The Danger of Religion
Matthew Lesson #143
November 6, 2016
“Father, we’re thankful we have this time this opportunity to study Your Word, to be reminded of what You have revealed to us and to come to understand the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ in a more clear way.
Father, we recognize that You have revealed these things to us, and that this is important for us to learn, to study, and to reflect upon and to apply it within our own thinking and within our own lives.
Father, as we look out at the world around us, we realize that there is much confusion, there is much carnality, but there is little hope, and what we offer as a church and as Christians is the truth of Your Word, and that it must be understood in terms of its grace basis.
Father, we pray that as we study in this chapter, that You may help us to understand grace more clearly and precisely.
We pray this in Christ’s name, Amen.”
We’re back in our study in the flow of Matthew. We have taken a few weeks off from Matthew to look at Psalm 110, which fits within the context of Matthew as our Lord refers to it as He was confounding the Pharisees in His confrontation with them at the end of Matthew 22.
In this particular chapter, Matthew 23, the Lord is going to really expose the errors and the dangers of religion. It surprises people at times when you talk to them that you say God doesn’t like religion. Well, that is exactly true, once we understand what religion is, which we’re going to do this morning as a result of our study.
In the introduction this morning, I want to cover about three things.
- A reminder of where we are in Matthew, and where we’re going in the coming chapters in Matthew, and then just to focus on this immediate context.
- These are the last two sermons in Matthew of the Lord Jesus Christ. Matthew 23; Matthew 24–25
John 13–16 is the Upper Room Discourse, which comes later. That is actually the last private teaching that the Lord gave to His disciples. But in Matthew the last two are chapters 23; 24–25.
We’re going to look at little summary of why this is significant:
- Jesus’ harsh condemnation of religion in Matthew 23.
It’s important to note that the last public sermon that Jesus gave was not a feel-good sermon. It wasn’t positive. It was extremely negative. It didn’t focus on atonement. It didn’t focus on forgiveness. It didn’t focus on the gospel.
It focused on a warning and a condemnation of legalism and of religion, and a warning to the disciples and to those who would come in future generations, not to follow the examples of the legalism of the Pharisees.
So far, just in terms of a reminder of the flow of Matthew towards the end: starting in Matthew 21 through the end of Matthew 25. In this section:
VI. Jesus is presented to Israel as her Messianic King and rejected.
A. Jesus is presented formally as He enters into Jerusalem as her Messianic King in Matthew 21:21–17.
There He is presented to Israel as her Messianic King and there is a tremendous response by many of the multitude who are His followers, some who came with Him from Jericho. We studied what is called the triumphal entry—the public presentation of Jesus as the Messianic King—in that part of the chapter. That sets the stage for the confrontation that follows.
If we think in terms of chronology, there’s a lot of debate over just exactly what days this occurred. I am of the view that Jesus entered on Sunday, the day after Shabbat. He would not have entered on Shabbat—that would’ve violated the principal of Shabbat and rest, and the people would not have been out—so this would have taken place on Sunday.
B. Jesus the Messianic King is rejected by the nation, but not all of the people. Matthew 21:18–22:46
There is a reaction by the religious leaders—who are the leaders of the nation at that time—and they reject Him. This is covered in the next few chapters. He’s rejected by the nation, the leaders of the nation, but not all of the people; that’s covered in the remainder of Matthew 21 and all of Matthew 22.
In that section, it’s the next morning after the triumphal entry, which would have been Monday morning, and He cursed the fig tree as He’s going to the temple. The fig tree is a representation—a symbol—of Israel.
By cursing it He is, as it were, giving a visual aid of what is about to transpire through these confrontations with the religious leaders: His announcement of condemnation and rejection of the nation in Matthew 23 and a warning of the coming end-time judgments that would come on Israel in Matthew 24–25, which is the Olivet Discourse.
In these two chapters we see that Jesus, as the Messianic King, is rejected by the nation. We went through all of the various conflicts.
There’s a challenge to His authority in Matthew 21:23–27. He responded to that through three parables, showing that this is the essential problem of the religious leadership: that they have rejected Him as Messiah and His authority as the Son of God.
That conflict continued in Matthew 22:15–46. There were three episodes where the Pharisees, the Herodians and the Sadducees have come and challenged Him directly, and He has confounded them each time.
Then He followed that up with the question in Matthew 22:41–46, where He said, “What do you think about the Christ, the Messiah? Whose Son is He?” in a direct allusion to and quote from Psalm 110:1.
We studied that the last four weeks where He shows from Psalm 110:1 that the Messiah is the greater Son of David, who is in fact both human and divine.
This completely confounds the Pharisees and shuts them down.
C. Jesus rejects the nation and announces eight* (7) woes against the religious leaders. Matthew 23:1–39
* There’s a textual problem with one of them.
This is an announcement against them, and it ends in the last couple of verses with an announcement of judgment against Jerusalem.
In Matthew 23:37–39, “O, Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her. How often I wanted to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.”
Notice the emphasis on God’s continuing grace despite the rejection by Israel. God’s constantly taking the initiative. Notice the judgment isn’t because they were elected to damnation; the rejection is because they were not willing to respond to the grace initiative of God.
Jesus said, “See! Your house”—that’s a reference to the temple—“is left to you desolate; for I say to you, you shall see Me no more until you say ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’ ”
This is what sets up the second part of the introduction that I talked about, and that is the relationship between Matthew 23 and Matthew 24–25.
It’s important to understand the structure here. I’m not a big fan of red-letter Bibles, because the red letters are the words that Christ spoke.
But all of the Bible is the inspired Word of God—1 Corinthians 2:16 says that it’s all the mind of Christ. That gives the impression that those red letter words are more important than the rest of the Bible. All of the Bible is breathed out by God, and it’s all important.
One part of the value of the red letters is that it shows you where Jesus’ long discourses—His sermons—are in the Gospels. You see that all of Matthew 23, except for the first verse, is in red letter, all except for two verses in Matthew 24 are red letter and all of Matthew 25 is in red letters. Then you finally get to more narrative when you get to Matthew 26.
Matthew 26–27 describe the arrest of Jesus, His trials, then His crucifixion in Matthew 27; His burial in the tomb, and then His resurrection in Matthew 28. That is where we are headed.
When we look at Matthew 23, in trying to fit that within the context, we need to understand that there is a distinction in time and place between Matthew 23 and Matthew 24–25; and that’s significant.
- Matthew 23 takes place immediately following the confrontation with the religious leaders. There were the three parables that were against the religious leaders, and then the three confrontations that occurred in Matthew 22:15–40. Jesus shuts them down with His argument from Psalm 110.
- Matthew 23:1, “Then Jesus spoke to the multitudes and to His disciples.” He’s primarily talking to His own people: His disciples, and the multitude that’s there. But the scribes and Pharisees are within earshot as He announces His rejection of them and announces these woes against them.
- Matthew 23 belongs to the conclusion of what we’ve seen in the section that began in verse 21.
- There is a shift in time because it takes a little while. The walk from the temple down to the bottom of the Kidron Valley and up the other side onto the Mount of Olives, which is what takes place.
- Matthew 24:1, Jesus went out and departed from the temple, and His disciples came up to show Him the buildings of the temple. Matthew 24:3, “Now as He sat on the Mount of Olives,” so it’s a different location.
If you read all of the scholarly commentaries, you will see a lot of argument to try to connect these two. As I was thinking about this passage and Jesus’ refutation of these false teachers, it reminded me of a lot of what’s going on in seminaries today and in evangelicalism today.
There is a lot of false teaching. What is needed in a seminary is the ability to teach critical thinking skills from a sound theological perspective. That is what we’re trying to do with Chafer Seminary, and I don’t think that’s going to be accomplished until we get a full-time president and four or five full-time faculty members to really pull it together. That takes time to develop.
Dallas Seminary was founded in 1923 and it really was not until the early 1950s that things really gelled and came together for the seminary. It takes time to develop and to build these things.
Today we have an environment where liberal ideas have been gradually filtering into evangelical seminaries for the last 30 or 40 years. You can probably think of two or three evangelical conservative dispensational seminaries that have been around for the last 60, 70, 80 years, and they are, sad to say, no longer the bulwarks of biblical truth.
We’re going to need to address the question, what makes a false teacher a false teacher? One thing that makes a false teacher has to do with their understanding of the authority of Scripture.
