Hold Fast to the Word of Truth
There are two dangerous tendencies in the Christian life, but we often recognize the threat of only one of them. The dangers are these: ignoring what God has said in Scripture, and its opposite but equally dangerous twin, adding to what God has said in Scripture. One looks more perilous than the other, but both can be deadly.
Being biblical Christians means that we do not hold to less than what Scripture says, and neither do we require more than what Scripture says. The former seems more dangerous. It’s certainly more easily spotted, presents a clear and present danger, and has led to the downfall of many since the beginning of the church. The former seems more dangerous and thus garners more attention, but the latter is equally serious.
“Do not add to his words,” Proverbs 30:6 warns us, “lest he rebuke you and you be found a liar.” (See also Deuteronomy 4:2; 12:32; and Revelation 22:18–19.)
What does it look like to “add to his words”? While it may look like claiming new revelation (for example, Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon and the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ New World Translation), the more common danger is placing our traditions on par with God’s commandments.
That’s exactly the issue which led to Jesus’s confrontation with the Pharisees in Matthew 15 and again in Matthew 23. The Pharisees were adding their traditions to the word of God, elevating their traditions to the status of God’s commandments. If you really want to honor God, then you’ve got to do these things as well. The problem, as Jesus exposed it, was that they were “teaching as doctrine the commandments of men” and therefore they were worshiping God “in vain” (Matthew 15:9).
Did you catch those last two words? They were worshiping God in vain.
Adding to God’s Word by elevating our tradition to the place of commandment means we’re placing ourselves on par with God. It’s idolatry. And it’s rooted in sinful pride. In the same way that outright ignoring God’s Word is rooted in pride, adding to God’s Word comes from the same heart issue. We believe that we’re strengthening up something He left weak. We’re just making sure people stay in line. We’re only seeking to promote religion. We usually don’t mean any harm, but in truth we’re elevating ourselves to the status of givers of God’s law.
The Puritan pastor Thomas Brooks gave this counsel:
Hate, reject, and abominate . . . all doctrines and opinions that require men to live more strictly than what Scripture requires. We are to reject those things that even open the door to ungodliness, while at the same time we are to be careful to not command a strictness above what God requires in Scripture.
There is an overlook in Zion National Park, pictured above, called Angel’s Landing. The climb to the top includes a 1500-foot rise in elevation, the last half-mile of the trail offering a challenging climb up the narrow spine of a ridge, with a 1000-plus-foot drop on both sides. Along that portion of the trail, bolted into the rock, is a chain. To make the climb safely, and at the top to enjoy one of the most incredible views in the world, you have to hold fast to the chain.
In a similar way, hold fast to the Word of truth. Don’t veer off to one side or the other. Hold fast to the Word of God, following Him on the path that He has made known, knowing that the heights of heavenly splendors await all who hold fast to Him.
Bert Watts has served since December 2016 as the Senior Pastor at Mountain Creek Baptist Church, where he has been on staff since 2012.