One more First Commandment FAIL: legalism and the deification of man

A homily on the First Commandment:  You shall have no other gods before Me…

The Westminster Larger Catechism gives an extensive explanation of the sins forbidden in the First Commandment, and this will be our last week on this commandment.  One of the ways in which we can violate this commandment, according to Westminster, is to make “men the lords of our faith and conscience” (WLC 105).  Only God through His Word can tell us what we must believe, and how we must live.  To grant His authority to a man is effectively to turn that man into a god!

Jesus often dealt with the Pharisees, who made much of their human traditions, what they called “the traditions of the elders.”  At one point, Jesus rebukes them with these words:  “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.  And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.”  And then Jesus says, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:6-7, 9).

The problem is when human traditions trump the Word of God.  The result is that you will obey MEN rather than GOD.  Whenever you believe or do something as a Christian simply because someone told you to believe or do it – apart from the Word of God, rightly explained and applied – you have made a man the Lord of your conscience, rather than God and His Word.  You have made another god!

Some examples are obvious, some are less so.  If a preacher tells you that a Christian cannot “smoke, drink, or chew, nor dance with girls who do!” – he has tried to take lordship over your conscience.  Or a preacher says you must have morning devotions, or tithe your income, or perform some act of piety or obedience – lest you lose the favor and blessings of God – he has tried to bind your conscience (not to mention denying the Gospel of God’s free grace to us, by which we are already blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ! – Eph. 1:3).  Or a pastor says that the Gospel is about justice for the poor – and if you’re not actively involved in ministry to the poor, you’re not a true Christian.  True Christians do “justice” – as they define it.  All of these things either contradict or go beyond the doctrines and practices commanded by God in His Word.  And so these preachers have tried to take lordship over your conscience.  They have violated the first commandment – and so have you, if you let them bind your conscience, apart from God’s clear Word of Law and Gospel.

Beware the doctrines and commandments of men!  We are legalists at heart, and we tend to exalt authoritarian men rather than God and the authority of His Word.  Jesus has set you free not only from the guilt of your sin, but also from the enslaving commandments of men.  Stand fast in the freedom He has won for you!

About pastor tony phelps

Pastor of Christ Our Hope PCA in Wakefield, RI
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