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Whitewashed tombs

You . . . have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.     — Matthew 23:23

As I study the life of Jesus, one fact consistently surprises me: the group that made Jesus angriest was one that He outwardly resembled. Jesus obeyed the Mosaic Law and quoted leading Pharisees (Mark 9:11-12; 12:28-34). Yet He singled out the Pharisees for His strongest attacks. He called them serpents, a brood of vipers, fools, and hypocrites (Matt. 23:13-33).

What provoked such outbursts? The Pharisees devoted their lives to following God, gave away an exact tithe (v. 23), obeyed every law in the Torah, and sent out missionaries to gain new converts (v. 15). Against the relativists and secularists of the first century, they held firm to traditional values.

Yet Jesus’ fierce denunciations of the Pharisees show how seriously He viewed the toxic threat of legalism. Its dangers are elusive, slippery, hard to pin down. I believe these dangers remain a great threat today.

Jesus condemned the emphasis on externals: “You cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence” (v. 25). Expressions of love for God had become ways to impress others.

The proof of spiritual maturity is now how “pure” you are but your awareness of your impurity. That very awareness opens the doors to God’s grace.    — Philip Yancey

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Thinking it through

According to Romans 7:18-24, what is the apostle Paul’s view of his own spiritual condition? What did Paul say is the answer? (Rom. 7:25-8:4)

READ:  Matthew 23:1-15

Legalism destroys our loving relationship with God.

The Bible in one year:

• Ecclesiastes 7-9

• 2 Corinthians 13

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