Today's Little Lift
by Jim Bullington
Form is not substance. A shadow is form but it is not substance. A photograph is form but it is not the substance. A digital image is form (virtual reality), but it is NOT reality. Paul’s warning to Timothy (quoted below) was, in part, a warning about those who display a “form of godliness” but who deny the power that is inherent in real godliness. Our study today will look at the issue of form and substance as it relates to some very practical aspects of the Christian faith.
“But know this, that in the last days perilous times will come: For men will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, unloving, unforgiving, slanderers, without self-control, brutal, despisers of good, traitors, headstrong, haughty, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, having a form of godliness but denying its power. And from such people turn away!” (2 Timothy 3.1-5).
Our purpose today is NOT to attempt to explain this text, but merely to note that in matters of religion, there can be form without substance. When form exists without substance, men may be pleased, but God is not. The power which God attached to such matters is lost when men strip the substance away and cling to the form. Let’s illustrate.
The Lord’s Supper is a matter to consider. This institution is also called Communion or in some circles, the Eucharist. The form requires the participants to eat unleavened bread and drink the fruit of the vine. When done in a discerning manner (1 Corinthians 11.29), there are benefits that accrue to those who partake. The bread and fruit of the vine are form, but the substance that God seeks involves the heart and mind of man. The same bread that is taken in a worthy manner can also be taken in an unworthy manner just one seat away! To the human eye, it may look the same, but regardless of how we try to distinguish the two, it is not always possible. Substance, in this case, is seen by God alone, but it certainly exists.
Baptism is another institution that can be abused in the same manner. When the heart of man is impenitent a dry sinner goes into the baptismal waters and a wet sinner comes out. The water apart from substance has absolutely no power. Similar to the case with communion, the heart of man is inherently involved in the action or else it is form only. To extend this principle a bit further, only those who are competent to make such a momentous decision are capable of being baptized biblically. This disallows those whose mental or emotional state is such that they are incapable of deciding for themselves that immersion into Jesus is a valid response of their conscience toward God. Once again, the form may look identical, but the results are as different as heaven and hell.
The truth in this matter is, at least for me, hard to swallow at times. I am convinced that God does not want my feeble offerings to him until and unless my heart is devoted to Him and His cause. In fact, it is my heart that He desires and not the forms that I offer. The deeds that I do half-heartedly (regardless of how godly they may appear) are of no spiritual worth before His throne. They have form but no substance. The kind words that I speak unless they rise out of genuineness have no spiritual worth before God. They are but form apart from substance. Even “godly” things like church attendance, if done apart from a heart of conviction and devotion, are but hypocritical offerings before His eyes.
There are times when God demands form, but He never demands form without substance!
1. Does godliness have power? Do “good deeds” apart from the heart equate to godliness?
2. Do you agree that the sacrifice that God seeks first and foremost is the heart? Why or why not?
3. Of what spiritual value is baptism to someone who does not have the capacity to offer his/her heart to God?
4. As believers, how should these truths affect our day to day living? How should they affect our “worship” activities?
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