A Pharisee?

“We use the word Pharisee in a negative manner. It conveys something distasteful to us. No one loves a Pharisee, in our understanding of the word. We find ourselves much more at home with the prodigal [son], whatever crimes he may have committed against his father, than we do with the elder brother. But we have given what is surely a very wrong connotation to the word. In the Palestine of Christ’s day it not only meant the self-righteous hypocrite, the man who regarded himself as immeasurably holier than others and who paraded his religiosity before the world, being proud of nothing so much as of his superior standing before God. The Pharisee was very often an upright man, a man of substance, a pillar in his community, a man of integrity in his business relationships, a man who took his religious faith with great seriousness and put it into practice in every area of life. There was something very wrong indeed with the Pharisee, but it was not that he lacked honesty, or that he was immoral, or that he was insincere. And it was precisely to point up and to illustrate in as graphic a manner as possible what the real trouble was in the life of these Pharisees and scribes that the Lord Jesus added these verses to the parable of the prodigal son about the elder brother.” -John R. DeWitt, Amazing Love

BTW NOTE: More often that not, what makes a person a Pharisee is not what’s going on on the outside, it’s what’s going on on the inside. As Jesus said they are ‘whitewashed tombs full of dead men’s bones.’ Good outward behavior, but the motives behind the behavior are all off.


“the original listeners were not melted into tears by this story but rather they were thunderstruck, offended, and infuriated. Jesus’s purpose is not to warm our hearts but to shatter our categories. Through this parable Jesus challenges what nearly everyone has ever thought about God, sin, and salvation. His story reveals the destructive self-centeredness of the younger brother, but it also condemns the elder brother’s moralistic life in the strongest terms.” -Tim Keller, The Prodigal God

What the Law Does (and Doesn’t) Do

“In the Old Testament, in God’s revelation though Moses, as in the New Testament, in the divine Covenant, the Law is not a ladder of merit we attempt to climb in order to win God’s favour; it is God’s pattern of holy living given to us because, by redemption, we are already in his favour. It is not a way of salvation by works of obedience; it is a pattern of obedience divinely provided for those who have been saved by grace.” -Alec Motyer, A Christian’s Pocket Guide to Loving the Old Testament

It’s not “about us,” except for when God says it is…

I was thinking today about how theological slogans can become abused to the point of becoming untrue. Today, I was thinking about the criticism that the mere preaching/teaching of the ethical sections of Scripture automatically means making Christianity “about us.”

In the broader history of Reformed theology that viewpoint is called antinomianism, and has never actually been countenanced in the Reformed confessions and catechisms.

But it did get me thinking about what needs to be present in a sermon or lecture to avoid a legitimate charge of making Christianity “about us.” Here’s me taking a stab at it:

  1. The lecture/sermon needs to connect the ethical teaching to the Gospel, wherein the Gospel is shown to be the source of strength that enables us to obey the ethic.
  2. The ethic should not be preached/taught as a way of securing salvation before God.
  3. More subtly, when our hang-ups about making Christianity “about us” lead us to the place where we won’t let God in his word address us about ethical questions that he wants to talk to us about, we actually have made Christianity about us. Why? Because that means God’s revelation speaks to an issue, but we are forbidding that teaching to be given because of an irrational fear in our hearts. In that moment, the fear (about Christianity being “about us”) has become the real God in our heart, and the true God has been forced to be its servant.

Our Standards For Righteousness Are Too Low

“And because nothing appears within or around us that has not been contaminated by great immorality, what is a little less vile pleases us as a thing most pure–so long as we confine our minds within the limits of human corruption.” -John Calvin

Flee From Your Good Works

“This is what David Dickson (1583-1662) did. In December 1662, he became extremely sick. When a friend asked him what he was thinking, he wisely said, “I have taken all my good deeds, and all my bad deeds, and have cast them together in a heap before the Lord, and have fled from both to Jesus Christ, and in Him I have sweet peace.” -Derek Thomas