“And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.” (Luke 16:15)
In the whole of the New Testament narrative, so far as the record shows, only one Pharisee was finally saved, Nicodemus.
The consistent record of the Bible is that legalists despise the message of grace. The most religious people of Jesus’ time were the Pharisees. It was this ultra-conservative troupe of zealots who could not, and would not, allow the king of human self righteousness to be dethroned.
It was not the drunkards, thieves, whores, and murderers who crucified Jesus, it was legalistic religious people who cried out “Barabbas” when given the choice of who would be crucified or released, and they cried out “Crucify him!” in reference to Jesus.
Not much has changed in my view. The true, unvarnished message of the grace of God to sinners, as revealed in the Bible, is offensive to the legalist church member. It was true in the first century and it is true in 2009. This is why the gospel, (if taught correctly), is offensive. (Romans 9:33, 1 Peter 2:8) Paul highlighted this truth saying:
“But if I, brothers, still preach circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed” (Galatians 5:11)
All Paul would have had to have done to stop the persecution was add works to his message of salvation. Sadly, many people have and are doing that very thing.
The “flesh” is God’s enemy today just as it was in Paul’s day. If you attempt to pry self righteousness out of the angry hands of religious zealots they will fight with every resource available to stop you. The grace of God is a direct threat to the seat of power, the human ego.
You will not win a debate with a legalist. The only way to deal with hypocrites is to keep preaching Christ alone as the way to God, and that sinful men are reconciled to God only by His life, death, and resurrection, and there is no salvation apart from faith in Him.
The salvation of sinners is what Jesus fully accomplished over 2,000 years ago. Jesus plus 0 is sufficient. Jesus plus anything is too much.
“All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:18-20)
Central to the gospel is that God has set right (past tense) what was wrong with man because of sin. God in Christ reconciled man to God. What the person who depends a little or a lot on his own performance is attempting to do has already been done. When Jesus said “It is finished” (John 19:30) “It” was finished. The “It” of John 19:30 is the work of setting sinners right with God, it is the “work” of salvation, it is the ground of justification, it is the promise of sanctification, and the resurrection is the promise of glorification.
It is often said of salvation “There is God’s part and man’s part” and that is a true statement. But, Jesus did “man’s part”. What sinful man could never do was live in perfect obedience to God and without sin. This has always has been and still is God’s standard, He will not accept less. This is the life Christ freely gave the Father on behalf of wicked sinners. It was the perfect sacrifice, without even one blemish.
That was the positive side of Christ’s work. Man’s sin is offensive to God and must be punished; He can’t overlook sin and still be holy. Christ took every sin of every sinner upon him and the Father poured out his fury against sin as Jesus’ human body was beaten, his blood poured out, in his humiliation and suffering, until he breathed his last breath, my sins and yours were being punished. “It is finished!” A perfect salvation is complete.
Now God can declare a wicked sinner “not guilty” and still be just and holy, the sin has already been adjudicated. And, even more wonderful, God can declare that undeserving sinner “righteous” because a perfect life was given on his behalf.
This is indeed “Good News”, but not for the legalist. He demands credit for his own goodness. He is unwilling to embrace this love story of the grace of God, and is offended by it. May God open the eyes of their understanding that the light of the good news my shine in their hearts before it is too late.