“The Dangers of the Law” – Luke 18:9-14

December 11th, 2016

Luke 18:9-14

“The Dangers of the Law”

Auxiliary Text: John 8:1-11

Call to Worship; Psalm 19:7-14


Service Orientation: The law is holy, righteous and good (Rom 7:12). But just like everything else, we can pervert that which is good so that it becomes dangerous.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  We know that the law is good if one uses it properly.—  1 Timothy 1:8


Background Information:

  • (10) The tax collectors were among the most despised members of Jewish society because of their reputation for embezzlement and their complicity with the Roman oppressors. The Mishnah prohibits even receiving alms from a tax collector at his office, since the money is presumed to have been gained illegally.  If a tax collector entered a house, all that was in it became unclean.  The very presence of a tax collector in the temple, the house of God, was viewed as an act of defilement.  (Clinton E. Arnold, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, Vol. 1, 458)
  • (11) Jewish people considered it pious to thank God for one’s righteousness, rather than taking credit for it oneself.  The first hearers of this parable would not think of the Pharisee as boastful, but rather as grateful to God for his piety.  (Craig S. Keener, The Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, 239) 
  • (12) The Jewish law prescribed only one absolutely obligatory fast–that on the Day of Atonement. But those who wished to gain special merit fasted also on Mondays and Thursdays.  It is noteworthy that these were the market days when Jerusalem was full of country people.  Those who fasted whitened their faces and appeared in disheveled clothes, and those days gave their piety the biggest possible audience.  The Levites were to receive a tithe of all a man’s produce (Nm 18:21; Dt 14:22).  But this Pharisee tithed everything, even things which there was no obligation to tithe.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible:  The Gospel of Luke, 232)
  • (13) NIV mercy = GK. Strongs number #2433 TDNT: III, 301-318 = to expiate, to make gracious, to atone”.  The Tax collector in using the (NIV) word mercy is actually using a Greek word that literally means, “Atone for my sin.”   GK = hilastrion.   The mercy Seat.   (Heb 2:17) Jesus is hilastrion.   The Tax Collector is saying Lord give me atonement for my sin.  2 Cor 5:21.
  • (13) God have mercy on me THE sinner. (Definite article missing in most English translations).  He is not comparing himself.  He is looking at himself in relation to God’s standard.
  • His (The Pharisee’s) understanding of sin and his understanding of virtue is completely external. It is completely focused on behavior and violation of or keeping of rules.  It is not looking at the inside, it is not looking at character, it is looking outside at behavior.  So, for example, sin is perceived in terms of discreet individual actions:  I do not rob, I do not commit adultery, I do not cheat, I give my money (10%) away to the church and to the poor; I fast (which means I pray) twice a week, in special ways, I go to worship, I do my special observances.

Notice he doesn’t say, “I thank thee Lord that I am getting more patient, I’m getting to be a kinder person, I’m getting to be a gentler person, I’m able to love and I used to not be able to love, I’m able to keep my buoyancy and joy and my peace even when things do wrong.”  He is not talking about those things.  He is absolutely externally focused, his understanding of sin and of virtue is completely oriented to external behavior. (Tim Keller sermon; Inside – Out Living)


The question to be answered is . . . If the Law of God is holy, righteous and good; how can it be dangerous?


Answer: Anything good can be perverted and becomes dangerous if we avoid the Spirit of God’s guidance and follow our flesh.


The Word for the Day is . . . Beware


What are the dangers of the Law if we follow our flesh?:

I-  Beware:  The Law becomes a tool to point to our righteousness rather than our sinfulness.  (Mt 5:48; 19:16-30; Mk 7:1-13; 10:2-5, 17-27; Lk 10:25-37; 11:37-52; 18:9-14, 18-30; Rom 3:19-21, 27-28; ch 7; 8:2-4; 9:31; Gal 2:16-21; 3:10-13, 21-24; 5:3-4, 23, 18; Phil 3:9; 1 Tm 1:3-11; Heb 7:19; 10:1-18)


But the question is not, “Am I as good as my fellow men?”  The question is, “Am I as good as God?”  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible:  The Gospel of Luke, 234)


Satan would have us define ourselves as holy by the Law, when God gave us the law to define us as sinners.  —Chuck Swindoll


Legalists point to the law to show what they CAN do.   Christians who are saved by grace point to the Law to show what they cannot do and what drives them to Christ.


