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Thursday, April 08, 2010

Outward righteous; inner holiness

Let me share with you some thoughts that I shared at my bible study last night.

We are going through the "Sermon On The Mount" that Jesus shared in Matthew 5-7.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that there is a huge difference between religion and spirituality.

He lets us know in a rather "to the point" manner that being religious is not good enough. And then he says something that must have thrown his listeners for a loop in Matthew 5:20, "Unless your righteousness surpasses the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter into the kingdom of heaven."


Unless your righteousness surpasses the Pharisees.

The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were the most religious people in first century Judaism.

They were the "superspiritual" ones, which is fine, it is just that they like to let everyone know that they were.

This would seem impossible to the people Jesus was speaking to, but Jesus shares with his disciples that not only is it possible but it is required to enter into God's kingdom.

What's the qualifier to this? There is a big difference between religious behavior and true spirituality.

Religious people tend to focus on outward behavior; spiritual people tend to focus on the attitudes of the heart.

The verse comes to me: "Man looks at the outward appearance but God looks on the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

The Pharisees were great about keeping laws, but it didn't come from a foundation of loving God, it came from a desire to look good in the eyes of other people.

They had pridefully identified 613 rules in the Old Testament: 248 commands to do something and 365 commands to not do something.

If there was anything that just drove Jesus "crazy" it was a mentality that said that the way to spirituality is through outward actions with no inner love for God.

To a certain extent, it comes down to the one word "pride".

Bill White writes this:

"I recently took a 45-minute drive in an old, beat-up van with a guy I barely know. Along the way we ended up talking about Jesus and whether this man would give his life to Christ. His response to me laid out humanity's resistance to the gospel with striking clarity. He said, "My biggest problem is pride. I can't humble myself. And you wanna know the reason I can't give up my pride?" He leaned up onto the steering wheel and paused for effect. "Because it's brought me so far."

I couldn't believe my ears. I knew that his pride had brought nothing but great pain. It was all he held onto while growing up in gangs—while his father died of a drug overdose and his mother was in the mafia. I knew that this self-made man beat his wife regularly, that he was unemployed, that he had just gotten out of prison. In fact, I found out a week later that he was on his way back into prison!

In a separate conversation, his wife told me that his young daughters are terrified of him, that he is an alcoholic, and that she is planning to leave him. She even told me that the old van he was driving was going to be repossessed in a week.

Yet despite all our differences, I couldn't help but notice that in some ways, this guy and I are similar. I struggle to lay down my pride, because it's brought me so far—or so I think. What it's really brought both him and me—and you, no doubt—is pain, isolation, and ruined relationships."

We can make the outside look good can't we? We are very skilled at that. But we are powerless when it comes to the inside.

I mean, think about it. We can refrain from stealing, but how many of us have never coveted something that wasn't ours?

We can worship on Sunday mornings at our church, and for all intents and purposes look like we worship only, one God. But have you ever loved something more than God? Has any thing ever taken God's rightful place in your life?

I would guess that none of us could say that every moment of every day our thoughts and desires are for God and God alone!

We try our best, and with our own will power to look good and look righteous on the outside, but on the inside, well, let's just say we don't' want to go there.

It's like that one cluttered, dirty room in your house whose door you always keep shut tightly when guests are present. You don't want anyone to see in there. And the truth is we all have those "dirty rooms" inside. Outside we may look good, but inside we fall far short of God's righteousness "bar." We don't even come close.

May we depend upon God's Holy Spirit to live a righteous life.

May we realize that apart from Christ I am helpless and hopeless in living a sanctified lifestyle.

May we never judge others by outward appearances but by watching and seeking out their inner attitudes.

Just some thoughts for a Thursday.

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