Thy Commands Are Righteousness

God says all His commandments are righteousness. (Ps 119:172) Of course, all God’s commandments are righteous (138), yet together they also compose the complete definition of moral perfection. Removing or neglecting any one of God’s commands yields an inferior standard; each of His laws reveals a facet of holiness, departure from which defines sin. (1Jn 3:4)

This explains why we ought not neglect any part of Torah (Ps 119:6), because doing so diminishes its full scope and impact in our lives. (Mt 5:19) God is love (1Jn 4:16), and every word from Him faithfully testifies of and reveals His love. (Ps 119:86)

Every single law in Torah hangs on, is derived from, the Laws of Love for God and Man (Mt 22:40); these commands help us understand love and guide us to walk in love. So, for as long as Love is not perfected in us all (1Jn 4:17), not even one small nuance of the law shall fail, or be discarded, or made obsolete. (18)

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Bound by the Law

The New Testament (NT) makes many references to Mosaic Law, Torah, repeating and reinforcing its commands. The Tanach (Old Testament) was the only inspired scripture in the days of the Apostles, who were zealous of Torah their entire lives (Ac 21:20); they quoted it often in their teaching, and based all of their doctrine upon it.

Some seeking to diminish the relevance of Torah today claim that only commands specifically called out in the NT are still relevant. This standard is, of course, arbitrarily imposed on scripture: it is not in scripture itself. Still, it’s enticing to those looking to ignore some part of Torah (Ps 119:6), unaware of the eternal consequences. (Mt 5:19)

The primary problem with this view is that Christ openly refutes it early in His earthly ministry, explicitly addressing this error and affirming the eternal validity and relevance of Torah in precise, unmistakable language. (17-18) Once we understand this, if we’re observant, we find the entire Tenach reinforced and upheld by apostolic teaching.

For example, Paul says we’re bound by Mosaic divorce laws (Ro 7:2-3, 1Co 7:39), and claims a law governing the treatment of oxen is intended for us all, instructing us in financing Christian ministry. (1Co 9:9-10) He commands us to avoid all uncleanness (Ep 5:3), which must include the types of uncleanness specified in Leviticus, and Peter appeals to gentile believers to live in holiness (1Pe_1:15-16) because God commands Israel to be holy. (Le 20:7)

Paul tells us the entire Tenach is given to thoroughly equip all believers to live godly lives. (2Ti 3:16-17), so the idea that some part of Torah is obsolete, or no longer relevant, is foreign to apostolic thinking; they rejected this error decisively and consistently (Ac 21:24), along with the apostle Paul. (Ro 3:31) The error took hold in the Church many decades after the apostles moved on to Glory, and persists quite widely until the present.

Even so, Paul asserts that Torah will be the universal standard by which Christ shall judge the world, stating that the entire world remains under its authority. (Ro 3:19) Yet, he also asserts that believers are under grace and not under Torah (Ro 6:14), raising the ultimate question: is the believer then free to sin, to violate Torah?

This is equivalent to asking if we’re required to stay within the protective guardrails of a canyon’s precipitous overlook. Only those with a death wish would even ask the question.

The answer is obvious, and Paul answers clearly: No (15), we’re not free to sin. Believers are not only obligated to obey Torah (16), we’re given a new nature which delights in Torah (7:22) and enables us to obey it. (Ro 5:21)

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On These Two Hang

As Christ explains the greatest commandment in God’s Law (Mt 22:36), He identifies it as loving God supremely, with everything we are and have. (37-38)

He adds that the 2nd most important command is similar: loving others as we love ourselves. (39)

Christ then says something striking: On these two hang all the law and the prophets. (40)

We do well ponder carefully what Christ means here; He is evidently describing the foundation of morality, how it all works, the principle interconnecting all moral precepts, the key to understanding the entire body of Scripture, as well as the essential nature of God Himself, and how we rightly relate with Him. (1Jn 4:16b)

For one law B to hang on another law A would mean A supports, is aligned with, and gives proper orientation and context to B. B derives its importance and relevance from A. So, Christ is telling us that the laws of love for God and Man uphold all the other laws of God and give them their relevance, importance and weight. (Mt 23:23)

Christ is saying all the commandments of God, every single law in Torah, and everything the Prophets say about them, derive from, are supported by, and reveal the Law of Love. Thus, to omit or neglect any law of Torah is to sin against Love.

It’s no wonder then when we find Christ emphasizing that those disobeying even what we think might be the least important commands of Torah will be least in His kingdom – for they’re ultimately violating Love. (Mt 5:19)

We can now more clearly see why it’s an error to try to divide up Torah into moral, civil, and ceremonial dimensions: since all of Torah is about Love, violating or dismissing any part of it is immoral (Ja 2:10) – the very definition of sin. (1Jn 3:4) God doesn’t give His people commands merely to make us distinct and different, or to distract or encumber us: all God’s commands are righteousness (Ps 119:172) — windows into what it means to love God, ourselves and each other.

So, we shouldn’t be asking if some obscure law relates to Love, but how: the goal of every nuance in Torah is to enable us more fully in Love (1Ti 1:5); those who miss this don’t yet understand Torah. (6-7)

Saying then that some of the laws in Torah are just for the Jews and not for all of us is really saying some part of Love isn’t for all of us; that God wants only the Jew to have the fullness of Love, that some dimension of Love is only for Israel. It’s really saying God loves the Jew more than the Gentile, and expects the Jew to love more, and to walk in a more complete definition and sense of His love than anyone else.

But God isn’t partial in Love (Ro 2:11); our national identity is irrelevant as it relates to Love (Ga 3:28); He’s making us all into one in Him (Jn 17:20-21), perfecting His love in us. (1Jn 4:12) God isn’t divided (1Co 1:13), and doesn’t divide His body up like this. (1Co 12:27)

The entire body of Torah is complete, perfect (Ps 19:7), consummately revealing Love, as well as the perfect character of God. If we add to His laws, or take anything away from them, for ourselves or for anyone else, either in our teaching or way of life, we’re obscuring the definition of Love. (De 4:2) So, again, it’s no surprise that Christ says Torah, in it’s entirety, will outlast Heaven and Earth. (Mt 5:18)

Love is for Jew and Gentile alike, for you and me alike. Love is the fulfilling of the Law (Ro 13:10) and the fulfilling of the Law is love — what it means to love God and others: it is to keep all His commands. (1Jn 5:3) There’s no difference between obeying God’s law and loving God and others: we can’t distinguish between them. Those who aren’t keeping all of God’s commands aren’t walking in love; they’re not walking with God as they should. (1Jn 2:4-5)

Let’s not leave any part of Love out of our lives, out of how we’re loving God, ourselves and each other. Anything other than obeying all of God’s law isn’t the fullness of Love.

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Thou Shalt Not Covet

Lust, especially for men, can be an uncomfortable topic. Finding a woman attractive and giving her more than a passing glance is commonly understood to be sin, equivalent to adultery. As men are primarily visually oriented, it’s no surprise that men struggle here; it’s the focus of many an accountability session.

Women, on the other hand, don’t seem to find the topic troublesome at all and seldom discuss it, other than perhaps in confronting men. Evidently, most of us have bought into the lie that it’s primarily a masculine concern.

But what if, as in so many other ways, we’ve made up our own definition of lust, cherry-picking verses out of context to suit ourselves, and overlooking the heart of scripture?

God clearly defines lust in the 10th commandment – Thou shalt not covet (Ro 7:7): we’re forbidden to desire what belongs to another, such that we’d wrongly dispossess them if given opportunity.

This is different than thinking it might be nice to have what our neighbor does. Clearly, if we like our neighbor’s boat and offer him a reasonable sum — this isn’t lust, it’s basic economics: there’s nothing unholy or unloving here.

