Tag Archives: Mercy

God’s Grace.

One of Jesus’ most powerful parables is also one of the most well known: the story of the prodigal son. In terms of offering hope nothing matches the incredible story of God’s redemption and grace.

You may recall that the younger of the father’s two sons demanded his inheritance before his father died. It was an audacious and arrogant ultimatum but one the father agreed to honor. Upon receipt of his share of the estate, the son sets off for a foreign land where he quickly squanders the funds on riotous living. Destitute and starving, he lands a menial job feeding swine. For a young Jewish boy nothing could be more humiliating. He had hit rock bottom.

In time he comes to his senses and decides to return home. Certain his behavior has permanently severed the relationship with his dad, the son develops a narrative he hopes earns his dad’s mercy: “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant” (Luke 15:18-19, NLT).

The son believes his father loves him conditionally. As long as he acts uprightly, honors the family name, and doesn’t rebel, his father will love him. But any shameful or inappropriate behavior will cause that love to cease. In light of his debauchery the son concludes his dad no longer considers him family. His only hope lies in offering to work as a servant.

Does that reflect your view of God? Have you failed Him in the past and now believe He no longer loves you? Has a lifetime of rebellious behavior led you to conclude you can never be part of God’s family? Do you share the prodigal son’s view that you have to earn God’s mercy or that His forgiveness is conditioned on acts of contrition? If so, you’re going to love the rest of this story.

As the son approaches home his dad sees him and races out to greet him with hugs and kisses. Awash with joy, the father ignores the entreaty his son has rehearsed and instead tells the servants to bring a luxurious robe, the family ring, and comfortable sandals for his son to wear. What’s more, he instructs the staff to kill the prized calf and prepare a feast. It’s time to celebrate! What a remarkable contrast to the reception the prodigal son expected.

Jesus’ point could not be clearer. God loves unconditionally. Nothing we do – no sin, no act of rebellion – can separate us from His love. Equally comforting is the fact that we do not have to work our way back into God’s favor. He extends mercy to all who ask and does not insist we earn it.

Have you avoided God because you assumed He wouldn’t want you? Have you languished in despair over the idea that too much evil has flowed from your heart to earn God’s grace? Have you avoided committing your life to Christ because you believe He only calls the righteous? Well take heart. None of that is true.

God’s mercy and forgiveness await all who come. Like the father in the parable, He stands ready to receive you and enthusiastically awaits your arrival. Isn’t it time to take that journey?

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The Fear of the Lord.

A growing but troubling trend in the church today is the movement away from teaching believers to fear the Lord. I was reminded of this recently when a respected pastor informed his congregation that to properly fulfill God’s purpose in life they needed a perspective adjustment. Specifically, they needed to view God through the lens of love rather than fear. Only then could they enjoy His presence; only then could they fully comprehend and follow Him.

On the one hand, I understand this perspective. Many pastors grew up in churches that emphasized the fear of the Lord to the exclusion of His love. Their ministers taught the wrath of God, the terrible day of the Lord, and pounded on the existence and dangers of hell. Irrespective of the text on any given Sunday, the pulpit would intertwine these themes into the message. Many of the youth in these churches eventually learned the existence of God’s love, mercy and grace elsewhere and it resonated with them.

Fast forward a couple decades and some of these youth have become the pastors, leaders, speakers, and teachers of today’s church. In an effort to avoid falling into the same trap their ministers did, today’s pastors often ignore wrath, hell, and the fear of the Lord altogether. But emphasizing the love of the Lord to the exclusion of His judgment is dangerous. Such a narrow and incomplete view of God produces Christian lifestyles and attitudes that often mirror those exhibited in secular society.

Absent a reason to fear God our motivation to obey Him often diminishes. Moreover, God’s forgiveness, mercy, and compassion are unnecessary if His wrath does not exist. An accurate and healthy understanding of God, then, recognizes that each of these attributes represent His character.

The early church understood this truth. In Acts we learn that “the churches throughout all Judea, Galilee, and Samaria had peace and were edified. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, they were multiplied” (Acts 9:31, NKJV). These churches experienced considerable growth because they walked in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit. They didn’t stress one characteristic of God over another. Instead, they held a complete view of God, which included both His compassion and His judgment. A healthy view of God always incorporates fear and love.

Some readers may wonder what value exists in teaching the fear of the Lord. Others argue that such instruction turns people away from God. To attract modern society, they argue, we need to abandon any talk of fear, wrath, or judgment. But without an appropriate fear of God and respect for His standard of holiness, people and cultures adopt sinful lifestyles without concern for eternal consequences.

The prophet Malachi tells us that God brings judgment, “Because the people do not fear the Lord of hosts” (Malachi 3:5). Absent a suitable fear of God, we enter into sin lightly until it becomes an established habit. The writer of Proverbs describes the anecdote for such behavior like this: “By the fear of the Lord one departs from evil” (Proverbs 16:6, NKJV).

In Revelation, the apostle John uses the following language to summarize the everlasting gospel, “Fear God, give Him glory … and worship Him,” (Revelation 14:6-7). While mercy and forgiveness represent critical components of the gospel, no need for either exists without judgment and wrath. A vibrant understanding of our need for God’s love and compassion begins with a proper fear of God. They go hand-in-hand.

And recall King Solomon. He invested considerable resources, energy, and time pursuing every action, thought, and philosophy to discover the meaning of life. He distills his findings into the following wisdom: “Here is the conclusion of the whole matter; Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man” (Ecclesiastes 12:13, NKJV). The essence of our purpose is to know God, and that includes a healthy fear of Him; doing so reflects reverence and recognition of His greatness.

Solomon spoke from experience. Early in life He possessed a healthy fear of God and conducted His affairs accordingly. But as that fear diminished His obedience waned and He began committing a variety of abominations that led to his downfall.

Other benefits from fearing the Lord include the development of wisdom (see Psalms 111:10; Proverbs 1:7, 9:10), God’s blessing (Psalm 112:1; 128:1,4), and an understanding of the mysteries of God (Psalm 25:14). In fact, societies that teach and embrace a healthy fear of God experience renewal and restoration. That is an outcome sorely needed in America today. In closing, I encourage Christian leaders to reinstate a healthy fear of the Lord into their sermons and for churchgoers to embrace that message. It is one that has the power to transform our nation.

Guilt – Conviction – Grace

An increasingly popular view among Christians is that God does not want us to feel bad about ourselves. Since by God’s grace no condemnation awaits the believer, we often conclude that any feelings of guilt or remorse are an attempt by Satan to diminish our joy and spoil our delight in the Lord. Since God builds His people up and such emotions run counter to that objective, they cannot come from Him.

But we need to be careful. While the devil indeed uses guilt to demoralize us, a danger exists when we assume that feelings of remorse and shame never have a place in a Christian’s life; that they are contrary to a healthy faith. In fact, we do ourselves a spiritual disservice when we categorically dismiss such emotions as an attempt by Satan to render us spiritually ineffective. Scripture actually informs us those feelings play a critical role in our spiritual growth and maturation.

The apostle Paul wrote the following words to the church at Corinth, after learning of their sorrow over his first epistle to them: “For even if I made you sorry with my letter, I do not regret it” (2 Corinthians 7:8, NKJV). His first message had made the church uncomfortable and led to feelings of grief, yet Paul doesn’t apologize for or regret his words. How could so prominent a church leader be so insensitive to the feelings of believers? Listen to his reasoning.

Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner. What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter” (vs. 9-11, emphasis mine).

Paul informs us there are instances when sorrow and remorse are appropriate. Indeed, he clearly asserts they represent a godly response to sin. Consequently, when he learned of the Corinthian church’s sorrow he rejoiced, because that sorrow led to repentance from the sins that had ensnared them. Whenever feelings of regret or guilt lead to repentance and the accompanying forgiveness, we too ought to rejoice.

