can force us to accept something that we do not want to accept. But just because “everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” that does not mean that all opinions are equally valid or true.

Paul told Timothy to “do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” Apparently, there is a correct way and an incorrect way to handle the word of truth. Some interpretations of scripture are correct and others are just plain wrong.

In fact, Timothy was specifically warned that “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, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths.” We can believe whatever we want about scripture, but in that case we may very well be preaching “myth” instead of “truth.”

Peter warned that “the untaught and unstable” would “distort” the things in Paul’s writings, “as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction.” Sure, we can twist the scriptures to reach all kinds of different conclusions, but we may be doing so at our own peril if we are handling the word incorrectly.

So how can we make sure that we are handling the word of truth rightly, abiding in sound doctrine, and resisting the urge to distort scripture? Let’s consider some scriptures that can help us to answer that question.

 John warned his hearers that: “Anyone who goes too far and does not abide in the teaching of Christ, does not have God; the one who abides in the teaching, he has both the Father and the Son.”   John’s admonition not to “go too far” and thus “not abide” in Christ’s teachings sounds a lot like the word’s of Paul to the Corinthians that they must “learn not to exceed what is written.”

“Going to far,” “not abiding in,” and “exceeding” what is written are all terms that indicate an addition of man-made concepts to what is actually present in scripture.

Thus, in Deuteronomy the Israelites were told “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you.” Unfortunately the Pharisees did just that. They invented all kinds of extra requirements to add to the law.

This idea is repeated in Revelation, “I testify to everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this book: if anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues which are written in this book; and if anyone takes away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God will take away his part from the tree of life and from the holy city, which are written in this book.”

Jesus summed it up in a very simple and powerful way: “In vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.”

It can be hard not to go beyond what is written when we want to have all the answers. It can be hard not to invent new “doctrines” which are really only human precepts when we want to build a systematic theology that can answer all of our questions. But we must have the courage to speak when the Bible speaks and be silent when the Bible is silent.

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Scriptures and Thoughts on “Forgiveness”

What does forgiveness actually mean? What does it look like?
Old Testament –
Celiychah (noun) – abundant forgiveness – NEVER does this word in any of its forms refer to people forgiving each other.
Calach (verb) – to forgive/pardon. The only Old Testament verb with “to forgive” as its primary meaning. Used ONLY of God.
Nasa’ – to lift, to raise, to bear, to carry – refers to both divine and human forgiveness.
Kaphar – to cover, to purge, to make an atonement, to make reconciliation, to cover over with pitch. Kacah – to cove, can also mean “to conceal, hide”

New Testament –
Aphesis (noun) – the act of freeing and liberating from something that confines; release, or the act of freeing from an obligation, guilt, or punishment; pardon, cancellation… “The forgiveness denoted is almost always that of God. It is constantly needed, and is granted when requested so long as there is a readiness to forgive others. Its basis is the saving act of Christ.”
Aphiemi (verb) – to dismiss, release, let go, send away… used for the cancelling of sins and debts.
Charidzomai (verb) – to show one’s self gracious by forgiving wrongdoing; forgive, pardon.”
Apoluo (verb) – to grant acquittal, set free, release, or pardon.

In this case, the Old Testament words really help us in our theology! They strongly delineate God’s forgiveness and our own.

So what would this look like, acted out?

How God illustrates forgiveness:
Isaiah 1:18 – like red wool becoming white again – a miracle!
Psalm 103:12 – as far as the east is from the west
Micah 7:19 – You will tread our sins underfoot and hurl our iniquities into the depths of the sea.

When God forgives, does He actually forget?
Isaiah 43:25 – “I will remember your sins no more.”
Hebrews 10:17 – “I will remember their sins and lawless deeds no more.”

But remember that the true meaning of “remember” is to call to mind. The terminology allows God to be omniscient, but not to call to mind, emphasize, or “remember” our sins.

But what do you think, does He literally forget them?

Surely He knows that we are sinners, for He planned from the foundation of the world to send Jesus – 1 Peter 1:20, and the cross, which we say is beautiful and worth commemorating, and which is commemorated by the Lord’s Supper – Luke 22:19-20, and Jesus said we will eat the meal with Him in the kingdom!

So it seems that God will not forget that we are or have been sinners, but that He will not call to mind, or put on display, or take into consideration, our sins.

Will God ultimately forgive everyone of their sins?
Matthew 6:15 – “if you do not forgive others…”
Hebrews 10:26-31 – “there no longer remains a sacrifice”
Matthew 7:23 – “I never knew you, depart from me you evildoers”
Matthew 25:41 – “depart from me into the eternal fire.”

How can I get God’s forgiveness?
Acts 2:38 – repent and be baptized!
1 John 1:7,9 – walk in the light, confess your sins

Is there a difference between God’s forgiveness and man’s forgiveness?
See notes in Hebrews words for forgiveness. There is a kind of forgiveness that only God can do.
Psalm 51:4 – “against you only have I sinned” – David’s guilt was ultimately before God.
Mark 2:5-11 – “only God can forgive sins” – only God can actually clear guilt!

Romans 12:19 – humans are never to take vengeance – meaning that humans are never to try and “get even” by making someone suffer in proportion to the suffering they have caused. So human forgiveness then is not simply letting someone off the hook when it comes to divine justice, for we are never the arbiters of that in an ultimate sense.

So what is human forgiveness then? As the Hebrew words indicate, it is a removal of debt, or a covering of error. It could also be an acknowledgement in some sense that we are not the final judge of the person.

