by Cecil Hook
WHAT GOD REQUIRES
There is endless Bible study and discussion in a sincere effort to learn what God requires of us. Often good people are greatly discouraged by the complicated burden which they think that God has laid on them. God’s demands seem so involved and vague that the shadow of doubt and insecurity hovers over many a devout disciple because he feels that he might not be understanding what God requires of him. He feels entrapped by the intricate will of his Father.
Because I was born of and nurtured on legalism, I shared those feelings for many years. Now, I am beginning to understand that it is we, not the Lord, who have made His requirements complicated. As the Pharisees complicated the Law of Moses and missed its purposes, so we have sought to define details through which we think to attain our righteousness, and we have made those holy rituals the center of our religion. With such a background, it has been difficult for me to comprehend that “my yoke is easy and my burden is light,” that “his commandments are not grievous/burdensome,” and that God can make us to stand in spite of our lack of conformity.
God’s timeless law is not a complicated system. From Cain and Abel on down to us, God’s law has always been: love/respect God, and love/respect man. In various ages and circumstances God has given statutes, laws, ordinances, and regulations to guide the lawless into the practice of this universal law. These stipulations were given because man disregarded the law written in the heart; thus, “… the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners … “(1 Tim. 1:8). But man everywhere has always had the timeless law in his conscience to guide him.
Murder, theft, greed, adultery, and idolatry are not wrong because they are parts of the Ten Commandments or of Jesus’ prohibition of those things. They have always been, and always will be, wrong. They are included in the Ten Commandments and in Jesus’ teachings because they were wrong already, involving violation of love of God and man.
When God has given ordinances, regulations, and rituals to guide the lawless, man’s tendency has been to seek justification in keeping the jot and tittle of the requirement and ritual instead of being guided into expression of love. Such brought Jesus’ denunciation of the Pharisees in Matthew 23. Those woes pronounced on them should serve as warnings to us also.
Micah sought to put his people back on the uncomplicated track with this summary of God’s universal requirements: “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). All other ordinances and regulations were but an elaboration of this epitome of all law.
Jesus’ covenant was new, but His law was not. He repeated and emphasized God’s requirement to love God and man. He concluded by adding, “On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets” (Matt. 22:40). They were the embodiment of all of God’s message to man!
Jesus also summarized all moral law in the Golden Rule, “for this is the law and the prophets” (Matt. 7:12). Paul assures us that all law is summed up and fulfilled in one word — love (Rom. 13:8-10; Gal. 5:14).
The will of God is for love to rule our conduct. Jesus warned, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Then He declared that such things as instructing in religion, sensational religious activities, and mighty Christian works were not necessarily the doing of His will. These things can be done without love.
Cain knew he had sinned because he knew the embodiment of all law relating to God and man. Micah and Jesus, in later ages, gave us similar, nutshell abridgments of all law.
Are these abridgments dangerous because they leave out rituals? We will not suspect the Holy Spirit of being mistaken or indiscreet. There is no sacramental value in rituals. The value imparted to the disciple from rituals and services is the strength he gains from learning and spiritual exercise. He is not justified by them, nor are they measures of his righteousness. They are of value as they encourage the disciple to fulfill the timeless law of love for God and man. They are not what God requires of us, but they are a means to an end, to help us to do His eternal will to love.
Think of all the hair-splitting requirements we have defined concerning the Lord’s Supper, for instance, lest we miss its sacramental value or displease a demanding God. In the process, we have alienated people, preventing their communing together. Such misses God’s requirement completely!
What does God require? We have often used the thrilling story of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch to illustrate the simplicity of the process in becoming a disciple. Now, let us use that story to illustrate the simplicity in meeting God’s requirements as a disciple.
The conversion of the eunuch makes a beautiful story, but have you thought about the final, unwritten chapter of that story? We last see the new convert headed back toward Ethiopia rejoicing in his new faith. But there he will be alone in his faith in Jesus. There is no church to meet with there for the gospel is not yet preached among the Gentiles. So, he will have to “forsake the assembly” before he assembles the first time. He cannot go to worship because there is no worship service of the church. He cannot be taught and edified because there is no other disciple in his whole country to do it.
