Knowing What is Vital
In describing attributes that religious people like to think apply to them, Paul says, “...and know His will, and approve the things that are essential, being instructed out of the Law,” (Romans 2:18). Notice the phrase “approve the things that are essential.” One translation (Moffat) has “and with a sense of what is vital in religion.”
This phrase is also very similar to another found in the following passage: “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ;” (Philippians 1:9,10). So we “approve the things that are essential” and “approve the things that are excellent.”
In the first passage (Romans 2:18) Paul had been discussing where the Jews had gone wrong in their faith. They had lost direction and, as Jesus had pointed out, had become so entrenched in their outward rituals, customs and traditions they had forgotten the essentials of the Law itself. Jesus severely rebuked this approach: "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.” and then He painted a humorous caricature of them with the following illustration of a man sitting down to eat a bowl of soup but finding a couple foreign substances in it but only removing one: "You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:23,24).
We need to be able to know what is vital. Things such as a vivid awareness of salvation in Christ, a confidence that our sins are forgiven, a sense of power and adequacy for life, peace of mind and a desire to serve others. To be satisfied with “going to church” and “doing the proper things in worship” without our faith becoming a living part of our everyday life is to fall as short as the folks Jesus was describing. As He said to them, “but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.”
Consult the Experts
If we want to be pleasing to God, we should consult the experts to learn how. Now, I am not talking about clergymen, priests or rabbi. Rather, the best experts to consult are those who were successful themselves in pleasing God. How did they arrive at their vitality? If we find the answer, then we can do the same!
“And they were continually devoting themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.” (Acts 2:42). The early Christians were pleasing to God and come highly commended to us in God's word. They continually devoted themselves to spiritual things. This kind of devotion is certainly a key factor in establishing spiritual vitality.
“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ,” (Philippians 3:8). Paul valued knowing and gaining Christ to be of more value than anything and everything else. Comprehending the surpassing value of knowing Christ is also a key factor in our quest.
“Therefore, beloved, since you look for these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, spotless and blameless,” (2 Peter 3:14). Peter encouraged us to be serious about living righteously. We must put away every form of evil and be diligent about it. This will aid us in establishing a vital spiritual life and realizing our eternal destiny.
“...but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7). John tells us that walking in the light is key to our maintaining our fellowship with God.
So, these are our esteemed panel of experts: the early Christians, Paul, Peter and John. I do think they know what they are talking about!
How Do You Feel?
A lot of importance is placed on feelings today. The politician moans, “I feel your pain.”
Nearly everyone would like the warm glow of spiritual emotion to remain with them all the time. If he feels right, then he must be right, but if this feeling had left him then he must be wrong. Many false religious ideas are based on feelings. Truth, on the other hand is based on God's word.
Feelings are important, but they are only a part of our life. And they do not determine what is right, that has already been determined in heaven.
Some think “I feel good about myself, therefore I must be right.” This is backwards from how it should be. Instead, we should be able to say, “I did what was right, therefore I feel good.” See the difference?
When the Ethiopian treasurer “went on his way rejoicing” it was because he knew he had done what was right and therefore God had saved him. (Acts 8:39). It was also only when the jailer at Philippi had finally obeyed the gospel that he rejoiced (Acts 16:32-34). Oh yes, we should feel good about our faith, but good feelings do not save us but are the result of our knowing we have obeyed the gospel and are therefore confident that we are in God's grace.
Give God a Chance
People are quite busy these days. Eight hours a day or more find us absorbed in earning our way. Then we have all kinds of other chores and responsibilities to deal with. If we are not careful, we can get too busy for our own spiritual vitality to develop and grow. Little time is left for prayer, meditation, study, teaching, encouraging. doing good. Limiting God to an hour or two on Sunday morning is not the way to a vital religion.
While we must give attention to our responsibilities, we must not neglect our spiritual needs (Matthew 6:33; 5:19-21). Perhaps the best thing any of us as children of God in Christ can do is to make sure that we give our spiritual side its due each day.
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 20.11; November 2013