Therein lies the distinction determining whether such emotions are healthy or unhealthy. When guilt surfaces for past sin from which we have already repented and received God’s forgiveness, we know Satan lies behind the attack and hopes to discourage and neutralize us. He loves to remind Christians of our past in a futile attempt to forget about his future. In such situations we should ignore our feelings of guilt and shame and instead rejoice over God’s mercy and forgiveness.

On the other hand, if such feelings are a product of unaddressed sin we’ve allowed to flourish in our lives – and from which we’ve never repented – then we know the Holy Spirit lies behind those pricks to our conscience. One of the critical roles the Holy Spirit plays in every believer’s life is bringing to bear conviction when we sin or toy with temptation. In such instances we need to confess our iniquity and ask God’s forgiveness. If we don’t, we risk becoming desensitized to the promptings of the Holy Spirit and suffering a slow spiritual decay.

Avoiding that outcome is one reason Paul tells us not to regret godly sorrow. It leads to salvation and a healthy relationship with Christ. In contrast, the world’s sorrow always produces death because it never recognizes the spiritual component of regret and guilt, and therefore can never properly address their root cause.

Take some time to examine the source of any guilt or shame you feel. Do not allow Satan to use those emotions to steal your joy and peace in Christ. But also resist the temptation to ignore them if they reveal the existence of ongoing sin. Remember, whenever we repent God extends His forgiveness.

How to Respond to God When We Sin.

We all sin. No matter how much we desire to obey God, there are times we fall short. Irrespective of the maturity of our faith, the passion of our worship, and our zeal for Christ, we will stumble and sin against the Lord. When that happens we must acknowledge our sin, repent, and ask God for forgiveness. Unfortunately, too often we take an approach that compounds the consequences of our sin and magnifies the gulf between God and us.

For example, when Adam and Eve disobeyed God’s command not to eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, they hid themselves. They knew they had done wrong and didn’t want to face the consequences. When He confronts them with their disobedience, Adam deflects blame away from himself. “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12, NKJV). Adam seems to suggest he has no culpability in the matter. God is partially to blame for giving him the woman and Eve is partially to blame for providing him fruit from the tree.

Not to be outdone, Eve adopts a similar approach when God questions her. “The serpent deceived me, and I ate” (vs. 13). Her defense points to the slimy snake as the source of her sin. But for its treachery she would have remained holy. Adam and Eve’s unwillingness to accept fault for their choices, to confess their disobedience, and to ask forgiveness drove a wedge in their relationship with God.

Another way many of us deal with sin in our life is to complain about God’s standards and insist His expectations are unreasonable. The nation of Israel demonstrated this time and again. God reveals their attitude when He tells the prophet Ezekiel, “The children of your people say, ‘The way of the Lord is not fair’” (Ezekiel 33:17, NKJV). Rather than admit their iniquity, they instead insist that God is wrong to hold them to His standards. They refused to be held accountable for their actions and attitudes.

Another common response is to ignore God altogether and not even acknowledge His words. We tend to do this whenever our rebellious heart refuses to concede some aspect of life to God. We simply ignore His call on that area of life. This is exemplified by the nation of Israel numerous times in the Old Testament. Zechariah tells us that they, in response to God’s commands, “refused to heed, shrugged their shoulders, and stopped their ears so that they could not hear. Yes, they made their hearts like flint, refusing to hear the … words which the Lord of hosts had sent by His Spirit” (Zechariah 7:11-12, NKJV).

Their unwillingness to heed God’s commands not only resulted in disobedience but also severed their relationship with Him. Their hearts became hardened. They were desensitized to God’s ways and grew more distant from Him with each act of rebellion. There are dire consequences when that happens. Paul tells us that at some point a sinner’s heart becomes so hardened that God gives them up to their lusts, vile passions, and debased mind (see Romans 1:22-28). At that moment they reach the point of no return, allowed to chase darkness without any further conviction from the Holy Spirit.