This is why in March 2017 the focus of the Chafer Conference is going to be on the inerrancy and the infallibility of God’s Word, because this is foundational. If the Word of God is not inerrant and infallible, then God is not speaking with a solid voice of authority. If it’s not infallible and inerrant, then what parts are infallible and inerrant, and what parts are not?
Once you ask that question then you have to come up with some kind of criterion to make that distinction. Once you do that, then anything can mean anything. One person says this is God’s Word, another person says this is God’s Word: how do you know?
God is no longer speaking with authority through every part of His Scripture—every jot and tittle, as Jesus said. What happens is you don’t just see things go along good, and then one day they turn a corner and everything is bad. It takes a long gradual process.
As a student of church history, this is what happened between 1850 and 1930, a period of 80 years before you saw the complete fall of all of the mainline denominations to liberalism. It slowly creeps in, and one of the first areas of attack is on the authority of Scripture and on the infallibility of Scripture.
I just thought I’d take this as an example. Here you have something that appears very simple to people. The average person will look at this and say, “Well, I can see where they would have this argument or that argument, and that these could go together because actually if you look at the text, it seems to flow.”
I’ve pointed out some reasons why I think they should be disconnected, but as I was reading through a number of commentaries, the majority of them were trying to connect these two together: one flowing out of the other.
While there is a broad connection, the writer Matthew and Jesus: both Jesus by His actions of movement and Matthew by emphasizing the distinction in place, show that they are not related. There is a clear distinction here.
You might say, “Well, why are you making this point? Why is this so important?” As you look at this, you have to have—as a pastor or any student of the Word—the ability to think critically. Also to understand that when you’re reading commentaries, that these guys are not just popping up out of a vacuum, they’ve got backgrounds.
I try to teach the men that I work with on Friday mornings via an online pastors group that you have to know about the authors of these commentaries. What’s their background? What’s their denominational background? What were the influences on their life?
Even people we know and we trust, whether it’s somebody like Charlie Clough, Arnold Fruchtenbaum, Andy Woods, George Meisinger. What are their backgrounds? What pastors, what teachers, what educators, what seminary professors influenced them?
As I began to mentally organize these commentaries, I realized that the vast number of those who are stating a position as to how these are related were also men who are weak on inerrancy.
We’ve studied this in the past, that there are those who will affirm inerrancy in their doctrinal statement, but then the way they treat the differences between the Gospel passages and other things that Jesus says, they are in effect denying inerrancy.
One of the foremost evangelical theologians—who has written a commentary on Matthew and is a professor at an evangelical seminary—made the comment related to the Evangelical Theological Society: if all of the men who are members of ETS—who have to affirm, sign a doctrinal statement that they believe in the inerrancy of infallibility of Scripture—were forced to interpret that doctrinal statement of the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture, in light of the Chicago Statement of the Inerrancy of Scripture, then over 90% of them couldn’t do it.
That’s important because the Chicago Statement of Biblical Inerrancy was worked out by over 300 theologians around 1977–1978; who represented a number of different theological traditions.
They were Baptist, Methodist, Episcopalians; they were conservatives, some were dispensational, some were covenant; but they came together in agreement to this statement. It is an extremely precise statement going through the Scripture explaining what the doctrine says and also countering a number of different arguments.
In 2004, the Evangelical Theological Society officially said that is the interpretation of their doctrinal statement of their line on the inerrancy and infallibility of Scripture. What this shows is you’ve got a high level of a lack of integrity among a lot of seminary professors today at a number of different institutions who are really waffling.
It comes to credibility, and it comes to the ability to have critical thinking skills. That’s why we have to have a solid seminary.
It also relates to this whole idea of false teaching, because the erosion of truth is not something that happens overnight. It takes decades for this to take place, and a lot of times people are completely unaware of what is happening until one day they wake up and see “Well, that’s not exactly what I was taught.”
That’s how it developed with the Pharisees. They didn’t come to the positions they held at the time of Jesus overnight. It took 200–300 years, and we’ll look at that as we go through this.
It’s important to understand this, and you have to have a pastor who’s educated enough to be able to think critically about these issues. You have been listening to me and others who are very, very solid in teaching the Word for many years in your Christian life, but just because someone has been to seminary doesn’t mean they have the critical thinking skills.
Trust me; there are a lot of people who have gone through seminary and have not developed these kinds of critical thinking skills. I’ve also seen a lot of people who come out of a solid church who go to seminary. Like I was saying, you’ve listened to me and others like me for most of your Christian life.
But if you were to go off to seminary, you would start hearing a lot of professors who had a doctorate, a double doctorate, they’ve been to Dallas [Seminary] or they’ve been to one of the other evangelical schools, gotten a doctorate there, and then they’ve gone someplace else in Europe or in the Northeast and gotten the second doctorate.
They know Greek and Hebrew, and I’ve seen so many men over the years: within a year or two, they’ve completely changed their understanding of the Bible, because they get their eyes on a person.
What’s happened is they put their eyes on me, they put their eyes on somebody else, and then they go to seminary, and they hear others who are educated, and they either shipwreck their faith—I can’t tell you how many people I’ve seen do that—they hear other opinions, and they just crash and burn.
They can’t handle the fact that there are different views by different people, and they don’t have the critical thinking skills to say, “Okay, this person says X, Y, and Z; this person says W, X, Y. What is the difference? How can I outline their positions so that I can truly understand who has the more biblical argument and who doesn’t?” and be able to get past all the smokescreens of what is being put out there.
Last week I was having a discussion with a pastor I’ve known for about 40 years. We don’t agree on everything, but we agree on a lot of things. We were disagreeing over something, and I said, “How did you come to that conclusion?” He said, “I read my Bible.”
I said, “That’s what Joseph Smith said. I’ve read my Bible too. What’s your argument? We’ve got to break this thing down into every component.”
The reason I’m going through this is because we’ve reached the same kind of situation in modern evangelicalism that Jesus was facing with the Pharisees. We have a religious establishment that in many cases has divorced itself from grace.
They are expressing their own opinions as if they have the authority of the Word of God and they don’t; and they are leading people astray. They are false teachers. They are wolves in sheep’s clothing.
This is what Paul warned the Ephesian elders about in Acts 19. He says that there are going to be those who come from within you, from your midst, who are false teachers and will lead people astray. The only way for you to be watchful for error is to really understand the truth.
But that’s not a guarantee because I know a lot of people who understand the truth, but they just can’t think critically, so they have to rely on somebody who has some critical thinking skills and really understands what’s going on, and that’s important.
The last couple of days, I went to Albuquerque to participate in a very short prophecy conference. The other speakers were Charlie Clough and Andy Woods. It’s really interesting: we represent three generations.
In 1 Timothy 2:2 Paul to Timothy, talks about the fact that. “I committed to you this word of truth.” That’s two generations, Paul and Timothy, and you commit this to faithful men also, that’s a third generation, that will be able to teach others also, that’s a fourth generation.
Charlie Clough was at this conference and I first heard Charlie 50 years ago. My how time flies when you’re having fun. Charlie wasn’t even out of seminary yet. He was doing his pastoral internship here in Houston when I first heard him.
Charlie Clough gave me a love for the Old Testament. He became pastor of Lubbock Bible Church and taught the Old Testament and I thought, “I’ve never heard anybody who really understood and put it together like that.”
That gave me a desire to really know the Old Testament. He did such a fabulous job, he gave me that hunger for it.
In the mid-to-late 90s, a young lawyer in Southern California met George Meisinger, and George gave him a desire to know the Scriptures; so Andy Woods enrolled in Chafer Seminary and took his first year at Chafer Seminary.
I met him a couple years later, right after he moved to Dallas to finish his degree there; he was mentored by Charlie, by me, by Tommy Ice, by a number of others, so you see this progression.
The three of us were together, and we’ve got men in Chafer Seminary who are coming up as a fourth-generation, and this is what is needed. But it’s interesting when I get together with these guys and each one of us knows different things that are going on in our broader world.
I learned some things this weekend about what is happening among many of our seminaries: that outside of Chafer and Tyndale, I can’t recommend any other seminary anymore, because they’ve slid into false teaching in ways you can’t imagine. I’m not going to talk about in the pulpit, but it’s just horrendous.
This is what Jesus is warning against in this particular chapter. The problem that we have is what Jesus gets to in Matthew 23:12 as He concludes the first part of this condemnation of the Pharisees.
