Posts Tagged ‘false teachers’

More Thieves!

More Thieves!

© C. O. Bishop 9/29/18 Cornell Estates 9/30/18

Colossians 2:16-23

Introduction:

Last time, we saw that we can be robbed of our Joy, Peace and Security, by those who want us to return to legalism, rather than resting in the Grace of God, poured out upon us through Jesus, at the Cross. We were warned against conformity to Man-made “rules for piety,” when what we are called to do is allow God to change us from the inside. In verse 16, Paul specifically addressed the issues of dietary laws, the keeping of the Jewish feasts, and the Sabbath.

16 Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holyday, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days:

Romans 10:4 says: “For Christ is the end of the Law for righteousness, to every one that believeth.) The result, then, of the final setting aside of the Law, for righteousness, is that we are also free from the trappings of the religious law adhered to by the Jews. There are people who do place themselves back under the Law, though God warns to not do it, right here in this passage.

And the troubling thing is that we humans tend to condemn anyone who isn’t “like us.” Paul warns us to not allow others to “guilt” us into going back into that slavery. We are easily fooled, and easily coerced through shaming. We are social creatures, by nature, and society around us commonly uses the fear of rejection to make us “conform to the group.” Children learn early, to make the threat, “I won’t be your friend!” in order to coerce another child to do their bidding. When people try to shame you into conformity, away from the freedom in Christ, they aren’t your friend, anyway!

Remember that all the things of the Law were only to “point us to Christ.” Don’t allow them to be used to turn you away from Him.

Remember that the Reality is Christ

17 Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ.

Paul points out that the things of the Law were only a shadow, or a “picture,” at best, of the coming reality of righteousness in Christ. Jesus is the Reality! Since Jesus is the reality, turning to anything else, no matter how pleasing, or solemn, or awe-inspiring—whatever it is that attracts us—is ultimately turning away from Christ.

I do not mean this in the sense of “falling away to perdition,” necessarily: for example, I may have a photograph of my wife, which I especially like, perhaps from when we were first married, and when she was perhaps twenty-one or twenty-two years of age. Her hair was thick, dark and glossy, and she was filled with the vitality of youth. But the woman I love today is not a photograph. She is the real person, and lovelier in person than ever before, though no longer as young. If I were to dote upon that photograph, to the neglect of the real person, can there be any doubt that she would be hurt? It would be turning away from the real woman who is my favorite person and the joy of my life, to gaze at a paper representation of someone I knew nearly forty years ago. I would be turning away from my beautiful wife and attaching myself to a dead image. Our relationship, obviously, would be severely damaged.

All the regulations and rituals of the Old Testament Law, were a picture, or a foreshadowing of the reality to come. Jesus is the reality. If we insist on turning back to the Law, we need to realize that, in so doing, we are turning our hearts away from Christ, with all He has done, and concentrating on the things that we can do.

More Thieves!

There are all sorts of ways through which we can damage our freedom in Christ, and thus, our walk with him. Rituals, self-flagellations, self-humiliation, and over-emphasis of angelic intervention in human experience, along with self-conceived visions (as God called the visions of the false prophets in Jeremiah’s time) all tend to lead us away from a simple, day-by-day walk with Christ. The whole point of our life in Christ is that it is to be Christ-centered.

I have read that there was a teaching at the time this was written, which denied the deity of Christ, and relegated him to the status of an exalted spirit, but claimed that angels had somehow brought us salvation. They denied the value of the blood of Jesus at the Cross, and substituted their own ideas for the Truth of the Gospel. They drew people away from the Gospel and in so doing, destroyed their walk with Christ. Paul warns that such false teachers can ultimately trick us out of the reward that is offered to us for simply walking with Him.

18 Let no man beguile you of your reward in a voluntary humility and worshipping of angels, intruding into those things which he hath not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind,

To “beguile” means to “trick.” You remember that Eve’s only defense, in the Garden, was that the Serpent had tricked her—beguiled her. Don’t let people trick you into giving up your reward. (Remember: Salvation is a gift: rewards are earned!)

