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TEXT: Philippians 3:1-11
SUBJECT: Gospel Changes Everything #30: Pharisaism
For the last several months, we have been spending out Sunday afternoons seeing how the Gospel Changes Everything. By 'the Gospel', I don't mean a set of rules: yours, mine, or even God's. Rules are very good at telling us what to do; what they're not so good at, is giving us the power to do them. We need something more than Law.
We need Good News of what God has done for us in Christ. Lucky for us, this is just what the Gospel is. The Gospel tells us we are loved by God, that His Son died to take away our sin, and that the Holy Spirit has been given to make us what the Law wants us to be.
While Law and Gospel are not the same thing, there is no contradiction between them. What the Law demands; the Gospel provides. It-
Redeems us from all iniquity and purifies for God a peculiar people, zealous for good works.
What's more, nothing but the Gospel provides it. There is no way of holiness other than the Gospel way! Should we learn our duty and do our best to do it? Of course! Should we be teachable, correctable people? Yes, we should be! Personal effort is required, but it is not enough; and without the Gospel it becomes worse than 'not enough': it becomes counter-productive.
This is more than my theory; it was Paul's personal experience. He loved the Law of God and was at pains to keep it on every point and from the heart. He strove to be the kind of man God wanted him to be. But he couldn't cut it-and not because he didn't try hard enough. He did try hard enough and all his efforts made him were-
A blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man.
Or, to use a nicer word, they made him into a Pharisee! This is today's topic: the Gospel Changes Everything, including what was wrong with Paul at one time, and maybe what's wrong with some of us right now.Pharisaism.
What is Pharisaism? Technically, it was a popular movement among the Jews starting in the Fourth Century BC. At that time, the Greeks rules Israel, and some of them wanted to impose their culture on the People of God. Some Jews collaborated with the enemy, but the Pharisees stood up to them, choosing to die rather than to worship any god but the Lord, or to serve any law but His. This was a good thing at the time, and freed Israel (for a few years) from Pagan captivity.
But like so many things that begin in the Spirit, it ended in the flesh. The Pharisees became a narrow and legalistic sect of Judaism, famous for it's fussiness, it's small-picture thinking, and, worst of all, for spearheading the crucifixion of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus criticized many people in His time, but no one got it harder or more often than the Pharisees. This is the technical meaning of the word.
But not what I have in mind today. Nobody here is a Pharisee, in that sense, but the spirit of Pharisaism is alive and well among the People of God today, both in the Church Universal and in every local church. This is what I'm getting at today-Christian Pharisaism, the Pharaism of people who believe in Jesus Christ, who want to live up to their faith, and go about it in the wrong way.
What makes a Pharisee and Pharisee? It is not religion, because many deeply religious people are not Pharisees. No one is more devout than our Lord Jesus Christ, and He is the polar opposite of the Pharisee!
Before I name a few things that separate Christian Pharisees from other Christians, let me remind you that not all Pharisees are created equal! Some are very much this way; most are more moderate; but hardly anyone is wholly free of it. I wish I could say 'I am', but I'm not. Like you, I've got my share of Pharisaism.
But what is it?
Number One is pride or self-righteousness. Whatever he says, the Pharisee thinks he is better than other people. If he wants to conceal his pride, he'll thank God that he's not as other men are, but there's the rub: he is not as other men are! He's better.
Number Two is a contempt for people who do not live up to his standards. If he's a refined person, he hides his scorn; if he's a boor, he spells it out. But whether he's got class or not, he looks down on people who aren't as good as he is.
This pride and contempt are on display in our Lord's Parable of the Pharisee and the Publican, Luke 18. The Pharisee marches into the Temple as if he owns the place and, getting as near the Ark as he could, he prayed with a loud voice-
Lord, I thank you that I am not as other men are-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this Publican. I fast twice a week and give tithes of all I possess.
The man is a fool, but he's not stupid! See how he powders his pride and scorn with soaring words of praise and thanksgiving!
Thirdly, a Pharisee has wrong priorities. He's fascinated with the minor parts of the Law but doesn't care about the things that matter most. Again, Jesus described him as-
Tithing mint, anise, and cumin, while ignoring the weightier issues of the Law, justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
He's a man who never misses church, but ignores his kids and treats his wife like garbage.
Fourthly, a Pharisee has no real conscience. For all his religion, he couldn't care less about the Lord. He-
Prays, fasts, and give alms to be seen of men.whose praise he loves more than God's.
Finally, a Pharisee loves to tell others how to live and to jump all over them when they fail to do it. Jesus spoke of them as-
Crossing land and sea to make one proselyte, [and] of loading heavy burdens on other people.
Nobody wants to be called a Pharisee, of course, but is it really that bad to be one? Is it really bad to think highly of yourself, to stay away from trashy people, to be a stickler for detail, to care what others think of you, and to tell your friends how they ought to be living their lives?
In a world full of hateful men and loose women and crooks of every kind. these character flaws don't seem all that serious. Until you read the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. He said-
Publicans and harlots enter the Kingdom of Heaven before people like the Pharisees.
Self-righteousness and contempt and the other things on the list are more than 'imperfections'; they are scandalous sins that send people to hell.
In his book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals, John Piper wonders why adulterers are put under church discipline and Pharisees are not. Read the New Testament, and you'll see the latter were a much more serious threat to the church than the former.
If we have to rank sins, Pharisaism would be at the top. If you're living this way, you've got to stop.
HOW NOT TO DO IT
You cannot be taught out of it or scolded out of it or threatened out of it. These are aspects of the Law and the Law does not change the heart; if it did Paul the Pharisee would have been the holiest man in the world because nobody loved the Law more than he did. But while loving it, he did not keep it. And he could not.
Only the Gospel frees you from the Pharisee's false conscience and pride and contempt and need to control other people. How?
By telling us how bad we were. How much did Jesus suffer on the cross? His sufferings were infinite. Why did He suffer so much? Because He died in our place. What does this mean? It means our sin is infinite. 'Sins' can be counted-I lied once, stole twice, committed adultery three times. But 'sin', that native rejection of God defies all calculation. The Gospel means we are thoroughly bad-not decent people in need of a hand, but sinners in need of a Savior!
By telling us how needy we are still are. Where did Jesus go after dying on the cross and rising from the dead? He went to heaven. What's He doing up there? Hebrews 7:25 says He's gone there to-
Make intercession for us.
He's up there praying for us. Why do you pray for someone? You pray for him because he needs something. This is why Jesus never stops praying for us, because we're always in need. Now, it's hard to square being in constant need with being proud of yourself or looking down on others, whose needs are nor more than your own. The Gospel means we are deeply and always dependent on God's grace, and believing that will keep you from being a Pharisee.
Thirdly, the Gospel says you're not the only one Jesus died for at the cross and now prays for in Heaven. You can't really believe this and at the same time look down on others or pick them apart with criticism. Believing that Jesus laid down His life as a ransom for many means you've got to love and respect your brothers and sisters in Christ, and let Jesus be the Lord of their consciences! Advise them? Of course, but nitpick and micromanage them? No, not if the Gospel has gotten into your heart.
Finally the Gospel saves us from being Pharisees by telling us God loves us as we are, and thus we don't have to pretend to be better than we are, and we don't have to hunger for the praise of men.
Pharisaism is a real problem; it affects nearly every Christian, and because it is often so subtle, we don't even recognize it in ourselves or do anything to counter it.
But counter it we must, and only the Gospel enables us to do it. God save us from our virtues! For Christ's sake. Amen.
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