I used to be a Pharisee. Let’s be honest…there are still times in my life that I am no different from them.
Before I was saved in 2012, I lived as the Pharisees did. I thought I was saved. I lived as if my salvation was conditional based on my works. I genuinely believed I had to do certain things, say certain words, and act a certain way in order to receive and maintain God’s favor. I didn’t obey God’s commands because I had a new heart with pure motives; I did so because I thought I had to or else.
“[He] saved us and called us to a holy calling, NOT because of our works but because of His own purpose and grace…"
-2 Timothy 1:9
They Got It All Wrong
The Pharisees performed tasks in order to be acknowledged, honored, and praised (I know I’ve never done that).
They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.
In this verse, phylacteries were cube shaped leather cases that contained scripture. They were worn on one’s left arm or forehead as a literal way to obey Deuteronomy 11:18. The fringe is referring to Numbers 15:39. These tassels were worn to remind them to be holy and obedient to God’s commandments. The Pharisees applied the law’s literal interpretation.
Were the Pharisees wrong to wear these items? No, not necessarily.
We do the exact same thing today. Christians wear jewelry with crosses and other religious symbols, we get religious inspired tattoos, and we wear clothing with biblical references on it. We do all these things to remind ourselves of God’s word. However, these actions are worthless without a lifestyle that reflects the Son of God.
The goal of obedience to God is not to receive human praise, but to glorify the One who has saved our depraved souls.
What Motivates Your Actions?
Throughout Matthew 6, Jesus warns us not to obey The Lord’s commands for the purpose of receiving praise and reward from the world. For example, the religious leaders would give to the needy and fast to receive acclamation. The tragic irony is that they did receive the public acclaim they were searching for, but that is the only reward they will ever receive. Human adoration is fleeting. Adoration from our Heavenly Father is eternal.
Just as James, the half-brother to Jesus, said in verse 17 of chapter 2, faith without works is dead, and vise versa…works without faith is dead (useless, lifeless, purposeless). All they are then are good deeds, which produce nothing but transitory honor.
Perhaps the greatest lesson we can learn from the Pharisees is to not let our relationship with the Lord be reduced to a legalistic list of rules and rituals. Additionally, we obey God even when we don’t feel like it because we believe He is good and loves, and will use our obedience for sanctification.
See you next time in the round,
PS - If you would like more information about the difference between legalism and discipline, please check out Joy’s post from February.