Is it ever appropriate to withhold forgiveness?
1 Timothy 1:13 – “Because I acted in ignorance”
Luke 23:34 – “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”
Acts 17:30 – “In previous times God overlooked such ignorance, but now commands all men everywhere to repent.”
Romans 1:18-20 – God’s wrath is against them, they are without excuse because of their knowledge.
James 3:1 – teachers are held to a stricter judgment

Are we forgiven/not forgiven by God based on our knowledge? Think about it. Forgiveness is always offered by God while we are on this earth, but it is not offered unconditionally!
Hebrews 10:26-31 – forgiveness is NOT extended to belligerent, intentional sinners.

But also notice, that as we have said, God’s forgiveness and man’s forgiveness differ. Man can always extend forgiveness (and is required to do so, Matthew 6:15). Whether the individual is actually released from their guilt by God is not our concern.

But what about this idea of human forgiveness being a releasing from debt or a covering of error, surely we are not always obligated to do this? While forgiving a debt can be a powerful way to show someone godly mercy, perhaps the heart of forgiveness is in not standing in moral judgment over someone, as only God can do this.

2 Peter 3:9 – Just as God wants all to come to repentance, so should we!

What aspects of forgiveness are dependent on the recipient?
As indicated above, by the references above, forgiveness of our actual guilt by God is dependent upon our repentance, and that repentance means that we do not willfully sin where we have knowledge of right and wrong.

Consider also Luke 13:5 – unless you repent you will all likewise perish

As far as human forgiveness goes, that kind of forgiveness does not appear to be a release from divine guilt in the first place, but only a release from ultimate personal moral judgment, and potentially of debt or shame, etc. So it does not depend on the recipient at all. Matthew 6:15 is unqualified!

Does that mean that I do not allow them to be prosecuted in a court of law? No, for that is allowing a power ordained by God to act for the protection of society. But it does mean that I let go of my personal sense of authority to ultimately judge.

What if I am supposed to forgive, but I just cannot bring myself to do so?
Understand what forgiveness really is, see discussion of forgiveness of God vs. man.
Romans 12:19, 13:1-4 Hand the right to judge or take revenge over to God and the governing powers that He has established
Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13 – Remember that Jesus has offered forgiveness to YOU
Matthew 18:23-35 – Consider just how great the forgiveness is that God has offered you

How can I forgive myself?
(Page 52)
Luke 22:60-62 – Peter felt guilty about his sin
Matthew 27:3-10 – Judas felt guilty about his sin. Judas hanged himself.
John 21:15-19, Acts 1:15-2:40 – Peter went on to be a leader in the church

2 Corinthians 7:9-10 speaks of worldly sorrow which leads to death, and godly sorrow which leads to “repentance without regret” and salvation.

What do you think? How can one choose to have, or come to experience, godly sorrow rather than worldly sorrow?

Matthew 18:23-35 – understand that forgiveness is NOT about what people deserve. It is given freely, and we are expected to give it others as well.

Isaiah 43:25-26 – God forgives us for His own name’s sake, He has His own reasons for being pleased to do so!
John 19:30 – Jesus said “it is finished.” He has already paid the price. The gift of forgiveness is yours to accept or deny, but He has already paid for it either way.

Are you Growing?

One of our recent sermons was about “When I Mess Up.” And we all mess up sometimes. In fact, if you claim to be sinless, you are deceiving yourself, calling God a liar, and His word is not in you (1 John 1:8-10).

But that does not mean that we should make peace with our sin. It does not mean that our sin is no big deal since “I’m only human,” and “nobody is perfect.”

So how do we find the balance between a life of perfectionism that is filled with excessive guilt, shame, and fear of punishment, and a life of flippancy in which we tolerate moral decay because we think it does not matter?

Consider this passage: “And I, brethren, could not speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to men of flesh, as to infants in Christ. I gave you milk to drink, not solid food; for you were not yet able to receive it. Indeed, even now you are not yet able, for you are still fleshly. For since there is jealousy and strife among you, are you not fleshly, and are you not walking like mere men?” (1 Corinthians 3:1-3)

Notice, Paul does not tell the Corinthians “because you are behaving as men of flesh, it is clear that you have never been saved, and that you are eternally lost and hopeless.” Rather, because they are behaving as “men of flesh,” he calls them “infants in Christ.” Of course, this description was only appropriate because the Corinthians actually were young in Christ. They were a new church full of new converts who wanted to follow Christ, but lacked the spiritual maturity that someone older in the faith should have.

The concepts from this passage can help us to think about our sins in an appropriate way. The journey of a Christian is one of growth over time. Not all humans grow, either physically or emotionally, at the same rate. But we all should be growing.

Indeed, while we expect less from an infant than we do from a grown man or woman, we do expect even an infant to be working towards skills such as crawling, sitting up, standing, walking, speaking, etc. If an infant is not progressing over time, we become deeply worried. Likewise, we are deeply concerned when an adult behaves like a child, perhaps throwing a tantrum, refusing to share, or calling others by petty names.

In this respect, the spirit of a Christian is no different. There are two options that, like all living things, our spirits must choose between: growing or dying. Praise God that though our bodies are subject to death and decay, our spirits are free to grow and to soar for as long as we may live on the earth, and then into eternity with even greater glory.   “Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

So let us assess ourselves. If I am young in the faith, what steps am I taking towards maturity? If am older in the faith, do I still behave as though I were a spiritual infant? If we are not growing, we are in grave danger of spiritual death, and it is right for us to be filled with a holy fear of the Lord.

What about you? Are you content with a one-time event of “being saved,” and unconcerned with spiritual growth over time? Are you still sinning in the same ways, with the same frequency, years after your conversion? Can you point to spiritual growth in the past year? What step should you be taking next in your spiritual life? Will you be willing to take the next step of faith towards being the image of Christ? Or, having come so far, will you sink back into eternal spiritual decay?