People may claim to have seen visions of some sort (and I do not deny the possibility): but the visions have to be in agreement with the Written Word of God, or I am deeply suspicious of their source. There is something in the human psyche that demands self-aggrandizement, even if it is some sort of “I am more humble than you are!” type of boasting. God told the false prophets who were Jeremiah’s contemporaries that they had caused their “visions” or dreams, themselves, and that the visions were not from God. (Jeremiah 29:8) Believers easily get drawn into a mystical “experience-driven” faith, as opposed to simply believing God. I remember a fellow-pastor relating to me how he had attempted to share scripture with a woman, who responded angrily, “I don’t care what the Bible says! I have my experience!” Our experiences may or may not be interpreted rightly, and may or may not be “messages from God.” While it certainly is possible to misinterpret God’s Word, at least it is there to be re-read and understood by anyone who cares. Our experiences are not so secure. (Compare 2nd Peter 1:15-21) The Word is our Light.

The Body needs the Head

All of our rituals and pious grandstanding do not impress the Lord. Most of them are weak attempts to emulate parts of the Jewish experience: the feasts, the dietary laws, the Sabbaths, etc., even to the extent of attempting to re-create some of the temple vestments and furniture. There was a man, for a while, who had made a copy of the altar of incense, and who had a religious television show of praying before the “Golden Altar of Incense Prayer!” That is blasphemous, as his work was certainly not the altar of incense. It was false teaching, too, as in the New Testament there is no such altar, and no directive to pray in a particular place, posture, or manner. Such things look attractive, and sound pious, but they do not draw us closer to God. They only result in a return to legalism, not a free, wholesome walk with the Savior.

19 And not holding the Head, from which all the body by joints and bands having nourishment ministered, and knit together, increaseth with the increase of God.

Notice that the Head is Christ…and the Body is the Church, proper. The Head is to be the only source of nourishment and guidance for the Body. And the Body is to respond to the Head, not to all the misdirection of the World. Give this some thought: we are dependent upon the Head for all things, whether we know it or not, and whether we choose to do so or not. He still is the ultimate source of all our sustenance, and care. But he asks that we choose to depend upon Him; and, that we choose willingly, not by default. Choose to respond to the Person of Christ, and not to the temptations and pressures of the World, and your perspectives will begin to change.

We are to abound in the fruit of the Spirit, not the works of the Law: the result is that the Church flourishes, and the increase is from God, not human effort. A friend of mine visited a number of churches, not because he was looking for another church, but because he had been grieving a loss, and was deliberately “going where no one knew him”, so as to avoid the sympathy and comments that sharpened his grief. He returned, later, and said how relieved he felt to be in a church without the distracting, rock-and-roll music, light-shows, etc. and with a calm, Christ-centered service, where the teaching was plain, Bible-centered, wholesome “sheep-food.”

I recall a church, years ago, which boasted a huge “youth-group”…but it was because they had a rock-and-roll band, basket-ball games, and free pizza, every week. It was a party! And, lest you think I am condemning some particular style of music (I am not) or (heaven forbid!) condemning basketball or pizza; the warning in Ezekiel 33:30-33 is clear, that even when you are preaching the “straight word of God,” there will be those who only came for the entertainment value, with no intent to draw near to God, nor any desire to see their lives transformed. We can’t fix that, but we can try to make sure that we only offer the Word…clean “sheep-food,” as it were, along with simple worship, prayer, and fellowship, so that if people are coming, and staying, it is because that is what they want, rather than some sort of emotional boost, or social “buzz.”

So, Why are you Doing This?

Paul’s conclusion of this topic is a very logical, pointed question: “Why are you doing this?”

20 Wherefore if ye be dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are ye subject to ordinances,
21 (Touch not; taste not; handle not;
22 Which all are to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men?

Paul reminds his readers that they are dead with Christ (Specifically, dead to those “rudiments of the World”), and complete in Him (without those things), and that they have been permanently separated from the World. So, then, he asks, “Why are you subjecting yourselves to legalism?” He used ceremonial “cleanness vs. uncleanness” for examples: “don’t touch this, don’t taste that, and don’t handle this other thing.” He points out that ALL those “things” (clean or unclean) are temporal, and are, by their nature, destroyed in the very using of them. He also says that such rules are according to the teachings and commandments of men (as opposed to being from God.)

23 Which things have indeed a shew of wisdom in will worship, and humility, and neglecting of the body: not in any honour to the satisfying of the flesh.

