There’s a temptation in all of us to dismiss prescriptions and prohibitions in Scripture. After all, God is asking us to forgo our desires and yield them all to him. That’s why we crafty mortals are always scheming to sidestep the unchanging commands of God.
In the nearly two decades I’ve been speaking in different churches of different denominations, in different states, in different countries, and in different cultures, I’ve noticed that people (believers and non-believers alike) have a propensity to skirt the Bible’s precepts. They usually do it in one of three ways.
First, people claim personal divine revelation supersedes Scripture. These are typically Christians who claim God has told them something that is either extra-biblical or—even more surprising to me—something contra-biblical. Often, these alleged commands encourage a believer to abandon God-given responsibilities or are just flat-out sin. In just the last few months, I was told that God told a believer to leave their spouse and go live in another country to pursue a ministry opportunity. There are countless other examples of believers claiming God told them to divorce their spouses, that sex outside of marriage is permissible, and to engage in other sinful behaviors that conveniently coincide with the person’s desires.
Second, people sidestep the Bible by claiming it’s corrupt and/or adding other divine revelations. Muslims affirm that their holy book—the Quran—identifies key portions of the Bible (the Torah, Psalms, and Gospel) as divine revelations from God. They also claim, however, that those portions of the Bible have become corrupted and that’s why a new revelation, the Quran, was needed. What this means is that the Bible is true insofar as it corresponds to what the Quran teaches. Of course, this makes the Bible superfluous, and that’s why it’s disregarded by the vast majority of Muslims. Mormons hold a similar view. They also believe the Bible has become corrupted and that “many parts which are plain and most precious...have [been] taken away” (1 Nephi 13:26). As a result, their new revelations (Book of Mormon, the Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrines and Covenants) supersede the Bible’s authority.
Third, people pick and choose which parts of Scripture they’ll uphold. Many of these people identify as “progressive Christians,” “deconstructionists,” or “exvangelicals.” They claim to revert to authentic biblical teaching by jettisoning doctrines that have been tainted by time and tradition. What’s curious about their resultant beliefs is that they often line up with cultural trends. For example, one of the most common claims is that they’ve “discovered” the Bible has been misinterpreted and doesn’t condemn homosexual sex. These people allow culture or their own thinking to arbitrate what constitutes legitimate teaching.
In each of these approaches to dismissing divine commands, people circumvent God’s word by offering a higher authority. It’s either their own thinking, another god (e.g., Allah), or cultural trends.
Though it’s easy to see these erroneous approaches, we can’t be so naïve as to think we can’t also be blinded by the temptation to circumvent the Bible’s instruction. Jesus knew that following him would be difficult. He explained that if we want to be his disciples, we need to deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him (Matt 16:24). None of those steps is easy. That, however, is what we’re called to do.
It would be much easier to dismiss divine commands, but in dismissing them, we dismiss him. He, however, is worthy of our trust. Let us be true to his word and his commands.