He (the Pharisee) majors on negative obedience.  “I thank you that I am not”.  I’m not this, and I’m not that, and I’m not the next thing.  In other words, he seeks to comfort himself by reminding himself of the sins he has not committed.  Which, of course, provides for the human psyche a wonderful smoke screen to prevent us from being confronted by the sins which we have committed.  But, if the object of our exercise is to affirm ourselves, to feel good about ourselves, to reinforce ourselves, then we may follow the example of this Pharisee and begin by congratulating ourselves on our commitment to a negative obedience.  (Alistair Begg message, The Pharisee and the Tax Collector )


Mortification from a self-strength, carried on by ways of self-invention unto the end of a self-righteousness, is the soul and substance of all false religion in the world.  -John Owen


The Law is a divinely sent Hercules to attack and kill the monster of self-righteousness and to show us every day just how desperatly we need God’s grace. – Martin Luther   (Tullian Tevidgjian, Life Without God – Pt 7)


Some people are full of talk against legal doctrines, legal preaching and the legal spirit.  Yet they may understand very little of what they are talking against.  A legal spirit is far more subtle than they imagine…for as long as a man is not emptied of himself and of his own righteousness and goodness, he will have a legal spirit.  A spirit of pride in one’s own righteousness, morality, holiness, affection, experience or any other goodness, is a legal spirit…It is even possible to have a self-righteous spirit about one’s own humility. — Jonathan Edwards


II-  Beware:  The Law becomes the basis to justify destruction rather than a tool to restore.  ( Mt 9:9-13; 12:1-14; 15:1-20; 19:1-12; ch 23; Mk 3:1-6; 7:1-23; Lk 6:6-11; 11:45-46; 13:10-17; 14:1-6;  Jn 5:1-18; 8:1-11; 9:1-41; Phil 3:7-11)


Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere, ignorant, and conscientious stupidity.   —Martin Luther King Jr.


The kingdom of God has broken in upon the kingdom of Satan, and the work of liberating the victims of Satan’s tyranny must go on seven days a week.  So far from being the wrong day, the sabbath was actually the best day for such works of mercy.  For the Sabbath–the day which God had given to Israel as a weekly release from the bondage of labor–was also a weekly foretaste of the rest which awaited the people of God in the kingdom, the final release from all bondage.  To liberate men and women from the reign of Satan and to bring them under the gracious reign of God was therefore to fulfil the purpose of the Sabbath, not to profane it.  (G. B. Caird, The Pelican New Testament Commentaries, Saint Luke, 171)


Religious do-goodism had so infected Israel’s leadership that, by some twist of religious logic, they had come to see the Lord’s Sabbath as a day when compassion was illegal.  Jesus would have no part of it.

Today, well-meaning Christians have allowed purely human rules to intrude on the church’s welcome to “outsiders.”  Dress codes, hair codes, behavior codes, and language codes give many churches a pharisaic feel.  Let Jesus remove all such barriers to people finding God’s love.  Let compassion be your guide; let the rules that hinder it be forgotten.  (Bruce B. Barton, D.Min., Life Application Bible Commentary: Luke, 343)


Nothing is so true of sin as its exceeding sinfulness, and nowhere do you see that exceeding sinfulness so clearly as just here (Rom 7:7-13)–that it can even manipulate and use this holy, just, good Law of God, and by means of it kill us!  It can twist and pervert and turn into an instrument that is opposed to us even God’s holy Law which is for our good.  “Was then that which is good made death unto me?”  No, it was not the Law itself, but sin which handled and abused it, sin which perverted it and used it deceitfully, that brought about that result.  And by this deed we see sin’s devilish character, its utter malignity, and its foulness.  Nothing too strong can be said about it.  It is all included in the expression “exceeding sinful.”  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, Exposition of Chapter 7.1-8.4, 167)


We know what Paul thought of himself before God began to work with him, because he tells about it in the third chapter of Philippians.  Did Paul think he was a sinner in those days?  When he was going around hating Christians?  And killing some?  Not at all!  On the contrary, he thought that he was a very moral man.  He says that as far as “legalistic righteousness” is concerned he considered himself to be “faultless” (Phil 3:6).  He thought he was a model of virtue.  It was only as the law began to work on him–starting with the words “Do not covet”–that he saw himself as a sinner.  (James Montgomery Boice, An Expositional Commentary: Romans, Vol. 2, 741)


It is not strange to see that the most dangerous heretics have many followers, every error being a friend to some sort of lust.  —Alexander Nesbitt


Legalism claims that overt action in conforming to rules for explicit behavior is what makes us right and pleasing to God and worthy of blessing.  Jesus called legalism “the righteousness…of the scribes and Pharisees” (Mt 5:20).

Legalism, superstition and magic are closely joined by their emphasis on controlling people and events.  Legalists are forced toward superstitious behavior because, in the interest of controlling life through their laws, they depart from the natural connections of life.  They bypass the realities of the heart and soul from which life really flows.  That is why Jesus tells us we must go beyond the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees if we are truly to enter into life.

Life does not come by law (Gal 3:21), nor can law adequately depict or guide life.  The law is the letter, and “the letter kills, but the spirit gives life” (2 Cor 3:6).  Legalists are evermore forced into merely symbolic behavior, which they superstitiously suppose to have the good effects they seek.  Magic or superstition, as is well known, also place absolute emphasis on doing everything “just right,” which is the essence of legalism.  (Dallas Willard, Hearing God, 183)


The position taken by the ur-feminist Simone de Beauvoir in her interview with Betty Friedan:  “No woman should be authorized to stay at home and raise her children.  Society should be totally different.  Women should not have that choice, precisely because if there is such a choice, too many women will make that one.”  (Robert H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah, 204)


Environmental laws and rules, now 17 volumes of fine print, often seem to miss the mark or prove counterproductive.  Under one requirement, before industrial land with any toxic waste can be used, it must be cleaned up to almost perfect purity.  It sounds great, but the effect is to drive industry out to virgin fields, where it encounters no such costs.  Instead of cleaning up one dirty lot, the strict law creates a second dirty lot.  Then, of course, jobs are moved away from cities, to places that workers can only reach by driving long distances, which causes yet more pollution.  A final irony is that whoever cleaned the polluted land would often be required to incinerate it, literally burning tons of dirt, a process that itself generates significant pollution. (Philip K. Howard; The Death of Common Sense, 8)


III-  Beware:  The Law becomes our savior and our life instead of our tutor. (Jn 5:39-40; Acts 13:39; 15:1, 5; Gal 2:18-19; 3:21-25; Heb 7:11-28; 10:1-18)


The Law is a guide, a light, a mirror.  Your salvation is in Christ.  Therefore there is no room for pride, self-confidence or self-righteousness.  All have failed miserably under the Law. — Pastor Keith


Christian living, therefore, must be founded upon self-abhorrence and self-distrust because of indwelling sin’s presence and power.  Self-confidence and self-satisfaction argue self-ignorance.  The only healthy Christian is the humble, broken-hearted Christian.  (J. I. Packer, A Quest for Godliness, 196)


Here is a spiritual principle regarding the grace of God; To the extent you are clinging to any vestiges of self-righteousness or are putting any confidence in your own spiritual attainments, to that degree you are not living by the grace of God in your life.  (Jerry Bridges; Transforming Grace; Living Confidently in God’s Unfailing Love, 33)


Rights for the disabled are particularly paradoxical, because what benefits a person with one disability may harm someone with another disability.  Low drinking fountains and telephones are harder to use for the elderly or those with bad backs.  High toilets make transfer easier from a wheelchair, but make bowel movements harder for everyone else, especially the elderly.  Curb cuts are more dangerous for the blind, who have more difficulty knowing when they have reached the end of the block.  Ramps are essential for wheelchairs but are sometimes slippery and dangerous for the frail.  Warning bumps at the edge of a train platform are good for the blind but bad for those in wheelchairs.  When confronted by a dwarf complaining that certain of the changes for the disabled made his life miserable, the director of New York’s Office for the Disabled is reported to have said, “You can’t please everybody.”  Exactly.  So why is it appropriate to handle these issues as a “right”?  (Philip K. Howard; The Death of Common Sense”, 151)


