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Just How Good Do You Have to Be?

Galatians 3-22God has rules. The problem is, none of us can or do keep them. But the point of God’s rules isn’t so that, in keeping them, we can be made right with Him. The point of His rules is to make apparent to us our glaring inadequacies and failure and sin. When we are left with no further claim to earning God’s favor through our own goodness we are finally ready to look to Jesus alone as Savior. The Bible says,

The Scriptures declare that we are all prisoners of sin, so we receive God’s promise of freedom only by believing in Jesus Christ. – Galatians 3:22 NLT

My guilt is undeniable. And God’s grace is inexhaustible. So the choice is clear – instead of trying to establish how good I am (because I can never possibly be good enough according to God’s rules and standards), I need to look to Jesus who died for my sins instead. There is unbelievable relief in this truth. There is freedom and liberty. There is assurance and eternal security. There is adoption into God’s family. There is the promise of life in heaven someday and an abundant, fulfilling life today.

You can try to climb into heaven on your own, but the wall is too high and too harsh, and the results are eternally devastating. But God has opened the door in the person of His Son, Jesus. Come to Him. He never turns anyone away who has given up and decided to trust Him alone.

5 Ways to Preach Like a Pharisee

Pharisees and Jesus

Photo by bbaltimore.

Many of the Pharisees were probably great teachers and skilled speakers. I’m sure many were charismatic, skilled communicators. But by the time Jesus arrived on the scene, the Pharisees, on the whole, were killing the culture around them spiritually. Jesus had a lot of work to do just to unwire people from the performance-driven, legalistic trap of pharisaism.

I’ve been guilty of preaching like a Pharisee before, and as I review my sermons from the past, I cringe a bit as I peruse certain periods of my ministry when I placed undue burdens on my listeners in the name of “preaching the Word.” I’m writing out of my own past tendencies (and present tendencies I’m still trying to snuff out) as well as out of what I observe across the landscape of evangelical preaching.

The following tips will work to draw a moderate-sized crowd. A pulpit characterized by negativity and belligerence will draw a moderate-sized crowd of masochists who draw energy to go on another day by being beaten up spiritually. But it won’t make Jesus-like, craveable disciples. So use them at your own risk.

How do you preach like a Pharisee?

Preach Your Opinions Instead of the Absolute Truth of Scripture

Exalting your own opinions about extra-biblical issues as though obedience to them is equivalent to obeying Scripture is dangerous. It creates the very burdens on the backs of people that Jesus came to remove. It also hurts the trust of your hearers. Consider my hero, W. A. Criswell who once promoted segregation as a biblical mandate only to repent and change his policy later. His opinion about a cultural issue caused many to question his credibility. Thankfully, he had such a high respect for the authority of Scripture that he changed course, publicly and with apology. Besides, you’re probably wrong more than you think you are.

Promote Moralism Over Grace-based Living

Your role is to present biblical truth, allowing the Holy Spirit to transform the lives of your hearers with the power of God’s revelation. Your role is not to make people behave. Repentance has to do with changing the mind and belief system so that behaviors follow, but when we promote better behavior, we put the cart before the horse and fail to exalt the grace that enables us to live differently.

Make People Feel Guilty Enough to Make Short-term Commitments

Guilt is a terrible motivator. Yes, we sinners must come to grips with our sin by means of the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but it is the Holy Spirit’s job to bring that conviction. I can get people to give more money, sign up to serve in a ministry, or go share the gospel by making them feel guilty about not giving or doing enough. Or I can empower them to give, serve, and share by inspiring them with hope. God dangles rewards in front of us in eternity as motivation for action rather than feelings of guilt over our sinful past. I owe Him everything, but He doesn’t remind me of that. He simply challenges me to go forward in hope and for the pure enjoyment of Him and His grace.

Beat People Into Skepticism

Jesus once told the Pharisees that they had a tendency to make people “twice the child of hell as they were before.” What did He mean? People had come to the Pharisees, as religious leaders, to find the ultimate fulfillment God could offer. What they received was a long list of rules that were impossible to keep. After their repeated failures, they would finally turn away in disgust and it would be a long time before they listened to another religious leader again. Sound familiar? My heart breaks for the victims of spiritually abusive churches that have little understanding or compassion for the hurts and problems of people in pain.

Dress the Part

If you wear a three-piece suit and cuff links because you’re into that sort of thing or because it appeals to the community you’re trying to reach, more power to you. But if you just like to wear the “preacher” uniform and appear lofty and ministerial, repent now. I get a bit nauseated when I see a leader who has that “preacher strut.” I won’t describe it – you’ll know it when you see it. It’s usually the result of my desire to impress my peers outweighing my desire to connect with the lost. This is not a rant against “dressing up.” It’s just a warning against trying to “dress the part” of the superior religious leader.

More than ever, a skeptical, broken world needs our authentic, truth-saturated, grace-based, Spirit-filled message of the cross and the resurrection. And they need to see it embodied in our lives as much as they need to hear it proclaimed from the podium.

How Can I Be Legalism Free?

I like rules, lines, and boundaries. I feel safer if I have clear parameters, which explains my love for graph paper. I like it when everything is nice and tidy. The problem is, life isn’t always nice and tidy. People around me don’t always play by my rules, and I’m the biggest boundary breaker of them all.