The definition of lust implies it violates the law of love in some way. (Ro 13:9) So, if a man finds a woman attractive, enjoys her beauty as he would a sunset, and seeks her welfare, where’s the harm? But in entertaining a plan to entice her, knowing she’s married, he’s crossed a forbidden line. (Pr 5:20)

We must define lust in the context of God’s Law (Ro 7:7), not in the context of common sentiment. Changing the definition of sin is harmful on so many levels. Finding a woman attractive is perfectly natural and wholesome, but seeking to use or defile her definitely is: it violates Torah. (Pr 6:29)

And we must not focus simply on sexual desire; the precept relates to any unwholesome appetite: inappropriate diet (De 14:3), worldly attention and praise (Jn 12:43), materialism, the abuse or perversion of most any good thing. (Ep 2:3)

God has created us to enjoy beauty and pleasure, designing us specifically for this, and providing Himself as our ultimate satisfaction. (Ps 16:11) Unto the pure, all things are pure, but unto the defiled and unbelieving is nothing pure, but even their mind and conscience is defiled. (Tit 1:15) Yet some are weak by design, some through a soul wound, some taken by false teaching. Torah enables us to sort out what’s lawful from what’s merely taboo, and Christ offers us the wisdom to know how to build up and encourage others in joyful living for God without becoming overly focused on mechanics. (Ro 14:17)

God has given us richly all things to enjoy (1Ti 6:17), yet it’s better to forego than to encourage others to violate their conscience (1Co 8:12), or to bring a reproach on the name of Christ.

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A Covering

Whether a woman should cover her head in public or not has often been a topic of debate in the church; the practice was evidently common in ancient societies, and is still observed in some more traditional cultures. God does address the topic in Scripture, but not so clearly that may be confidently dogmatic about it, hence the debate.

As a guiding principle, we should observe that God has defined sin in His Law, and He has explicitly commanded us not to add to it (De 4:2); so, we shouldn’t expect God to authorize anyone in the New Testament to change the definition of sin by adding new commands; only to provide commentary, to help us see more clearly what He intended from the beginning.

So, when God focuses on head coverings, we should note that He doesn’t point us back to any specific command in Torah; He opens by stating the roles of men and women in relation to Himself and each other: Christ is the head of every man; and the head of the woman is the man. (1Co 11:3)

This evidently implies that a man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head (4); it also implies that when a woman prays or prophesies with her head uncovered she dishonors her head. (5a) What exactly is implied here, why is it implied, and how do we know this?

What we feel when a woman is made bald (involuntarily) tells us all we need to know here (5a) — there’s something unnatural about it. When it’s considered a shame for a woman to be bald, or to have all her hair shaved off (6), in any way that’s different than for a man, we’re admitting we know this principle organically.

We know from the Creation story (Ge 1:27) that men should not cover their heads: they’re made in God’s direct image (7a); women should cover their heads because they’re made in the image of man, or indirectly in God’s image. (7b) The Creation account further reinforces this concept in the fact that Man was not made from Woman, but Woman was made from Man (8), and since Woman was made expressly for Man, and not vice versa. (9)

In other words, the details of Creation imply that [1] women have a different role in the home and society than men do, [2] that this role is a submissive, supportive, helpful one (Ge 2:18), and [3] that it’s appropriate for women to reflect this role difference symbolically by covering their heads in public. (10)

This does not mean men are better than, superior to, or more valuable than women; their mutual interdependency proves this. (11-12)

So there’s a natural law, evident to all in tune with Creation: women should cover themselves in public (13), and men should not. For example, nature itself teaches us that when a man covers his head with long hair he brings shame on himself. (14) However, the opposite is true for a woman; when she covers herself with long hair it’s a glory to her; her hair is given to her as a natural covering. (15)

How we maintain our hair is thus the primary way we reflect God’s design here, and the biblical text plainly states this — so, technically, this has nothing to do with a material covering over the hair. Mandating that women cover their hair with a material covering at any time doesn’t stand up to scripture: it isn’t commanded in Torah, it isn’t clearly inferred here, and it isn’t explicitly discussed anywhere else in Scripture.

Further, as far as the biblical standard is concerned, how long men and women should generally try to keep their hair, or what style they should use to represent this role difference before God, is evidently cultural since no particular hair length or style is specified in scripture. Apart from those who are overtly defying, blending or reversing biblical roles, what do people in any given culture perceive to be a natural or appropriate hair length and style for each sex? This is the only guide we have, and it’s subjective and relative for a reason; as it is with the types of clothes which further distinguish the sexes (De 22:5), this is determined by culture.

All this said, it’s clear that we might adorn ourselves with headwear in ways which accentuate our appearance. In doing so we ought to apply the same principle; we differentiate ourselves in our respective roles by  how we treat the place in our bodies where we consciously reside, in our minds or heads. Ornamental or symbolic coverings should evidently be treated much like hair; for men, not covering more of the scalp and neck than where the hair is naturally growing as a covering of the skin, and larger, longer coverings for women.

For example, the priestly headgear required by God in the service of the tabernacle seems to follow this pattern: the mitre, crown (Ex 29:16) and bonnets (28:40a) weren’t shameful for the men to wear, but were glorious and beautiful. (40b) They didn’t violate this principle even in spirit; the style evidently covered little more than where hair naturally covers the scalp.

So then, when men wear a hood to keep from freezing in the bitter cold, or from burning in the sun, do they violate this principle in spirit? Since this type of clothing isn’t symbolic but more practical — and the context here is clearly symbolic — I think it’s safe to say that this isn’t a violation of God’s pattern in any sense.

And finally, what about the Nazarites, men who didn’t cut their hair for long periods; some never felt a razor their whole lives. (Jdg 13:5) No problem: long hair can be wrapped up in a turban and kept off the neck and shoulders in public – it need not be a shameful covering simply because it’s long.

In matters which are not clearly specified in scripture, let’s study it out for ourselves until we’re convinced of what’s right for us (Ro 14:5), being careful to follow God’s precepts as best we can without rigidly imposing new regulations on others, but each pursuing alignment with God according to our own conscience. (Ro 14:22)

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The Law Is Spritual

Laws defining acceptable behavior are spiritual in nature, not physical; they express a moral standard by which we may evaluate our actions. In this sense, God’s Law, Torah, is spiritual, perfectly expressing God’s Way. (Ro 7:14a)

We, on the other hand, are carnal, sold under sin, tending to violate God’s perfect standard. (Ro 7:14b) In this state our sin nature is always looking for ways to justify breaking God’s Law (Ro 7:21); the carnal mind won’t ever submit – it’s at war with goodness itself. (Ro 8:6)

Attempts to subvert Torah can be extremely crafty, using sleight of hand to make the point. (Ep 4:14) One such teaching is that since Torah is spiritual, we need not bother with the letter of the Law. In other words, as long as we’re in keeping with what we think is the spirit of a command, it’s OK to ignore its actual wording and break it. For example, if the spirit of Sabbath is a weekly rest, does it really matter whether we rest on Saturday or Sunday?

This begs the question of whether we can properly honor the spirit of a command while we’re despising its letter, what it actually says. If the sabbath command tells us to rest on a particular day of the week, which it does (Ex 20:10), and we choose to rest on a different day, are we breaking the command? Of course we are, by definition.

While it’s true that God’s laws have spiritual applications, perhaps many such applications, it’s a mistake to think each law doesn’t also have a specific, practical application; it is presumptuous to claim we’re keeping a law in spirit – spiritualizing it – while we’re disobeying it literally. Who are we to say what all the spiritual applications of a particular command are, or even the primary application?

The words are what God has given us, and what He expects us to obey (De 27:26); as we look at the words of all of His commands, as well as all His examples, we begin to understand some of the spirit and intent behind His laws, the precepts. But all of this is based on the very words He uses, the letter, if you will. We can’t rightly divide the Word while we’re ignoring the actual words; we can’t respect the intent of His Law while we’re routinely breaking it; this is handling His word deceitfully and corrupting it. (2Co 2:17)

Certainly, there may be extenuating circumstances where the spirit of a command might be respected while we’re violating its letter. For example, in an emergency we might technically violate the sabbath to preserve life, even of an animal. (Mt 12:11) The sabbath was made for us; we weren’t made for it. (Mk 2:27) We must use common sense in the application of God’s law, and not violate the Law of Love as we force technical obedience to the letter of the law.

God’s Law is written such that it’s the exception to properly violate the letter; for the letter perfectly captures the intent, as a general rule. If we love God’s law, and He’s writing it in our hearts, we’ll be keeping it as well as we can, both the letter and the spirit, as a manner of life. (Mt 5:19)

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Until the Law

It’s commonly taught that God only had one law in the Garden of Eden: Thou shalt not eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and evil. (Ge 2:17) The claim is that God started with just one rule to see what we’d do with it, and then added more laws as we continued breaking the ones we already had.

It’s true that God only explicitly stated one rule at the beginning, but that doesn’t mean there was only one rule.

When Cain became angry over God accepting only Abel’s sacrifice and not his own (Ge 4:4-5), God warned Cain that sin was lying in wait if he didn’t choose wisely. (7a)

When Cain murdered Abel it was sin, and God treated Cain as if he knew better, even though there was no official law against it. Clearly, there were unstated rules related to murder and loving others that were common knowledge, long before such laws were formalized at Sinai.

And long before God formally gave us any more laws, men became exceedingly evil and wicked (Ge 6:5); they were grievously violating universally understood moral law (Ro 2:15) and were judged accordingly in the Great Flood. (Ge 6:7)

And Abraham kept God’s commandments, statutes and laws long before they were officially stated at Sinai (Ge 26:5); God’s expectations were clear, even though they were not formally written down.

So, death reigned from Adam to Moses even though no one ever broke the same law Adam and Eve did (Ro 5:14); this proves God’s commandments were revealed and known long before He had them written down in Torah: sin was imputed, and men were held accountable for their sin, but this can’t happen unless God’s Law is known and understood. (13)

Torah was given at Sinai, but it wasn’t new when God revealed it; it was in play from the very beginning. (Ps 119:160) The precepts of Torah are timeless, applicable in every age — yesterday, today, and forever. (Ps 119:152)

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For Conscience Sake

Christian liberty is God encouraging us to determine for ourselves how best to follow Him: we each stand or fall before our own Master. (Ro 14:4-5) He isn’t encouraging us to sin (Ro 6:15), to break His law (1Jn 3:4), but to apply His precepts in extra-biblical matters in ways we believe most pleases Him. It’s something He calls us to do from the heart as we follow Him, rather than blindly conforming to man-made tradition.

A very challenging scenario for early Christians was whether to eat food that might have been sacrificed to idols. (1Co 10:28-29) It wasn’t technically sinful, but many weaker souls didn’t understand, so extra-biblical discernment was required in each particular situation. When one was offered food in a public context, either in the open markets or at a particular feast, one couldn’t be sure if it had been sacrificed to an idol or not, and how others might view this.

For mature believers, knowing rituals can’t contaminate our food (1Co 8:4), Paul resolves this with a don’t ask policy (25); it isn’t actually a matter of sin since no food belongs to an idol. (26) But if someone points out that some food’s been dedicated to an idol, then abstain to avoid causing others with a weak conscience to stumble. (28) Love limits freedom for conscience sake, not for ourselves but for others.

Taken out of context, this principle might be abused to claim that God doesn’t care what we eat now; no matter what kind of food’s available – don’t worry about whether it’s God’s design for food, biblically clean, or not. After all, Paul does say in the same context, “All things are lawful for me.” (1Co 10:23)

Yet taking such principles literally in isolation produces absurdity. If “all things are lawful for me,” then murder, sodomy and blasphemy are fine now? Of course not! And even if we limit this to food, is cannibalism OK now? Or poisonous frogs, cockroaches and flies? Not at all.  Contextually, it’s clear that Paul is saying every creature God has sanctified as food for us in His Word is lawful and good (1Ti 4:4-5), regardless what ritual has been performed over it.

When wrestling with passages like this, trying to understand the relevance of Torah in our lives, particularly dietary law, we must divide the word honestly, rightly harmonizing each text with the whole of scripture. It’s true that Paul doesn’t explicitly delineate how every single law in Torah is still relevant for both Jew and gentile, yet he shouldn’t have to: Jesus does, as clearly as it can be done – it’s all relevant for everyone for all time. (Mt 5:17-18) Saints are classified by our mind towards it (19), and all who break it as a manner of life are guilty without excuse. (Ro 3:19)

Paul never says Gentiles don’t have to obey certain parts of Torah, breaking God’s Law up into pieces, some of which are irrelevant. This can’t rightly be done (Ja 2:10); we get this mindset from those who’ve corrupted the Word. (2Co 2:17) Instead, Paul asserts that faith establishes Torah (Ro 3:31), and that it’s all good when used as God intended (1Ti 1:8), pointing out that our old man hates it (Ro 8:7) and our new man delights in it. (Ro 7:22) Once we’re aligned with Paul, serving Torah (Ro 7:25), we won’t be asking which laws we must obey, but which ones we’re allowed to.

