Who Ranks Into Primary and Secondary Doctrines?
Who asked the following question? "Master, which is the great commandment in the law?" Answer: An unbelieving Pharisee asked it in Matthew 22:36.
Why? The religious leaders had added through their traditions numbers of extra-scriptural regulations. They piled their rules so high that it was impossible to keep all of them. Jesus said in Mark 7:7 that they taught " for doctrines the commandments of men." As it was, the law was not possible for someone to keep. Consider what God says about man in Psalm 14:2, 3 without adding the traditions and rituals of the Pharisees, "The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one." Since they themselves knew they couldn’t keep all of their regulations in addition to God’s laws, the Jews began the practice of ranking the laws in what they perceived the order of importance. This became a common debate among schools of the Pharisees, that is, which was the greatest of God’s commandments. Since Jesus claimed to be a Rabbi and was given that respect by many, they decided to ask Him their question.
Reductionism was the invention of the Pharisees. Adding to the commandments was bad. Attempting to earn salvation through a merit system was bad. Taking away from commandments, statutes, and judgments was also bad. Nobody could keep the law except by the grace of God. No one could do it through sheer human effort. Reducing the list wasn’t the way of salvation. God must circumcise one’s heart, even as Deuteronomy 30:6 says, "And the LORD thy God will circumcise thine heart, and the heart of thy seed, to love the LORD thy God with all thine heart, and with all thy soul, that thou mayest live." Salvation is of the Lord (Psalms 3:8; 18:2; 20:6; 27:1; 37:39; 62:1; 85:9; Isaiah 12:2; 25:9; 45:17; Jonah 2:9).
Shrinking the numbers of commands, judgments, and statutes does not make justification and sanctification humanly possible. Trimming God’s list of requirements is not the way to unity. Nowhere does the Bible instruct in unity by least common denominator. We don’t please God by reducing the commandments to a few that we think we can keep. "For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure" (Philipians 2:13). We are justified by faith and we live by faith in the grace of God. "[L]et us have grace, whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear" (Hebrews 12:28). Paul said that he "was made a minister, according to the gift of the grace of God given unto [him] by the effectual working of his power" (Ephesians 3:7).
This scheme of reduction, I call "left-wing legalism." Left-wing and right-wing legalism are both flesh. They are both strategies of human effort. The grace of God isn't a garbage can in which someone can empty his unyieldedness to what he calls "non-essentials." God's grace is powerful. It enables someone to live everything God said.
We don’t need to shrink the commandments, because we have sufficiency in Christ. 2 Peter 1:3, 4 says, "According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue: Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust." Ephesians 1:3 reads, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." Colossian 2:9, 10 tells us, "For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power." God enables to keep all of his commandments. We need only yield to Him. Romans 6: 13 says, "Neither yield ye your members as instruments of unrighteousness unto sin: but yield yourselves unto God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God." We yield, not reduce. We yield, not categorize.