Whom Do You Trust?

Wisdom's Friend

Whom Do You Trust?

It is with a sad heart that I write this. I think I know something of which the apostle Paul wrote when he said, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart” (Rom. 9:2 NIV). For I have had an increasingly heavy heart recently, as the Lord has continued to bring to my awareness the same tragic mindset which Paul noticed in the people of his own former religion and which still holds sway today: that many believe in and trust their religious leaders and their traditions and teachings about what Scripture says, rather than in God and what he himself says in his Word.

The Lord brought two examples of this to my attention that illustrate the tragic blindness in this regard, one example from Judaism and one from Christianity. Each is looked at more closely in what follows.

Rabbinic Judaism

It is common for sages of this religion to decide with the human mind what Scripture says, not what God plainly says there in his own Word. They put more faith in their own ability to interpret than in God’s ability to speak plainly so that it needs no human interpretation. They base their religious faith upon what man says God says instead of upon what God says. Thus they require a human mediator between God and man. But God’s Word says that Jesus is that mediator–and that he is the only such mediator.

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5 NIV).

Now, of course, Judaism does not recognize the new covenant which God made through Jesus Christ, so there should be no surprise if they reject this mediator. However, it did surprise me that their scholars did think more of what the scribes and other scholars thought down through the ages than what God has plainly said in what we call the Old Testament. They look to their traditions and writings for interpretation of the Scriptures rather than to God himself. They hold in higher esteem those ancient writings of human commentary and interpretation than they do God’s own writing, the Scriptures themselves.

Jesus constantly ran into this man-made modifying and interpretation of what God has said in the Scriptures, as he confronted the Pharisees, the chief religious group responsible for this. Here are a couple of things he said about them and this arrogant viewpoint:

They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men” (Matt 15:9 NIV).

Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matt 15:14 NIV).

This same condemnation is found in the Old Testament as well:

“And the Lord said: ‘. . . This people draw near with their mouth and honor me with their lips, while their hearts are far from me, and their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote'” (Isa 29:13 RSV).

And the New Testament:

“These are all destined to perish with use, because they are based on human commands and teachings” (Col 2:22 NIV).

This is incredible to me. The arrogance and pride of such an attitude could take one’s breath away: that one could put more faith in man’s understanding and interpretation of the Scriptures than in God’s ability to communicate clearly to us is truly staggering. Now, it is bad enough when we see this attitude in the unbelieving world; it is to be expected, in fact. But when it is commonplace in a religion meant to honor God, it is tragic beyond comprehension.


Now, before I am accused of speaking in a biased way against this religion or any other, I here note that such a humanistic attitude has also shown itself in Christianity. There is, for instance, the Jesus Seminar, a liberal group of critics of the Bible who are known for concluding that Jesus said very little of what the Bible records him as saying, that he did not rise from the dead, and many other such unbiblical statements. No religion has a monopoly on those who rely upon humanistic efforts to interpret their religious texts.

The Lord has shown me how few choose to look to him for counsel regarding his Word and its application to their lives. Many prefer, instead, to focus their lives around other people rather than around God. Perhaps this can best be expressed in a poem by my favorite poet, Emily Dickinson:

God is indeed a jealous God–
He cannot bear to see
That we had rather not with Him
But with each other play.

Or, as Scripture puts it, “Many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not confess their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue, for they loved praise from men more than praise from God” (Jn. 12:42-43 NIV).

Many look to other human beings to “interpret” God’s Word instead of listening for themselves to his Holy Spirit make it come alive to them (Heb. 4:12)

As an increasing awareness of this mindset continued to expand within me, I began to see more and more how insidious and profane is this attitude of trusting in one’s own mind and the minds of others for all things, including for interpreting the Bible, rather than trusting the Holy Spirit to grant understanding. It denigrates God and elevates man. Nothing new there. It is the old story of mankind and this world. But the awareness of how pervasive this horrible mindset is was new to me. I had not realized how widespread this attitude was until the Spirit led me to various sources that exposed that attitude.

One of the ways the Spirit did this was to lead me to numerous true accounts of people who formerly were immersed in such a worldview and religion but were delivered from that prison. I learned from the accounts of their experiences just how widespread this outlook is in people’s lives and their religions, and it confirmed what I had been observing myself in many people’s lives. I saw how far too many people do not examine what they believe and why, but simply follow what they have been taught as they grew up, like compliant sheep in organized religion.

“When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd (Mt. 9:36 NIV).

Along with the awareness of people following a form of religion (2 Tim. 3:5) instead of knowing the true God and true religion, God likewise gave me the compassion which our Lord had when he observed the crowds and wept for them (Lk. 19:41-42).

People are searching for something in life that is beyond that which is normally seen and experienced. They are searching for God. This is good. But this good thing is turned horribly wrong so often because that search is conducted along the lines of other human activities; that is, the answer is sought among other human beings, those who claim to be able to tell others how to know God according to certain rules or their own interpretation. Or, they seek to form a god of their own imagination or reasoning. Either way, whether looking to others or to self, it is looking to the human realm for the answer. It is idolatry. It is putting what one thinks above what God says–as though God could not make it perfectly clear what he means when he says something.

