Deuteronomy 4:2, 12:32; Proverbs 30:5-6; Jeremiah 26:2;
Whether we like it or not we live in a world of change. And to a large extent that change is of our own making. We change our landscape: we clear trees, we mine for minerals, and we change the balance of nature. We adapt the environment for our own needs and our own liking. We are constantly adapting and developing our own culture: so that the things of the past are no longer as important as they once were, and more modern concerns take on a much more important focus. We are constantly coming up with new ideas: we are inventive and innovative. So much so, that the challenge to better and improve ourselves, often seems to take on a whole life of its own. And as a consequence of all these things, we change our rules and our laws, often, to catch up with the way things have changed and developed.
And whereas some people like change, others fight against it. But even amongst those who like change, the pace at which life changes can still be a real issue. (Never having enough time to adapt to one change before being confronted with another).
But the fact is, that whether we like it or not, we live with change—it’s part of who we are. The challenge for us, then, is what we do with change, with how we manage it.
Having said that, there are some things which are not supposed to be changed? And one of those things is the message from the Lord our God. Yet, despite that, over the years, people have tried to change and adapt that too.
B. DO NOT ADD OR TAKE AWAY
1. Deuteronomy 4:2 & 12:32
For example, when Moses and God’s people reached the Jordan River—and they were about to cross the Jordan into the Promised Land—the first thing that Moses did was to sit the people down. He knew from experience the people’s tendency to “adjust” God’s words to something they found to be acceptable. As a consequence, he needed to revisit where they had come from in their relationship with God.
And in a rather lengthy speech—in which he talked about the seriousness of their relationship with their creator—he talked about God’s law, and the priority of worship and service. And, in doing so, he reiterated these words of God: ”You are not to add to what I command you or subtract from it. Rather, you are to keep the commandments of the LORD your God that I am giving you.”
And, indeed, knowing from experience that many of the people were paying only lip service to God’s words, and that in no time at all, even after all he had to say, that the people would be adapting and changing God’s words to suit themselves, half way through his speech, Moses repeated God’s words again. “Be careful to do everything that I command you to do. Do not add to the commands or take away from them.”
2. Proverbs 30:5-6
Another example is in the book of Proverbs. The writer of this particular proverb was also aware of the tendency of God’s people to adjust the truth to suit themselves—to make faith in God more palatable, and to make observance of the faith easier to express. As a consequence we have in the book of Proverbs this warning: “Every word of God has been tested in the fire; he is a shield to those who seek refuge in him. Do not add to his words, or he will decide against you; you will be found to be a liar.”
3. Jeremiah 26:2
And, a third example is the prophet Jeremiah. Now his life was often at risk because of his faith. But he was ordered by God to face a hostile crowd, with a message that he knew they really didn’t want to hear. Now Jeremiah must have been tempted to leave out particular words of God which he knew would not be welcomed. Because before he even opened his mouth, he was encouraged by God to go ahead, regardless of the consequences. And those words of God to Jeremiah …? “Stand in the courtyard of the LORD’s Temple. Speak to all the people from the towns of Judah, who have come to worship in the LORD’s Temple. Tell them everything I command you. Do not omit a word.”
As you can see, then, in a world of change—and these days it may be the pace of change that’s the issue—there has always been a tendency to adapt God’s message. To make it more acceptable; to make it more comfortable and easier to live with. And God is very aware of this temptation. But, as a consequence, side by side with the temptation to change, has been this constant warning: Don’t fiddle with God’s word. Do not add to it or take away from it.
5. Revelation 22:18-19
Indeed so serious is the need not to adapt the faith, as God has provided, God’s warning is extended to the very last chapter of the last book of the Bible. And we can read the words in the book of Revelation, “I bear witness to everyone who hears the prophetic words of this book: If anyone adds to them, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this book. If anyone takes away the words of this prophetic book, God will take away his share in the tree of life and in the holy city—the things that are written in this book.”
It’s a solemn warning, that the contents, the message of the book, is not to be tampered with. That the book is more than the product of man’s imagination or human genius. That the words are from no less than God himself. And whilst other things in the world might change and adapt, there is one thing that is constant. And that is who God is, what he has said, and what he has told us to do. And no kind of wishful thinking or wanting to make the Gospel more acceptable can change that in any way at all.
As a consequence, it may be normal to adjust things, to adapt things in this world, to make things more suitable for ourselves. But from the Bible we are given a warning: there are some things that aren’t adjustable. And one of those things is the basics of our faith in the living God.
Despite that, don’t we live in a world, and a society, that constantly tries to adapt the Christian faith to make it more palatable?
