CLIFF 2: LEGALISM AND SPIRITUAL PRIDE
(Two Cliffs – continued – Part 2 of 2) (See Part 1 of 2 here)
Here is another story (also embellished for the sake of the illustration) of a real person in the Bible:
Mr. Simon the Pharisee (Luke 7:36-50) was a faithful fellow - his whole life praying for the Messiah to come. He was very disciplined. People used to ask him, "How is it that you’re able to get up at the same time every morning and pray?" (Back in those days they didn’t have alarm clocks). He would say, "I’ve trained myself well, I’ve never missed a day since I was 12." He was very strict, and for this people admired him. He knew the Scriptures inside and out, and often quoted Scripture in casual conversations. This was not to build others up but because he felt that all conversations should be related to religious matters and that any conversation that wasn’t like that was a waste of time. Because of this he very rarely talked to new converts or children, except to correct them.
Simon one day met a man he thought may be a prophet, whose name was Jesus. He had hope that maybe this really could be an actual prophet (Israel hadn’t had one in 400 years!) and possibly even more… maybe even the Messiah! And so he listened and watched Jesus carefully to try to figure out if this was indeed the one Israel was waiting for. After observing Jesus for a while, he saw the power in Jesus’ life, the authority with which He spoke, the great miracles He could do, and Simon’s confidence and excitement was growing. Some of his other Pharisee friends were skeptical, but Simon the Pharisee started to admire Jesus (though not fully believing Him yet) - and so one day he invited Jesus over to his house for dinner, along with his Pharisee friends and others who were following Jesus around to listen to Him.
While they were there in Simon’s home relaxing and talking at the table, one woman who heard that Jesus was at Simon’s home (this woman was widely known as previously being a prostitute) suddenly came into the house with a jar, approached Jesus from behind as He was reclining at the table, and went straight to His feet to start washing his feet with perfume that was in the jar (that she no doubt bought with the money she previously received from her prostitution). She couldn’t stop weeping as she wiped his feet with her hair and her tears. Simon had an intense inner fury within himself, thinking, "How can Jesus let this happen? He should be telling her to leave, he must not know who she is. If he won’t tell her to leave, maybe I should. God’s law says this woman should have been stoned already!"
These thoughts were bugging his heart (as legalistic rules and thoughts often do, since a religious mind is consumed with what other people are doing wrong instead of the sin its own heart). To Simon’s surprise, Jesus then defended the woman and told him that people who are forgiven for more, love more. And that because of all of her sin (and her recognition of God’s immense mercy and forgiveness after she repented), she was the one showing the most love toward Him and God, even above him and his Pharisee friends! This rebuke offended Simon, and this action by Jesus of such blatant disregard for the rules in God’s Word convinced Simon that Jesus was neither a prophet, nor the Messiah. That was the last time Jesus had dinner at Simon’s house.
I’m not sure if Simon the Pharisee changed his ways and repented of such religiosity and legalism, but if he didn’t, then he would have lost Jesus forever because he worshiped religion instead of God. Why would he do that? Many people worship religion like that, and become very religious. I believe it's so that they can get the benefits of following God (peace in their own conscience, and eternal hope), without really giving up their self-life. They want to give God the minimum they can, while still getting all that He offers.
For the religious, if they can follow a set of rules well, and do enough good works, if their good deeds outweigh their bad ones, then they’ve deceived themselves that they are now justified before God. Honest people, such as Paul, though, will have to confess that the best of their righteousness still falls short (Romans 7:7), and then there is hope for them because then they can see their utter need for God - that was God's purpose for the entire old covenant law (Gal 3:22). But the religious people who are not honest with themselves and hate the truth about themselves, go on to be deceived thinking they are right with God (2 Thess 2:10) and continue live for the most part in wickedness as they’d like (especially inwardly - in their thoughts and attitudes) as long as they follow some outward rules strictly and do enough outward works of service for God. And then along with it comes, pride, and judging/looking down other people who don’t keep all these same rules, or don't outwardly do as much as them. I think this is what happened to Simon the Pharisee.
So, someone who loves religion like this (and ultimately themselves) instead of God/Jesus and other people will fall off of Cliff number two - the cliff of religiosity and spiritual pride. And the thing about this cliff that's so dangerous is that most who fall off of it don’t even know they’ve fallen off! They can believe until the end of their life that they have pleased the Lord very well. There will be a lot of shocked people standing before the Lord on the last day (Matt 7:22), and I don't want to be one of them. I believe that in serious churches, the bigger danger is falling off of cliff number two - the rules, pride and legalism cliff. Looking down on others, feeling that we are pretty good because we kept rules and did good works. To claim to love Jesus, but to despise people He has accepted that don’t have the same convictions about the rules that we do. To push our convictions on other people. To take satisfaction in our amount of truth and Bible knowledge we have or spiritual activity we've done compared to other people. May the Lord fill me with His Spirit to have genuine love inside of me (Romans 5:5), not religiosity!
I don't want to just bounce around going down the narrow path, like a driver on the road who's not paying attention. I want to remain in the very center of the narrow path that leads to life. May the Lord keep me absolute-center in His will on the narrow path. We aren’t perfect, but if we sincerely seek the Lord for help to stay in the center of His will our whole life, at the cost of our self-life, then He will preserve us from falling into the two extremes which can ultimately shipwreck our faith - worldliness and religion.
Philippians 2:12-13 "work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure."