The Believer/Pharisee


 But some believers who belonged to the party of the Pharisees rose up and said, “It is necessary to circumcise them and to order them to keep the law of Moses.”  (Acts 15:5 ESV)



When I read the passage I’ve referenced, I was pleasantly surprised that there were some Pharisees who became believers in Jesus Christ. Remember those guys?  They were the ones who had Jesus crucified.  That’s good news isn’t it that even the cruelest and misguided and blasphemous sinners can be forgiven and be given God’s grace through Jesus … even those who nailed Him to the cross.  Talk about grace!  Here’s the problem with the Pharisees mentioned in the passage.  These Believer/Pharisees wanted the salvation that faith in Christ provided.  But they wanted a backup plan in case grace and faith wasn’t sufficient.  They entered into their relationship with God with one hand on the grace God offered to them through Jesus Christ, and one hand on their legalistic practices and their narrow point of view in case it didn’t.  They were OK to stretch their rules with Gentiles becoming followers of Christ as long as they became quasi Jews in the process by following Jewish restrictions and being circumcised if they were a man. They were in conflict with their old traditional ways and the New Covenant that replaced the old, and they missed everything including the boat.


As I read this passage and reflected on the truth and application of it to my own life, I could not help but remember my own Believer/Pharisee days.  Oh, I wasn’t into the Jewish traditions of right or wrong foods, or the rituals of Orthodox worship.  I did have a lot of zeal and passion like a Pharisee, and like them it turned to Christian legalism.  This happened for them and me for we were as ignorant as a fence post about grace.  As a result, I too like them, lived as a performance driven Christian.  Why did I do this other than being ignorant?  I’ve thought a lot about the question and here are some of the main reasons:


  • I didn’t think I could be good enough to be loved by God. I knew my past.  I knew my struggle with sin.  I was told often how undeserving I was to be saved and loved by Jesus.  Of course, this voice came mainly from the Accuser, but as well by other ignorant and prideful Christians who by their works thought they were good enough.  The tragedy is I believed they were loved more by God because of it, and this made me want to make God love me more.  Do you see how easily legalism slips into our thinking?  But there were some more negative reinforcers that came my way.


  • The next negative voice made me an easy target for a works-oriented church who saw a way to maneuver a lot of people like me to become free labor and join other ignorant leaders who kept the performance driven perspective going with their congregation and their selves. We were all Believer/Pharisees, with one hand on our hope in Jesus, and another on our effort to win His love.  We had it wrong.  We were missing the most wonderful aspect of the Gospel.


  • Then I discovered grace and its implications.  It has taken me years to understand how magnificent, and how expansive grace is.  Instead of it being a “license to sin” like  my Believer/Pharisee friends told me it was, it became the reason and power and desire not to sin.  That is the big, big thing that grace does.  It transforms us from orphans who are saved from the streets but still think like orphans, to children of God who are joint heirs with Jesus Christ and think like true sons and daughters.  You see through grace God deposits His heart into us, … if we will let Him …, and this gives us a new identity not based on works but rather based on His love.  Now we have a completely different point of view with how God sees us.


  • When I began my walk in God’s grace I did not automatically stop sinning. I have never entered a sin free life.  But I have entered a sin less life.  God’s love has given me a desire not to sin contrasted to when I was a Believer/Pharisee who believed he must be chained to legalism and tradition to keep from sinning.  The Believer/Pharisee does not understand the power and overcoming freedom that grace provides, because they keep holding on to their traditions and works as a way to win God’s love.


“No one sews a piece of unshrunk cloth on an old garment. If he does, the patch tears away from it, the new from the old, and a worse tear is made.  And no one puts new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins—and the wine is destroyed, and so are the skins. But new wine is for fresh wineskins.”  (Mark 2: 21-22 ESV)


What was Jesus alluding to in this passage?  He was saying that we have been given something fresh and new from God.  He was saying that the new replaces the old.  He was saying to you and me, “Don’t use your old ways and your old traditions as a prop to replace what I’ve given to you with my grace.  Let go of your old performance driven legalism and embrace the love I am giving to you that will change you.  There is nothing that you can do that will make me love you more, and there is nothing you can do that will make me love you less.  That is what grace does for you.  That is the New Covenant.”


Like Forrest Gump said and I now say, “That’s all I have to say about that,” except this one thing.  Grace will break all your chains and give you freedom from legalism.  Run to it and the truth.