Tag Archives: Pharisee

What did Jesus think of religion?

Jesus had an uncanny ability to infuriate people!

No_20Religion_20for_20siteOn several occasions Jesus went toe-to-toe with the religious leaders and one of their “hot buttons” was what constituted work on the Sabbath. (Mk 2:23-28; 3:1-6)

Jesus used the Sabbath to heal and bless others which, while keeping with God’s original intent, angered the religious elite because it violated their rules. What we see in these encounters is Jesus putting on display two radically different spiritual paradigms. A paradigm is simply a particular way of viewing or approaching something.

One paradigm is religion, which is merely a person’s efforts to follow advice about how to secure God’s favor. It take’s many forms but all boils down to this: I receive from God what I work for or earn.

The other paradigm is the Gospel, which begins and ends with news. Something truly amazing has been done for us and we simply need to embrace it.

It’s sort of like this…

Suppose you had a loved one who needed a heart transplant to live and I possessed a heart that doctors could use to save them.

If I said: “If you do everything I tell you to do and do it well enough to earn my favor then I will allow you this heart to save your loved one.” That’s religion.

If I said: “Here is a heart for your loved one. I want you to have it as a gift. In fact, I’ve allowed my own son to die so that your loved one could live.”  That’s the Gospel.

The Gospel is so much better than religion but the Pharisees couldn’t handle it. After one such encounter “the Pharisees went out and began to plot with the Herodians how they might kill Jesus.” (Mk 3:6) This is staggering because the Pharisees and Herodians were arch enemies!

The Pharisees fought to preserve the integrity and purity of God’s word while the Herodians were Jews who compromised in order to get along with King Herod – the Roman ruler. Their approaches to life and God were polar opposites! Tim Keller in Jesus the King sums it up well.

The “traditional values” approach to life is moral conformity—the approach taken by the Pharisees. It is that you must lead a very, very good life. The progressive approach, embodied in the Herodians, is self-discovery—you have to decide what is right or wrong for you. And according to the Bible, both of these are ways of being your own savior and lord. Both are hostile to the message of Jesus. And not only that, both lead to self-righteousness. The moralist says, “The good people are in and the bad people are out—and of course we’re the good ones.” The self-discovery person says, “Oh, no, the progressive, open-minded people are in and the judgmental bigots are out—and of course we’re the open-minded ones.”

Do these two approaches to life and God sound familiar? They should! They are how most people do life today. But Keller goes on to describe how the Gospel is different.

The gospel does not say, “the good are in and the bad are out,” nor “the open-minded are in and the judgmental are out.” The gospel says the humble are in and the proud are out. The gospel says the people who know they’re not better, not more open-minded, not more moral than anyone else, are in, and the people who think they’re on the right side of the divide are most in danger.

Which of the following are you putting your trust in?

  • The keeping of certain moral standards… (Pharisees)
  • The right to determine your own moral standards… (Herodians), or
  • The Gospel… that we are all sinners (truth) in need of God’s forgiveness (grace) made available through Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection!


© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2013. All rights reserved.


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Filed under Christianity, God, Grace, Jesus, Religion and Spirituality, Truth

God’s grace is enough!

Nicodemus comes to Jesus in the middle of the night. (John 3) He is part of the Pharisees, a religious group that believed God was not showing up to deliver the Jews from Roman control because they were not keeping every little detail of the law. So they pursued getting it right!

Jesus minced no words with Nicodemus but spoke immediately of his need to be born again in order to be part of God’s kingdom. Just like our first birth, being born again of the Spirit is not something we control. We cannot earn God’s favor or forgiveness; we can only accept His gift of grace.

Shortly after this encounter with Nicodemus, Jesus intentionally encounters a woman at a well in Samaria. (John 4) Jews despised the Samaritans because they married non-Jews and dishonored the law of God. Every good Jew avoided Samaritans at all cost… except Jesus.

This woman came for water in the middle of the day to avoid any encounters with the other women. She didn’t need their scorn or snide remarks to remind her of the many mistakes she had made in life.

