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Chapter 1 - Being “right" is not the same as
Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. - Matthew 23:27
A timely warning for Christians. The Pharisees were held accountable for allowing themselves to come to the point of self-deception and blindness that resulted in their acting hypocritically. Rather than considering the Pharisees from a perspective of condescension, we should consider how easily we can and do fall into the same trap.
One of the things exhorted in the bible is Christian unity. Sadly one of the most noticeable characteristics of Christians over the centuries is a tendency to attack and even kill each other. While denominations no longer launch armies against each other, there is often scathing denunciation or mocking derision held for any who adopt a doctrinal “flag” other than one’s own.
This is not a recent phenomena;
For it hath been declared unto me of you, my brethren, by them which are of the house of Chloe, that there are contentions among you. Now this I say, that every one of you saith, I am of Paul; and I of Apollos; and I of Cephas; and I of Christ. Is Christ divided? was Paul crucified for you? or were ye baptized in the name of Paul? - 1 Corinthians 1:11-13
Today we might find those who claim Christ to say, “I am of Luther", “I am of Calvin", or “I am of KJV only". A common thread through these is a prideful arrogance, a feeling of having “gotten it right", and even a mocking of others. This lack of humility is the same condition to be found with the Pharisees.
Part of the problem is attempting to run Christianity as an organized system as opposed to just simple relations between people. Two people have more of a chance to work out problems between each other. Organizational systems usually define themselves in opposition to other systems such that there is little chance to resolve differences as remaining steadfast is seen as the only way to defend the organization from attack.
An individual may seek to learn and change his views as he grows in understanding. An organization cannot allow change as it would be seen as an acknowledgment of error.
Here we see the problem with organizations. They have to claim to be “right". Christianity was intended to be dynamic with each Christian growing and maturing. Organizational systems tend to be static requiring compliance and adherence to doctrinal declarations they have deemed not only to be “right” but by definition also “complete”.
In a way, the organizational system approach to Christianity serves as a model for what goes wrong in a Christians life when he begins to follow the path of the Pharisees. There is an established template of what is “right”. This then leads us to focus on works and accomplishment. We then see ourselves as having appropriated “rightness” and begin to be prideful for our faithful accomplishments.
The Christian life was never intended to be agreement with a particular creed or set of doctrinal statements. Christianity is so much more.
Christ in you, the hope of glory: - Colossians 1:27b
The Christian has new and eternal life, the life of Christ. We have God living in us and desirous to work in us to turn from our old selfish and destructive nature and allow his work in us to make us a new creation inclined to righteousness. Our transformation is to be much more than “doing good” or “being right”. In fact, it is when we think of ourselves, this way, we actually elevate our flesh (pride) and make ourselves useless for God to work in us.
One way to reflect on this problem is to consider how we deal with error. A Christian being led by the Spirit of God is going to be actively seeking how to be more like Jesus. He is going to make mistakes, but be open to instruction and correction, in fact he will be seeking it out. In contrast the Christian attached to an organizational system may become rather inert. He may have his desire to follow the Lord channeled into rituals or rule observance so that his actions can be measured and verified to be in compliance. This is what happened to the Pharisees. They were no longer living by faith as Abraham did. Rather they saw in the law which was supposed to expose their sinfulness and humble need for a Savior a way to prove their own righteousness. When the promised Messiah (Jesus) finally did arrive, they not only could not recognize him, but they saw him as a threat and felt the need to kill him.
For I say unto you, That except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no case enter into the kingdom of heaven. - Matthew 5:20
This book is an attempt to expand on how this Pharisaical “leaven’ can come to infest and cripple a Christian. The Christian may have never had any intention other than to serve his Lord. Yet, in spite of every good intention, come to see self-righteousness as a substitute for the righteousness of Christ. We are all subject to these influences. It is not so much a matter of resisting sin, as it is being aware of how our inattention can allow us to drift, our fear can cause us to seek comfort, and how our vanity can approve that which cripples our faith. Like a ship’s captain that has lost his ability to see his compass, the Christian who becomes so diverted is likely to end up at a destination he did not expect.
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