Yesterday morning, I spent some time unplugging from everything and welcoming the Holy Spirit to preach to me as I ingested some spiritual nourishment from Luke’s Gospel. Repeatedly, I was seeing just how tender the Lord Jesus was with the outcasts and the broken people. Conversely, I also noted how intentionally forceful He was with the religious power-brokers who misrepresented the Kingdom and opposed its King. Great crowds began to swell to hear Him teach and, when Jesus stood before one of His largest crowds in Luke 12, He opened his sermon with a topic that surprised me. At an opportune moment for impacting thousands of people, what did the Lord begin His message with?
Not justification by faith. No sexual morality. Not caring for the poor. Not spiritual disciplines. All of these important issues were left for later. On this day Jesus blazed with a different sort of message:
As thousands gathered before the Lord Jesus on this particular day, He opened His message by exposing legalism and condemning hypocrisy in the lives of those who were presumably the religious elite. Jesus went for the jugular in order to mine out of Israel the dreaded threat of empty religion. He warned people about the dangers of external orthodoxy apart from a heart of love and authenticity. He even publicly called out the Pharisees, pronouncing woe on them. Noteworthy is the undeniable fact that, during His earthly ministry, Jesus’ harshest indictments were not leveled against the blatantly unrighteous but, rather, the smugly self-righteous. It takes a sharp spade to dig out religious superficiality from the human heart. Nobody’s spade was sharper than the one in the mouth of Jesus.
Every one of us has a little untamed Pharisee running around in our own heart. This fella needs to be assassinated. He never honors Christ. He always seeks to enthrone you, and he repeatedly tells you that you deserve to be heard, emulated and obeyed. He is a liar, not in that he points out the legitimacy of your personal convictions and disciplines, but in that he permits you to take pride in them and to use them as a measuring stick by which you gauge the value of others. He tries to reason you out of God’s grace by permitting you to give that grace a theological nod, but never to actually abandon yourself to it. That long-robed, pristine Pharisee in you and me is a spiritual snob. You cannot negotiate with him because he is always wanting more of your heart, mind and mouth – frankly, he is ruthless and skilled at deception. His intoxicating prose contains a lot of “if’s” and “ought’s” which typically exalt you, while simultaneously devaluing others. He is an all-or-nothing type of character, and the only remedy against his influence is a cross and spikes. He has to be crucified along with all of the other elements of our flesh (Galatians 5:24). This is why I am eagerly plotting his assassination. I also should confess that he is maddeningly hard to kill. As often as i have knocked him down, I have not yet fully taken him out. At times, he even seems like a wise and reasonable guide but, truth be known, he is a venomous snake, and he is a descendant of the very people who plotted the death of our King. He simply needs to go.
I want to be holy, but not religious. I want to be sensitive to sin – in my own life more so than the life of another. I want to live rightly before the Lord and, in order to succeed in this, I have to be aware of any self-righteousness lurking in my heart. I want to be used by God to foster deeper commitment in the lives of others, not by control, but by example and love. If you don’t think you need to have any concerns about this struggle against pride in your own life, then the little Pharisee in you is likely not so little anymore. Learn with me on a deeper level that it is our love, not our passivity or indiscriminate approval of everyone and everything, that is the key to our exterminating our judgmentalism. We do not blindly approve of everything and call it love. Nor do we presume to denounce and control everything and call it holiness. When we love others, we always seek their highest good. We point them to Christ, not creeds. We want them to be filled with the Holy Spirit, not filled with our own personal expectations or religious pressures. We long for them to live in the love of the Father, not to live the fear of the brethren. This task in us is important and, likely, it will remain ongoing. My inner-Pharisee is a slippery fellow and I am tired of him running around in my heart… and running his mouth in my ear. So it sounds like I have a lot of work to do. Maybe you too?
Today, Lord, help me to hunt this persistent and dangerous guy down and nail him to the cross. Today, Lord, make me a sanctified assassin.
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