Everyone wants to be right. We want to be in the right relationship. We want to be in the right job. We want to be in the right church. We want to be in the right position of service. So what’s wrong with right? Probably no better picture is portrayed for us about right being wrong than the picture of the Pharisees in the days of Jesus. They did everything right . . . and yet got it all wrong. Let’s take a look at some of the things they did right.
They prayed (Matthew 6:5)
They went to the synagogue (Luke 18:10)
They gave a tithe of everything they possessed (Luke 11:42)
They fasted (Luke 18:12)
Judging from the externals, the Pharisees seemed to be doing it all right. They were models of obedience, discipline, and holy zeal for the things of God. So what was so wrong with all of their right? Everything they did was done for the wrong reasons. Here is just a portion of the seven woes to the Pharisees delivered from the lips of our Lord.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. (Matthew 23:23-28)
What was true of the Pharisees in the days of Jesus is true for us today. Doing the right things for all the wrong reasons is not what God wants! God does not want our obedience for the sake of our obedience; He wants hearts from which loving obedience flows as a response to God for all that He has done for us.
The Pharisees were obedient for all the wrong reasons. They sought the approval of God and the applause of man. Their form of obedience is called legalism; sadly, legalism is alive and well in the church today. It is rooted in a misunderstanding of the Gospel that tries to earn God’s favor and receive His blessings through a slavish obedience. No matter how faithful we are in keeping the law of God, when our heart is not right, we are all wrong.
It is only the power of the Gospel that frees us from pursuing the approval of God and the applause of man, because the Gospel teaches us that we already have everything we need in Christ. As my pastor Tullian posted just today on his blog, Jesus + Nothing = Everything!
What the Pharisees did was not wrong. It was right to pray, go to the synagogue, tithe, and fast. It was wrong to do it because they expected to earn a reward. When we are convinced that we already have all that we need in Jesus, then we are freed to serve and worship our God with hearts that are overflowing with love and devotion, not legalism and duty. God never wants our hands without our hearts; when we give Him our hearts with our hands, we are right even . . . when we go wrong.
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!