Legalists Refuse to Worship Jesus

We are following points from John 9, in which the Pharisees angrily grilled a poor guy whom Jesus had completely healed, told him that Jesus was not a good man, and cast the fellow out of the synagogue. See the past four posts for the first installments of this series. Shall we continue?

Legalists Refuse to Worship Jesus

Tragically, the Pharisees’ self-righteousness translated into a full rejection of their Lord. They refused to worship Him. They wouldn’t come to Him in the first place because they didn’t believe they had need. Only the sick run to the doctor for healing. Those who refuse to admit there’s something wrong or are so prideful they think they can fix it on their own will shun the healer and not accept treatment.

But they worshiped God, didn’t they? They worshiped the God of the Jews—wasn’t that enough for them? Here’s the main issue: they claimed to worship God, but their rejection of Jesus proved they were only doing what they wanted to do in the first place.

The world’s religions are all based on this mindset! People worship the way they want to worship. They devise their own gods. They modify the rules as it suits them. You can tell the Pharisees did not really worship God, because God was putting His Son in their faces, and they turned their backs on Him. “And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3.19). The Jews rejected Jesus, their light.

Can someone claim to worship Jesus but really not worship? Absolutely! A disgusting teaching over the past few decades, called “No Lordship Salvation,” says someone simply has to accept that Jesus is Savior to be saved—he doesn’t need to understand that Jesus is Lord. Do you see how this teaching claims to leads people to Jesus but really ends up producing a non-worshiping religious “convert”? People claim Christ all day long as their Savior, but when they do not submit to what He says, they reject Him as their Lord. We should examine ourselves to make sure we don’t find ourselves in that camp.

Legalists Claim Self-Righteousness

Continuing the theme from the past two weeks, let’s consider…

Legalists Claim Self-Righteousness

A legalist condemns righteous brethren because he thinks too highly of himself. He has not humbled himself before the Lord, and he trusts in his own power and understanding for his salvation. This is a human heart issue. In our sin, our selfishness and pride run rampant—and we can’t even tell! Blindness begets blindness. We need Jesus Christ to knock us off our high horse (like Saul of Tarsus) and shine His bright light into our hearts (2 Cor. 4.6).

The Pharisees in John 9 said several times, “We know…” (John 9.24, 29). They insisted, “We are disciples of Moses” (John 9.28), meaning they were the ones who knew God’s word better than anyone.

Jesus characterized the Pharisees as those who paraded their righteousness before men in order to be recognized (Matt. 6.1-2, 5, 16). He called them “hypocrites” in each of those verses, which meant they were pretending to be righteous when they really weren’t! What a shock it will be to many when they discover Jesus’ assessment of them—that they really are not righteous.

Stop acting like you are holier than everyone else! God knows the truth, and so do you if you really dig down into your own heart. Without Jesus Christ, you are putrid, pathetic, and powerless. Just admit it. In a breath, James writes, “Submit yourselves therefore to God” and immediately afterward, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded” (James 4.7-8). Again, he flows from, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will exalt you,” to, “Do not speak evil against one another, brothers” (James 4.10-11). Our lack of humility leads to personal sin and to speaking evil of our brethren.

Don’t claim self-righteousness (Luke 18.9). Depend fully and solely upon the righteousness of Christ! When we realize we stand holy before God because of Jesus’ work and not our own, we understand our brothers and sisters do too. We are all saved by grace—not by our own works of righteousness.

Legalists Condemn the Righteous

Last week we considered that legalists overlook the power of God and lack compassion. Let’s continue this train of thought from John 9:

Legalists Condemn the Righteous

Akin to the previous thought (that legalists lack compassion), they tend to go the extra mile and downright condemn others—even righteous brethren. We don’t see this from how they treated the formerly blind man; we see it in how they treated Jesus, THE Righteous One. Boldly, they said:

  • “This man is not from God” (John 9.15).
  • “We know this man is a sinner” (John 9.24).
  • “We do not know where He comes from” (John 9.29).

How could they make such a snap judgment on Jesus Christ? They stood in the presence of holiness, of the great teacher, of the healer of the blind (which had never been done before in all of their history), and they flatly condemned Him, placing Him in the same category as all the sinners they looked down upon. Incredible!

Jesus told His disciples, “If they have called the Master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of His household?” (Matt. 10.25). In other words, those who follow Jesus will receive the same rejection from those who rejected Christ.

