In Christ’s day the the religious institution wrote books of extra rules for Jews to follow. Rules about washing your hands, rules about giving, rules about respecting parents, rules about what you can’t do on the sabbath, rules about everything. They were experts in bible arithmetic; they loved adding.
Jesus said this to the pharisees who added to the bible, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’ You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men” (Mark 7:6-8).
In many churches today, the most zealous religious people add rules to the bible: you must have your quiet time everyday, you cannot drink alcohol, you cannot watch those movies, etc. They teach human rules as though they were God’s law.
Typically adding begins with the best of intentions: we want to encourage holiness and passion for God’s kingdom. But over time we begin to emphasize our traditions at the expense of God’s commandments. Jesus warns us that when we do this we will appear religious, honoring God with our words, but in our hearts we will be far from him, worshipping in vain.
We become the person who feels pure because he has his quiet time every morning, despite looking at pornography every night. We feel right with God because we rail on masculine passivity, but not because of what Christ did. We become someone those “having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power” (1 Tim. 3:5).
When we add rules, we subtract Christ. We pridefully believe the lie that we’re winning our way to heaven, or we despondently believe the lie that we’ve lost our salvation. The bar to meet is no longer faith in Christ, but ‘How well I am I doing at keeping the rules?’
Where are you at? Do you do bible arithmetic? Are you adding rules so that you appear holy? Is your worship in vain? Setting our faith in Christ alone, in his salvation and righteousness, is the only way for us to avoid this pitfall.
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