Philip had only preached/evangelized to him Jesus. He did not instruct him in the Apostles’ doctrine/teaching. There is a significant difference in preaching and teaching/instructing. A course of instruction was not a prerequisite of conversion, and there is no example of that sort of indoctrination having been given in the process of converting anyone. So, here is a lonely disciple who doesn’t even know the “five acts of worship,” the nature and work of the church, and all the supposed rules and regulations relating to being a Christian. In fact, he doesn’t even know about being a Christian because no one had ever used that designation at that time. This poor treasurer doesn’t have a copy of the New Testament Scriptures, either, because none were in existence. He does have a copy of Isaiah and, perhaps, some of the other Old Testament Scriptures. He has the teachings of the law and the prophets written in his heart which have sustained his faith as a practicing Jew in Ethiopia.
It would seem that the Holy Spirit used poor judgment in calling Philip from a busy, successful campaign in Samaria down to the Gaza highway just to make one green convert and then let him go immediately to the spiritual wasteland of Ethiopia to wither and die. What a waste of effort! The Spirit caught up Philip when they emerged from the water, and there was no more communication. The eunuch was left on the bank wet. How unmerciful it was that such a receptive and happy man would be allowed to ride off into disappointment and eternal loss.
Surely, it is I who is in judgmental error rather than the Spirit. The Spirit knew what He was doing, and He was not laboring under all my accumulated misunderstandings and misinterpretations.
The Ethiopian Disciple
What will God require of that noble saint in his remote land? He will want him to continue to believe in Jesus and to grow in that faith. His Old Testament Scriptures will serve that need, even as they served other disciples then and now. His copy of Isaiah will have new and reassuring meanings to him now each time he reads it. He will see a picture of his Savior now as he meditates on the rituals of the law. But what about attendance to worship services? Participation in assemblies is not a requirement for justification, but it is intended to be for edification. All should involve themselves in strength-building activities. But assemblies are not the only means for keeping faith strong. Many disciples maintain strong faith who have been unable to attend services for years. The eunuch had kept his faith in God strong enough, without such “acts of worship” in assemblies, to cause him to return to Jerusalem for Jewish worship. He had gained his strength from the available Scriptures. Can they not still serve that disciple’s purpose well?
How will this displaced brother know what to do in serving God? He can remember that his Scriptures tell him to continue loving God and man. That’s what Jesus would stress. Nothing new there. Being a devout Jew, he will surely remember, “He has showed you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:8). Jesus would have him to follow the Golden Rule, “for this is the law and the prophets.” James would tell him, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God and the Father is this: to visit the orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.” (James 1:27). Jesus and James were only restating God’s universal will which the law and the prophets sought to promote. God still wants the same response from man. A man need not have New Testament writings to know the will of God for holy living. Spirit-filled men elaborate on these simple requirements in the epistles, giving practical application among various peoples, cultures, and settings. The treasurer can continue to be a devout disciple in the same general manner that he was a devout Jew.
Too many of us have considered assemblies and their rituals as the major requirement of God and the evident demonstration of our righteousness. But how misdirected we have been! These assemblies and rituals are important only as they strengthen our faith and encourage us to live the kind of daily lives epitomized in the paragraph above. Splitting hairs about how to perform acceptable rituals and chalking up records of frequency of performance of them have little connection with what God requires of us. The eunuch will go to worship no more as he did on his long journey to Jerusalem but, instead, his daily life will be a living sacrifice/offering/worship.
“But he will continue his Jewish rituals,” you may protest. What’s the problem with that? The Judean disciples and Paul did that also (Acts 15; 18:18; 21:17-26). There is no conflict, for they performed neither those Jewish rituals nor Christian rituals in an effort to justify themselves.
Ideally, the treasurer will influence his family and friends so that they will accept Christ. Then in their discipleship together, they will engage in such activities as will strengthen their faith and encourage them in fulfilling God’s timeless law in their lives. The New Testament Scriptures, which are of special blessing to us, will not be necessary as they continue to call on their God in Christ. They will look to no activities of theirs for any sacramental or meritorious value and look upon no pattern of conformity as sacred. Each will serve in his individual relationship with God. Collectively, they will be Christ’s church, free from all of our theological conceptions and misconceptions about it.
All of this seems too simple to be true, yet I am not going to accuse the Spirit of poor judgment just because I have been confused. Effort was not lost in converting the Secretary of the Treasury of Ethiopia. And if the Spirit’s way will suffice for the Ethiopian nobleman, surely it will suffice for you and me.
Being free in Christ, let us, like the eunuch, go on our way rejoicing.