So how should we respond when God uses His Holy Spirit to convict us of sin in our lives? David provides a sound blueprint. When the prophet Nathan confronts him with his adultery and murder David cries out, “I have sinned against the Lord” (2 Samuel 12:13, NKJV). He does not offer excuses, deny his behavior, or shift the blame onto someone else. He confesses his sin and pleads for mercy. Psalm 51 captures his response in great detail and I encourage you to read it slowly. Allow David’s response to saturate your soul and provide a model for repentance and reconciliation with God.

Have mercy on me, O God,

    because of your unfailing love.

Because of your great compassion,

    blot out the stain of my sins.

Wash me clean from my guilt.

    Purify me from my sin.

For I recognize my rebellion;

    it haunts me day and night.

Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;

    I have done what is evil in your sight.

You will be proved right in what you say,

    and your judgment against me is just.

For I was born a sinner—

    yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.

But you desire honesty from the womb,

    teaching me wisdom even there.

Purify me from my sins, and I will be clean;

    wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.

Oh, give me back my joy again;

    you have broken me—

    now let me rejoice.

Don’t keep looking at my sins.

    Remove the stain of my guilt.

Create in me a clean heart, O God.

    Renew a loyal spirit within me.

Do not banish me from your presence,

    and don’t take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation,

    and make me willing to obey you.

Then I will teach your ways to rebels,

    and they will return to you.

Forgive me for shedding blood, O God who saves;

    then I will joyfully sing of your forgiveness.

Unseal my lips, O Lord,

    that my mouth may praise you.

You do not desire a sacrifice, or I would offer one.

    You do not want a burnt offering.

The sacrifice you desire is a broken spirit.

    You will not reject a broken and repentant heart, O God.

(Psalm 51:1-17, NLT).

David does a number of things in his prayer to God. He confesses the specifics of his sin, proclaims God’s standards are just, and admits his tendency to sin. He then pleads for God’s mercy, compassion, and forgiveness. He asks God to restore his joy and give him an obedient heart. He concludes by asking God for two things: an opportunity to share His ways with other rebellious people, and for a voice that sings praises to God.

The next time God lays conviction on your heart, don’t ignore it. Resist the temptation to justify your behavior. Avoid shifting the blame to someone else. Instead, follow the pattern offered by David. Confess, seek mercy, ask for God’s cleansing and restoration, and share His truth and love with others. Finally, sing with a grateful heart that He hears and answers your prayer!

Salvation & Discipleship: Two Halves to a Whole Faith

Irrespective of your age, ethnicity, citizenship, upbringing, wealth, or social status, you’ve likely given some thought to God and wondered what happens after you die. And if you’re like most people you’ve probably invested time reflecting on whether heaven exists and what requirements, if any, God demands from those who want to spend eternity with Him.

In your search for answers you may have studied various religions and spiritual texts to understand what God wants from you. Your research may have concluded that securing a place in heaven requires adherence to strict rules, being a moral person, or ensuring your good deeds outweigh your bad. You likely learned that most religions teach that you must earn your way to heaven and work hard to receive God’s mercy. Fortunately, none of this is true.

The fact is we cannot earn salvation. No matter how good our deeds, how holy our lives, or how hard we try, we will never do enough to merit eternal life. Why? Because God has established a standard of perfection to enter heaven. A single sin, then, separates us from God and operates as a barrier to eternal life.

Don’t despair, though, all is not lost. It turns out the truth is much better than having to work your way to heaven. God offers His love, mercy, and forgiveness (as well as eternal life) to anyone who wants it, irrespective of who they are, what they’ve done, or where they’re from. Best of all, God offers salvation without condition – it is a free gift. Scripture explains it like this: “For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9, NKJV).

However, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a cost. On the contrary, the cost is quite high. How is that possible? To comprehend this apparent dichotomy we need to understand the relationship between the gift of salvation and the cost of discipleship. They are not mutually exclusive concepts but rather two-halves to a whole and healthy faith. Let’s examine what God’s word says about both to discern how these truths co-exist in the Christian faith.

Basics of Salvation:

1] Repent. Repentance represents the first step to a renewed relationship with God. Both Jesus and John the Baptist initiated their ministries with a call to repentance, proclaiming, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!” (Matthew 3:2 and 4:17, NKJV). Repentance requires confessing our sins and asking for God’s forgiveness.

2] Place your faith in Jesus. Only the blood of Jesus removes the stain of sin from our lives and only His sacrificial death on the cross fulfills the requirement of the law. Jesus died that we might live for eternity. In fact, Scripture states, “There is salvation in no one else! God has given no other name under heaven by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12, NLT). Jesus removed any doubt about the singular path to salvation when he exclaimed, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6, NKJV). Later, after Jesus’ resurrection, the apostle Peter explained that Jesus “is the one all the prophets testified about, saying that everyone who believes in Him will have their sins forgiven through His name” (Acts 10:43, NLT).

3] Confess and Believe. Embrace Jesus as Lord of your life. The apostle Paul tells us how: “If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10, NLT).

We must believe and proclaim Jesus is Lord, and that belief must flow from the heart. This is critical because only then will we readily embrace all of Jesus’ teachings and pursue with joy the basics of discipleship outlined below. If our belief is limited to our intellect or emotions, we will reject Jesus’ claim on our lives.

4] Surrender your life to Christ. This is as critical an element of faith as any above, yet for some reason preachers, pastors, and priests often neglect it. Certainly the gift of salvation resonates with more people if we ignore this component of authentic faith. But to do so is to undermine the message of the cross. Besides, if we really believe with our heart that Jesus is Lord then we will enthusiastically surrender our lives to Him – knowing that He first surrendered His life for us.

The apostle Paul provided a clear articulation of this principle and how it relates to faith and grace in his letter to the church at Philippi. After outlining the many advantages he enjoyed before his conversion (wealth, status, power, education, and zeal) he asserts:

“But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:7-11, NKJV).

Paul captures beautifully the truth described earlier, that salvation is free but costs everything. On experiencing the saving grace of Christ, Paul chooses to count all things as loss. He does this not to earn salvation or God’s favor but that He might know Christ more intimately. He wants to remove all distractions and impediments from growing close to the Lord. Because his faith is genuine, he refuses to allow anything in this world to undermine it.

When we embrace Jesus as Lord with all our heart, we gladly echo Paul’s words to the church at Galatia: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me” (Galatians 2:20, NKJV).

Once you profess faith in Christ, embrace Him as Lord, and surrender your life to Him, it is time to get about the business of growing as His disciple. This involves a number of principles, many of which we have discussed in detail previously on this blog. I encourage you to review previous entries to learn more about what it means to live as Jesus’ follower. To get you started, here is a brief overview of what living as Jesus’ disciple involves.

Basics of Discipleship:

1] Cultivate your relationship with Christ. Nothing is as important to the condition of your faith as investing time nurturing a healthy, mature, intimate relationship with the Lord. Carve out time in your schedule to study the Bible, pray to God, and seek His presence on a regular basis. Create opportunities to worship and praise Him in private. Develop the habit of pursuing Him daily and make an effort to increase your time with Him as your faith matures.

2] Adopt Christ’s attributes. Embrace His standards of holiness in your speech, your conduct, your thoughts, and your relationships. Allow the Holy Spirit to transform you from someone focused on the things of this world and the desires of the flesh into someone focused on heavenly things and the desires of the Spirit. Allow Him to replace your pride with humility, your deceit with honesty, your rebellion with submission, your anger with gentleness, and your infidelity with faithfulness. Study the person of Jesus as revealed in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, and follow His example in all areas of your life.

