Saturday, October 31, 2015

Hypocrisy and True Spiritual Peace

In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus told a deep parable, that of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector. In it, we see strikingly different attitudes in their approaches to God, representative of those of people everywhere. The Pharisee prays (verses 11-12), "God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust,
The Pharisee and the Tax Collector
adulterers, or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get." Then He turns to the tax collector, who prays (verse 13), "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" Then the Lord ends the parable with His own inspired synopsis (verse 14): "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted."

Notice how much longer the prayer of the Pharisee is (see Matthew 6:1-4). He uses thirty-three words in this English version, all of them extolling his virtues. In contrast, the tax collector uses just seven words, begging for God's mercy on his sins. What a contrast! Thirty-three words to stand condemned, but only seven to be justified!

The Pharisee in the story exemplifies something that the Puritan Thomas Watson said: "The wicked may have something which looks like peace, but is not. They may be fearless and stupid, but there is a great difference between a stupified conscience and a pacified conscience. 'When a strong man armed keepeth his palace, his goods are in peace.' Luke 11:21. This is the devil's peace. He rocks men in the cradle of security. He cries, 'Peace, peace,' when men are on the precipice of hell. The seeming peace that a sinner has is not from the knowledge of his happiness but from the ignorance of his danger."

This same false, self-deceived spiritual peace is spoken of by the Prophet Jeremiah (Jer.  3:3-5): "The showers have been withheld, and the spring rain has not come; yet you have the forehead of a whore; you refuse to be ashamed. Have you not just now called to Me, 'My father, you are the friend of my youth— will He be angry forever, will He be indignant to the end?' Behold, you have spoken, but you have done all the evil that you could." In a time of apostasy, the Jews spoke loving words to God, yet devoted themselves to their wicked deeds and idolatries, as if God could be deceived. Yet, He wasn't. And the Prophet Isaiah is even more blunt (Is. 57:21): "'There is no peace,' says my God, 'for the wicked.'"

Watson explains what is necessary for true peace between the sinner and his God: "The graft must first be inoculated into the tree before it can receive sap or nourishment from it; so we must first be
A tree prepared for grafting in a new branch.
ingrafted into Christ before we can receive peace from Him." It is only as the believer is connected to Christ by faith that he can experience true peace of conscience. Isaiah also teaches this (Is. 32:17): "The effect of righteousness will be peace, and the result of righteousness, quietness and trust forever." See also Isaiah 9:6-7 and John 16:33. In contrast, the one who depends on his own worthiness is described in Deuteronomy 29:19-20: "The one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, 'I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart,' the Lord will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the Lord and His jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven." That is the fate of the Pharisee in the parable with which I began.

What is righteousness? It is a standard of action and motivation purely consistent with the commands and nature of God. Who meets that standard? No one but Jesus, "for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). That's why it is His righteousness, not our own, that we need, when we seek to approach God: "[They] who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works" (Romans 9:31-32). What righteousness? "The righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe" (Romans 3:22).

Anyone who follows the example of the Pharisee, satisfied with his own goodness to qualify him for eternal life, condemns himself. The one who, like the tax collector, recognizes his own unrighteousness, but looks to that of Christ alone, is justified, and receives both peace with God and peace of conscience.

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