A Solemn Warning Against Heartless Religion
The Pharisees rejected Jesus because He did not fit into their system. Jesus was all about the kingdom of God, which He referenced over fifty times. While the Pharisees claimed adherence to the Scriptures, they had essentially devolved into a religion of their own making. When Christ invited people to die to self, take up the cross, and follow Him they reacted violently and led the charge to crucify Him. These Jewish leaders wanted nothing to do with the Messiah because he did not conform to their template.
What’s more important—your system/kingdom, or the kingdom of God? What’s more important—external conformity to your group, or heart conformity to Christ’s kingdom within?
Nothing was a matter of conscience with the Pharisees—everything was a matter of fact. The New Covenant stresses soul liberty and the importance of yielding to one’s own conscience and convictions. Some could eat meat with a clear conscience, but others could not. Some esteemed one day above another, but others did not (Ro. 14:1-6). On the lesser issues, individual believers had liberty to operate according to personal conviction. Consider the limited number of prohibitions given to the multicultural, post-Pentecost believers. These Gentile converts were told to abstain from sexual immorality, not to eat meat offered to idols, avoid ingesting blood, and not to eat strangled animals (Acts 15:20, 29: 21:25). That was the separation statement for the early church!
Uniformity in lesser things was not mandated. When the Spirit had the ascendancy there was no need to micro-manage and legislate behavior. Yes, they were principle-based, but it was the Presence of Christ “in the midst of the candlesticks” which went a long way in maintaining proper order. Of course, the epistles offered correction at times as well as ethical guidelines.
Loving God and loving people was, and is, the heart of New Covenant faith. But, this type of liberty was offensive to the control-oriented Pharisees who had amassed hundreds of rules. The Pharisees were power-hungry, position-seeking men who demanded conformity to their ‘man-made commandments, traditions, and regulations’ (Mark 7:6-8). Titus exhorts, “Not giving heed to Jewish fables, and commandments of men, that turn from the truth” (Titus 1:14).
Do you really believe in “soul-liberty?” Or do you extend love only to the souls whose “liberty” mirrors yours? (I am not talking about building a local church, but appreciating the grace of God in other born-again believers.) Can you appreciate Christ-lovers who are not in lock-step with you on secondary issues?
Pharisees major on externals and omit the more important matters of the heart. Note Jesus’ stinging rebuke: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone” (Matt. 23:23). The tithe was not unimportant, but it was not all-important. The “weightier matters” like mercy and faith (matters of the heart) trumped legal observances. Pharisees were really big on outward appearances, but weak on proper inward attitudes and motives.
What is more important to you: performance or motive? External compliance, or heart devotion to Christ?
The Pharisees were precise, peevish, prudish, and yet powerless to project a positive influence on people. Love was not their “strong suit.” In fact, love was not even in their closet!
All religion has a proneness to externality, which eliminates the internalization of truth, that boils the whole scheme down to a list of do’s and dont’s or mental doctrines. Since such is the case with human nature, should we not take care in guarding our own hearts?
The heart theology of the New Testament is holistic, and places all of life under the Lordship of Christ. Phariseism, in any of its forms, is deadly. So beware of the Pharisee within.