It would seem that the alternative to rules-based living would be no rules living, rebellion, and abandonment of moral restraint. But what if that isn’t the best alternative to legalistic living? Jesus’ greatest confrontations happened with legalists who not only lived by rigid sets of rules, but quickly judged others by those rules as well.

The New Testament message – the gospel – is one of liberation from legalism, but it isn’t an encouragement to rebellion either. It’s about being free to really live. But how? How can I really live a life free from legalism and still grow into the godly character that Jesus saved me to be?

Establish Some Foundational Principles

We can know certain things to be true, no matter what. They are unbreakable absolutes that cannot be compromised. For example…

  • God’s Word, the Bible (including the “Law”), is perfect, good, without any mixture of error, and therefore completely trustworthy as the basis for living life.
  • Holiness, complete maturity, and Christlikeness is God’s goal for every believer in Christ.
  • Legalism never gets us to that goal. (So let’s move on…)

Diagnose Thyself

My name is Brandon Cox, and I’m a legalist. At least I still struggle with the remnants of legalism in my life. I guess I’m a “recovering legalist” who still slips into the old frame of mind sometimes. In fact, I think we all tend toward legalism to varying degrees and the longer we’ve been believers, the more susceptible we are.

How can you tell if you’re a legalist? Here’s a quick checklist…

  1. I determine whether God likes me or not based on how well I’ve kept the rules.
  2. I might acknowledge I was saved by grace alone, but I think my effort has something to do with staying saved.
  3. I tend to pray less when I fear that God is probably mad at me about something.
  4. I think I’m disqualified from the Christian faith because I’ve messed up, in spite of the fact that I’m still alive and breathing.
  5. I tend to notice the “bad behavior” in others without giving thought to their past pain, poor upbringing, or unknown circumstances.
  6. When other sinners suffer for their choices, I hear a tiny voice saying “serves them right.”
  7. I’m more passionate about the rules I find easy to keep, and minimize the ones I personally struggle with.
  8. I’m all about being “in the Word” but sometimes fail to let the Word get into me.
  9. I love going to Bible study more than serving or witnessing because it “feeds me” and makes me feel more spiritually mature.
  10. I recognize that traditions are not necessarily biblical… unless they’re my traditions.

Thoroughly self-diagnosed yet? Let’s talk about the cure.

Heal Thyself

You need to know, up front, that you’ll never completely get over being a legalist. Since the garden of Eden, God has been all about grace. It explains why God made coats of animal skins to cover the shame of Adam and Eve. And since the garden of Eden, we’ve tried (with Satan’s help) to re-write the gospel to somehow include merit. As humans, we are rules addicts.

But we can break free. Jesus invites us to His freedom…

Then Jesus said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

~ Matthew 11:28-30 NLT

Paul developed a distinctive theology of freedom.

So Christ has truly set us free. Now make sure that you stay free, and don’t get tied up again in slavery to the law.

~ Galatians 5:1 NLT

Here are some steps to take…

  1. See your sin for what it is. It’s an offense to God to sin. No, you shouldn’t beat yourself up over past mistakes, but you also shouldn’t vindicate yourself on the basis that sin “isn’t a big deal.”
  2. See Jesus for whom He is. He’s your sacrifice. Nothing you’ve done could have prevent Him from going to the cross just for you. He’s the only perfect and righteous Savior.
  3. See the cross for what it is. The cross was where He died for your sins. In other words, your sins are paid for. Stop trying to pay the debt yourself. Every time you do, you ignore the cross and insult His sacrifice.
  4. Embrace grace. Revel in it. Bathe yourself in the idea of it. Roll around in the concept that you are free… free indeed!
  5. Embrace grace… more. Don’t stop thinking about it. Read about it. Read about how Jesus showed it. Understand that you’ll never totally understand it, but don’t stop trying.
  6. Show grace. In fact, mob people with it. Show it when you don’t feel like it, when it doesn’t make sense, and especially when it would feel better to do otherwise.

I recently joined the People of the Second Chance. No, it’s not a cult. It’s just this…

People of the Second Chance gives voice to a scandalous movement of radical grace in life and leadership. We challenge the common misconceptions about failure and success and stand with those who have hit rock bottom in their personal and professional lives. We are a community that is committed to stretch ourselves in the areas of relational forgiveness, personal transparency, and advocate for mercy over judgment.

We are not ashamed of our scars, wounds, or failures and leverage them as a source of strength and character development.

People of the Second Chance have experienced a second chance so we actively support social justice organizations and advocate for the vulnerable, forgotten, and left behind.

We are People of the Second Chance.

3 CORE PRINCIPLES
1. GIVE A SECOND CHANCE:
We extend grace in our relationships, workplaces, and in the world.

2. RECEIVE A SECOND CHANCE:
We refuse to be victims and are not defeated by our past. We courageously open ourselves to personal forgiveness.

3. BE A SECOND CHANCE
We sacrificially give our time and resources to the work of renewal, restoration, and social justice.

You don’t have to join a movement, attend a Bible study, or wear a badge. Just embrace grace! Celebrate it and never look back. You can be legalism free. Jesus said so!

Also, if you’d like a nice downloadable pdf of this, check out the same post on the Grace Hills Church website.