Beware adding to God's laws
Throughout the gospels, we see Jesus acted with great kindness. We might think of the time he rescued the woman caught in the act of adultery, or ate with Zaccheus, or touched an outcast leper. But several times we read accounts that appear to have made Jesus’s blood boil. Two instances immediately come to mind. First, when the disciples were inhibiting the little children from approaching Jesus and also when the sellers were turning the Temple into a den of robbers. Yet there was one that occurred time and again in the Gospels:the Pharisees and religious leaders adding to God’s law and so burdening the people.
In the Old Testament, God had given his Law completely, without any need of addition. Even though the religious leaders knew this, they still chose to add rule after rule of their own. Responding to this habit of the Pharisees, Jesus said in Mark 7: “‘You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition!’”
Temptation towards this sin of addition continued in the New Testament church. As the gospel spread to the very ends of the earth, and Gentiles were brought into the family of God, converted Pharisees began telling young Christians that circumcision was still required under the New Covenant. It wasn’t; the sacrament of baptism had replaced it. But as we have already seen, humans have a tendency to speak on God’s behalf without him authorizing them to do so.
In Acts 15, the Jerusalem Council met and deliberated over this matter for much was at stake. To put it briefly, they wanted to know what the gospel required beyond faith for men and women to stand justified before God. After much debate their answer was clear: nothing. There was nothing anyone could do to merit the gift of salvation. As Peter said, “But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus, just as they will.”
Our righteousness is found only in Christ and what that righteousness entails is sufficiently given to us in Scripture (2 Peter 1:3). We dare not add to it. Simply put, adding requirements for righteousness not found in Scripture is idolatry. To do this is to say we do not believe what God has decreed is enough, what Christ has accomplished is sufficient, or what the Spirit has revealed is without lack. True freedom is found through obedience and adherence to God’s righteousness as revealed in Scripture. Anything more is simply adding a yoke to our necks.
Rev. Will Stockdale is Ministry to State's Director of D.C. ministry.