Today, many legalists claim to follow Christ. Surely they don’t reject Him, do they? Yet they reject many of the followers of Jesus, and in condemning their brethren they reject the Lord. Jesus preached that when we reject our brethren we reject Him:

Then [the goats on the left] also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ (Matt. 25.44-45)

Here in John 9, we see how they treated the new follower of Christ: “You were born in utter sin, and would you teach us?” And they cast him out (John 9.34).

Yes, modern legalists still condemn their righteous brethren in the name of religion. They stack rules upon rules, claiming to completely understand the righteousness of God. Some demand fasting, abstaining from certain types of foods, forbidding marriage, commanding Sabbath day observance. Some command abstaining from all alcoholic beverages, tobacco, dancing, and gambling. Don’t get me wrong—many abuse those things and sin in their excesses, but God has not forbidden them. We have no business condemning a brother for chewing tobacco or drinking wine.

Legalists Lack Compassion

Continuing from the last post (Legalists Overlook the Power of God), recall that Jesus had just completely healed a man born blind (John 9)–and the Pharisees were none too happy about it…

Legalists Lack Compassion

Instead of wrapping this man in their arms, welcoming him to wholeness, and rejoicing that he could now SEE CLEARLY like the rest of them, the legalists grew bitter against him! They pressed him. Harried him. Demanded he denounce Jesus for breaking the Sabbath. When the man continued to stand up for Jesus, they cast him out of their synagogue.

As you read through the gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John), you’ll see this ongoing theme—the Jewish leaders looked down upon the common people, the tax collectors, the prostitutes, because they were sinners. Because the legalistic leaders considered themselves righteous, they thought highly of themselves and poorly of the others. In their minds every evil thing which happened to other people was a direct result of their sin. “They should have known better.” “They shouldn’t have done it.” “They got themselves into that mess, and they can get themselves out.”

They kept those sinners at arms-length, refusing to get close. When Jesus ate with the tax collectors and sinners, they questioned His disciples about it: “Why would He do such a thing?!” (Matthew 9.10-13).

Will we lack compassion if we give ourselves to legalism? We will! We will follow in the footsteps of our Pharisaical forefathers. We will pass by on the other side of the road, keeping as much distance as we can from the dirty, the lowly, the sick, the broken, the depressed. “If they just had more faith [like me], they wouldn’t be in that predicament.” “If they just started following God’s rules [like I do], their lives wouldn’t be a shamble.”

If we find ourselves thinking this way in our hearts, we should examine ourselves to see how we think we are being saved. Do we think God saves us because of how good we are? Do we think God loves us because of the great gifts we give Him? Do we compare ourselves to others?

Legalists Overlook the Power of God

LEGALISM is a sinful, destructive mindset, obscured behind a façade of religious zeal. In John 9, Jesus stood toe-to-toe against a bevy of Jewish legalists (Pharisees) in order to save one man from his physical and spiritual blindness. The chapter reveals several hallmarks of legalism, which serve as warnings and as guideposts for our own spiritual evaluation. “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Or do you not realize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you fail to meet the test!” (2 Cor. 13.5)

Legalists Overlook the Power of God

Jesus healed a man who had been blind from birth (John 9.1-7). No one could falsify that supernatural event (though the Pharisees tried: John 9.18), and you would think no one would want to falsify it. However, the Pharisees frantically sought to discount and reject what Jesus had done! Why? They insisted Jesus “is not from God, for He does not keep the Sabbath” (John 9.16). They felt they knew the law better than anyone, they oversaw the synagogue (the Jewish place of worship), and they couldn’t allow someone to “work” on the day of rest.

Isn’t it sad those legalists, depending on their law-keeping, completely dismissed the outstanding healing Jesus had performed? What will we miss if we, also, give ourselves to legalism? Will God perform a miracle in front of us and we claim, “No, that can’t be true—the age of miracles is past”? Will God save a woman from deep darkness and depression and we refuse to believe it, saying, “She was too far gone to be saved…that’s impossible”?

Some today (am I among them?) put God in a box of their own making and don’t give Him the glory for amazing events that happen. “That’s just coincidence.” “He just has good luck.” “Time and chance happen to all.” Are we missing great acts of God because we “already know” how God works? Worse, are we giving glory that belongs to God to chance?

Perhaps the greatest acts of God today are when He works through the gospel to turn the sinful hearts of men and women to Himself. Trust Him to do it. Look for His power even today in His kingdom. We serve an incomparable God!

In Love with the Law

Are you a rule-follower? Do you hate it when someone fudges, breaks in line, bends the rules?

The Pharisees hated rule-breaking so much they piled rules on top of rules just to make sure no one broke the rules. The worst sin, for the Pharisee, was rule-breaking, and they came up with lists of over 600 laws which they fastidiously kept before the people. Not only did they keep the laws themselves but they laid their standards on the backs of their brethren. In other words, they believed and taught salvation by rule-keeping.

