The Spirit of the Pharisee

Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside will be clean.

Matthew 23:25-26


Jesus confronted the Pharisees on numerous occasions. The Pharisees were the teachers of the Law of Moses. They adhered to the law but missed the intent of the law. The laws became burdensome dealing with the external life of the people, but they did not deal with the internal or heart of the people. Jesus knew that the intent of the law was to bring structure and stability to God’s people and to point them to God, not from God. They began to exalt the law above a relationship with God.

Jesus came confronting the religious people of His time – the Pharisees and the Sadducees. He boldly spoke about the hypocrisy of the Pharisees: In the same way on the outside you appear righteous but, on the inside,, you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (v.28) Jesus was not speaking against observing the requirements of the law, but rather against Pharisaical legalism. Such legalism was keeping the letter of the law to gain merit with God but ignoring the spirit of the law. He aptly describes how they did this in contrasting the external interpretation of the rabbinic tradition of the law with Jesus’ correct interpretation of the law: You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, Do not murder and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment. But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. (Matthew 5:21-22)

Jesus came not to abolish the law but to fulfill it. (Matthew 5:17) He fulfilled the law in the sense that He gave it its full meaning. He emphasized the underlying principles rather than merely external obedience.

Applying this to our lives, we are called to be filled with the Holy Spirit who will guide and lead us into truth. (John 16:12) As you yield to the Holy Spirit, He will lead you into freedom to follow Christ in obedience, not by a set of rules, but by a loving relationship. As you surrender to His love and receive His grace, your life will reflect a life of freedom in following God’s commands. Unlike legalism and the life of the Pharisees, love, not rules, will dictate your living.

Sometimes in our walk with Christ we are faced with people who are not living for Christ. Some are even opposed to Christ. It is not the rules of the Christian faith – it is not even the doctrine of the Christian faith – that will draw them. It is the love of Christ that will impact them to make a decision for Christ. Good doctrine is important. Obedience to God’s commands is central to our growing in holiness, but if people are not drawn by God’s love and filled with His love, their faith will be externally driven by works and not by grace.

Does your life in Christ reflect a life of grace? Are you still striving to be justified by works and not by faith? Ask the Holy Spirit to show you where you are under the law and draw near to His love and place of freedom.

Heavenly Father,

I recognize that in some ways I have the spirit of a Pharisee. I am striving to do things for You; I am seeking to follow Your commands by the letter of the law rather than through a transformed heart. Your Word tells me to seek You first, to draw near to You and from the outflow of this relationship will flow a heart to serve.

In Jesus’ name, Amen

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