For many years denominationalists have criticized gospel preachers for teaching the essentiality of obedience to the commands of Christ, and in the last few years a few who profess to be members of the church have leveled a charge of "legalism" and "Pharisaism" from the same standpoint. That it is quite possible for a gospel preacher to be guilty of Pharisaic spirit is admitted by all, but the things which makes one so is not teaching and insisting upon strict adherence to Jesus' teaching. Jesus did not cast reflection upon obedience. In Matthew 23:23, 24, Jesus said, "Woe unto you scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye tithe mint and anise and cummin, and have left undone the weightier matters of the law, justice, mercy and faith: but these ye ought to have done, and not to have left the other undone. Ye blind guides, that strain out the gnat, and swallow the camel." Notice that Jesus tells them they ought not, to have left what they did undone. It was good for them to be attentive to the smallest things of obedience as well as to the weightier matters of the law.
Jesus emphasized obedience to God saying, "Not everyone that saith unto me-, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but the that doeth the will of my Father who is in heaven." (Matt. 7:21).
Jesus also emphasized obedience to himself (See Matt. 7:24-27). In John 14:15 he says "If ye love me, ye will keep my commandments", and in John 15:14, "Ye are my friends, if ye do the things which I command you." The Holy Spirit teaches, "he (Jesus) became unto all them that obey him, the author of eternal salvation." (Heb. 5: 8, 9) and "Be ye doers of the word and not hearers only, deluding your ownselves." (Jas. 1:22), and "Hereby we know that we know him if we keep his commandments." (I Jno. 2:3) He who teaches that a man may know God apart from submission and obedience to His word should be branded as a teacher of false doctrine, and no one should encourage him in such a teaching for he, too, is guilty of so doing. (See II Jno. 9-11).
The Weightier Matters of the Law
The reason for the accusation of hypocrisy by Jesus against the Pharisees is evident. Their keeping of the law was not an expression of justice, mercy, and faith, of submission to God and reverence of Him, but was merely a ceremony by which they expected praise from men. (See Matt. 6: 1-8; 16-18). It is by our obedience that we show our faith in (and love for) God. This does not minimize the importance of obedience to the command in the way God directed, but rather emphasized this importance; for how can a man truly love God when he shows disrespect for the instructive teaching of God and His Son Jesus Christ? The first and great commandment as taught by Jesus is "Thou shall love the, Lord, thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind." (Matt. 22:37), but Love is not just something to well up in the heart and never be expressed. Unexpressed love is no love in its true meaning (John 14:15). Likewise is this true of faith for James says, "faith apart from works is dead." (Jas. 2:26) This is also true of mercy, for mercy is no mercy without forgiveness (See Matt. 18: 21-35 and compassion expressed (See I Jno. 3: 71, 18). In Matthew 23:23 Jesus was not de-emphasizing obedience but was showing that mere outward obedience as ceremony is unavailing. Man must worship God both in spirit and in truth, both with the spirit and understanding. (John 4:24; 1 Cor. 14:15) To worship in truth alone, observing the teaching ouwardly alone, is unavailing; but so is it to claim to worship in spirit alone. The weightier matters of the law are motive material, the things which lie at the base of actior, but who can assume that they can lie there unexpressed.
One, to become a child of God, a Christian, must have faith; but this faith must also be expressed in repentance (Lk. 13:3, 5), confession of Jesus before men (Matt. 10:32, Acts 8:37), and baptism in the name of the Father, Son. and Holy Spirit in order to receive the remission of sins and put on Christ (Matt. 28:19, Acts 2:38, Gal. 3:27). It cannot be expression of true faith to confess that God has forgiven sins or saved bef ore He promised to do so, nor can it be expression of true faith to bc sprinkled or poured with water instead of being baptized. (See Rom. 6:3, 4; Col. 2.12).
The child of God must love God, but his love must be expressed in worship according to truth and in service as God directs. One cannot express love for God acceptably by doing something out of harmony with His word such as playing mechanical instruments of music in praise of Him rather than in singing and making melody in our hearts, offering the sacrifice of praise, the fruit of lips (See Eph. 5:19, Col. 3:16, Heb. 13:15) ; or by observing the Lord's Supper only monthly, or once, twice, three or four times a year rather than on the first day of each week as the pattern is given (Acts 20:7); or by begging nonmembers for support and having fairs, carnivals, raffles and other instruments of gambling to provide finances rather than by giving as prospered (See I Cor. 16:1, 2; 11 Cor. 9:7ff.); nor can one show love for God acceptably by repeating a ritual of man, written prayer, nor by teaching the creeds and opinions of man. Jesus nowhere minimizes the need for strict adherence to all he taught both in spirit and in form. Let us be careful lest we be guilty of over-emphasizing an idea until it becomes a creed of its own. The religion of Jesus is a balanced religion. Over emotionalism is unbalanced, as is ritualism and cremony without the love and faith of which they must be the expression, if according to the will of God.