The Pharisees scoured God’s laws to figure out how to stay absolutely spotless.

God commanded priests to wash before they ministered in the tabernacle. To mirror that, the Pharisees required the washing of the hands before eating anything–and the washing of all vessels and utensils–so they wouldn’t ingest any unclean thing and thereby defile themselves. That’s why they became upset when Jesus’ disciples “broke the tradition of the elders” by eating with unwashed hands (Matt. 15.2).

God clearly required the Jews to rest on the Sabbath Day, to cease from their daily labors. They were not allowed to build a fire or gather firewood on the Sabbath. Taking it just a step further, the Pharisees wrote a few extra laws (which logically flowed from God’s, right?), which included no picking of grain (harvesting!), no rubbing grain together in the hands (threshing!), and no chewing freshly-picked grain (grinding!). That’s why they accused Jesus’ disciples of law-breaking when they did all three of these things (Matt. 12.1-2).

Holy men and women of old fasted and prayed to the Lord and gave alms to the poor. The Pharisees then, in order to plumb the depths of righteousness and holiness, gave to the poor (Matt. 6.1-4), prayed (Matt. 6.5-6), and fasted (Matt. 6.16-18) to be seen by men. After all, what good were those holy activities if no one knew how incredibly holy they had become?

Much to their dismay, Jesus spoiled their scene and began to peel the outer layers of their so-called righteousness to reveal empty, dark, and rebellious hearts. Jesus told the Jews their righteousness had to exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5.20)! How could one possibly out-righteousness a Pharisee? They were the self-appointed keepers of the Law. They sat in the seat of Moses, claiming to speak for God.

One of the leading Pharisees of Jesus’ day was Nicodemus, who approached Jesus by night with great praise, calling Jesus “Rabbi” and affirming his belief that Jesus was from God because of the signs He was performing. Did Jesus welcome Nicodemus with open arms? To the contrary, He answered him rather roughly, questioning the Israelite teacher’s basic understanding of spiritual things! Don’t you know you must be born again before you can see the kingdom of God? Why don’t you understand these things? (John 3)

The major point was this–Nicodemus needed JESUS to reveal the heavenly things. Nicodemus could not approach Jesus as a fellow Rabbi. He couldn’t think of Him as simply one sent from God. He would have to accept Jesus as God. He would have to accept his own sinfulness before the Almighty One, no matter how carefully he had kept the Law of Moses all his life, no matter how pure he thought his hands and feet and eyes were, no matter how many righteousness points he felt he had racked up over the years. In truth, unless he looked to CHRIST, Nicodemus stood no closer to God than a tax collector or prostitute!

Can we be so in love with God’s LAW that we totally miss HIM? In reality, the Pharisees didn’t love the law in the same way they might love a person. They really loved themselves. They loved the idea of showing God how righteous they really were. They loved being more righteous than everyone else around them (Luke 18.9).

Yes, we can fall into this trap–quite easily, in fact. Have I done this myself–thought of myself as a gatekeeper of God’s law, an interpreter who really knows what God means about almost everything (admitting a few nooks and crannies I haven’t totally figure out yet…)? Is my standing before God based on how well I understand His laws and how well I keep them? Is my standing in His kingdom based on my outstanding performance? Is my purity some great gift I give to God, which places me above my peers and gives me something to boast about?

If we think like that, we sit in the camp of the Pharisees. We love law, not Christ. We love ourselves, not our brethren. Examine the gospels and you’ll find the Pharisees persecuted and oppressed their own brethren because of their self-righteousness, and worst of all they rejected and slaughtered their own Messiah.

Brothers and Sisters, don’t get me wrong–we should love God’s law–but for the right reason. We should love God’s law because it’s God’s law. We should love His commandments because they come from Him and we love to obey Him. We shouldn’t love the law apart from Him. We shouldn’t look to the law to do for us what only God can.

Here’s the point: The law does not and cannot save us! Jesus saves.

Are You Qualified to Serve?

Deacons are simply servants of the church. The church appoints these servants to fulfill certain tasks necessary to the working of the church. Early disciples in Jerusalem appointed these servants to take care of their needy widows (Acts 6), but their qualifications (found in Paul’s first letter to Timothy chapter 3.8-13) indicate these servants serve the church in ways other than helping the widows.