In the Old English, this sounds strange: But, the Living Bible paraphrase renders this verse: These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.”

A “show of wisdom” is not the same as real wisdom: people who practice ritualistic religion, and solemn observance of feasts and pageantry, or who practice strict self-denial, fasting, vows of poverty, etc., all tend to look quite holy and righteous. But, as we saw in the previous verses, these practices do not come from God, and also fail to change the heart, with its sinful desires, so that the person is neither satisfied, nor transformed.

God’s Answer

Over in Romans 12:2 Paul says that we are to not be conformed to (or, “pressed into a mold by”) the World, but rather we are to be transformed…how? By all sorts of self-works, and ritualistic maneuvering? No! We are to be transformed by the renewing of our minds! And how can that be accomplished? I very seldom refer to the Living Bible paraphrase, but this, too, is a good rendering, and quite appropriate:

Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

We are constantly pressed to be “more like those around us”, for a variety of reasons; some good, some bad. God does not address all the individual reasons the world claims to be worthy. He gives us a different directive: Allow God to change you from the inside, by changing your thought patterns. The only way I know to do that is through the direct application of God’s Word, under the direction of the Holy Spirit, and walking in constant fellowship with Him. (Psalm 119:9-11; 2nd Peter 1:4)

Lord Jesus, draw us along, by your Holy Spirit, to walk with you, in obedience to your written Word. Teach us to love You, above all others, and to choose to believe you above all others, even our own hearts. Allow us to serve with you, and to be empowered by you as we go.


Following Christ as Citizens of Heaven

Following Christ as Citizens of Heaven

© C. O. Bishop 3/17/2018 Cornell Estates 3/18/18

Philippians 3:17-4:1; 2nd Peter 2; Acts 20:17, 28-31

Introduction:

We ended, last time, on Philippians 3:17, where Paul had instructed the Philippian believers to be followers together of himself, and to take note of their other human leaders who lived in the same way as the apostles, so as to use their example and see the same fruits in their own lives.

17 Brethren, be followers together of me, and mark them which walk so as ye have us for an ensample.

Paul says that there are others (especially church leaders, we hope) whom we can imitate, but warns that we are to “be picky”—take note of those who walk as Paul and the other apostles did, and imitate that kind of individual, not those who live as counter-examples to that faith. He said, back in verse 15 that, if we are trying to imitate this pattern, and if there is a “glitch” of some sort, so that our walk is being misdirected in some way, the Holy Spirit will be faithful to reveal that fact to us, and re-direct our path. That is comforting to know.

But then he notes, parenthetically, that there are some bad examples, too: People whose lives we should absolutely avoid imitating.

The Parenthesis: Who Not to Follow

It is entirely possible for a true believer to be misinformed and misdirected. That is not what is being warned against, here. Our defense against such a thing is to be in the Word and in Prayer, specifically seeking to be sensitive to the leading of the Holy Spirit, all the while recognizing that He, the Holy Spirit, will never lead contrary to the written Word of God, but that it is possible for us to misunderstand the scriptures. However, in this passage, he is talking about licentious behavior along with bad teaching…definite sin. He goes on to describe the false teachers who are a deadly danger to believers:

18 (For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ:
19 Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)

I don’t know who Paul is referring to, specifically, as he describes them only in general terms: no information specific enough to identify a group. Remember, however, that, while we are all described (Romans 5:10), as having once been the “enemies of God”, we were not described as being the enemies of the Gospel, or the enemies of the Cross. I believe the people he is referring to must be those who are deliberately false teachers, though they may be hard to define, except by observation. Not all who teach false doctrine are doing so deliberately, and not all who act as our enemies are also an enemy of the Cross. Paul gives some examples, elsewhere:

Unbelievers

Romans 11:28 definitely refers to unbelieving Jews as being “enemies” as regarding the gospel, but the enmity is a “one-way” enmity: The unbelieving Jews despised all the believers for the sake of the Gospel, and even were enemies physically, in that regard. Paul cautioned the Gentile believers that those unbelieving Jews were still precious souls for whom Christ died: that they were beloved for the sake of Israel, even when they were acting as enemies. They were still not enemies of the Cross, or enemies of the Gospel, as the false teachers were. They were simply responding as enemies because of the Gospel.