3] Treat people as Jesus did. Demonstrate the love, mercy, kindness, gentleness, patience, selflessness, forgiveness and generosity of God to the world. Many will never know God unless they see Him exhibited in our lives on a daily basis. Represent the person of Christ in a way that honors Him by caring for the hurting, the depressed, the poor, the refugee, and the rejected.

4] Evangelize and disciple others. While walking the walk is critical, it is also important to identify opportunities to verbally share the good news of Jesus with others and help them grow in their faith. Ask God to provide you opportunities each week to make known His redemptive sacrifice and unconditional love for everyone, and then capitalize on those openings – even if it costs you your friends, short-circuits your career, or jeopardizes your safety.

If you have yet to repent, trust Jesus as Lord, and surrender your life to Him, I encourage you to consider making that decision today. If you have already committed your life to Christ and are unsure how to grow in your faith, I encourage you to begin incorporating into your life the principles and practices outlined above, especially as it relates to building a robust relationship with Jesus and living as His disciple. He is calling you to follow Him, how will you respond?

Church, Culture & A Nation’s Decline.

A growing tendency exists in the Christian community to assign blame for our country’s condition on a culture we view as increasingly wicked and immoral. From nationally recognized Christians who speak for millions to religious politicians seeking to galvanize voter support, from pastors preaching to congregations to individual Christians posting on social media accounts, there is more agreement than ever that society-at-large is responsible for the deteriorating state of our nation. These voices insist that the eventual collapse of our country will occur because society has turned its’ back on God and chosen to chase sin instead.

While this message enjoys broad support in evangelical and conservative Christian circles and finds an enthusiastic and receptive audience on talk radio, at conservative political events, and in many Christian churches, it suffers several serious flaws that ought to concern us as believers. First, it ignores any culpability of the church for the nation’s condition. Second, the message disregards relevant biblical truths that reveal the proper role the church plays in transforming culture. Third, it reinforces secular society’s perception that the church excels at pointing fingers and is filled with self-righteous hypocrites. Finally, it buttresses the misperception that publically castigating society is an effective strategy for igniting spiritual change.

I think one reason attacks on secular society’s escalating immorality are so popular is because it places the blame and focus on them, not us. If they did not reject God our nation would be better off. If they sinned less we would enjoy more of God’s blessings. If they were Christians like us everything would be grand. Implicit in this thinking is that society bears full responsibility for our nation’s moral descent and approaching moral bankruptcy. We (the church and churchgoers) are blameless. Our faith absolves us from culpability. Consequently, we need not examine our lives for ungodly behavior or ask God to reveal our hidden sins.

Unfortunately, such reasoning does not confirm our holiness or proximity to God. It simply fuels our spiritual pride. We convince ourselves that Christians are the only thing delaying God’s immediate judgment on the nation, not His grace or mercy. Such arrogance on our part does as much to separate the nation from God as the decadence of society. God hates vanity as much as any other sin. We would do well to remember Jesus’ advice to His followers.

You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless. You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father” (Matthew 5:13-16, NLT).

Notice two important truths in that passage. First, we are called to live in a manner that glorifies Christ and offers a visual contrast to the lifestyle embraced by the world. God uses lives of humility, service, love, forgiveness, and godliness to draw others to Him, as they witness our behavior over time. He calls us to live as lights on the hill and salt in the culture, not as bullhorns incessantly informing society how bad it is.

Second, Jesus tells us that if salt loses its flavor it is worthless and will be discarded. A society awash in sin, then, says as much about us as believers as it does about the culture. We are losing our flavor, our light is dimming, and we are at risk of being trampled underfoot as worthless. But instead of falling on our knees before the Lord, repenting, seeking forgiveness, and asking Him to remove the sin from our lives, we choose to yell at society, disparage its’ immorality, and place on its shoulders the blame for our country’s condition. Why won’t we awake to our own sin and confess our role in weakening the moral foundation of the nation? For the same reason society refuses to accept its role or confess its sin: Pride.

That’s why we affect so little change when we point our collective church finger at society and issue accusations. It looks at us and laughs derisively. It knows the Bible well enough to know that Jesus did not take that approach to reform Israel. Instead, He invested His life serving others, loving the marginalized, discipling a handful of followers, and praying throughout the night on a regular basis. As a result, His life did more than change Israel it transformed the world. Once we embrace the radical, sacrificial lifestyle of Jesus, society will sit up and take notice. And we won’t have to shout a single word to get their attention.

While the church may find this message uncomfortable and challenging, I hope many view it as encouraging and hopeful as well. It is intended to awaken believers so we might be used of God to stir society. Sadly, if experience is any indication, many Christians will respond in a manner that mirrors society’s response to public rebukes from Christian leaders. They will take umbrage, disagree, and insist it is only an opinion (and a lousy one at that).

But if we are serious about bringing revival to this country and genuinely want to see our nation adopt God’s standards, we need to avoid shouting at society and casting it as the villain responsible for our condition (remember, the only yelling Jesus did was directed at religious leaders he described as hypocrites). Let’s instead consider the challenges above, examine our hearts, and do a better job following Jesus’ example. Once we allow God to turn our lives upside-down, we’ll be in position for Him to use us to do the same with our nation. And that’s something we can all get excited about!

Are Evangelicals Modern-Day Pharisees?

Jesus’ teaching on love, mercy, and forgiveness has drawn people to Him for two millennia and enjoys universal appeal both within and without the Christian community. His message of hope, peace and joy has comforted those awash in despair, victimized by conflict, and burdened by suffering. But not everyone in Jesus’ day agreed with His revolutionary ideas. His most strident opponents, the Pharisees, were self-proclaimed guardians of religious law who pontificated right and wrong. They demanded the masses follow their directives or risk God’s wrath.

Not surprisingly, Jesus employed fiery rhetoric to excoriate these religious frauds and pulled no linguistic punches. He addressed the sin embedded in their lives and unveiled the hypocrisy of their faith. He exposed them as caretakers of a religious scam perpetrated on a public desperate to know God.

It is tempting for modern Christians and, especially, leaders in the evangelical community to ignore potential similarities between us and the Pharisees. Too often we refuse to consider the possibility that we practice faith in a way that mirrors how those religious imposters practiced theirs. We believe ourselves exempt from the lessons of Jesus’ scathing attacks on religious phonies because we view our faith through a self-righteous lens. Jesus’ insight on the subject applies to others but not us, we tell ourselves. Our faith is beyond reproach. Such dismissive treatment of Jesus’ words, however, proves how much we resemble the Pharisees. We disregard this likeness at our own peril.

While a thorough and detailed examination of this topic requires a treatise, this blog aims to identify several areas in which modern evangelicals often mirror First Century Pharisees. Please keep in mind the topic is addressed out of love for the church and concern for its spiritual health. I encourage readers to heed Paul’s words to “examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith” (2 Corinthians 13:5, NKJV). The Pharisees were certain they possessed genuine faith but did not.

One of the defining attributes of the Pharisees’ faith was hypocrisy. They insisted others follow a rigid set of rules but refused to cleanse their hearts from wickedness. Jesus said they “outwardly appear righteous to men, but inwardly are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:28, NKJV). This inconsistency between outward appearance and inward holiness destroys ministries, corrodes faith, impedes the work of the church, and leads to spiritual darkness. God is far more concerned with the condition of our hearts than any verbal profession of faith we make. The Pharisees prayed long, eloquent prayers in public, could quote the Torah with ease, and possessed impeccable religious credentials. Yet Jesus quoted Isaiah in describing them as people who worshipped God in vain because their hearts were far from Him.

Jesus explained that the heart defines a person’s faith not what proceeds from his or her mouth. Hypocrites honor God with their lips alone while true believers honor Him with the heart as well. What flows from your heart? Do deceit, materialism, hate, jealousy, adultery, and gossip reside there and rule your thoughts? If so, ask the Lord to remove those desires and replace them with the fruit of the Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23).

The Pharisees also reveled in proclaiming judgment on others. John captures an excellent example of this in his gospel account. The Pharisees bring to Jesus a woman caught in the act of adultery. Her guilt is certain. Witnesses will testify of her sin. Mosaic Law required death, by stoning. They gleefully want her condemned. She is wicked, contemptible, and worthless they believe. Surely Jesus will agree. But He doesn’t. He tells them the one without sin should throw the first stone and the entire group disperses, aware of their sin. Jesus shows the woman mercy, reveals Himself to her and refuses to condemn her. That is the pattern for us as we interact with a fallen world, instead of rushing to judgment, pointing fingers of condemnation, and proclaiming “Sinner” to those practicing ungodly behavior.

That’s an important lesson for evangelicals and church leaders who insist on decrying the wickedness of Hollywood, public school curriculum, gays, abortion providers, and illegal aliens. Like the Pharisees, many are quick to proclaim the sin of people and want to remind them of God’s pending judgment for their conduct. In the process they forget about Jesus’ example. If we followed His model I suspect we would impact the nation more powerfully. We need to extend mercy, build relationships, and share Christ’s love with folks. Over time we earn the right to speak candidly about Scripture and what it says about specific topics and behaviors. Also, our voice carries far more weight when spoken as a caring friend than as a judgmental stranger. The Pharisees adopted the approach of the judgmental stranger and secured Jesus’ rebuke as a result.

Finally, pride marked the Pharisees’ lives. Consumed with self-righteousness, they demanded the best of everything, insisted on respect, and basked in prestige. In doing so they revealed the condition of their hearts. They desired the things of the world as much as the secularist. But instead of pursuing such lusts via commerce, academia, or government, they used religion as the means to achieve their objectives. Religion was an avenue to secure the status, lifestyle, comfort, and esteem that appealed to them. Rather than pursue genuine humility they exalted themselves. Instead of living selfless lives serving others they required others serve them.

Sadly, a segment of the evangelical community suffers the same fatal flaw. Pride is endemic within the church, perhaps more than any other sin. More than just tolerated it is often celebrated. Increasingly, Christians toot their religious horns. We love to proclaim the depth of our relationship with God, emphasize how He is at work in our lives, and inform others that He revealed some insight to us during a devotional. We neglect Jesus’ counsel to avoid calling attention to our spiritual growth and instead declare it to Christian peers, often in exaggerated terms. Pride prevented the Pharisees from recognizing Jesus as the Messiah and having an authentic relationship with God. Similarly, it prevents us from hearing the still, small voice of God and enjoying genuine faith in Christ.

Take time to examine your heart. Do you demonstrate a Pharisaical heart? Do your thoughts and desires reflect the faith you profess or does an inconsistency exist between the two? Are you quick to condemn others and denounce sinners or do you build relationships with them predicated on love, mercy and compassion? Do you exalt your faith before others or is it grounded in humility?

The Pharisees were convinced they were closer to God than others. They were certain of God’s favor on them; that He was well pleased with their faith. In reality they were further from God than anyone because of the hardness of their hearts. Anyone confident he or she bears no resemblance to the Pharisees is likely the one most similar. Pride deceives such individuals.

Take a moment to ask God to show the true condition of your heart. As He does, repent from any sin He reveals. Pray He removes any hypocrisy crippling your faith and any pride corroding your relationship with Him. Request He replace any judgmental attitude with a spirit of gentleness. If you do, He will answer your prayer and you will experience revitalized faith.