God’s word and his being are inextricably connected, so that there is no way to seek God without concentrating on what he has revealed, and no relationship with God can be formed which is not informed by that revelation.
In this chapter, I expose the myth of the personal relationship with God through some means other than the Bible.
The Way To God
Psalm 119 is a challenge to most modern readers because its author insists on having a relationship with the LORD by seeking him – not through some ecstatic trance -but in his word. “Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart,…With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! Psalm 119:2,10 ESV” Although we might want to find God through some mystical experience or theophany, the place to find him is in the pages of the Bible. The fact is, God’s word and his being are inextricably connected, so that there is no way to seek God without concentrating on what he has revealed, and no relationship with God can be formed which is not informed by that revelation.
Misuse of the Law
In Jesus’ day, the Pharisees had misunderstood that purpose of the Law, and so had turned the Bible into an idol – a means of accessing God’s favor apart from a relationship with him. They had essentially chosen to turn the Law of God into an anthropocentric device. Instead of being a love letter from God revealing who he is, it was used as a means of accessing God’s power for human purposes. Utilized that way, the Bible was no different from the idols, ceremonies and sacrifices of the pagans.
There is a great deal of evidence in the New Testament that Pharisees had developed an animistic philosophy which mirrored that of the pagan nations. They did not resort to idol worship, but their attitude about the Law reflected the animistic concept of power words. They viewed personal wealth as an indication of God’s favor. Their acts of devotion were pretense, but inwardly they were malicious, and became violent when their way of life was challenged.
The Pharisees and Animism
(All Quotes are ESV)
The Pharisees were not saved.
Matthew 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?
Matthew 5:20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 15:12-13 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” 13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up.
Matthew 16:6 Jesus said to them, “Watch and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”
Matthew 16:12 Then they understood that he did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.
Matthew 23:13,15 “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
Luke 7:30 but the Pharisees and the lawyers rejected the purpose of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him.)
The Pharisees only appeared to revere the Law but instead were lawbreakers:
Matthew 23:3-7 so practice and observe whatever they tell you – but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger.
5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.
The Pharisees recognized that God exists, and also acknowledged the existence and influence of other spirit beings.
Matthew 9:34 But the Pharisees said, “He casts out demons by the prince of demons.”
Matthew 12:24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”
Acts 23:8 For the Sadducees say that there is no resurrection, nor angel, nor spirit, but the Pharisees acknowledge them all.
The Pharisees looked for signs from Jesus because they wanted access to spiritual power without a personal relationship.
Matthew 12:38 Then some of the scribes and Pharisees answered him, saying, “Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you.”
Matthew 16:1 And the Pharisees and Sadducees came, and to test him they asked him to show them a sign from heaven.
The Pharisees fasted and performed eating rituals because they believed they would bring blessing, or give them extra spiritual power.
Matthew 9:14 Then the disciples of John came to him, saying, “Why do we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?”
Matthew 15:1-2 Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, 2 “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands when they eat.”
The Pharisees avoided work on the Sabbath Day not to improve their relationship with God, but as an animistic taboo which they thought would make them more prosperous.
Matthew 12:2 But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, “Look, your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath.”
The pharisees avoided defilement because they believed it would bring a curse, or a loss of spiritual power.
Matthew 9:11 And when the Pharisees saw this, they said to his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?”
Matthew 23:25-26 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
The Pharisees demonstrated that their goal was not a relationship with God by how they treated his Son – Jesus Christ
Matthew 12:14 But the Pharisees went out and conspired against him, how to destroy him.
Matthew 12:24 But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.”
Matthew 19:3 And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?”
Matthew 21:45-46 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.
Matthew 22:15 Then the Pharisees went and plotted how to entangle him in his talk.
Luke 5:21 And the scribes and the Pharisees began to question, saying, “Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”
Luke 6:7 And the scribes and the Pharisees watched him, to see whether he would heal on the Sabbath, so that they might find a reason to accuse him.