Unbelieving Gentiles were sometimes equally dangerous, but usually were less volatile, as, while the Gospel does indict the Gentiles as sinners, it does not tell them that they have crucified their own Messiah. That one is a pretty tough thing for the Jews to hear.

False Teachers

It is possible for a genuine believer to be sadly mistaken about something, but to teach it with a clean heart, because he simply does not understand a particular concept in the Bible. We don’t hold that against a brother, because there are bound to be things about which we are mistaken, too. We just keep honing our understanding of the Word of God, and bear in mind that it all has to agree with itself or else we are reading it wrong. These are not what the Bible calls a false teacher. It requires an unregenerate heart, and a corrupt motive for teaching the false doctrine.

All of the descriptors here in verse 19 seem to closely match those listed in 2nd Peter 2, (read it!) where Paul is definitely describing deliberately false teachers, and their habitual sin, along with their false doctrine. These are very heavily condemned for their lifestyle (“…whose God is their belly, and whose glory is their shame, who mind earthly things” (here in Philippians,) and “bringing in damnable heresies; …denying the Lord that bought them; …they that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness;” etc. (in 2nd Peter chapter 2))  Eternal judgment is predicted for them (“Whose end is destruction; who bring upon themselves swift destruction; whose judgment of a long time lingereth not; they shall utterly perish in their own corruption;” etc.).

They are said to be knowingly deceiving the believers: “…sporting themselves with their own deceivings while they feast with you…” It makes them feel smart to be fooling the believers around them. And, according to Acts 20:30, they will draw away followers after themselves. Some of you may recall a false teacher, Jim Jones, who led away 900 followers, and moved them all to Guyana…and there, in the jungle, he induced them all to commit suicide, and shot all those who refused. He was a classic false teacher, who began by using the scriptures, but finally threw his Bible down, and said “You don’t need the Bible; you need me!” Those who continued to follow him eventually died, as a result. It is a very sad story, but it was entirely avoidable.

Not all false teachers have such a dramatic end, but all result in souls being drawn away from Christ, either believing false doctrine that prevents them from being born again to begin with, or, in the case of those who are already saved, following teachings that can prevent them from living for God, and experiencing the liberty and peace of God.

It is these false teachers, in 2nd Peter 2, regarding whom the apostle says, “But it has happened unto them according to the true proverb, The dog has turned unto his own vomit again; and the sow that was washed to her wallowing in the mire.” (2nd Peter 2:22)

Notice that it does not say, “…The sheep has turned back into a dog, or a pig.” What it says is that a dog, who had, for a time, abandoned his ordinary canine ways, has returned to behaving in accord with his true nature. And, a pig, who had been outwardly washed, but who, at heart, was always a pig, has returned to her old ways. Why? Because given the opportunity, a dog acts like a dog. And a pig is always happiest when he or she is acting like a pig. Sinners are most comfortable in Sin. People who are pretending faith, but have never truly placed their faith in the Savior, will eventually go back to their real comfort zone, and follow their true nature.

So, Paul is warning us that it is possible for an unbeliever to deceive the believers, and finagle his way into a position of leadership. But a combination of bad doctrine that clearly sets aside the authority and holiness of God’s Word, and bad behavior, specifically moral corruption, is a “red flag” for us, warning that they are really a false teacher. Could there be a false teacher who lives a moral life? Yes, I think there can be, but it is uncommon. I think I may actually have known one: He claimed to be a believer, and he had good Bible and ministerial training. As far as I could tell, he lived a blameless life. BUT: he did not believe the Bible was the Word of God, and he taught such things from the pulpit. We confronted him, and he laughed it off, as though we were simple-minded, primitive believers, and that his unbelief was a mark of sophistication. I don’t know what to make of that. I don’t know if he was a genuine believer who was badly deceived by the enemy, or a false teacher who thought he was getting away with something.

Wolves Among the Sheep

Paul warned the elders of the church at Ephesus to be on guard against this very thing: He said that, after his departure, “grievous wolves” would enter in among them, “not sparing the flock;” and that, furthermore, some would spring up from among the leadership, teaching “perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.” (Acts 20:17, 28-31) The motive could be money, pride, lusts of various types, or just the desire for power and control.

