“Jesus said to them, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you. For John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him.””
Matthew 21:31-32
In our world today, the term “Pharisee” conjures up images of hypocrisy and judgmentalism, but it is important to note that in the first century, the Pharisees were highly regarded. They were the holy men who kept the law; they pursued purity with a sincere passion and wanted nothing more than to live lives that pleased God.
Why was God not impressed by those who wanted to do their very best for Him? Why was their strict, disciplined approach to living according to the law of God scorned and rejected by Jesus? Isn’t self-disciplined obedience pleasing to God? Wasn’t this exactly what God was calling for throughout the Old Testament?
Absolutely not! Doing our best to keep the law in order to please God does not and can not bring salvation! Our very best works are so polluted by sin, that they appear before God as filthy rags. Doing our best to keep the law in order to please God only brings dead, religious formalism. And beware – the seed of a Pharisee is in every heart!
Religious formalists hide behind maintaining appearances. Every fault, every struggle, every evidence of sin must be covered up and hidden at all costs to maintain the appearance of having it all together! The danger is real for every member in the church, but perhaps even more so for those who are leaders and teachers. The temptation to maintain a reputation can be blinding!
Nothing irks a religious formalist more than the absolute, undeserved salvation of a bar or brothel maid. The tax-collectors and prostitutes of Jesus’ day knew that they had no hope of ever gaining salvation by their lives – their only hope was a salvation completely outside of themselves! And when John the Baptist proclaimed the coming of the Messiah – they believed!
Does your “religious formalism” or “pharisaic rule-keeping” play some part in your hope of salvation, or do you cast yourself completely on Jesus alone – along with hookers and drug-users who have found Him to be their only hope? When we have truly found Jesus, we find a joy, a transformation, and an excitement in the gospel that no amount of rule-keeping could ever provide! Hallelujah! What a Saviour!