Jesus crossed a cultural boundary and offered her a drink that would satisfy the deepest longings of her soul. He even revealed Himself to her as the Messiah. When the townspeople responded in faith, Jesus stayed with them for a couple of days before moving on.

To the man who tried to do everything right, Jesus said: “You can’t be right enough to earn God’s grace.”

To the woman who did everything wrong, Jesus said: “You can’t mess up badly enough to be beyond the reach of God’s grace.”

Most of us likely fall somewhere in between Nicodemus and the woman at the well. In fact, we probably bounce back and forth once in a while. At times we give ourselves wholeheartedly to getting it right only to be disappointed at our failure to do so.

So we swing the other direction and suffer through feeling too messed up to even have a part in God’s kingdom. We perceive that our mess is bigger and deeper than God’s grace. But…

God’s grace is enough!


© Richard Alvey and iLife Journey, 2012. All rights reserved.


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Filed under Brokenness, Christianity, Forgiveness, God, Grace, Guilt, Kingdom of God, Religion and Spirituality, Sin, Surrender

Jesus’ hiding place

Few can say it better than Brennan Manning.

“The heart of the Father was Jesus’ hiding place, a strong protective space where God was near, where the desert intimacy was renewed, where trust, love, and self-awareness never died but were continually rekindled. In times of opposition, rejection, hatred, and danger he retreated to that hiding place where he was loved.

In times of weakness and fear a strength and mighty perseverance were born there. In the face of mounting incomprehension and mistrust, the Father alone understood him.

No one knows who the Son is except the Father… ~ Luke 10:22

The Pharisees plotted secretly to destroy him; fair-weather friends shifted their allegiance; one disciple denied him and another betrayed him; but nothing could remove Jesus from his Father’s love.

In the seclusion of desert places he rendezvoused with El Shaddai, and what those moments meant to him can scarcely be apprehended. But this much can be said: the primary, growing, definitive identity and consciousness of Jesus to be his Father’s Son, Servant, and Beloved was profoundly reinforced.

Nothing must interfere with proclaiming the Good News of eternal life and helping people to a way of life that would enable them to grow toward eternity – a way of peace and justice, with room for human dignity to be recognized and for love to blossom.”
~ From The Gentle Revolutionaries by Brennan Manning

“Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” ~ Lamentations 3:22-23

May we all find our hiding place in the heart of the Father!


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Filed under God, Heart, intimacy with the Lord, Love of God, Trusting God

For the sake of our kids’ faith

I’ve blogged the last two days about hypocrisy and our need to be more authentic, but there is one more detail that demands our attention.

In yesterdays’ blog I mentioned a book entitled Unchristian and the statistic that 85% of young adults believe that Christians are hypocrites – saying one thing but doing another. That is a sobering reality but there is another statistic from the same book that is also disturbing.

Forty-seven percent of young adults inside the church hold the same opinion, that Christians are hypocrites.

As a pastor and father of six children who have been raised in the church this is very alarming. It is one reason why so many young people who grow up in the church end up walking away from church and God after they graduate.

Jesus’ harshest words were directed at the teachers of the law and Pharisees because of this issue of hypocrisy. And according to Jesus, hypocrisy is not just the failure to live up to what we aspire to, we all do that; the real core issue that makes hypocrisy so ugly is giving attention to outward things in an attempt to make people think that you are actually living up to what you aspire to.

The reality is that we aren’t doing as well as we think we are. It’s so easy to recognize hypocrisy in others but miss our own. In Matthew 23 Jesus levels some hard-hitting indictments at the religious leaders and at one point says this:

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites – you blind men!

In some ways, these men had to be aware of their hypocrisy. But in other ways, they were not. They were blind to their own sinfulness and hypocrisy. And the same is true of us. Just as there are blind spots when we drive, there are  blind spots when we consider how we are doing in living authentically as God intended.

The solution? Humility of heart that invites others to speak into our lives about those areas we might be blind to. It’s not easy, but it is very possible and absolutely necessary.

For the sake of our kids’ faith, we must pursue greater authenticity!


Filed under Authenticity, Family, Humility, Parenting

Remember, others are watching!

Yesterday I blogged about the term hypocrite and how it was Jesus who took a word used simply to describe actors on a stage and used it as a stinging rebuke against the religious leaders of His day. But is it really that big of a deal?