Luke 16:14 The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him.
John 18:3 3 So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons.
No Pharisee would have admitted to having the same world-view as his idol-worshiping pagan neighbor. The sect developed during the exilic period when Israel was surrounded by pagan cultures which were profoundly animistic. The Pharisees lacked idols, and prided themselves on avoiding contamination by staying away from Gentiles altogether whenever possible.
However, to the Pharisee, the Law itself had become an idol – a device that could be used to manipulate the spirit world to bring about personal gain. Their avoidance of certain people (Gentiles, tax collectors and “sinners”) and meticulous regulations against any work on the Sabbath was a manifestation of the animistic concept of taboo. The rituals and ceremonies (e.g. concerning hand-washing) were similar to the animistic rituals designed to avoid bad luck, and prevent unwanted spiritual influence.
To the average Jew living in first century Palestine, the Pharisees were superstar believers. They were the elite, whose religious devotion was legendary and whose status was only to be admired and longed for. Jesus, however, recognized that their superstar status was unwarranted. To him they were a plant not planted by his heavenly Father. He agreed with John the Baptist, who called them a brood of vipers. He warned his disciples not to take in their teachings, because they would be contaminated by them. Many of Jesus’ parables were directly aimed at the Pharisees, exposing their hypocrisy and duplicity.
Proper Use of the Law
If the Pharisees’ emphasis on the Law as an anthropocentric devise was a mistake, then how does the Law fit within God’s plan for humanity? The best places to find answers to that question are Moses, the prophets of the Old Testament, and the Apostle Paul. Progressively throughout the Bible God revealed more and more of the purpose for which he gave us his Law.
Moses Mediates The Law of the LORD
Moses Recognized that the Law came from the LORD, not him
Exodus 16:4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “Behold, I am about to rain bread from heaven for you, and the people shall go out and gather a day’s portion every day, that I may test them, whether they will walk in my law or not.
Moses Encouraged the Israelites use the Law as a means of testifying to God’s hand on their lives
Exodus 13:8-9 You shall tell your son on that day, ‘It is because of what the LORD did for me when I came out of Egypt.’ 9 And it shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes, that the law of the LORD may be in your mouth. For with a strong hand the LORD has brought you out of Egypt.
Deuteronomy 6:6-9 And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart.
7 You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. 8 You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.
9 You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.
God intended Law-keeping to express a love relationship between Himself and his people
Exodus 20:5-6 You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, 6 but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.
Deuteronomy 6:5 You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Deuteronomy 11:13 “And if you will indeed obey my commandments that I command you today, to love the LORD your God, and to serve him with all your heart and with all your soul,
God intended Law-keeping to glorify His name and remind the Israelites of His love for them
Leviticus 22:31-33 “So you shall keep my commandments and do them: I am the LORD. 32 And you shall not profane my holy name, that I may be sanctified among the people of Israel. I am the LORD who sanctifies you, 33 who brought you out of the land of Egypt to be your God: I am the LORD.”
Moses promised blessing for those who keep God’s covenant, including the blessing of fellowship with the LORD
Leviticus 26:9-12 I will turn to you and make you fruitful and multiply you and will confirm my covenant with you. 10 You shall eat old store long kept, and you shall clear out the old to make way for the new. 11 I will make my dwelling among you, and my soul shall not abhor you. 12 And I will walk among you and will be your God, and you shall be my people.