The only mention (other than Acts 6) of a specific person in Scripture who was a servant of a specific church is of a woman named Pheobe: “I commend unto you Phebe our sister, which is a servant of the church which is at Cenchrea” (Rom. 16.1). The word “servant” is the Greek word διάκονον (diakonon)–the feminine form of διάκονος (diakonos)–the same word found in 1 Timothy 3 and the word from which we get “deacon.”

In Jesus’ teaching, the greatest of all is the least of all, and Jesus used the word διάκονος to describe us.

And he sat down and called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”

Mark 9.35

“But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant…”

Mark 10.43

God called the Roman government His διάκονος.

“he [the governing authority] is God’s servant for your good.”

Romans 13.4

Jesus Himself is called a διάκονος to Israel.

“For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs…”

Romans 15.8

This word is used in many places throughout the New Testament. We understand by the context of 1 Timothy 3.1-13 that Paul writes here of offices or positions in the church. The role of overseer / elder is an office of the church. Likewise (1 Tim. 3.8) there exists the role of deacon.

When addressing the Philippian church, Paul wrote “To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons” (Phil. 1.1).

Those who serve their churches in this official capacity should be tested and proven to be faithful men and women before the church appoints them to this service. They not only serve the church; they represent the church (and, thus, Christ). Their qualifications differ from those of elders in several respects, but they are quite similar. We should look for men who are “dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience” (1 Tim. 3.8-9). They should manage their children and households well and be the husbands of one wife (1 Tim. 3.12). Women servants “must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things” (1 Tim. 3.11).

Those who serve well (i.e., faithfully), “gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus” (1 Tim. 3.13).

Isn’t it interesting that God requires men and women to be qualified before they serve the church in this capacity? These are not some sort of advanced Christians. They simply walk as Christians ought. They provide good examples to the flock, and they do not embarrass the church by shirking their responsibilities. They are not only faithful in their duties, they are faithful to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

No wonder they gain confidence in the faith! Faithful service has that wonderful side-effect.

Are you qualified to serve?

A Great Way to Study and Teach

What technique did Jesus often use when teaching? How did He lead men and women to truth?

What did I just do?

I asked questions.

Can you think of instances in which Jesus used questions to teach?

Questions extract information from our minds in special ways. It seems we were created to respond to questions, and questions form the fundamental power house of thinking. How do you think? You ask yourself questions and respond to them! If you have trouble thinking, just get a friend to start grilling you about a familiar subject–you’ll be amazed at how much will tumble out of your brain.

When you study the Bible, learn to ask questions of the text in front of you. Start with the five Ws and an H: who, what, where, when, why, and how. Ask them of yourself, and you’ll discover a wealth of knowledge in whatever Scripture you’re studying. Who wrote it? To whom was it written? In what time period was it written? Is it about the past, the present, or the future? What prompted the author to write? How often…? How much…? How high…?

Not only do questions kick-start your study habits, they also provide a wonderful tool for teaching others and leading them to knowledge. For instance, if you are sharing a Scripture with a Bible class, a simple yet powerful technique is to read it together and then walk back through it with questions.

Learn to ask three different kinds of questions.

1. Ask about details in the text. This teaches the student to search the word. A simple question to ask for this is, “What do you see?” This does not come naturally to all. Often I’ll ask a question about details which are right in front of their noses, but instead of giving me what we just read, the students offer thoughtful answers from their brains. Usually the answers are not wrong, BUT I want to them how to study, so I point them back to the verse and ask how the verse answers the question.

2. Ask about conclusions they might reach from the text. This teaches the student to think about the word and use proper logic. An excellent opener for these questions is “Why…?” Why did Eve eat the fruit? Why did Adam eat the fruit? Comparison questions are also helpful: Did they eat for the same reason? Do you see a difference in how God treated Adam vs. how He treated Eve?

3. Ask about how they should respond to what they read. This teaches them to apply what they read. True Bible study is not complete until it moves us. In many cases, the application can be praise and worship–just sitting in awe of who God is–a quite appropriate response to His word! Other responses may include a need to repent of sin or to make changes in how we treat one another. It may be a new or renewed commitment to the Lord.

As you learn to use questions more and more effectively, I’m sure you’ll discover tons of exciting developments in your study and teaching habits. I’d love to hear about them! God bless you in your studies and growth.

This Mystery: Christ in You!

Do you like a good mystery? We like solving things. We like riddles…but only if we finally get the answer. It’s no fun if the riddle remains unsolved. Who would enjoy mystery novels where the villain was never caught?

Paul speaks of the mystery of the gospel in several of his writings, and the joyous point of the mystery is that it used to be a mystery but God has now revealed it all!

Notice Colossians 1.24-27:

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

Perhaps we have read this so many times that the mystery no longer holds a glory for us. Or perhaps we don’t understand the context of what Paul was writing.

He was writing to Gentiles, non-Jews. The Jews were God’s chosen people since the time of Moses. They were specially selected to receive God’s Ten Commandments and book of laws, to follow those laws, and to be a holy nation in a special relationship with God. The Gentiles didn’t enjoy that kind of access to God. They didn’t know God like the Israelites knew Him. God didn’t form the same kind of relationship with all nations.

BUT God had promised in the law and the prophets that He would bless all nations through the seed of Abraham. The mystery was in just how and when and through whom God would keep those promises.

Now the mystery has been revealed in the gospel of Jesus Christ, and Paul had the great honor of teaching the Gentile world about that gospel.

What is so glorious about the mystery, according to Paul? It’s “Christ in you, the hope of glory”! Specifically, it’s Christ in the Gentiles!

In a similar passage, Paul wrote, “This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3.6).

Paul reveled and rejoiced in revealing that mystery, and I hope we can all rejoice along with him. Don’t gratitude and love fill your breast as you think of what God has done for you and for the world? Do you not burn with a desire to worship the God who comes to live in you?! Jesus told His disciples in John 14.19-20, “Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” A few verses later, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (John 14.23).

Thank You, Lord Jesus!

Bored with God’s Word? Try a Media Fast

What grates my nerves? “I’m bored. There’s nothing to do.”

First, it’s whiny and complaining.

Second, how in the world can you be bored?!

We often teach our children to be bored by giving them too much entertainment. We teach them that being entertained is the greatest pleasure in life–a magnificent lie. How do we teach them this? We live it in front of them. We go to the movies, watch shows on the computer and our phones, play games on our phones, surf social sites for the latest amazing content.

Entertain us!

Indulging in this way, we lose important gifts from God–imagination and creativity. No longer can we entertain ourselves; we must be entertained by others. No longer can we appreciate the immediate world around us; we must be stimulated by the digital world. No longer can we gain pleasure from simple things around us; we must be pleasured. No longer can we enjoy relationships with the people next to us; we must seek enjoyment from super-interesting strangers online.

What if the internet crashed?

What if TV, movies, social sites vanished?

What if we couldn’t check the news or download podcasts?

Would we THEN read a book? Would we THEN spend time with our families? Would we THEN build something? Would we THEN write a poem? Would we THEN spend time with our own thoughts? Would we THEN pray? Would we THEN study God’s word? Would we THEN take time to visit with our Christian brothers and sisters, even when it’s not on Sunday?

It fascinates me that Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, is entirely concerned with God’s word. How can a man write a 176-verse poem about God’s word? Who has the time? Who has the attention span? Who has the desire?

Who is going to read it?

Not only is it 176 verses long, David (the author) divided it into 22 eight-verse sections. It turns out, the poem is acrostic, each eight-verse section devoted to one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. It’s masterful, beautiful, artful.

I don’t see many writing things like that today. We are of the Tweeting generation, which has to limit our opinions to 280 characters or fewer. If you are still reading this article, you have more stick-with-it power than most today, and this is a short article!

Can you say the following, with David?

“In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches. I will meditate on your precepts and fix my eyes on your ways. I will delight in your statutes; I will not forget your word.” (Ps. 119.14-16)

“Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law.” (Ps. 119.18)

“Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways.” (Ps. 119.37)

“At midnight I rise to praise you, because of your righteous rules.” (Ps. 119.62)

“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.” (Ps. 119.97)

“My eyes are awake before the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promise.” (Ps. 119.148)

“Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous rules.” (Ps. 119.164)

Have we lost focus? Has passion fled? If so, it’s because we have not taken time with God’s word. If we would just pick it up and faithfully read it, God will restore our passion for it. God’s word is a fire!

“Did not our hearts burn within us while he talked to us on the road, while he opened to us the Scriptures?” (Luke 24.32)

CHALLENGE: Take a media fast. Put away digital entertainment for a week. Instead, spend at least 30 minutes a day reading the Word. Ask questions about it. Jot some notes down about your readings.

I’ll guarantee three things:

  1. You will not be sorry that you missed a week of digital input. As with most addictions, you may feel an emptiness and a fleshly pull to plug back in–but when you reach the end of the week, you won’t be sorry.
  2. You will be inspired and energized through your time in God’s word. It might feel difficult at first, since you are changing your routine and thinking in ways you’re not used to, but you’ll be happy you did it!
  3. You will learn that putting your mind to work is far from boring! We often believe hard work kills imagination and creativity, but the truth is opposite.

Try it! I’d love to hear how it goes 🙂