If you are a product of our culture—especially if you’re younger, if you’re a Millennial—this doesn’t sit well with you because everything is supposed to be positive and build a good self-image.
Jesus is about as harsh as He could possibly be in His discussion of the religious leaders. This is His last public message: this isn’t a feel-good message; it’s not a motivational message; it’s not an evangelism message.
It’s a warning that there’s going to be people who come up in your midst who are going to lead you astray, and they’re motivated by arrogance, they’re motivated by a power lust, and they’re motivated by a desire to control people. They are motivated by gaining their own recognition and their own fame, and they are focused on exalting themselves.
We look at the first part of this chapter, then we come to the last verse, it gives us sort of the unifying theme that Jesus is focused on in this condemnation, Matthew 23:12, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”
He is emphasizing the fact that the core problem with legalism, the core problem with false teachers is arrogance. Arrogance is always a rejection of divine authority and the assertion of one’s own personal authority.
Peter learned the lesson well as He was sitting there; in 1 Peter 5:5 he says, “Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility.”
Peter talks, as we’ve seen on Thursday night, he’s very focused on understanding submission. Submission is related to authority orientation and to humility. That’s the foundation for it.
It’s interesting, the word for “submission” is the word HUPOTASSO in the Greek, and the root verb there is TASSO, and submission is this idea to put yourself under the authority of someone else.
And he said “be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for”—and then he is going to quote from Proverbs and from Psalms. He’s going to put this together and He says—“for God resists the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
That word for “resists” is the word ANTITASSO. HUPOTASSO is to submit. ANTITASSO—so there’s a play on words there to make the point—means not just to resist, but it is used in extra-biblical literature to indicate the amassing of troops to establish a battle line to fight against the enemy.
It’s the idea of going to war: that God is going to go to war against the arrogant. God does not put up with the arrogant. He’s going to be hostile to the arrogant.
1 Peter 5:6 concludes, “Therefore, humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time.”
James, who is the half-brother of our Lord’s humanity says, James 4:6–7 “But He gives more grace. Therefore He says—that is, God says—‘God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’ Therefore submit to God.”
The emphasis that we see here is that we have to start with humility, but it’s really easy for leaders, for pastors, for other spiritual leaders to succumb to arrogance.
Arrogance is the greatest enemy of anyone who is in the pastoral ministry or theological professor because we often believe our press reports. We talk, we teach, people say how wonderful we are, and we think that they’re actually right.
One of the things a young pastor has to learn right away is you never believe what anybody tells you after class, unless they tell you that was a rotten sermon, then they’re probably right. But in 30 years of ministry, nobody’s ever quite said that, so that’s not the problem.
The problem is arrogance, and what we see in ministry that’s been a problem—it was a problem with the Pharisees—is people who are creating their own power base, their own fiefdoms.
Often people who are in congregations unwittingly feed that, and they talk about the fact that, “Well, my pastor teaches: ‘fill in the blank’ ” There’s a fine line between having a congregation that has good esprit de corps and is proud of their pastor; that’s something that should be there; that’s good for any congregation.
But you can cross the line, and all of a sudden whatever that pastor says takes on an authority that is above the Scripture almost and takes control over the Scripture. I can name you a dozen examples of this, of pastors around the country, and many more. There are some that are much more egregious than others.
Some, it just happens unwittingly. There’s a pastor in Southern California, has worldwide ministry, he’s a strong advocate of Lordship salvation, and he’s had a huge role in evangelism and in establishing some schools and seminaries across the former Soviet Union.
One of my colleagues on the Chafer board, who used to be on the mission field with Jim Myers, Mark Musser, has been over there, and the opposition, the Russian Baptist denomination is very much focused on expanding the ministry of the Southern California pastor.
Mark was there with one of our graduates from the Word of God Institute, who was over in far eastern Russia, and they were teaching through Romans with the DM2 material, teaching a free-grace gospel.
But that student has virtually been brought up on heresy charges by the leader of the Baptist Church there. The leader’s ultimate authority isn’t the Bible.
