Tradition & Culture
(and how the commands of God resolve confusion)

What is right?  What is wrong?  Who is right? Who is wrong?  Most disagreements have to do with either tradition, culture or commands.  It is important for the follower of Christ to learn to distinguish between these.

The danger of tradition
Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.  (Col. 2:8 NKJV)  Some traditions are good, but if they do not agree with Christ, we should not let them rule us.  How do we know if they agree with Christ?  We study the Bible to see if there is agreement, for Christ is the Word of God (Jn. 1:1,14), and the Bible is the portion of the revealed Word of God which is available to men today.  Traditions that are not forbidden in the Bible are optional; they are simply part of culture - perhaps today or some time in the past.

Distinguishing between commands and tradition
Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashed hands?” 
He answered and said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: 

‘This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.  And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’

For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and many other such things you do.”  He said to them, “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition.  (Mk. 7:5-9 NKJV) 

Culture is relevant, but not law
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.  (1 Cor. 6:12)  These are words for the individual - he is free to do what is not prohibited in the New Testament and what does not control him.

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify.  Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being.  (1 Cor. 10:23,24)  These are words for the member of society - he is free to do what is not prohibited in the New Testament, but his actions must seek the good of those around him, and the Bible defines what is good.

The good news is that you get to decide the application of the commands.  The terrifying news is that God will hold us accountable for our choices, and we cannot fool God.

Only the New Testament commands are binding today
Do not think that I came to destroy the Law or the Prophets. I did not come to destroy but to fulfill.  For assuredly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, one jot or one tittle will by no means pass from the law till all is fulfilled.  (Mt. 5:17,18 NKJV)

In that He says, “A new covenant, ” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.  (Heb. 8:13 NKJV)

When Jesus died, He fulfilled the Old Testament law.  Now, people who desire to follow Jesus, are required to follow the New Testament commands.  The only Old Testament commands which are not obsolete are the ones repeated in the New Testament.  The obsolete Old Testament laws were cultural and just for the people of Israel.

God's commands give us peace and security
Jesus said to him, “ ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ [Dt. 6:50]  This is the first and great commandment.  (Mt. 22:37,38 NKJV)

For this is the love of God, that we keep His commandments. And His commandments are not burdensome.  (1 Jn. 5:3 NKJV)

The world has many rules or commands, and they are burdensome, but God only has a small number of commands, and they are not.  The question is: do you live to please the world of God?  If you live to please God, then you can have peace if you are obeying the commands.  If you live to please the world, then you'll never have peace with God and you'll be frustrated trying to please the world.

Some people view God's commands as a cage from which to escape, but they are more like railroad tracks that keep us on a good course and protect us from danger.  They are also an opportunity to delight the Lover of our Souls - Jesus.

Obedience to Christ includes submission
Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God.  Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.  (Rom. 13:1,2 NKJV)

But I want you to know that the head of every man is Christ, the head of woman is man, and the head of Christ is God.  (1 Cor. 11:3 NKJV)

Moral order consists of proper submission.  When proper submission is missing, moral order deteriorates.

But Peter and the other apostles answered and said: “We ought to obey God rather than men. (Acts 5:29 NKJV)  The only time the follower of Christ is to disobey the governing authorities is in the rare case when they require a person to disobey God.  This is the exception, not the norm.

Different ways to approach the New Testament commands
Now all has been hear; here is the conclusion of the matter.  Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.  For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil. (Solomon – Ecc. 12:13,14 NIV)

Whoever has My commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me.  He who loves me will be loved by My Father, and I too will love Him and show myself to him. (Jesus – John 14:21  (NIV)

The vast majority of New Testament commands are quite simple and clear.  A little knowledge of Greek can help understand the original meaning of some commands, but most commands are really quite simple and don’t require a lot of education or brainpower.  When faced with a New Testament command, you have four basic choices: 

  1. Disobey it
  2. Ignore it
  3. Change it to say what you want it to say
  4. Obey it

You don’t have to be smart to obey the New Testament commands.  The primary requirements are a healthy fear or terror of Him to whom we must give an account and a desire to please the Lover of our souls.  It is only when you lack one or both of these that you don’t want to obey.  If you don’t want to obey, then spend more time meditating on the passages of scripture you don’t like, ask God for an obedient heart and learn to obey even when you don’t want to.  Also, be sure to choose friends who want to obey, so you can follow their example as they follow the example of Christ.


This article is public domain.  It is the responsibility of Theodore Spaeth.
It was last updated on 10 May 2015 .