Judgmental, legalistic, Pharisaical – These are terms I have heard the professing Christian use to identify others, or others behavior when they are being challenged by them. My own wife was once referenced as Pharisaical because she pointed out that Jesus said, “You will know them by their fruit.” Over the years of hearing these terms slung around like mud toward anyone that a “Christian” finds challenging I have come to realize that it is very likely that they have no clue what they are saying, or even referring to.
The general idea, based on the use of the term during their mud slinging, is if someone suggests there are some sort of rules which can be followed or used as a guide for life and how to live it, then that person is on the same level that Jesus apparently put the Pharisees. Which when extended out, basically translates into the idea that the person they are calling a Pharisee is not actually a Christian, since the Pharisees in scripture were not born again followers of Christ, but rather rejected Christ and were blind to His teachings.
When I read the scriptures, and I see Jesus rebuking the Pharisees for things, I see him rebuking them for unnecessary burdens which they were hypocritical about in their own lives, and which they are teaching others they must do, or not do, in order to earn salvation. In the midst of the rebuke Jesus never claims they should not adhere to the law, but rather should fulfill the spirit of the law, which is to love God, and others.
When the crowd was going to stone the woman caught in adultery in John 8, Jesus told the crowd, whoever is free of sin may cast the first stone. This is another phrase I often hear quoted toward servants of God. When her accusers had all dropped their stones and left, Jesus did not accuse her just as nobody else had. But it is what he said next that everybody loves to forget about. He told her, “Now go, and sin no more.” He didn’t make excuses for her sin, rather he blatantly addressed it by saying she was forgiven, but stop doing it!
When Jesus confronts the Pharisees in Matthew 23, he did the same thing. He was rebuking them for multiple things, and I could talk about all of them and how I see resemblances to the American church, but for this discussion I’m most interested in pointing out his statement in Matthew 23:23. Jesus was harsh to the Pharisees who would be careful to tithe on even the smallest gain, but neglected the more important matters of the law – Justice, mercy, and faithfulness. And he continues on to tell them, they should practiced the latter without neglecting the former. Again, Jesus is not voiding the law, and telling them to forget about it, but rebuking them because they don’t practice the spirit of the law as well as the letter of it.
Today many American Christians claim anyone who uses the law or any commands from God as a mirror for people to examine themselves in, is somehow reduced to the status of a pharisee. A non-disciple of Christ. Ironically, these people are typically responding to the fact that they feel as though the “pharisee” is doing exactly that.
If there is no law to obey, no commands to live by, then Jesus Christ lied to us when he said that he did not come to abolish the law, but rather to fulfill it. Since Jesus didn’t lie, I believe it’s quite the contrary, and he meant it when he said, “If you love me, you will keep my commands.” Which commands?
That’s a great question, one in which every “Christian” should be able to answer, and for the most part, almost none of us can fully give account for. The typical cop-out answer is, “To love God with all your heart soul mind and strength and to love others as yourself.” However the whole of the rest of the commands is an explanation on how exactly to do that. These two commands are the greatest commands, not the only commands.
You can’t look only to the Gospels for the commands of Jesus. God’s commands are littered throughout the Old and New Testament. Delivered and exampled by the prophets and apostles. To look only to the Gospels for commands is to border on diving into the heretical concept which has entrapped the “red-letter Christians.” There are certainly things which do not apply to us outside Old Testament Israel, but there are many which do. In addition obedience to the law can not earn you salvation. In fact obedience to the law could never earn a person salvation. It’s always been about repentance and faith. Under the old covenant the payment for a persons sin fell on an animal, and under the new covenant they fall on Jesus Christ.
Knowing the commands and examining ourselves under them help us determine our own state of repentance. 1 John is full of examples of what is, and is not a true child of God. The whole point of the book is so that you may know if you are, or are not children of God. In 1 John 5:13, John wrote, “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.”
The commands, and guidelines laid out in the scriptures are the “how to” of the two greatest commands, and Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commands.” How can you keep them, if you have no clue what they are, or you think you are not under any requirement to do so? Simply put, you can’t.
Some would say that this is works based salvation. Such a person is blind to the reality that a faith without works is dead (James 2). They forget that God has said, “These people honor me with their lips but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15; Isaiah 29). And they forget that Jesus said, on the day of judgment many will say to him “Lord, Lord” and he will tell them to “Depart from me you workers of lawlessness.”
The way you live your life, and what is important to you is a direct reflection of the status of your heart. The very fact that in America we can justify unneeded expenditures while knowing people are starving to death, and there are places we can put that money is a reflection of our heart. The fact that you would divorce your spouse, even though Jesus said that if you do so, and they marry another, you cause them to commit adultery, is a reflection of your heart. The idea that private schooling, big screen televisions, hunting trips, fancy cars, houses too big for our needs, unneeded fast gaming computers, and many other of the materialistic things we have in America, are more important than feeding, clothing, and medicating others is a direct reflection of our hearts.
If your child was starving, you would want someone to pay for their meal, rather than go on vacation, or any other “extra” thing. Yet we fail to recognize that. As such, we do not love others as ourself. The fact that we would divorce a woman, and lead her into adultery, is an example of us not loving her as we do ourself. When we let our daughters, and wives dress in any sort of provocative way, revealing too many curves, or too much skin, we are not sympathetic of the very fact that 1 in 5 struggle with lust, and we are not loving them as ourselves.
You might be able to avoid all of the above things, you might give until it hurts, and still not be saved. Salvation is strictly by grace through faith alone, not of works. The works I reference are an indication of your salvation, not a means for it. God loves a cheerful giver, and a changed heart, focused on pleasing God in response to unearned grace, will seek to please him, and alleviate the suffering of others to the point it is at all possible for him to do so.
Christians like to claim they are called to do things. I can assure you, God will not call you to do anything which contradicts His will as revealed to us in scripture. He will not call you to a divorce, or to live in abundance at the expense of supplying another’s basic needs when it is possible. He will not call you to sit before Hollywood’s portrait of sin, being brain washed to live for yourself when he has told you to protect yourself from such things, and be transformed into the image of his son. He will not call you to self indulge in multi-thousand dollar vacations at the expense of helping others, just so you can generate a memory for your off-spring. He will call you to sacrifice until it hurts. He will call you to apologize when you’ve wronged someone. He will call you to die to yourself, and love your spouse regardless of how much failing she or he does. He will call you to abstain from evil, and focus on good. But he will not call you to do anything which is derived through selfish ambition, gratification of the flesh at the expense of others, or fulfilling of a sense of entitlement.
These ideals are not Pharisaical, they are Biblical, and they are a test of obedience. They are a measure of the status of your heart. And they should be indications to your conscience of whether you need to repent of your way of life. The scariest thing I can think of, is if you actually would be happier to make excuses for these ways of life being acceptable and continue in them, rather than repent and live a life holy and pleasing to the one you call Lord.