IV-  Beware:  Compliance (obedience) to the Law becomes the goal rather than love.  (1 Sm 15:22; Prv 21:3; Hos 6:6; Mt 7:12; 9:13; 12:1-8; 22:35-40; ch 23; Mk 2:23-28; 3:1-6; 7:1-13; 12:28-31; Lk 6:1-11; 10:25-37; 11:37-52; Rom 13:8-10; Gal 5:14; 1 Tm 1:5; Jam 2:8)


The two texts chosen by Jesus are together sufficiently strong to bear the weight of the whole OT.  This does not mean, as some modern ethicists have argued, that “all you need is love,” so that one can dispense with the ethical rules set out in the Torah.  It is rather to say that those rules find their true role in working out the practical implications of the love for God and neighbor on which they are based.  Far from making the law irrelevant, therefore, love thus becomes “the primary hermeneutical principle for interpreting and applying the law.”  (R.T. France, The New International Commentary on the NT: Matthew, 847) (red bold emphasis — Pastor Keith)


Kaiser rightly points out that this passage (Mt 22:35-40) is in keeping with the prophetic tradition of the OT, which equally demands a heart relationship with God (Dt 10:12; 1 Sm 15:22; Isa 1:11-18; 43:22-24; Hos 6:6; Amos 5:21-24; Mic 6:6-8; cf. Prv 15:8; 21:27; 28:9).  Sterile religion, no matter how disciplined, was never regarded as adequate.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 465)


There is no question here of the priority of love over law–i.e., one system over another–but of the priority of love within the law.  These two commandments are the greatest because all Scripture “hangs” on them; i.e., nothing in Scripture can cohere or be truly obeyed unless these two are observed.  The entire biblical revelation demands heart religion marked by total allegiance to God, loving him and loving one’s neighbor.  Without these two commandments the Bible is sterile.  This pericope prepares the way for the denunciations of 23:1-36 and conforms fully to Jesus’ teaching elsewhere.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 8, 465)


Observe what the weight and greatness of these commandments is (v. 40); On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets; that is, This is the sum and substance of all those precepts relating to practical religion which were written in men’s hearts by nature, revived by Moses, and backed and enforced by the preaching and writing of the prophets.  All hang upon the law of love; take away this, and all falls to the ground, and comes to nothing.  Rituals and ceremonials must give way to these, as must all spiritual gifts, for love is the more excellent way.  This is the spirit of the law, which animates it, the cement of the law, which joins it; it is the root and spring of all other duties, the compendium of the whole Bible, not only of the law and the prophets, but of the gospel too, only supposing this love to be the fruit of faith, and that we love God in Christ, and our neighbor for his sake.  (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible: Vol. V, 326)


Keeping the law is not a prerequisite to saving faith, but saving faith is a prerequisite to keeping the law (3:31).  Love is the visible side of faith in relation and responsibility to others.  The law is fulfilled and summed up in love, for love penetrates to the intent of the law and thereby exceeds the outward minimum prescribed by the commandments.  (James R. Edwards, New International Biblical Commentary: Romans, 312)


If you have to ask who your neighbor is it shows your heart.  A person who is motivated by love is looking for anything he can do to help his neighbor to satisfy his needs because love is his MO.  The lawyer (Mt 19:16-26) wants to know the minimum standard of what it means to be neighborly in order to satisfy righteousness.  But to even ask such a question reveals that you do not love at all but that you are only wanting to do what is necessary to get God off your case.  — Pastor Keith


To live “in Christ,” to walk “in love,” is something entirely different from living under the law and striving to fulfill all its requirements; and yet the law is fulfilled in it.  Therefore it can be said at the same time that the Christian is “free from the law” and that in him the law is fulfilled.  Not by fulfillment of law is the law fulfilled, but by life “in Christ” and “in love.”  It is in this sense, and only in this sense, that “love is the fulfilling of the law.”  (Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans, 435)