We need to be careful, though, who we label as an “enemy of the Cross,” as that is a pretty heavy accusation. If it is really true, then so be it; but if it is not, then we may fall into the snare of Satan, becoming, with him, an “accuser of the brethren”. I really do not want to go there. Genuine believers can fall into the condemnation and the snare of the devil, according to the warnings in 1st Timothy 3:6, 7. We want to avoid that.

Please note, too, that Paul said he was weeping for those who were enemies of the Cross, not despising them. Were you ever truly grieved for the eternal destiny of an enemy: someone who constantly torments you, or is deliberately dangerous to you? Personally, I find it difficult to care for their destiny: it is far easier to secretly be glad that judgment is coming, and ignore Jesus’s clear command (Matthew 5:44) to love our enemies, to bless those who curse us, and to pray for those who treat us badly. That is what Jonah did! He ignored the command of God! It takes deliberate repentance, confession, and day-by-day obedience, for me to change that pattern.

Our New Citizenship

20 For our conversation is in heaven; from whence also we look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ:

This is an interesting passage, partly because of the word “conversation,” here in the KJV. The Greek word usually translated “conversation” is “tropos” meaning “way of life.” But this Greek word “politeuma”, means “commonwealth”, or “citizenship”. In the case of either Greek root, the King James Bible word, “conversation,” has nothing to do with “two people talking together.” In the one case, it means our lifestyle. In this particular case, though, the statement is that because our citizenship is in heaven, we are to be imitators of Christ, who ultimately, Paul concludes, will completely change us into his likeness, both physically and spiritually. We will lose our tendency to sin, as we will no longer have a sin nature. We will see things from God’s perspective, and understand things that were mysteries before.

That is the living hope of the believer. Every one of us knows that we are a sinner: Every one of us grieves over our sin, and longs to be set free. And the day of release is coming. Paul rejoiced over that in Romans 7:24, 25, saying “…who shall deliver me from the body of this death? I thank God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”, and again in Romans 8:21-23, saying that the whole creation is looking forward to that day, because they will be (mostly) freed from the curse, when the Kingdom age begins, during which time we will have our new bodies…and no sin nature.

In 1st Corinthians 15:51, 52, Paul says that, for those believers who are still alive, the first step of that time will happen in a flash: we will get our new bodies at the moment of the rapture. But the kingdom age will not begin until seven years later, after the rapture of the church. Here, in Philippians, he gives us a little insight about what those new bodies will be like:

21 Who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body, according to the working whereby he is able even to subdue all things unto himself.

I am really looking forward to that “change”. Although our physical body does not “cause sin”, it is still true that, so long as we are living in these bodies, we will still be subject to sin. Paul experienced this, too, and grieved over it, just as we do. There is coming a day when our old nature will be gone, and we will be free at last.

In the meantime, our freedom has already been provided for, and we are to stand fast in Christ. In Romans 6, we see that we are no longer enslaved to sin: we do not have to sin. We face temptation and we fall prey to it, but we have a choice: we can submit to Christ and obey His Word, instead of our old habitual submission to Sin.

Chapter 4

1 Therefore, my brethren dearly beloved and longed for, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, my dearly beloved.

Paul considered this church to be the best of those whom he had led to Christ. They were a total joy to him, and a “victor’s crown.” The Greek word for “crown” here is “stephanos.” It is not the crown of a king, but the victor’s laurel wreath that was awarded to the winner in the Olympic Games. It is translated “crown”, but it always means a victor’s crown. Paul considered these believers to be his trophy…his “blue ribbon.” And, he says, on the basis of all that went before, for them to “stand fast”: To remain steadfast in the face of hard times, in the face of temptation, in the face of tribulations and persecutions. To remain steadfast against false teaching, and to steadfastly follow the leaders God had given, as those leaders steadfastly followed Christ.

That is what we are to do, as well! This letter is to us, as well as to those who first received it. All the epistles are to the churches, not to some high-ranking church leaders: the letters are to YOU.

We need to absorb these truths, and allow them to change our lives. Allow God to use His Word to remake you in His own image. Believe his promises. Obey His commands. Allow His love to flow through you to those around you. That is what it means to stand fast and to walk with God, Following Christ.

