The Fatal Distraction-Section 5
God’s Word is important, but…
In “The Fatal Distraction” Section 4 we covered the fatality, discovering that the fatality is not us but those around us with whom we do not share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Sometimes it is difficult to see the warning signs of the fatal distraction. Today, in Section 5, we’ll cover the first two warning signs that are clues of distraction. Here we will look at how we can recognize when we have begun to become Pharisaical in our perspective toward others. As we pursue our relationship with God we must always remember from where we have fallen and to where we have been restored and by whom we are offered the free gift of salvation that has nothing to do with our religious efforts. Now the “Warning Signs”.
The Warning Signs
Conundrums are human nature. Comfortable patterns of behavior that are easy to follow and non-threatening are a natural gravitational force that pulls one’s soul in a direction that provides the least impedance. In other words our natural tendency it to do what is the easiest and most comfortable. But that is not what we, as followers of Christ, are called to do. Remember Matt 16:24 “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.” That certainly does not sound like a call to comfort, does it? So if our natural tendency is to identify with things we can do or not do then how do we avoid the trap of pious predilection that paralyzes our witness as believers?
Well, let’s look at the parable of two men who went to the temple to pray. Luke 18:9-14 “And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself” ‘God I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get. But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me, the sinner! ’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
This simple parable has everything we need to recognize the warning signs of pious religiosity. It also gives us clear instruction on how we are to approach God and how we are to view others. Here are the clues:
1) Self-Righteous Comparisons
Here Jesus was speaking to people that trusted in their own righteousness and held contempt for others. In this parable the Pharisee viewed himself with false humility but, at the same time, viewed the tax collector with utter contempt. When we become conﬁdent in our knowledge and begin to make comparisons with with others, rather than allowing God’s Spirit to reveal what is in our heart through His Word, the process of iniquitous piety has begun. The moment we begin to compare others against our standard we begin to lose sight of our sin and shortcomings and begin to take a flagitious view of others. We forget that, but for the blood of His precious Son, the smallest thing we do that displeases God would separate us from God for eternity. We begin to view ourselves as better than those who are perishing and begin to think in a condescending manner toward those who do not line up with our religious enigma. Further, we begin to view relationships with a perspective of us and them rather than one of displaying the love of God for His created beings who are perishing in their sin. God’s Word tells us in I Timothy 2:3-4 “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. ” and in II Peter 3:9 “The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.”
Protecting Pious Perspectives Paralyzes Proclivity to Proclaim Pardoning
Notice that, for the most part, none of the things the Pharisee listed were bad and most were from the Law of Moses. We can be thankful that God has brought us out of the clutches of Satan’s world of darkness but that does not make us better than anyone else. We certainly need to be obedient to His Word but obedience comes from the heart not from the head. When we begin to make comparisons with those who do not know God and avoid any association with them because they do not line up with our religious paradigm, our perspective has become just like that of the Pharisee. We begin to view ourselves as better and more worthy while at the same time viewing others as hopeless sinners and unworthy.
As we begin down the slippery slope of self-righteousness, at that point “Protecting Pious Perspectives Paralyzes Proclivity to Proclaim Pardoning”. We begin to compare activities with righteousness, knowledge with godliness, and doctrinal perspective with holiness. As we slide into the pool of pious predilection we begin to see ourselves as clean and others as dirty. In short, we become Pharisees!
2) Pursuit of Knowledge at the Expense of Compassion
The Pharisee in the parable is depicted as having great knowledge of God’s Word (the Law of Moses). However, the knowledge was used to identify those who did not observe the law to the same degree and his view of others was from a position of arrogance. The tax collector, on the other hand, recognized his sin nature and called on God for mercy. What should be noted here is that the all Jewish boys of the time were required to memorize much of the Law. So the tax collector was likely quite aware of the very same things in the prayer of the Pharisee. But what was different? The Pharisee, out of his own pride, arrogance and false humility, prayed a pious, cynical, condescending, self-righteous prayer considering himself worthy and the tax collector unworthy. The tax collector, on the other hand, bore out his heart before the Lord with a complete understanding of just how far short he had fallen from God’s Law. When we pursue knowledge and our hearts are not changed there is no chance that we will have compassion for others. Remember 1 Corinthians 8:1 which tells us that “…Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.
By-the-Book but No Candle for You
In many cases the conservative evangelical ranks focus on the study of God’s Word as a primary cynosure. Their mantra is that of doing everything “By-the-Book” while rejecting anyone and everyone who does not subscribe to the same religious tenants. This is the exact position taken by the Pharisees. Let’s look at a passage about a church that had become so focused on process they forgot about people: Revelation 2:1-5 “… I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false. You have persevered and have endured hardships for my name, and have not grown weary. Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken the love you had at first. Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.” What a terrible indictment of a church! You’re doing everything right, but you’re wrong? You’re doing everything “By-the-Book”, but you need to repent? How can this be? The key is in verse 5 “Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first…” Here God clearly stated the problem. The church (the believers) at Ephesus had become Pharisaical and had forgotten the fact that they had previously been doomed for eternity but for the Love of God in the sacrifice of His blessed Son Jesus. “Repent” of what? They were doing everything right. But, they had left their first love. They had fallen into pious predilection rather than consummate compassion. They loved following the rules rather than displaying the love of God to others. They preferred pursuit of efforts in their own strength rather than reliance on the power of the Holy Spirit. Their love became their religion and the resulting arrogant introversion was displeasing to God. Knowledge without compassion is like a river with no banks. Rather than signifying the washing away of sins in the waters of baptism it simply clears the landscape of opportunity to share the good news of the gospel.
In “The Fatal Distraction” Section 6 we’ll look at two more key indicators that we have become Pharisaical in our perspective. We will look at “Brokenness versus Pious Humility” and finally “Church Activities become the Focus”.
Luke 18:9-14 “And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: ‘Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself” ‘God I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get. But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me, the sinner! ’ I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Heavenly Father, I come before you in humble adoration of your magnificent power, your complete sovereignty and your immense love. Help me to see the fact that apart from the sacrifice you gave in Your blessed Son Jesus that I am nothing more than a hopeless sinner. But by your power you have raised me from the grave of sin and death and lifted me into your presence. Not by any works that I have done, rules that I have followed, activities in which I have participated or anything else that the world would view as good, but by your tremendous mercy and infinite grace you have allowed me to enter into your presence through Jesus Your Son. May I always be aware that you offer that same salvation, mercy, grace and love to others and may I always be willing to share that with them.
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