Mistakes Were Made: Well-Meaning Pharisees

The older I get, the more I see that every command in the Word of God is given for the benefit of mankind – nothing is there because God arbitrarily wanted it that way.   All is given for our good.  And the Law (OT and NT) is good.

But the Law does not save.

Galatians 3:3 Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?

The efforts we make, to follow the Law, to do right, to use our lives to the glory of God – those efforts are good.  But as those efforts are not, in themselves, gospel, when we hold our efforts up for imitation, when we hold up our personal convictions as universal rules of behavior, we slide away from the Truth.  In our well-meaning stumbles, we recreate the error of the Pharisee.  So in love with our own righteousness, we lose the understanding that only shed blood is sufficient to cleanse us from sin.  So intent on being good, we forget that there is only One who is good.  We lose the ability to humbly admit our failures.

Being human, anytime we strive for anything, we want to look good.  Think of athletes, striving for athletic perfection… if they slip, do they want it known?  Same thing goes for those striving for righteousness.   No one wants to fail at what they care about.

Because we fail … we invent new rules, rules that aren’t in the Bible.  Drunkenness is forbidden… so we decide never to have a glass of wine.  No dancing, no movies, no playing cards.

Matthew 23:23 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others.

The temptation to sweep sin under the rug, to never admit that we are tempted by evil, is great.  It’s so much easier to whitewash the outside than deal with the ugliness on the inside.  Dragging our ugliness and darkness out to be dealt with is embarrassing and painful.  And it forces real change, which is intrinsically uncomfortable.

For the past thirty or forty years, it seems like there has been a never ending parade of those who we had called heroes… we see them unmasked as hypocrites.  We see those who we were so proud of, because they were winning at tithing tiny dill seeds… we find out that they failed in justice.   And because we followed them, because we identified with them, we are tarred with the same brush, the assumption of hypocrisy.   True or not, the label sticks.

We forgot that we can’t do life without Jesus.  Our efforts at perfection?

 Isaiah 64:6 For all of us have become like one who is unclean, And all our righteous deeds are like a filthy garment; And all of us wither like a leaf, And our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

And we become Pharisees.  We allow ourselves to believe that we’re good people, and that as good people, we can make the world over into a better place.  Not from the inside, by introducing others to the joy of salvation, the beauty of the path of sanctification, the love of Christ… no, we focus on the outward.  We focus on what “good people” do, and then we try to force everyone to comply.

The late 19th and 20th century were the crucible of this belief.  In the 19th century, they called it the “White Man’s Burden” – to see all the world “civilized”.  This at least had the germ of goodness, because it included the spread of the Word of God.  But it incubated the belief that humans could make of this world a paradise, and that belief was taken by the secularists and they ran with it.

Read early 20th century fiction – you’ll see how the modern way of doing things is deified.  Not that I burn to do my family’s laundry in a tub, but there was no difference made in mechanical improvements and “improvements” in the way we raise our children, or feed them, or work, or how we arrange our personal lives.   One trial failed, and the next “new and improved” method took over.

We’re still doing it, and if you don’t believe me, what do you call Common Core or Round-up Ready Corn?  We throw baby out with the bathwater, all because somehow we, fallible humans, are somehow going to make everything perfect.

We forget that the Lord told us that we’d always have the poor – so we leave behind the duty of charity, the demands of loving the others in our community, for the ideal that we can make poverty disappear.  Ahem, that “someone else” can do that, and we’ll just throw a bit of money at the problem and have our duty done and over with.   A hundred years ago, our foremothers decided Prohibition would keep those dreadful drunken men from hitting their wives… now the same drugged men hit their baby mamas.  God would have us administer justice and mercy – but it’s so much easier to clean up the outside, and anyway we can’t *make* people accept Jesus (we tried that too), so what are we supposed to do?

What is inside always spills out, doesn’t it?

We’re Pharisees, and we don’t want to admit that we are, by nature, Fallen.

So what do *we* do?  I think… I think we admit that we’re just folks, saved by grace.  I think we admit that the only real change comes from within, from the way that the good Lord rips out our filthy old heart and puts in a shiny new one.  I think we admit that we all struggle with the old tendencies that come with living in these flesh suits and that sometimes we fail.

I think we admit that we get angry and sad and sometimes we could just about do with a drink… whether we choose to partake or not.

1 John 1: If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar and His word is not in us.

And I think, though it kills me, that we admit that *we* can’t make people come to Christ.  Everybody, from your beloved to your child to the stranger checking out the cauliflower, has their own relationship (or lack thereof) with Christ – and every one of them has to do that on their own.

And I think that this deal where the “good people” tried to make everyone else “good” on the outside while the “good people’s” insides weren’t in order, I think that is about to reap the whirlwind.  And all our insides are going to be revealed, for good or ill.

We earned it.   We were well-meaning Pharisees.  I guess we just stop being Pharisees and hold on to the Lord with everything we have, knowing that every day we should strive to obey the greatest commandment… and that every day we will fail.

Deuteronomy 6:You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.

And what more, in the end, can we wish for?

3 thoughts on “Mistakes Were Made: Well-Meaning Pharisees

  1. Elspeth

    Had an experience quite recently which reminded me of this post. I actually have a name for it that occurred to me quite a while ago, theoretical sinners. By that I mean that some of us, whether because we never indulged in the “big sins”, or have been making a true effort to walk with the Lord for several years, develop a Pharisaical attitude toward those not quite as righteous as we are. I LOL’d as I wrote “as righteous as we are”.

    It’s that thing where we admit to being sinners because you know, we have all sinned and come short of the glory, but we can never quite see our sin for what it is, or recount in detail what our shortcomings may be. That’s what I mean by theoretical sinners. Fortunately, or unfortunately, my past indulgence in the “big sins” was anything but theoretical, and I try to confess my sins to God in detail. it does wonders to douse the flames of spiritual pride and superiority when they pop up.

    What’s more, a good grounded understanding of how little deserving we are of both our grace and our good fortune helps us to be a little more compassionate, given to service, and a little less inclined to think more highly of ourselves than we ought.

    Thank you for your indulgence, my friend.

    1. hearthie Post author

      Exactly. If you get in the habit of thinking butter can’t melt in your mouth … then you want to go after the little things, ignoring the big sin of pride. And covetousness. And… Yep. yep yep and also yep.


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