Lord Jesus, remake us in your own image: make us the men and women of God that you have called us to be. Allow us to follow you, and to serve faithfully as ambassadors of Christ, offering your love to the World around us, and living in the practical holiness you have assigned to us.

 


Inside-Out Theology

“Inside-Out” Theology

© C. O. Bishop 10/25/14 THCF 10/26/14


Galatians 2:1-5; Matthew 23:13-29

Introduction:

We have come a fair way with the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians: we know what his primary concerns were, in his writing to them; namely that his authority came from God, not Man, and that the gift of Eternal Life was just that: a gift, neither earned by any sort of works, nor to be maintained by human effort.

Paul’s Message

As we begin chapter two, keep in mind that Paul’s purpose is to confirm in the reader’s mind that

  1. The authority of his message is the Word of God, not humans, and that
  2. Legalism is not from God.
  3. Those who preach legalism are also not from God.

1 Then fourteen years after I went up again to Jerusalem with Barnabas, and took Titus with me also.

2 And I went up by revelation, and communicated unto them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to them which were of reputation, lest by any means I should run, or had run, in vain.

3 But neither Titus, who was with me, being a Greek, was compelled to be circumcised:

4 And that because of false brethren unawares brought in, who came in privily to spy out our liberty which we have in Christ Jesus, that they might bring us into bondage:

5 To whom we gave place by subjection, no, not for an hour; that the truth of the gospel might continue with you.

Paul’s first major contact with the Jewish believers in Jerusalem, the remaining nine apostles, and whoever else was in Jerusalem, after his own conversion, was fourteen years after the first, minor contact. Barnabas and he had taken along with them Titus, who was a Gentile believer. Paul holds Titus up as proof that the Apostles accepted him as a fellow-heir of God’s Grace, without any outward mark of conversion.

Paul had talked privately with the apostles and elders at Jerusalem, to make sure that they were not at odds with one another. As it turned out, there was no problem. The Judaizers (legalizers) did show up, however, and try to convince the leadership that the Gentile believers needed to become Jewish proselytes to be saved. It is really odd: what they were essentially saying is that it did not matter what God did inside a man—it was what people do on the outside that counted for eternity. Doesn’t that seem monumentally backward? Well it did to Paul, too.

Paul pointed out, using Titus as the example, that he had not subjected himself or Titus to their insistence at all, so that the truth would not be muddled. (Contrast this with Romans 14, 15 where the strong try not to cause the weak to stumble. These were not “weak believers” – they were false teachers…not believers at all.)

One counterpoint that gets mentioned frequently is the fact that Paul did circumcise Timothy. The difference was that Timothy was technically a Jew who had been raised by a Gentile Dad. I was unaware of this until a Jewish believer, a Godly woman, was in a Bible Study I was teaching, and informed me that, from the Jewish perspective, “Jewish-ness” is passed on through the mother, not the father. So Timothy was a Jewish young man, from Jewish perspective, and had been raised in a severely limiting environment. Perhaps Paul felt that embracing his heritage in that way would make him better able to serve. But Titus, who was strictly a Gentile had no such heritage to embrace, and was better off remaining as he was.

In both cases, the physical state had no effect whatever on the Spiritual reality. Both were Godly young men, setting out to serve the Risen Christ. Both honored God in their flesh, and neither was any closer to God because of the physical status of their body. The Legalizers desire to coerce others to conform to their own legalistic values, and claim that those who do not conform to them are also rejected by God. God says that is not how we are saved…and not how we serve.

So, What did Jesus say?

Do you think Jesus was silent on this matter? Think back—from whom did he encounter the most opposition? The Established leaders of the Jewish Religion, right? The Pharisees. The Sadducees hated him too, but they were the liberals of the day, and actually rejected the concept of a literal resurrection, any sort of spiritual reality, and angelic existence, for starters. The Pharisees were the conservatives of the day, and they supposedly believed the whole counsel of God, but were going to interpret it in such a way that they themselves were put firmly in command, and everyone else had to follow their lead. (Sound familiar? It happens a lot today, too, doesn’t it?)

