Sunday, October 14, 2007

Beware of dogs - Part 2

This series of posts is called "Beware of dogs" for a reason. And believe me, I'll get to it eventually!

Well, so, in Matthew 5 we have Jesus telling people to be perfect, and that unless their righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, they shall by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. I do realize that many scribes and Pharisees weren't on the up and up. They were "white-washed tombs," according to Jesus (see Jesus' "woes" to them in Matthew 23). They had an appearance of righteousness, but yet were unclean on the inside. However, there were also some well meaning, truly religious Pharisees who were really zealous and sincere as they tried to maintain a certain standard of living based upon the Law. (More on this later).

The Apostle Paul had been one of these Pharisees. In his former life, before coming to Christ, he had lived quite the righteous and holy life. Listen to him describe his former life as Saul the Pharisee:

"...circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless." (Phil 3:5-6)

Paul said that he had quite a good reason to have confidence in himself, according to his religious performance. Let's just say that Saul had been there on the day Jesus was speaking on the mountain. Jesus could have said something like, "Everybody, look at Saul. If your righteousness does not exceed his righteousness, you shall by no means enter the kingdom of heaven."

So, my first question: Was it Jesus' intention to get all these people to start working on all these things so they could have righteousness that exceeded that of the scribes and Pharisees, and thereby enter the kingdom of heaven?

And then my second question has to do with the "Christianizing" of the sermon on the mount. In churches today, we realize that we've already entered the kingdom of heaven by faith, so we've taken a different approach to all this. We pretty much preach these words of Jesus as "principles for Christian living." But I wonder... I really wonder... Is this really what Jesus was hoping people would get out of His words that day? And did the people who heard Jesus' words suddenly say, "Oh, NOW I get it! Here are some practical principles to help me in my walk of righteousness!"

Is that the point Jesus was making here?


  1. Hi Joel--

    Great questions. I had always been taught that to have my righteousness exceed the righteousness of the pharisees meant that beyond just 'doing the right things', I had to have the right heart attitude and motivation. Which I would agree with. BUT, that it was up to ME to change my motivation and my heart and get myself into a place of "righteousness" where my performance matched my heart. That lead to lots of self-focus, and trying to change my heart. But I didn't need a changed heart. I needed a NEW heart. And that was not something I could create in myself. Hmmmm...

    The principles-based teaching that permeates so much of our current Christian culture has wearied me to the point of exhaustion. And I don't think I'm the only one. Too many sermons, books, and seminars could be summed up with two words--"Try harder." Jesus' words to the weary and heavy burdened were not to try harder, they were to come to Him and find rest.

    Kathy J

  2. Hi Kathy,

    I believe you hit the nail right on the head in saying that you didn't need a changed heart, but you needed a new heart. Trying to follow all the principles-based teachings that are so prevalent in today's Christian culture will ultimately wear a person out! Your words provide a great transition into Part 3. :)