There are churches in America that come very close to being a church of the Pharisees. This legalistic movement disguises itself in many ways. Certainly, they don’t live like the Pharisees in the sense of wearing phylacteries filled with scriptures on their forehead and right arm. But, the idea of a code of rules permeates these churches. I once visited an American church in Germany with mostly military members. They prided themselves in being ‘independent and fundamental’. They only use the King James Version Bible and act as if that version is inerrant. They had a brochure on their literature table that had a ‘code of conduct’. It specified things such as men in the choir not having hair touching their collars, women wearing dresses and numerous other rules for those operating in various roles within the church.
The Pharisees in the New Testament had an approach to life that created rules that would keep a person from even coming close to violating the Law that Israel had been given. For instance, the law said to keep the Sabbath holy. The Pharisees took this a step further and said in order to keep the Sabbath day holy you couldn’t plow on the Sabbath. Then they stretched it further and said that a woman could not move a chair on the Sabbath. They reasoned that a woman moving a chair would drag the legs on the floor which would move dirt and if you’re moving dirt you are plowing. They measured their holiness by how well they followed the rules.
When Jesus came on the scene, he challenged the Pharisees on numerous occasions. The Pharisees would say that they were putting on the yoke of the law. They would smear honey on copies of the law and give it to their toddler children. The child would lick the honey off of the law and in his mind was equating the law with something sweet. That is how they would condition their children to cherish the role of the law in their lives. Jesus comes along and says that his yoke was easy and His burden was light. The Pharisees didn’t care for that at all. And, in fact they conspired how they would kill him as he threatened their job security. He insulted them and called them snakes and vipers. He compared them with white washed sepulchers where they would bury the dead.
Jesus did not come to give us a bunch of new rules and regulations. Jesus said there are only two commandments and all the others hinge upon those two. He said that one is to love God more than yourself…and love your neighbor more than yourself. If I truly am loving God and my neighbor more than myself, then I won’t steal from my neighbor, won’t have sex with his wife, won’t lie. But, Christianity isn’t about God being a party pooper and keeping us from having all the fun. It’s about being led by the spirit of God. It’s about growing closer to Him and by virtue of that taking on the character and mind of God.
Hebrews 4 talks about a ‘rest’ that we can have in Christ. Serving Christ isn’t to be hard. It’s to be responsiveness to him. I tell people that serving Christ is similar to your family owning a family restaurant. When I am at the restaurant and my family owns it, when I see a dirty table I am not going to go and punch in on the time clock. I am part of the family so I grab a cloth in order to get those tables clean so that my family business can do better. We have an inheritance. As a Christian we aren’t servants of God. We have an inheritance in the family business. I worship God because of my relationship with Him. My faith isn’t based on just comparing the Bible with the Koran, Book of Mormon or any other religious piece of literature. It’s based upon the God that has confirmed his existence to me over and over again.
Rules you choose to follow regarding music, entertainment and lifestyle choices are not bad in and of themselves. But, each person has to seek God’s will for their lives especially when the Bible is silent on the issue. For instance, some would say you should only listen to Christian music and that country and western and rock are evil influences. Well, the Bible doesn’t address types of music specifically. So for the person that only listens to Christian music, they do so as their personal point of obedience to the Lord. But, they should not look down on someone who does listen to country music but doesn’t have that personal conviction. For the one, it may very well be sin because within the context of his walk with Christ…the Lord has led him to that level of commitment. But, for the person that feels the freedom to listen to country music…that is between him and God. I don’t have to take responsibility to try to change that person. If they quit listening to country music solely on my word, they are following a rule without the relationship which leads to a sense of loss. For the one who gives it up for the love of the Lord, they have not given up anything…they have grown closer to Christ.
Another thought I regarding the Pharisees and why it is so tempting to be like them. We are a people who like to be able to define someone. In the military, we can go to a strange base and before long we can tell a lot about a person by their ribbons, their rank, etc. In the civilian world, we define people by the kind of job they have, the kind of car they drive and the clothes they wear. Pharisees like to be able to identify those they consider the “select of the elect”. In other words, they want to identify those people that are as passionate about following the rules as they are.
Christianity isn’t about rules and regulations. Faith in Christ is about a relationship with Him. It is not about grabbing a brochure off of a literature table so you can have a list of do’s and don’ts. Being a Christian is about an exciting life of being led by the spirit of God. It is about having a renewed mind so that we are not conformed to the world, but instead being used by God to lead people to faith and relationship with the same God that created them.