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Food for You

As Noah departs the Ark after the Great Flood, God extends the general dietary principle, what He’s classified as food. In the Garden, He had revealed his provision of plants for nourishment (Ge 1:30), and now He’s allowing anything that moves to be eaten. (Ge 9:3)

What’s interesting to observe about God’s dietary revelation is that it’s very general; important, critical details are omitted. For example, we shouldn’t eat certain kinds of plants because they’re poisonous, yet God never explicitly tells us which plants to avoid and why.

As a general principle, plants are food, but each particular animal species should only eat certain kinds of plants. God gives each species instincts about what’s good to eat, and places Adam in a special garden stocked with a wide variety of edible herbs and fruit trees as a start. He also gives Man intelligence to figure out the rest, so with a bit of trial and error, we do just fine in the antediluvian world. The key point being this: just because something appears to be in the general category of food, doesn’t mean that we humans should be eating it. We need wisdom and discernment to be healthy.

The same appears to be true for eating animals; this dietary extension to eat flesh applies to certain animals as well as to humans, according to God’s design in each of His creatures. By nature, some creatures are merely herbivores and some are capable of being carnivores or omnivores. So, as Noah considers God’s extension of the dietary principle to include meat, as there’s a design apparent in certain animals that enables them to eat it, there’s also an obvious guideline for Man about which animals are good to eat, which Noah understands to be clean.

This concept of clean animals wasn’t new, it was well-known in the antediluvian world, even though we’ve no record of any direct revelation from God about it. Perhaps Adam discerned that certain kinds of animals were distinctly different from others in a way that made them suitable for humans to domesticate, even though we weren’t eating them. For example, Adam might have discovered that milk and wool from sheep were especially good, and taught his sons about it. Perhaps this is why Abel chose shepherding as his profession. (Ge 4:2)

In other words, Adam had not merely named all of the animals (Ge 2:19), but he may have observed enough about each species to classify it as clean or unclean, and taught the rest of us how to distinguish between them. Perhaps this is why, when God told Noah to take into the Ark seven of each of the clean species of animals, and only two of each unclean species, He didn’t need to explain; Noah appears to have already known exactly how to do this. (Ge 7:2)

And as Noah is leaving the Ark, contemplating the spare of each of the clean animals, he perceives that God will be pleased with an enormous sacrifice (Ge 8:20), an expression of God’s ownership of all things, rejoicing in His pleasure in sparing life on the earth.

After the sacrifice, noting the remaining three pair of each clean animal species, and only one pair of all of the other animal species, as Noah was considering God’s expanded dietary principle, recognizing that eating any of the unclean animals in the near future would cause that species to become extinct, it was immediately clear which animals God intended for human consumption: the clean ones, especially those which we were already in the habit of directly managing.

But over time, this knowledge about which kinds of animals were good for us to eat seems to have deteriorated to the point that it was appropriate for God formally define it for us; as men began to rebel against God in every conceivable manner, the dietary principle was evidently no exception. So, in formalizing His perfect ways for Israel, God reminds them to not eat abominable things (De 14:3), animals which He has not designed for humans to eat, clearly explaining exactly how to distinguish between clean and unclean animals (6) and giving us a number of specific examples of clean beasts (4) and unclean ones (7), edible fish (9-10) and unclean birds. (11-18) This wasn’t a change in the dietary revelation, or even a new concept, just a formalization of what He had already informally revealed in us to establish clarity and accountability.