So, when Jesus preached His Gospel of Grace, both sides hated it, but for different reasons. The Sadducees were just wrong about so much that he spent very little time on them: he exposed their error, and left them to stew in their own juice. But the Pharisees, along with their companions the scribes—the intellectually religious of the day—who claimed to believe all of God’s Word, He confronted over and over, as total hypocrites. Think about some of his accusations against them:

Inside-Out Theology

(Matthew 23:13-29) Woe to you scribes, and Pharisees:

  1. Hypocrites (seven times in this passage)…remember that “hypocrite” means an actor—a professional phony; a pretender.
  2. Blind; blind guides (five times)
  3. Fools; (two times)
  4. You close up the kingdom of Heaven against Men; you won’t go in yourselves and won’t let anyone else enter. Remember, we pointed out earlier that anyone teaching a works-earned-salvation was actually serving to keep people out of heaven. Jesus said so, right here. The Pharisees, convinced of their own righteousness, and willfully ignorant of the righteousness of God, were not only satisfied that they really did not need a savior, but refused to let anyone else have one. They were, in fact, partnering with Satan, as we pointed out earlier.
  5. You devour widows’ houses (buying up the land of the poor, leaving them with no way to earn a living) and, for pretense, make long prayers. They were making an outward show of piety, but doing things that are patently self-serving. They looked good on the outside, but their motives were evil.
  6. You practice Proselytism, but not Evangelism. Jesus did not use these words at all: he described the behavior. Even so, that sounds strange—why would one be different than the other?If I am preaching the honest Gospel of Christ, the “good news” of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection, along with the truth that all God asks us to do is to believe in his chosen sacrifice for salvation, then the only thing that can happen is that, if they believe it, God makes them over into His That’s Evangelism.If I go out with the “good news” of my particular organization, church, para-church organization, etc., creed, or whatever; the probable outcome is that certain people will join the church, because they see the social advantages, but they will never believe the gospel, because, (a) I didn’t preach it, and (b) they do not see a need for a savior. They are being made over into my image, and a poor copy at that. That is Proselytism.The Jews were practicing what they considered to be “evangelism”. Jesus said they “compass land and sea to make one proselyte” but that the result was people even more confused and lost than the false preachers who led them into Judaism. They did not preach the Grace of the God of Israel. They apparently did preach His holiness, to some degree, but slyly pointed out that we can “get around” the sin issue, by “just” keeping the Law. Then, once someone was snared by this false gospel, they had to do more and more works, trying to please a God who simply was not impressed. They could not keep the law, and were even more devastated by the attempt than were the ones who trained them.Jesus said “you make him twofold more the child of Hell than yourselves” So he labeled the false teachers and those who followed them as “children of Hell.” This is nothing new: he had already called them children of the Devil…John 8:44. God was not impressed with them or their religious works, especially not their brand of “evangelism”.
  7. You diminish the Temple of God by exalting the outward trappings in place of the inward reality. This starts to get close to the real heart issue: They did not see the house of God as being as important as the gold decorations in that house. They did not see the Owner of the home as being as important as his tableware! How incredibly insulting to God, and how clearly revealing as to where their true heart was.They thought the outward trappings were more important than the inward reality. Remember that Solomon’s Temple was relatively small, but incredibly richly ornate. However, the only thing that was important was the fact that God moved in and took up residence. Also, the second temple, though far less glorious, shared that unique difference: God resided there! Even the Renovated second Temple, renovated by an ungodly King, over a period of 46 years, still carried the name of the House of God—Jesus referred to it as “My Father’s House”, but in the same breath accused the Pharisees and their companions of having “made it a den of thieves”. Incidentally, Ezekiel, in three stages, had been burdened with the vision of the Spirit of God leaving that temple, and leaving Israel; so, in the most important sense the temple was already gone, as the “home-owner” had given it up. Historically, of course, we know that 40 years later it was completely destroyed.Think though: in the sense of the Church-age, the Church proper is THE temple of God, in the New Testament, and the physical body of each believer is each individually the “temple of the Holy Spirit”. So, we have to ask: what matters more; the outside, or the inside? Does it matter more that a person wears a certain kind of clothing, drives a certain kind of car, or cuts their hair a certain way, does (or does not) do certain things on certain days, eats or does not eat certain foods, etc., or does it matter most where God is (inside or outside) in relation to that individual? And, finally, whether He is allowed to actually reign in his chosen temple? Think about that one.
  8. You Major in the Minors: You give accurately in areas that matter hardly at all, but not at all in areas that matter deeply. People put a lot of emphasis on whether a person formally and publicly prays before meals. Even that is an outward trapping. Unbelievers can do this as well as believers. People say they “pray all the time”…so do the pagans, and some more than others. Jesus was not impressed with how much of the worlds’ goods were being given back by the Pharisees, but how much of themselves were given back (or not). He said you have left out the things that matter; justice, mercy and faith. A good heart in the major things will dictate a good heart in the minor things, too. The reverse is not true. He said they were blind guides who were fastidiously picking a tiny bug out of their food and yet swallowing something that would make any normal person choke (a camel). A person genuinely concerned about the cleanliness of their food would obviously take out the biggest things first, but not fail to also remove the small things.
  9. You clean and polish the outer man, leaving the inner man unchanged. They were so concerned with the trappings of holiness, the outward symbols, that they had utterly abandoned the reality of holiness in the inner man. He said they “clean the outside of the cup” but that the inside was filled with extortion and excess.There is no way a person can put such things as extortion in a physical cup; the obvious metaphor is the human life. They made the outer man look good, but the inner man was unchanged, or even getting worse. He compared them to whitewashed tombs that looked pretty on the outside because of the whitewash, but they were ignoring the fact of the deadness within. He made it completely clear what he meant, because he bluntly stated, “Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity.”
  10. You glorify the tombs of the prophets instead of glorifying the Word of the God who sent them. This one would be easy to miss: what’s wrong with honoring the dead? Well, nothing.But let’s say I made a pilgrimage to the tomb of Martin Luther King, Jr., and I lay a wreath on his grave, and I publicly engage in prayer there, shedding a pretentious tear, but in fact I was a raging racist myself? Wouldn’t the people who knew the reality be offended that I was defiling his grave by my pretense? And yet this happens every year. People who are publicly extremely racist and divisive visit the grave of Dr. King, and make a public show of mourning his death, while despising his stand for brotherhood and equality irrespective of race. The only thing they really shared with him is the color of their skin…they despised what he actually stood for.The people Jesus to whom spoke were honoring the dead prophets by building monuments over their graves…but ignoring the words for which those prophets had died. A better tribute would have been to embrace the truth for which they died.