It is critical for both those inside the church and those outside the church.

To those inside the church Jesus said…

“But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” ~ Matthew 5:20

We are saved by grace, but that is no excuse for living as we please. We are children of God and if our outward behavior doesn’t match up with what we profess to believe about Jesus being our Savior and Lord, then we won’t get to experience heaven. That’s about as serious as it gets!

But this issue of hypocrisy is also critical to those outside the church. A book entitled Unchristian written a few years ago is based on a research study that shows eighty-five percent of unchurched young adults believe Christians to be hypocritical. Eighty-five percent say Christians say one thing, do something else.

Wow! Even if you allow for some misperceptions and drop those percentages by 10 percent you’re still looking at some staggering numbers. No wonder more people aren’t attracted to God’s church.

I’m convinced that part of what attracted people to Jesus was the fact that how He lived matched up with what He taught. A person who lives with that kind of authenticity is not only rare but very appealing.

We have to give ourselves to living more authentically. Not only because we don’t want to miss out on experiencing heaven, but because we don’t want to discourage others who don’t yet have a relationship with God.

Remember, others are watching!


Filed under Authenticity, Children of God, Christianity, Evangelism, Heaven, influence with the world

Two ways to be our own god

Cover of "The Prodigal God: Recovering th...

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Most people miss it. I did until I read some insights by a guy named Tim Keller in a book entitled The Prodigal God. In Luke 15 Jesus responds to grumbling from the Pharisees and teachers of the law by offering three parables. A lost lamb, a lost coin and a father with two sons.

The third parable is considerably larger and gets more of our attention. We need the lesson of the younger brother, that our sin can’t take us beyond the reach of the Father’s grace. But Jesus is teaching us more in this parable.

Nearly half of this parable involves the elder brother who rejects the father’s gracious actions toward the younger brother and refuses to enter into the celebration. Jesus is showing us that there are basically two ways to be lost; to be our own god and savior.

  • One is to ignore God and do whatever we want. Disregard His boundaries in life and act as if He doesn’t exist. That’s what we see in the younger brother.
  • The other way is to diligently obey certain aspects of life with God in order to gain leverage with Him. Sort of like bartering with God. I’ve done this and this and this God so you owe me prosperity or health or a cushy retirement or… fill in the blank. That’s what we see in the elder brother.

The truth is that all human beings are lost and in need of God’s grace. We all struggle with the issue of wanting to be in control; of being our own god. As dangerous as it is to do life as a younger brother who rejects and ignores God, it is even more dangerous to unknowingly do life with God as the elder brother.

Stop and consider all that you do in regard to God. Attend church, pray, put money in the offering trays, teach a class… etc. Now ask yourself this vital question:

Why do I do it?

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting. ~ Psalm 139:23-24

 Am I doing any of it to earn God’s favor and gain leverage with Him or am I simply responding to His love?


Filed under Authenticity, Christianity, intimacy with the Lord, Loving God

Grumbling again


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It was a familiar pattern. Jesus shows up. Peoples lives are touched in miraculous ways. The religious leaders grumble and complain. Unbelievable!

There were a variety of occasions for their complaining and just as many reasons. Perhaps it was because Jesus was taking the spotlight away from them. Maybe it was because their status quo was all of a sudden challenged by this unknown upstart from Nazareth.

One thing is certain. He just wasn’t doing things… the way they’d always been done! One of my favorite episodes occurs in Luke 15 where we read this account:

Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” ~ Luke 15:1-2

They were bothered because people who had previously wanted nothing to do with God were gathering around Jesus! The religious leaders likely would not have gotten within 10 feet of such filthy people. But they felt drawn to this unorthodox young teacher.

The particular Greek wording used here indicates that this kind of thing happened all the time; it was ongoing. The sinners, the morally bankrupt, wanted nothing to do with the Pharisees and teachers of the law but were continually flocking to Jesus.

Where are the sinners and morally bankrupt flocking today?

Where do they feel drawn?

Why isn’t it to us or the church?

Just wondering!


Filed under Christianity, Evangelism, Jesus