Religion vs. Jesus
Legalism says God will love us if we change. The gospel says God will change us because He loves us.
Legalism is a man-made religious system that seeks to achieve forgiveness and acceptance from God through obedience to God.
One of the characteristics of the Pharisees in Jesus’ day was their obsession with pointing out the sins of people and their lack of holiness. The woman caught in adultery and the prostitute who washed the feet of Jesus are just two examples of Pharisees exposing the sins of people and desiring they be dealt with harshly. How did Jesus respond? He neither condemned nor threatened them with God’s wrath and punishment. Rather, He forgave both women and set them free from their accusers. His forgiveness empowered them to love God and leave their sins behind.
The Pharisees couldn’t understand how extending mercy to such vile, wicked sinners could possibly change their lives much less their behaviors.
The Pharisees in Jesus’ day were no different from modern-day Pharisees who are quick to point out people’s sins and demand they live disciplined, holy lives. What did Jesus know about showing sinners mercy that the Pharisees didn’t? Jesus challenged the Pharisees and said,
“But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance” (Matthew 9:13).
Interestingly, to be a Pharisee you had to memorize the Torah, the first five books of the Bible written by Moses. Pharisees were required to be well-read and knowledgeable about all the other books as well. Jesus’ challenge to them was designed to show that although they were focusing on keeping God’s laws, rules etc., they missed an even more important subject. They failed to pay attention to the reason behind those rules and laws. When Jesus asked them to figure out what “this means,” He was quoting a passage of scripture they should have known:
For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).
If they had taken the time to study passages that revealed God’s heart and intentions toward man, they might have had a better grasp on why Jesus saw mercy as a powerful tool in turning sinners to God and away from sin.
Essentially, Jesus was saying that if the Pharisees knew God and understood what really mattered to Him, they would not overemphasize rules or such things as ritual cleanliness, restrictive Sabbath observance, and sacrifices for sin.
That occasion was not the first time Jesus tried to correct and help the Pharisees turn their focus on what was important to God. Jesus rebuked them in Luke 11:42,
“But woe to you, Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass over judgment and the love of God: these ought you to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”
The Pharisees believed that God accepts and blesses people based on their personal holiness. However, Jesus knew His Father loved people and didn’t need “their” sacrifices to earn His favor or love. He understood that when we connect to God in our hearts by knowing and experiencing His mercy for us, His mercy has the ability to transform us and our desires.
“Love, mercy, and truth purge the heart of sin” (Proverbs 16:6).
God’s love reveals His mercy to people and the “truth” is God is a good God. When people know and walk in the reality of God’s love and mercy for them, they experience the “truth” Jesus said would set people free.
“And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).
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