Of course, that’s what he says; that’s what we all say, “Well, I read the Bible.” Like my friend said the other day, “Well, I just got that from reading the Bible.” That’s such a supercilious argument. What are they doing? “Well, this is what pastor so-and-so teaches.” That becomes the ultimate authority.
This is exactly what happened with the Pharisees of the time of Jesus. If you read the Mishnah, they’ll pose a question, “Well what do we do in this situation?” They’ll say, “Well, Rabbi Hillel says this, and Rabbi Shammai says this,” and nobody’s going to the text of Scripture.
We live in a world today where a lot of times Christians get together and talk, and they’ll say, “Well, John MacArthur says this, and Charles Swindoll says this, and so-and-so says this, and so-and-so says …” Well, what does the Bible say?
We’ve got to get back to the Bible, and we can’t, either as pastors or as congregants, elevate the pastor above his station. We all make mistakes. Every pastor I have focused on and learned under has gone through a process of spiritual growth and knowledge and theological growth as they have come to understand the Scriptures better and better.
I think that the ten minutes before Jesus takes me home, I will have a better handle on what the Scripture says than I had when I started. Don’t you think that makes sense? And I will teach more accurately, I hope, at that time than I did at the beginning.
The pastorate is one of those few professions you can go into—maybe doctors are the same way—where you’re really better when you’re in your 70s and 80s, unless you have dementia, than you were when you were in your 30s and 40s, because in your 30s and 40s, you haven’t had enough time in grade.
I wouldn’t have believed that when I was 30 or 40, but it’s true. I look back at how much I have learned and grown in the Scripture in the last 20 years compared to the previous 20 years, and it’s amazing. It’s just the opportunity to study.
Every pastor goes through growth, but the pastor—the rabbi at the time of Jesus—wasn’t the final authority. This is the problem that we see.
What Jesus is condemning here is religion, so I want to look at a few things and just summarize some basic principles about what the Scripture says about religion.
First of all, God abhors religion. God hates religion. He despises religion because religion is a product of human arrogance. It is not what God is seeking in His Word, and this often comes as a surprise to many people.
It’s a great conversation starter. If you want to talk to somebody, you start talking about going to church, they say, “Well, I’m not religious.” And you say, “Well, I’m not either and neither is God.” What? God’s not religious? No, God is not religious. God is focusing on a relationship.
We have to understand that it is the way of the world system to think that man on his own always has the right idea about spirituality. I’m using that in very broad, broad sense: the right idea about how to be in touch with whatever the eternal is.
Human viewpoint thinks more highly of itself than it ought to think. It thinks that it has a handle on truth, and it emphasizes things such as sincerity, devotion, having certain kinds of attitudes; and they label that as being spiritual or being religious, and somehow that impresses God.
In human viewpoint, in our own arrogance, what we really want when we talk about so many things is we just want validation and approval. We think that if we are sincere about what we’re doing, if we truly, genuinely believe it, then somehow that’s going to impress God, and God is going to validate us by letting us come to Heaven.
One of the ideas that often comes out of many religions is the idea that all roads lead to God. I think there are only two beliefs that are exclusive: Christianity, which focuses on a relationship not a religion.
Then Islam, which is a religion, and if you don’t submit to Allah, then you’re not going anywhere. You’re just going to come under Allah’s condemnation.
Those are both exclusive, and this drives unbelievers crazy.
We have these statements in Scripture. One you hear me quote all the time on Sunday morning. Jesus said, John 14:6, “I am the way the truth and the life. No one can come to the Father except by Me.”
Now that is a pretty arrogant statement unless it’s true. Jesus is claiming exclusivity, that He’s the only way that anyone can have a relationship with God.
If you’re looking at this from purely human viewpoint standard, you think, “This guy’s got to be a real nut job.” Well, that’s one of the options: either Jesus is crazy—but that doesn’t seem to fit the scenario of what we know of Jesus’ life—or He’s lying.
That doesn’t fit the scenario of Jesus’ life either. So if Jesus isn’t crazy and He’s not lying, then maybe He’s telling the truth, and if He’s telling the truth, then He’s talking about that He is the only way.
In John 11:25 He says similar things. He says, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though He may die, He shall live.”
These verses emphasize that the way to have a relationship with God is simply through faith in Christ. It’s not by works.