Moses warned of dire consequences of failing to keep God’s covenant, including loss of fellowship with the LORD
Leviticus 26:15-18 if you spurn my statutes, and if your soul abhors my rules, so that you will not do all my commandments, but break my covenant, 16 then I will do this to you: I will visit you with panic, with wasting disease and fever that consume the eyes and make the heart ache. And you shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it. 17 I will set my face against you, and you shall be struck down before your enemies. Those who hate you shall rule over you, and you shall flee when none pursues you. 18 And if in spite of this you will not listen to me, then I will discipline you again sevenfold for your sins,
The purpose of the Law, then, was far from an anthropocentric device for achieving human goals, and fixing human problems. It was God’s Law, and it was meant to glorify Him, and maintain the fellowship which He established by His grace with his own particular people. That is why “Moses … constantly reminds the Jews of the covenant of grace concluded with their fathers whose heirs they were, just as if his special mission were to renew that covenant.”1
The law was not a means to obtaining salvation under either covenant. It could only be properly utilized by believing Jews who wanted to maintain a right relation-ship with the God who chose them. It showed them “the goal toward which (their lives) must be directed.”2 But God knew that these believers would battle with temptations to sin, and distractions from the life He intended for them.
The Law was His instruction manual on living the life of the covenant with Him. In fact, that is the root meaning behind the word torah. It is instruction. Even in modern Hebrew the noun moreh, derived from torah, does not mean lawyer – it means teacher. The law was not the means to the relationship, but the loving gift by God to help maintain it. It “was not laid down four hundred years after the death of Abraham in order to lead the chosen people away from Christ.”3 It was intended to keep them faithful to the LORD and expectant of all his promises, especially the advent of Christ.
The trouble with instruction manuals is that they are written by people who understand the appliance (or software, construction kit, etc.) but read by people who usually do not have a clue. Consequently most instruction manuals are discarded as useless, and for the most part, that is what the Israelites did with God’s law. They made a show at obeying it, but failed to manifest the inward conversion needed for the Law to work for them. This led to disaster for Israel as a nation.
The prophets came along at this time as God’s representatives, speaking for him, mostly to the Israelites themselves, although occasionally they spoke to neighbor nations. The task of the prophets was to defend God’s Law and vindicate his actions.
The Prophets Defend the LORD and Vindicate His actions
They Testify that the LORD’s people have turned away from his covenant
Isaiah 1:2-4 Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth; for the LORD has spoken: “Children have I reared and brought up, but they have rebelled against me. 3 The ox knows its owner, and the donkey its master’s crib, but Israel does not know, my people do not understand.” 4 Ah, sinful nation, a people laden with iniquity, offspring of evildoers, children who deal corruptly! They have forsaken the LORD, they have despised the Holy One of Israel, they are utterly estranged.
Isaiah 1:21-23 How the faithful city has become a whore, she who was full of justice! Righteousness lodged in her, but now murderers. 22 Your silver has become dross, your best wine mixed with water. 23 Your princes are rebels and companions of thieves. Everyone loves a bribe and runs after gifts. They do not bring justice to the fatherless, and the widow’s cause does not come to them.
They Reveal that the Relationship and Fellowship are Missing
Isaiah 1:15 When you spread out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.
They Point out that Hypocritical Shows of Obedience are Worthless
Isaiah 1:11-14 “What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of well-fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. 12 “When you come to appear before me, who has required of you this trampling of my courts? 13 Bring no more vain offerings; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and Sabbath and the calling of convocations – I cannot endure iniquity and solemn assembly. 14 Your new moons and your appointed feasts my soul hates; they have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.
They Warn of The Consequences of Continued Rebellion
Isaiah 1:20 but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be eaten by the sword; for the mouth of the LORD has spoken.”
Isaiah 1:25 I will turn my hand against you and will smelt away your dross as with lye and remove all your alloy.
They Plead for Israel to Manifest a True Conversion, and Offer Hope that God will Forgive
Isaiah 1:18 “Come now, let us reason1 together, says the LORD: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool.
The prophets spoke for God when the kings and priests could no longer do so, having been alienated by corruption and rebellion. This is why the prophets predicted the future. They foresaw a time of blessing for a remnant of Israel who would recognize the Light when he came (Isa. 9:2, John 1:4-9). They also foresaw judgment and destruction for the rebellious nation who refused to repent.
