The Frat Brothers of Saul

John the Baptist came preaching about a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, and he did not win many friends among the Pharisees (Mark 1:4, 5, Luke 3:7-8). Luke 7:30 tells us that the Pharisees rejected God’s purpose for themselves; now that’s taking your destiny into your own hands. They were hard-hearted and Jesus still loved them. But people who hide behind masks don’t like to be around those who peel them off, Jesus could see right through the Pharisees phony spirituality.

There was one guy named Nicodemus that needed to know more, and came to Jesus with some questions (John 3:1-2). He was not alone (John 12:42) but they were sort of behind the scenes followers who wanted to keep it quiet for fear of being fired. They loved the praise of men more than praise from God (John 12:43). We should not be too quick to condemn them since all of us at one time or another had remained silent seeking the approval of others.

By the time we get to John 11, we see evil making plans to get rid of the problem preacher since many people were coming to faith in Jesus (John 11:45, 48, 53). Did they fear the loss of the nation or really the loss of their “place” in the temple (John 11:48)? What a prophetic word, that it is better for one man to die for the people than that the whole nation perish (John 11:50).

These were the teachers and classmates of Paul; a glimpse of religion gone wild. Do not underestimate the evil that is deep within our hearts. One prominent tool the enemy uses is self-interest that leads to manipulation of others.

For a time, the Pharisees believed they had won; Jesus was dead, He even declared “it is finished” (John 19:30). They did all they could to make sure it stayed finished, but the resurrection still happened. In our lives, think about what is really finished and what is not. Our salvation is finished, Jesus paid it all, but our sanctification is not finished. We will spend the rest of our lives growing in godliness and into the image of Christ himself (Romans 8:29).

Jesus does not save us to let us live the rest of our lives without him. He wants to be involved in your marriage, your family, your work place, your school. With God’s power we can change into the kind of men that God desires for us to become. He changes us from the inside out. We are to be crucified with Christ and allow Jesus to live through us (Galatians 2:20). We are bought with a price and we are no longer to live without God (1 Corinthians 6:20).

Love the Lord or the Law?

Paul had grown up in the home of a Pharisee, under strict adherence to the Law of Moses. The term Pharisee once represented genuine piety and deep devotion to God. We can assume that all followers of God would have a similar devotion for God. Look around at the Christians you know. How would you define what a follower of Jesus really looks like? Perhaps your list might look something like this:

  1. Careful student of Scripture
  2. Zealous and active in their stand for God
  3. Appetite for worship and prayer
  4. Consistent in worship attendance
  5. Practices Scripture memorization
  6. Not afraid to pray in public
  7. Active in the local church
  8. Fasts and tithes regularly
  9. Has desire to stand against blasphemy and ungodliness
  10. Has firm grasp of basic foundational theological truth

For a long time I thought this is what would honor God and help me become more like Jesus. But look again; these behaviors are not of Jesus’ disciples, but of His chief opponents, the Pharisees. Just something to think about.

While there are exceptions, by the time of the New Testament it appears that the Pharisees become synonymous with hypocrisy and cynicism. In Matthew 23, Jesus gets into a name-calling argument with the Pharisees.

  1. They made demands on others that they could not themselves keep (Matthew 23:4)
  2. They made their religious actions something into a show for others (Matthew 23:5)
  3. They loved to be at the center of attention (Matthew 23:6)
  4. They not only would not enter the kingdom of God but were preventing others from entering (Matthew 23:13)

I suppose what they really did was take the love out of obedience, which left only the Law. They became so obsessed with following the Law that they forgot to love God, and others. They choked on each letter of the Law, and God had something to say about them, Isaiah 29:13 for example: “These people come near to me with their mouth and honor Me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. Their worship of Me is made up of only rules taught by men.”

Let’s check our motivation for following Christ. Let’s make sure that we follow Him out of love for God and not the reward from God, or simply to be obedient. Paul was a Pharisee, but he was far from God. Let’s not make the same mistake of having a head full of religion and a heart that is missing genuine love for God.