Jesus made it very clear that the Pharisees’ religion was what He came to free people from. Legalism and the observance of “principles” are still prevalent in today’s church – are you a pharisee?
Jesus had an uncommon dislike for the Pharisees. He had a compassion for the sick, the lost, and the weak which superseded all our understanding of God at the time; however, as to the Pharisees, Jesus stood unmoved against them and their passion for obeying God’s word.
The Pharisees would appear to be among the most pleasing to God in an era of relative apostasy (falling away from God); they were attempting to encourage the nation to get back to following God. That’s a good thing, right? They studied the Scriptures and followed them to the extreme in an effort to set the bar as high as possible in pleasing God. Yet it was they who received the most overt opposition from Jesus. At one point, he called them “whitewashed sewers”. What was it that was so offensive to God about the Pharisees’ religion?
The Pharisee’s believed they were doing it right. They believed they understood the “rules” and they were following them. Shouldn’t that made God happy – apparently NOT.
If one were to scrutinize the Old Testament, it would become apparent that being obedient to God was very highly valued, and for that reason, the Pharisees’ religion made complete sense; but Jesus came to introduce “New Rules”. In His kingdom, God is already pleased with humanity*. You start there, and the only thing you can do to screw that up is to try and please Him – ironic isn’t it? It’s hard to believe that we already have God’s complete favour. We must believe it or we will be just like the Pharisees.
The concept of pleasing God is still, in spite of Jesus’ warnings, very prevalent in organized religion. I call it “organized religion” because it is man-made. It is a hybrid between the Old Testament and Jesus’ kingdom. Obedience to God’s word is still preached and valued in most churches, while at the same time continuing to give lip-service to being saved by grace. You can’t have both. Either you are saved by grace and are completely and perfectly pleasing to God or you are saved by following God’s rules. There is no in-between and there can be no compromise!
Recently, I was asked if Jesus meant to throw out the Ten Commandments? I said that He most certainly did throw them out. Scripture says they do not apply to believers – what could be more clear than that? If we think that by observing the law of God we are pleasing Him, we move out of being saved by grace back into the Old Covenant where doing EVERYTHING right is the only way to be saved. The Apostle Paul talks about this very issue on several occasions because legalism is the most subtle and greatest danger to Christians, yet legalism is common in most churches.
Obeying rules is embraced in the church as a solution to another of Paul’s warnings to the Church. He warned not to disregard the sacrificial death of Jesus by using this freedom to do evil or to justify sensuality. Church leaders want to stay a long way from encouraging “too much freedom” so they default to teaching rules and principles.
Here’s in part what I mean. Week after week believers gather and are taught the scriptures, sing songs, and give their money to God. Why? Because they are taught that that is what makes God “happy” with them. They are taught that by giving money to the organization that they are giving it to God, because the organization has a “franchise” to collect and spend God’s money. They are also taught that the work of the “church” will be done by professionals, and other than small jobs that serve the organization, there is very little for them to do other that give money.
Jesus told the woman at the well who was going up to the Temple, that someday she would no longer have to go to the Temple to worship, but that she would worship in Spirit and in Truth. Jesus was saying, you don’t have to go anywhere to worship – you ARE the temple of the Holy Spirit.
If we are led by the Holy Spirit we will never be displeasing to God. Worship is a spiritual connection to God, and it is the pursuit of the “truth” (Jesus). This is a long way from what we know as “Church”. It’s not necessarily a song, although it could be. It’s not giving money, although it could be. It most certainly is NOT the performance of the “Sunday Ritual” we call “church”.
The “ritual” does not make God happy and it does not build relationship with Him or help us achieve our destiny in Him. It is a charade that defrauds us from intimacy with God and promotes what He wants to save us from – striving to please Him.
To be continued…
* I will address this issue later.
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