When we love others as God loves them, we are fulfilling the very essence of the Lord’s commands to us.  (Charles R. Swindoll, Relating to Others in Love: Romans 12-16, 27)


Mere outward conformity to commandments is not what God wants.  He wants “sincere love”:  an honest, consistent concern for other people that spills over into actions of all kinds.  When we love rightly, with the love that the Spirit inspires in us, we cannot help but obey whatever commandments God has given us.  For he does not speak with two voices.  What he requires is what his Spirit inspires.  But because our minds are not perfectly renewed and because we can misunderstand what love requires, we still need commandments to remind us of the absolute demands of God and to keep us on “the straight and narrow.”  (Douglas J. Moo, The NIV Application Commentary: Romans, 437)


Love needs law for its direction, while law needs love for its inspiration.  (John Stott, Romans, God’s Good News for the World, 350)


Law by itself cannot provide an adequate foundation for the good life.  What faith does for theology, love does for ethics.  It provides a practical alternative to the self-defeating claims of legalism.

The weakness of the law is that it multiplies requirements without providing a sufficient motive to enable us to satisfy them.  For innumerable demands with no adequate enabling power, Paul substitutes one inclusive motive.  Love gathers up all the diverse requirements of the good life and fuses them into the perfect unity of one comprehensive claim.  While supplying the simplicity which shows us our duty and helps us to understand it, love also provides the power without with we cannot do the things we should.  (Abingdon Press, The Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX, 607)


We do not observe the commandments in order to make ourselves Christians, but we observe them, the details of the law, because we are Christians.  You see the difference?  The trouble with the Pharisee, with the moralist, with people who deny the gospel, is that they are trying to make themselves Christians by attempting to keep the commandments.  It cannot be done.  It was a yoke, says Peter, that we could not bear [Acts 15:10].  It was grievous.  Nobody could do it.  No, it is the other way round.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, Exposition of Chapter 13, 201)


Leo Tolstoy, who battled legalism all his life, understood the weaknesses of a religion based on externals.  The title of one of his books says it well: The Kingdom of God Is Within You.  According to Tolstoy, all religious systems tend to promote external rules, or moralism.  In contrast, Jesus refused to define a set of rules that his followers could then fulfill with a sense of satisfaction.  One can never “arrive” in light of such sweeping commands as “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. . . Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  (Philip Yancey;  What’s so Amazing About Grace?, 197)


If we want God to guide us, our attitude needs to be right.  Here are some guidelines as to how we can play our part in arriving at right decisions.

First, we must be willing to think.  It is false piety, super-supernaturalism of an unhealthy pernicious sort that demands inward impressions with no rational base, and declines to heed the constant biblical summons to consider.  God made us thinking beings, and he guides our minds as we think things out in his presence.

Second, we must be willing to think ahead and weigh the long-term consequences of alternative courses of action.  Often we can only see what is wise and right, and what is foolish and wrong, as we dwell on the long-term issues.

Third, we must be willing to take advice.  It is a sign of conceit and immaturity to dispense with taking advice in major decisions.  There are always people who know the Bible, human nature, and our own gifts and limitations better than we do, and even if we cannot finally accept their advice, nothing but good will come to us from carefully weighing what they say.

Fourth, we must be willing to be ruthlessly honest with ourselves.  We must suspect ourselves:  ask ourselves why we feel a particular course of action will be right and make ourselves give reasons.

Fifth, we must be willing to wait.  “Wait on the Lord” is a constant refrain in the Psalms and it is a necessary word, for the Lord often keeps us waiting.  When in doubt, do nothing, but continue to wait on God.  (James Packer, Your Father Loves You, 13)


Wesleyan Quadrilateral


1   Scripture

2   Tradition

3   Reason

4   Christian Experience




V-  Beware:  The Law becomes a source revealing new ways to sin rather than a motivation to repent and cease from sin.  (Rom 7:1-14;Gal 3:20; 1 Cor 15:56)