A third verse that we can go to is Jesus’ conversation with Nicodemus, a Pharisee. John 3:3, Jesus said to him, “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the king of God.”
Unless a man is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God. That’s a pretty exclusive statement. Unless you are born again. “Well, how do I get born again?” “By believing in Me.” Once again it’s showing that exclusivity.
The second point: religion is man doing works, and God blesses them. But in Christianity, God does all of the work and man receives it.
The first point is God hates religion because religion thinks everything is going to ultimately work out, and they’re going to get to be with God.
The second point is that religion is man doing something—whether it’s various activities, whether it’s moral obedience, whatever it may be, a certain ritual—as man jumps through these hoops and checks off these marks—then God blesses him.
Whereas Christianity says that God does all of the work and man simply receives it.
The thing I’m emphasizing here is that in religion God is the ultimate validator of whatever human beings do. There’s no real absolute standard of universal righteousness. So as long as we are sincere, then God validates us because He loves us so much.
The problem with this view is that, with most religion, it always has a very high view of man and a very low view of sin. A high view of man because they think that man just has to do a little bit more, and God’s going to pat him on the back.
It’s a low view of sin because it doesn’t understand the concept that man is spiritually dead and incapable of doing anything good. Only Christianity has a way of dealing with man’s sin.
2 Corinthians 5:21, “For He”—that is God—“made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
Old Testament Judaism, in contrast to Pharisaism, understood that works were not valid. We have passages like Isaiah 64:6, “But we are all an unclean thing, and all our righteousness is like filthy rags.”
Isaiah the prophet understood that all of our good deeds, all our tsedaqah, all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.
The solution was given in Isaiah 53:10–11. Talking about the suffering Servant, Isaiah wrote, “Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise Him; He has put Him to grief. When You make His soul an offering for sin, He shall see His seed ...” It’s saying that the soul of the Messiah would be an offering for sin.
Verse 11, “He shall see the labor of His soul, and be satisfied.” That’s the Christian doctrine of propitiation: the idea that God’s justice and righteousness were satisfied by the death of the Messiah.
“By His knowledge my righteous Servant shall justify many.” It’s not that they are inherently good because their works are filthy rags, but that because of the death of the Messiah, they will be justified. Why? Because “… He shall bear their iniquities.”
In the Old Testament, the focus wasn’t on the ritual, it was focused on the reality that the ritual was supposed to represent, which was mercy and grace.
Micah 6:8 says, “He has shown you, O man, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you”—not all these details and all these regulations the Pharisees developed—“but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God?”
In context that ultimately is grounded on the fact that you have trusted in God and in His promise of a provision of the Messiah in the Old Testament, so that now you can walk before God.
Third thing about religion is that Christianity is a relationship with God, but religion is a relationship with ritual or procedures or details or regulations and minutia.
God told the Jews in the Mosaic Law that they were not to work on the Sabbath; they were not to do normal work on the Sabbath, but they were to rest in God. The Pharisees came along, and at first they developed 28 principles, because people would say, understandably, “What do you mean, ‘don’t work?’ What should I not do?”
So they came up with 28 things that you couldn’t do. And, of course, as you started to look at those, you would say, “Well, what about this first one; what about this, what about that, what about this other thing?” And pretty soon, each one of those 28 had 100 different stipulations and regulations related to it, until it became impossible to figure out what you could or you couldn’t do.
Their focus was on controlling people through the minutia of all of these regulations; whereas the original commandment was very general, and it didn’t go in and spell out every single detail, leaving that up to the individual.
But Christianity is not a relationship with regulations, it’s a relationship with God. We see this emphasized in numerous places.
For example, Genesis 5:24 talks about Enoch, “And Enoch walked with God.” That’s a term for relationship.
We also have several references and for example Isaiah 41:8 that talks about Abraham as God’s friend. Also 2 Chronicles 20:7 refers to Abraham as God’s friend forever. James 2:23 that says He was called the friend of God. Being a friend is a relationship.
I think we have a problem that we’re going to have to deal with in our culture. We’re seeing so many relational breakdowns today. Because in younger generations that have grown up with all their tech devices and their cell phones—and you’ve all seen this: you go out to eat at restaurant and see a couple out on a date—and they’re both looking at their cell phones.