 

Jesus spoke to a group of false teachers, the Pharisees, and condemned them for their hypocrisy, their blindness, their folly, and their evil, unbelieving hearts. Paul echoed that teaching, here in Galatians, as he pointed out the hypocrisy, blindness and folly of the legalizers who attempted to force the Gentile believers to become Jews in order to please God. They too are false teachers, and he has already warned us as to where they stand with God: they are accursed!

Conclusion:

We will constantly be tempted to engage in legalism at one level or another: it pleases our old sin nature to believe that “I can do good things for God on my own!” The fact is we cannot…the old nature is completely opposed to God, and cannot be subjected to Him. The new nature is born again in the image of God, and knows it cannot achieve right standing before God. That right standing is what Jesus supplied at the Cross. There is nothing I can do to improve it.

Think: as your first-born child began to learn to walk, was he or she any less or more your child? Did you love him any more or less because he was learning to walk? Of course not, but you were pleased at his infant efforts, and saw it as evidence of healthy growth. God sees our efforts in a similar vein. I am not more pleasing to God because of my efforts to please him. And, if those efforts became my primary focus, instead of seeking to know him and worship him, then my relationship with Him would be set aside, and my relationship with the Law would be all that was left. This is what Paul warned against.

The Judaizers and legalizers who preyed upon the infant church sought to enslave it, not set it free. Paul was determined that it should remain free. We have to watch our own hearts to stay free from legalism, even today. It is so easy to think, “Well, I know I have a better walk with God than he does, because I (…fill in the blank).” The fact is; if your relationship with God is all about works, you may not even be a believer. If, on the other hand, your works are all about Jesus, and responding to him, then the peace of God should be seen in your life, as well.

If that is not the living, growing reality, in your life, then perhaps you need to re-examine the core issues.

God help us to recognize the difference between zeal for the person of Christ, and zeal for the trappings of orthodoxy. Help us to be ambassadors of Christ, not sales representatives for a church. Help us to feed on your Grace daily, and offer that Grace to the World around us in the Person of the Savior.

Amen