If Jesus’ critique of legalism was not devastating enough, the apostle Paul added another fundamental complaint.  Legalism fails miserably at the one thing it is supposed to do:  encourage obedience.  In a strange twist, a system of strict laws actually puts new ideas of lawbreaking in a person’s mind.  Paul explains, “For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, ‘Do not covet.’  But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire.”  In a demonstration of this principle, some surveys show that people raised in tee totaling denominations are three times as likely to become alcoholics. (Philip Yancey;  What’s so Amazing About Grace?, 206)


The effect of the law is that it arouses sin to activity, and in a sense provokes it.  For man being what he is, his encounter with the law always has the effect of giving sin “opportunity.”  Only when he is faced with the law does man become a sinner in earnest, and the result of the entry of the law into his life is unfailing; he is given over to death.  Sin is revived, but man dies.  (Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans, 280)


We would have thought, naturally, that the effect of the coming of the Law would have been not to “revive” sin, but to slay it; and, indeed, in an ultimate sense, that is what it does.  But in experience it does the exact opposite–and he is writing here in an experimental manner.  In other words, what happens is that the Law brings out the real strength and reveals the real nature and character of sin.  The Law irritates sin, disturbs it, and by its prohibitions it arouses it; as I say, it puts its foot on the accelerator.  Or, to use a different illustration, the Apostle is not using the picture of the fulcrum now, but rather a picture of the way in which a resistance always brings out a power.  If you want to exercise your muscles, the best way to do so is to start lifting weights.  (D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, Romans, Exposition of Chapter 7.1-8.4, 138)


Instead of reading the law as a warning, sin reads the law as a welcome.  Prohibiting something often makes people want to do that very act.  When those desires are acted upon, they are sinful.  (Bruce B. Barton, Life Application Bible Commentary: Romans, 137)


One criminal said that if rape were legalized, he would not rape, but “I’d do something else.”  What he meant was that it is the kick of breaking the law that mattered, whatever the particular law happened to be.  To understand crime, one must focus on personality, not laws and social mores.  (Stanton E. Samenow, Ph.D.; Inside the Criminal Mind, 177)


Law (Romans 7:5-13)

At a 1997 Marketing and Public Policy conference in Boston, Iowa State University psychology professor Brad J. Dushman presented the results of a series of experiments on the potential of warning labels for attracting audience to violent programs.  Results showed that warning labels increased interest in violent programs, especially when the label source or “authority” was to have been U.S. Surgeon General and all viewers were the target instead of just “young viewers.”

Comparing labels that just provide information (“This film contains violence.”) vs. labels that also had a warning (“This film contains violence.  Viewer discretion is advised.”) found that the warning labels, by telling people what to do, actually increased interest in violent programs.  (Herb Rotfeld, in Marketing News; Leadership, Spring 1999, 73)


The more mandates and laws are enacted, the more there will be thieves and robbers.  —Lao-tze


Worship Point:  Worship the God of the Universe Who gives us His Spirit so we may never fall prey to the dangers of the Law.


To a Pharisee, the service of God was a bondage which he did not love but form which he could not escape without a loss too great to bear.  God, as the Pharisees saw Him, was not a God easy to live with.  So their daily religion became grim and hard, with no trace of true love in it.

It can be said about us, as humans, that we try to be like our God.  If He is conceived to be stern and exacting and harsh, so will we be!

The blessed and inviting truth is that God is the most winsome of all beings, and in our worship of Him we should find unspeakable pleasure.  (A. W. Tozer, Whatever Happened to Worship?, 28)


Now we must not worship without study, for ignorant worship is of limited value and can be very dangerous.  We may develop “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Rom 10:1-2) and do great harm to ourselves and others.  But worship must be added to study to complete the renewal of our mind through a willing absorption in the radiant person who is worthy of all praise.  Study without worship is also dangerous, and the people of Jesus constantly suffer from its effects, especially in academic settings.  To handle the things of God without worship is always to falsify them.  (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 362-363)


Gospel Application: We need to keep our hearts and minds focused on Jesus who can change the motivations of our hearts and minds.  Listening to the Holy Spirit empowers us to avoid the dangers of the Law from the very core of our being.


Knowing God without knowing our own wretchedness makes for pride.  Knowing our own wretchedness without knowing God makes for despair.  Knowing Jesus Christ strikes the balance because he shows us both God and our own wretchedness.


