“You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it, that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God that I command you” (Deuteronomy 4:2).
THE FACT THAT GOD HAS SPOKEN TO MANKIND IS A MARVELOUS REALITY. But not satisfied with the contents of God’s revelation, the human race has always had a tendency to “improve” His instructions, trimming away the objectionable parts and adding in other things more suitable. But Moses reminded Israel of the seriousness of this error. Speaking to the nation prior to their entrance into Canaan, he said, “You shall not add to the word that I command you, nor take from it.” As someone has said, “Where God puts a period, we are not to put a question mark.”
On the side of “adding to,” the problem is that we tend to make rules where God has not. Concerning the gospel, for example, if I decided that to receive the forgiveness of sins a person had to be born in Brazil, I would have added to what God has revealed. But an example of “taking away” would be saying that the act of baptism, commanded by God, is not necessary, perhaps arguing that it’s “a good idea” to be baptized but it’s not required for one’s forgiveness.
Obviously, we need to be careful to take God’s word as it is — making it neither more nor less restrictive than it is. Our study of the Scriptures must be diligent, and our attitude that of young Samuel: “Speak, Lord, for your servant hears” (1 Samuel 3:9,10).
If we accept that God has, in fact, revealed His will, the question is not whether we’d like to modify it but whether we’re going to do it. And this confrontation with the word of God is a test of our character. There can be no salvation for us if we won’t humble ourselves before God, and it is in our attitude toward the commandments of God that we get some of our first feedback as to how far along the road of humility we are. If we would be so presumptuous as to add to God’s word or take away from it, then we’ve got some adjustments to make before any further steps can be taken in accepting the gospel. No doubt this need for adjustment is one reason that relatively “few” (Matthew 7:13,14) will follow Christ.
“Once you and I are face to face with the Word of God . . . we can only accept or reject it. Jesus becomes the two-edged sword that cuts right down the middle, dividing us into believers and nonbelievers” (John Powell).