They’re not talking to each other, they’re just spending all of their time on their cell phone. We’re going to see a massive problem with the millennial generation and younger when they get older because they didn’t grow up learning how to have a relationship.
Spiritually that’s going to have implications because if you don’t learn how to have a relationship with other human beings except through a device, how are you going to learn to have a relationship with God? You don’t know how to relate. You don’t know how to relate to another person.
That’s going to be a major aspect of ministry for Christians as we see these millennials come to Christ and talk about a relationship, they don’t know really what that means. That’s going to be a major issue.
So Christianity is a relationship with God, not with regulations.
Fourth: religion appeals to man’s sin nature. It builds authorities in human beings where that authority should go to God. That’s what we’re going to see in this chapter.
It appeals to approbation lust. People want to be approved by others. They want to get all those positive strokes, and they’re thinking they’re getting these positive strokes from God.
It appeals to power last. They want to have power and control over people. In the ancient world, we had fertility religions that emphasized sexual lust. Today we have it, but it’s expressed in other ways.
You have religions that appeal to pleasure lusts. All kinds of different things: intellectual lusts, cerebral cults that have developed over mind control, and other things like that.
The last point in terms of this introduction is that religion is Satan’s greatest tool to distract people from God.
In 2 Corinthians 11:13–15, we’re warned about false apostles and false teachers, “For such are false apostles, deceitful workers, transforming themselves into apostles of Christ.”
Nobody claims to be an enemy of Christ. They all claim to be a friend of Christ. They’re representing Christ. Like my friend the other day who said, “Well, I got this from reading the Bible.” I said, “Well, I read the Bible too. I know Greek and Hebrew just as well as you do. Don’t give me this kind of supercilious argument. Let’s break it down and get to the details of your understanding.”
But he’s not a false teacher. You have false teachers who come along: they all claim biblical authority. Then Paul goes on to say, “And no wonder! For Satan himself transforms himself into an angel of light.” Satan’s going to look like a good guy.
He’s not going to look like a bad guy. He’s not going to come out like on Halloween with horns and red skin and a tail and look like the devil. He’s going to look like a good guy.
“Therefore, it is no great thing,” Paul goes on to say, “if his ministers also transform themselves into ministers of righteousness, whose end will be according to their works.”
This is the problem that you have with the Pharisees. They are ministers of Satan. They are moral degenerates. They are disciples of the devil. They are promoting religion, but not a relationship with God, and that is why Jesus condemns them.
Anyone who says, “I can tell you how to get to Heaven,” and what they tell you to do will take you straight to the Lake of Fire ought to be strongly and roundly condemned because that kind of thinking destroys people.
That’s what Jesus is getting at, that the shepherds of Israel have turned the flocks that God has given them over to wolves and it is destroying the nation; this is why He announces judgment.
Next time we’ll start getting into the text, looking at what He says: condemnations, a lot of things that need to be understood in this chapter. Because if you don’t understand Pharisaism and the culture at the time, it’s real easy—and people do—to take some of these statements completely out of context and misapply them.
“Father, thank You for this opportunity to study these things. Father, we’re so grateful that we have a relationship with You, and that we can walk with You. That God the Holy Spirit indwells us, and the Lord Jesus Christ indwells us, and You indwell us, and we have this rich relationship.
We study Your Word, not as an end in itself, but as a way to learn about who You are, so that our relationship with You will deepen and strengthen, and it will be based on truth and not on error.
Father, above all we pray that if anyone is listening/reading, and they wonder just how they can have a relationship with You, that really is only the end result. The issue is that we have to trust in Jesus. Again and again in the Scriptures, the issue is just to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus said that to Martha. After He said “I’m the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Me, though he were dead, yet shall He live,” He said, “Do you believe this?”
The issue is belief. It’s not on ritual; it’s not all following a set of guidelines and regulations. It is on trusting in Jesus Christ and the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ on the Cross.
Father, we pray that You would make the gospel clear to those who’ve listened, that they would respond in faith.
For those of us who are believers, that we would recognize it’s very easy for us at times to slip into forms of legalism and religiosity, as we go forward in our own Christian lives, and we need to be brought back to the fact that we need to be walking with You in relationship on a day-by-day basis.
We pray all these things in Christ’s name, Amen.”