Like Scripture writers, Augustine thinks of the heart not just as the seat of emotion or desire but also as the governing center of a human being–the human being at his center, at his core, considered in his fundamental orientation.  From the heart “flow the springs of life” (Prv 4:23).  Hence, in Scripture, integrity is a pure heart (Mt 5:8); where integrity is lacking, it is the heart that is “perverse” and “devious above all else” (Jer 17:9).  Accordingly, when Paul wants to describe the source of our new power, love, and integrity, he testifies that Jesus Christ has taken up residence at the governing center of human lives:  he “dwells in our hearts” (Eph 3:17).  Depending on its orientation, then, the fact that “the heart wants what it wants” may be our shame or our salvation.  (Augustine, The City of God, 14.13)


God save us also from self-righteous judgmentalism…There is a universe of difference between the motivations behind legalism and discipline.  Legalism says, “I will do this thing to gain merit with God,” while discipline says, “I will do this because I love God and want to please him.”  Legalism is man-centered; discipline is God-centered.  (J. I. Packer; Rediscovering Holiness, 114)


Beware lest you delay repentance so long that your heart become hardened to that point where your conscience ceases to function and the voice of God is unheard in your soul.    (Owen Roberts; Repentance, 240)


The dangerous assumption we unknowingly accept in the American dream is that our greatest asset is our own ability.  The American dream prizes what people can accomplish when they believe in themselves and trust in themselves, and we are drawn toward such thinking.  But the gospel has different priorities.  The gospel beckons us to die to ourselves and to believe in God and to trust in his power.  In the gospel, God confronts us with our utter inability to accomplish anything of value apart from him.  (David Platt, Radical, 46)


This is the true situation:  nothing has power to tempt me or move me to wrong action that I have not given power by what I permit to be in me.  And the most spiritually dangerous things in me are the little habits of thought, feeling, and action that I regard as “normal” because “everyone is like that” and it is “only human.”  (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 344)


A Pharisee who does nothing but focus on avoiding sin is still concentrating on sin, which makes him or her little different from the person who voraciously lives in sin.  Both are consumed by sin–one to avoid it, the other to live in it.  (Gary L. Thomas, Seeking the Face of God, 78)


Spiritual Challenge: Plead with Jesus to give you a renewed and more responsive sensitivity to His Spirit Who can only live in your heart after you have accepted Jesus as your Lord and Savior.


Pharisees look for sin.  We don’t discipline for sin but for a lack of repentance.  — Steve Brown


Desire for religious respect or reputation will immediately drag us into the rightness of scribes and Pharisees because that desire always focuses entirely upon the visible action, not on the source of action in the heart.  (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 188)


Sin comes when we take a perfectly natural desire or longing or ambition and try desperately to fulfill it without God.  Not only is it sin, it is a perverse distortion of the image of the Creator in us.  All these good things, and all our security, are rightly found only and completely in him.  (Augustine, The Confessions of Saint Augustine).


So What?:  Our lives can become legalistic, bitter, angry, shallow and cold and we will misappropriate the Law of God.  Only a relationship with Jesus and His Spirit can keep us from this dangerous, carnal default.


Jews were to see their inability to keep the Law and, because of this, look to the Messiah all the more.  God designed the Law this way.  Moreover, even if by some miracle a Jew was able to keep EVERY SINGLE tenet of the Law, he would likely still fail in one—his attitude.  The Law, after all, creates a horrible “Catch-22” almost by necessity.  The better you “keep” the Law, the more you think yourself basically “good” and the less you humble yourself before God.  You quickly become self-righteous and prideful.  Thus, though you may be able to keep many outward tenets of the Law (as the Pharisees did), your motivation for doing so would have shifted from love of God to love of self.  All the outward piety in the world cannot cover a sick and twisted heart.  Period. — Chris Scripter


Show a man his failures without Jesus, and the result will be found in the roadside gutter.  Give a man religion without reminding him of his filth, and the result will be arrogance in a three-piece suit.  But get the two in the same heart–get sin to meet Savior and Savior to meet sin–and the result just might be another Pharisee turned preacher who sets the world on fire.  (Max Lucado, The Applause of Heaven, 40-1)



being “in jesus”




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