It is true that there is some nutritional value in unclean foods, but this should not be our preference when we have any kind of choice. Under normal circumstances, choosing to eat unclean animal is to disrespect and harm ourselves. As God has progressively revealed His eternal ways over time, He hasn’t ever changed His mind about what’s good for us, nor has He been arbitrary in His commands: they’re righteous and very faithful, each and every one of them. (Ps 119:138)

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To His Own Master

Scripture is perfectly precise; it isn’t overly specific, nor is it inappropriately vague. The detail God has provided is both necessary and sufficient for us; we must not add to it, nor take away from it. (De 4:2)

Yet there are a great variety of circumstances in which we might find ourselves, and a body of law which explicitly detailed how to act in every conceivable setting would be enormous, unthinkably vast, anticipating the impact of undeveloped technologies and innumerable cultural/familial complexities. Composing such a paint-by-the-numbers standard is evidently untenable as we consider the great variety of possible cultural and societal forms that might evolve across time.

Even so, all we need to be fully equipped to please God in every circumstance of life is provided us in the Tanakh, the Old Testament. (2Ti 3:16-17) We may derive from its precepts how God would have us act in every scenario we could ever encounter. It is miraculously precise in this regard, a living Sword, discerning every motive and intent of our hearts. (He 4:12)

So, in extra-biblical matters, which are by definition beyond the scope and obvious spirit of the text of Scripture, we are required and encouraged to use our own judgement and understanding as to how best to follow God, discerning His way for us through the precepts embedded in His Word (Ps 119:104), which He must help us understand (Ps 119:27) as we meditate on them (Ps 119:15) in the Spirit. (1Jn 2:27)

Each of us may, indeed, being at varying points in our journey after God, see things a bit differently from those around us; this is both expected and healthy. God does not want us to blindly defer to others in these kinds of things by failing to seek His wisdom and discernment for ourselves, but to maintain a sense of individual responsibility to walk and to please Him. He tells us to be fully persuaded in our own mind (Ro 14:5), and to be happy in the freedom to obey according to our own conscience. (Ro 14:22)

This kind of spiritual autonomy and individuality does not promote lawlessness, where everyone’s selfishly doing what’s right in their own eyes (De 12:8) in spite of what God says, justifying absolutely anything they like. (Pr 21:2) Such is the way of the world. (Pr 30:12) This kind of liberty only works well in communities of saints, who delight in God’s Law as He is writing it in their hearts.

Neither should we permit our individuality to make us unteachable, disinterested in the insights, wisdom and challenges of others. (He 10:25) It is our great privilege to edify one another, seeking the living Christ in each other as we help each other follow Him. (1Th 5:11) This is the very foundation of spiritual community. (1Co 14:26)

And, to be certain, there are clear guidelines for this kind of spiritual liberty; we must not allow it to become a stumbling block to our weaker brothers. (1Co 8:9) When a brother or sister doesn’t have a mature understanding of God’s Way, and would be tempted to violate their untrained conscience through our example, walking in such liberty violates the law of love and sins against Christ Himself. (1Co 8:12) Further, insisting that others follow our particular understanding when seeking practical consensus in community is likewise stubborn uncharitableness. In such cases, deferring to others, especially the elder and more experienced, is simply wisdom. (Ep 5:21)

The dangerous alternative to God’s design here is to impose universal compliance in matters which God has not clearly specified, effectively adding to His Word through man-made tradition, which subtly — yet inevitably — corrupts our worship (Mk_7:7) and turns us from the truth. (Tit 1:14) It elevates a select group of men above the brotherhood into a place of unhealthy spiritual authority over others, oppressing the saints into delegating their responsibility to discern the optimal application of God’s Word for themselves to these select few. This is entirely contrary to God’s design for our spiritual life.

To be healthy in God, we must each retain a sense of individual accountability to God as our own Master (Ro 14:7-8), and encourage others to do the same. (Rom 14:4). We’re each individually responsible for how we live before Him; if we’re in any kind of error (Ja 1:16), or are misapplying God’s Word in some way, it is no one’s fault but our own.

The head of every man is Jesus Christ (1Co 11:3); we are to be looking unto Him as our Example in every facet of our lives (He 12:2), delegating no step of this precious, eternal walk to anyone else. (1Pe 2:21)

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