Thus those who idolize man’s thinking ability (and they are legion) require a human mediator between God and man. Someone must interpret what God has said; someone must be a mediator between God and man. Such idolators are only too happy to volunteer to be this interpreter/mediator for the world, interpreting for the masses what God has said. But, as was mentioned previously, God’s Word says that Jesus is that mediator–and that he is the only such mediator.

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 2:5 NIV).

Jesus came to this earth for this purpose, to be the mediator between man and God. This applies not only to his sacrifice on the cross but also to his role as mediator regarding interpreting to man what God has said. He does this interpreting by giving to those in Christ his own mind, the mind of God.

“We have the mind of God” (1 Cor. 2:16).

Now, this does not mean that a believer is the equal of God himself nor that he knows all that God knows or anything like that. But it does mean that he has the God-given ability, through union by faith in his Son, to understand what God has said.

“We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words” (1 Cor. 2:12-13 NIV).

“But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you” (Jn. 14:26 NIV).

“The Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you” (Jn. 16:15 NIV).

It is through the Holy Spirit, given to believers by Jesus (Mt. 3:11, Acts 2:38, 1 Th. 4:8), that those in Christ understand the meaning of what God says. There is no need for an outside agency, such as religious teachers or a church or any other human element.

“You do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit–just as it has taught you, remain in him” (1 Jn. 2:27 NIV).

Now, this does not mean that we should eschew all religious teachers or not go to church (Heb. 10:25), etc. It only means that none of these other means are to replace or be the primary source of our learning about God and relating to him. They can be secondary means for this purpose, but it is the Holy Spirit who directs us to the proper church, book, teacher, etc. In fact, if we separate ourselves from other believers, thinking that we can do it all on our own and that we know better than others anyway, this too is a danger. We must avoid both extremes.

“It is good to grasp the one and not let go of the other. The man who fears God will avoid all extremes” (Ecc. 7:18 NIV).

We should not think that only seminary-ordained teachers and ministers can correctly teach God’s Word, but neither should we think we don’t need them and we alone have a monopoly upon the Spirit’s leading, which is just a more subtle form of the same fallacy. Either way, it would be looking to self or others instead of looking to God.

How arrogant, shameful, prideful and blasphemous it is for human beings to think that their own reasonings about God are to be placed higher than God himself and what he has said. Yet that is what they do. It causes sorrow in the heart to think that man dare do such a thing. Yet it is not only done but is the common viewpoint held by many. Man is placed above God. No wonder that those who love God and revere him have such sorrow in their heart when encountering such horrible debasement of God and his name and Word.

“Oh, my anguish, my anguish! I writhe in pain. Oh, the agony of my heart! My heart pounds within me, I cannot keep silent. For I have heard the sound of the trumpet; I have heard the battle cry” (Jer. 4:19 NIV).

“My people are fools; they do not know me. They are senseless children; they have no understanding” (Jer. 4:22 NIV).

This self-appointed messiah role of religious teachers who think they can interpret for others what God has said are echoing an ancient refrain for the need for an interpreter. Now where have we heard that before?

“Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

There it is, “Did God really say. . . .” . Perhaps we just thought that he meant this when he really meant that. So adept is the devil and his messengers at twisting around the clear word of God that when they are through, black becomes white, and good becomes evil and evil, good. For this, there is nothing but just condemnation and strong warning from God:

“Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter. Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight” (Is. 5:20,21 NIV).

Notice how this passage ends with a dire warning to those “who are wise in their own eyes and clever in their own sight.” That is what we are talking about here, the elevating of one’s own viewpoint and reasoning above the very word of God. It is to value and trust in one’s own ability–self-reliance–rather than reliance upon God. It is to trust self more than one trusts God. It is idolatry.

This idolatry is what grieved me so as the Lord continued to point it out to me over time, this trusting in man instead of in God. He had given me his own heart in this matter, for he has said:

“How I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols. They will loathe themselves for the evil they have done and for all their detestable practices” (Ezekiel 6:9 NIV).

This is the grief and sorrow which I felt as the Lord showed me the wide extent of this horrible affront to his glory and majesty. And, finally, lest any think that there is any self-righteous attitude in writing about all this . . . I wonder how many times I myself have been guilty of thinking that I could somehow gloss over certain passages in Scripture that I did not want to live up to, and re-interpreted them to mean something other than the plain sense conveyed in them? The Lord knows. He knows my heart and yours, and I pray that both of us have his grace to keep us from all such temptations to trust in self or others rather than in him.

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23-24 NIV).

“It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man” (Ps. 118:8 NIV).

“This is what the LORD says: ‘Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD. . . . But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him'” (Jer. 17:5, Jer. 17:7 NIV).

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