The Apostle Paul was in a particularly useful position to explain the proper use for the Law, since he had been a Pharisee who came to faith in Christ. His position provides a healthy balance between two extremes: that of the Judaizers who sought to retain the Pharisaical interpretation of the Law’s use, and that of the Libertarians who sought to jettison the Law as obsolete. To Paul, both of these views represented abandonment of God’s gift of the Law, which is holy and righteous and good.
Paul Explains The Law’s Purpose
Since The Law Reflects God’s Character, Gentiles Can Obey it without knowing it, And Jews Can Disobey it while claiming to be under it.
Romans 2:12 For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law.
Romans 2:13 For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous before God, but the doers of the law who will be justified.
Romans 2:14 For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law.
Romans 2:15 They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them
Romans 2:17-20 But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth –
Romans 2:23 You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law.
Romans 2:25 For circumcision indeed is of value if you obey the law, but if you break the law, your circumcision becomes uncircumcision.
Romans 2:26 So, if a man who is uncircumcised keeps the precepts of the law, will not his uncircumcision be regarded as circumcision?
Romans 2:27 Then he who is physically uncircumcised but keeps the law will condemn you who have the written code and circumcision but break the law.
The Law Was Never A Means of Salvation, but a Means of Revealing Our Need of a Savior
Romans 3:19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God.
Romans 3:20 For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.
Romans 3:21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it –
Romans 3:28 For we hold that one is justified by faith apart from works of the law.
Romans 3:31 Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.
The Law was Intended to Lead the Israelites back to the Promises of God and His Grace.
Romans 4:13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith.
Romans 4:14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void.
Romans 4:16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring – not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all,
Christ’s Death Released Believers from being Under The Law, And Made it Possible For Us To Live Godly Lives By the Holy Spirit.
Romans 5:20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
Romans 6:14 For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.
Romans 6:15 What then? Are we to sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!
Romans 7:4 Likewise, my brothers, you also have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead, in order that we may bear fruit for God.
Romans 7:6 But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we serve not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.
The Law is Holy, but Without the Holy Spirit, only Produces More Sin in those why try to Obey it.
Romans 7:7 What then shall we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
Romans 7:8 But sin, seizing an opportunity through the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law, sin lies dead.
Romans 7:9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin came alive and I died.
Romans 7:12 So the law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good.
Romans 7:14 For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am of the flesh, sold under sin.
Christ Fulfills The Law’s Purpose.
Romans 8:3-4 For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.
Romans 8:7 For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot.
Romans 9:31 but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law.
Romans 10:4 For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.
Paul taught that the covenant came before the Law. The Law “is not simply a collection of commands about how to live well, but is included in the covenant of grace which God founded.”4 The Law was a means of preserving the integrity of the covenant among a rebellious people until Christ would come to fulfill its demands.
Paul taught that Christ fulfilled the law’s purpose by 1) living a life in full obedience to it (Romans 5:19, Phil. 2:8), 2) dying a sinless death to atone for the sins of believers (Col. 1:20, 2:14), 3) providing the Holy Spirit who makes it possible for us to live out the law’s intent (1 Cor. 3:16,6:19, 2 Cor. 1:22, Gal. 3:3, 5:16).
Still The Way To God
The sentiment expressed in Psalm 119:2,10 is still valid today. God reveals himself through his word, and those of us who seek him (empowered to do so by the Holy Spirit) will still find him there. All 66 books of the Holy Bible are love letters from a God who wants to have a lasting intimate relationship with us, and has provided real, substantial content for that relationship. As we draw closer to him by reading these love letters, we cannot help but be impressed by his holiness and power.
As we remain faithful in exposing ourselves to divine revelation, some of that divine character will pass on to us. We must be careful, however, to recognize that self-improvement is only a side-effect of exposure to God’s word. The primary effect we are looking for when we break open the pages of the Bible is getting to know God better. He is the one who saved us by his grace.
1 William Niesel, Harold Knight., The Theology of Calvin. (Cambridge, England: James Clark & Co., 2002), 94.
2 Niesel, 97.
3 Niesel, 105-106.
4 Niesel, 92.