1. The Need for a Relationship with God
After all, how often do we hear people talking or acting in terms of God, as being a god you can either take or leave? “Oh! That’s something for the old and the infirm…” “I’ve got more important things to do…” “I believe… but…” “I’ll consider God when I get older…” etc., etc.
People are very good at coming up with excuses why God shouldn’t be number one in their lives. And why family, sport, work, or even themselves are far more important in their list of their priorities.
And yet, regarding God. Moses’s speech on the eastern bank of the Jordan River was firmly focussed on who God was, and on the importance of taking seriously their relationship with God. God wasn’t someone that you could take or leave, without risking dire consequences. And the book of Revelation says the same. Because it reveals God (and the Lamb) upon the throne—as the whole thrust of the book. And in the scenario of judgement day, it reveals the purpose of life: as the need to constantly acknowledge God, and the need to constantly worship his very being.
2. The Only Way to Salvation
How often do we hear people say that there are other ways to God? And that belief in Jesus is not the only way. “I’ve got my own faith…” “I’m involved in a lot of community work…” “I’ve lived a good life, I’ve done enough…” And that is apart from any other religious beliefs.
People are very good at coming up with excuses why they won’t commit themselves to the only true faith, why they want to adapt the Christian faith to cover other alternatives, and why they prefer to do things differently, or on their own.
And yet, regarding other ways to salvation… Moses spoke out that following God leads to life, and that any other way leads to disaster. And Revelation spells that out further. Because in Revelation, it not only reveals a picture of the faithful gathered together in heaven and worshipping God, but it also provides a picture of what happens to the unfaithful. Indeed those whose names are not recorded in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15).
3. The Need to Keep the Message True
And how often do we hear things which tend to water down the expression of the Christian faith? “I believe… but I don’t find it necessary to go to church”, “My faith is a private matter…”, “I was baptised and married in the church, and I’ll probably be buried from the church too—but that is as far as it goes…” Or even “I help the church financially…”. (And some of these things may be good in themselves.)
People are very good at coming up with excuses, which require God’s words to be reinterpreted to mean other than as God intended. And that is despite the fact that their reinterpretations clash terribly with the warnings in the bible not to add or take away from God’s message.
And yet, regarding people adding or taking away… Well, whether we consider Moses or the Book of Revelation, the concept of belief being private is totally alien to God’s way. On the contrary, faith is something that is to be openly expressed. The concept of being able to earn one’s place by doing good deeds is also expressly denied, because it dismisses the necessity of dependence upon God and the need for a saviour. And the idea of their being different levels of belief and different outward expressions of the faith depending upon what suits, couldn’t be any further from the truth either. On the contrary, nothing less than full participation in faith, and its outward expression, is what is required of all believers without exception.
Change may be part and parcel of who we are. And regarding our understanding and expression of the Christian faith, hopefully that will develop and grow. But the idea of being able to change and adapt the basic concept of God and his message, to make it more palatable, to make it more easy to accept… Well people may do it. But in reality, it’s not an option for anyone who claims to be a genuine Christian at all.
What that means, therefore, is that we have to be very careful in our beliefs, and the expression of them. Because, we not only need to get them right for ourselves, but we have the great responsibility of not leading others astray as well. That means we need to periodically look at the state of our beliefs and practices, to make sure that they line up with the expectations of God.
The Bible, and the Book of Revelation in particular, is very clear on the fact that God should always be the central focus of all our lives. And that anything less, is not acceptable at all. That there is only one way for salvation. And that there is only one way to restore our relationship with God. And that’s through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. And the consequences of that faith, mean that we have responsibilities to share our faith, in the things that we do, and the things that we say.
We have to be careful, then, not to add or take away from the things that God has said or given in any way. Because deviating from that path is clearly not acceptable. Indeed, the consequences of us doing so could mean that come judgement day, we may not be lining up with the faithful to receive our reward, but with the unbelievers waiting to be condemned.
So, yes, whether we like it or not, we live in a world that is constantly changing. And to some extent that is something that we have to live with. But, despite that, there are some things that should never be changed. And one of those things is God, his laws, the salvation message that he brings, and our basic responses to the things that he has said and given.
Now in a world of change, that isn’t an easy thing to do. It’s far easier to change God’s words and adapt them, to make them easier to digest, and to make them easier to accept. That was the temptation in Moses’ day, that was the temptation at the time of the writer of that Proverb, and that was the temptation at the time that Revelation was written. But it’s not God’s way. And it should it be ours either.
We have a responsibility today to respond to God’s message, as he has provided it. We also have the responsibility to tell others about it, without changing it in any way. Indeed, without adding to it and without taking anything away.
Posted 30th March 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis