We live in a polluted, irreligious, narcissistic, culture ruled by the idolatry of self. God has little place. Others are only a means to exploit. The needy are bypassed and of small concern to us. The intensely practical nature of real godliness calls us to a cross, to death of sin and self, that the love of God, which freely falls on saints, might govern our mouth, mind and moral acts towards those made to bear His stamp.
In His book practical religion, Anglican bishop of Liverpool, JC Ryle, extols the virtues of powerful practical evangelical Christianity.
In this little section of James chapter 1:26-27, the apostle lays bare what genuine godliness looks like.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world – James 1:26-27 ESV
1. The Contradiction of True Religion – an Unbridled Mouth
Whoever does not control their tongue is self-deceived and not truly religious. How many bless God on Sunday but tear stripes off others on Monday.
2. The Character of True Religion – Truly Religious Folk Are Pure and Undefiled by the Taint of Intemperate Speech
Instead of boasts and empty talk, their religion is uncontaminated by what flows from their lips. Only in Christ does true religion peak – but Jesus gives more grace.
3. The Arena of True Religion – Living to Please God
Those born again, who are really children of God, live to please their Father – to show His family likeness, is what they desire most. Driven by His love, intent to win His eye, they live and move before the Lord. True religion is not the hypocritical man-pleasing performance of those who do not know God.
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By Megan Taylor — 2 years ago
Even when it is meant for evil, as with Joseph’s brothers; even in the midst of our sin, as with David; and even when it involves people we wouldn’t expect, such as Rahab; God is still sovereignly accomplishing His will for the redemption of His people for His glory.
A colorful coat given to a boy. An evening walk on a palace roof. A red cord hung from a prostitute’s window. These brief scenes from over three thousand years ago should have no bearing on our lives today. Yet these moments were used to bring about the most important event in human history: the cross of Calvary. You could write it off as coincidence, you could minimize the significance, or you can marvel at God’s sovereignty.
But what is sovereignty? Sovereignty is God’s right to rule over His creation and to do as He pleases (Psalm 115:3). Everyone—from the greatest world ruler to the humble farmer—reports directly to God. No one answers to themselves or operates outside of His will. The Westminster Confession of Faith says it this way, “God, from all eternity, did, by the most wise and holy counsel of his own will, freely, and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.” (WCF, 3) God’s sovereignty is the very core of everything that has happened or will ever happen, and we are called to submit to Him as the Author, the Potter, the Creator, the King.
Though God reigns over the arch of history, He is also so intimately involved in the daily details of our lives that even seemingly random acts such as the casting of lots are governed by Him (Prov. 16:33). There is nothing that catches God off guard, nothing that causes Him to course correct, nothing that He watches helplessly. There is nothing so big or so small—no panic attack or pandemic—that occurs without His permission. He guides our steps, numbers our hairs, and ordains our days (Ps. 37:23-24, Ps. 139, Matt. 10:30).
As Christians, such careful involvement ought to greatly comfort and astound us but it often leads to anxiety or apathy instead.
By Mike Ratliff — 9 months ago
What is very disturbing to me is that there are people out there who actually believe this is a man of God. Of course these theses are simply the words of our enemy put in religious form for people to say, “Yeah! Now I can live any way I want!” Do you see the human orientation of this? It is as if Bishop Spong has deliberately robbed God of His glory and given it to Man. What is awaiting false prophets like this?
1 And six days later Jesus *brought with Him Peter and James and John his brother, and *led them up on a high mountain by themselves. 2 And He was transfigured before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light. 3 And behold, Moses and Elijah appeared to them, talking with Him. 4 And Peter answered and said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three booths here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5 While he was still speaking, behold, a bright cloud overshadowed them, and behold, a voice out of the cloud said, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well-pleased; listen to Him!” 6 And when the disciples heard this, they fell on their faces and were terrified. 7 And Jesus came to them and touched them and said, “Get up, and do not be afraid.” 8 And lifting up their eyes, they saw no one except Jesus Himself alone.Matthew 17:1-8 (LSB)
From what I have observed, and please correct me if I am wrong, it seems that telling a false prophet or false teacher from those who are true is not as difficult as we may think. Those who are true understand and teach the centrality of our Lord Jesus Christ in all things. It really is all about Him and His glory. On the other hand, those who are false will focus nearly all of what they preach and teach from the perspective of Man. Instead of teaching our role in the Kingdom as subjects of God, they expound things for the benefit of what is fair or what seems right to men, making excuses for fleshly indulgences and not calling it sin. They refuse to accept that the Bible teaches that sin is what separates Men from God and those who die in their sin will spend eternity in Hell. Of course these teachings echo the lie that our enemy told Eve in the Garden, “Has God really said?” Genuine Christianity is based on Christ and we learn the truth about Him and us from the prophetic Word of God. There is a huge difference between the made-up religious writings by men and those we find in the Word of God.
16 For we did not make known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, following cleverly devised myths, but being eyewitnesses of His majesty. 17 For when He received honor and glory from God the Father, such an utterance as this was made to Him by the Majestic Glory, “This is My beloved Son with whom I am well-pleased”— 18 and we ourselves heard this utterance made from heaven when we were with Him on the holy mountain.19 And we have as more sure the prophetic word, to which you do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star arises in your hearts. 20 Know this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes by one’s own interpretation. 21 For no prophecy was ever made by the will of man, but men being moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God.2 Peter 1:16-21 (LSB)
God is good. Our Lord Jesus Christ left eyewitnesses to what He said and did while on Earth. Peter tells us here that when he shares the truth with those who read what he writes and hears what he preaches, they had better pay attention and heed it. What he has written in this book as well as his first epistle (1 Peter) is God breathed. It is the Word of God. It is God centered, not man centered. It is light shining in a dark place and will result in our Lord’s light taking root and in the hearts of men at their rebirth.
By Jacob Gerber — 2 years ago
The danger of legalism lurks wherever we would relax God’s law from its high-as-heaven standard, dragging it down to a standard low enough for us to keep. Beware the leaven of the Pharisees! The painful truth is that none of us can reach God’s perfect standard. Rather, before his standard, we must tremble, crying out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (Rom. 7:24).
In every age, the church must be vigilant to avoid legalism. We must never be like the Pharisees, who “tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger” (Matt. 23:24). God tells us that his commandments are not burdensome (1 John 5:3), but to add to God’s commandments would indeed be burdensome.
The danger of legalism is one that all true ministers of the gospel of Christ must take with the utmost seriousness. Nevertheless, do we really understand what Christ was condemning when he warned us to “Watch and beware the leaven of the Pharisees” (Matt. 16:6)?
In this article, I want to raise the question of whether we understand the spirit and nature of legalism correctly, and to explore whether this misunderstanding may seriously skew our gospel ministry.
The Legalism of the Pharisees: Not too Strict, but too Lax
What exactly was the legalism that the Pharisees were teaching? A common thought is that the Pharisees were legalistic by being overly strict about the law, while the Sadducees were overly lax about the law. That is, the Pharisees are commonly characterized as legalists, and the Sadducees as libertines. While this view is both common and convenient as a way of categorizing the two groups, it does not match either the historical records or the biblical records, especially regarding the Pharisees.
Both Jewish and Christian historians have recognized that the Pharisees were trying to simplify the law, rather than complicating it. So, the Jewish scholar Alexander Guttmann writes:
Emerging from the ranks of the people, the rabbis spoke in terms intelligible to the populace and were therefore able to lead the people in accordance with their teachings, a feat the Prophets had been unable to accomplish. Uncompromising idealists, the Prophets demanded perfection and the establishment of God’s kingdom on earth in their own time; therefore, they were doomed to failure. Prophetic Judaism never became a reality but remained only an ideal, a goal, like Plato’s Republic. The rabbis were idealists, too, but they were at the same time pedagogues. In guiding their people, they took the realities of life (among them the weakness of human beings) into consideration. They upheld the Torah as the divine code, but at the same time they recognized the need for harmonizing the Torah with the ever-changing realities of life.1
The mission of the Pharisees was not to create a set of extra rules to prop themselves up—even if this may have been the eventual result. Rather, the mission of the Pharisees was to boil down the law to principles, practices, and techniques that normal people could understand and keep.
To be sure, the Pharisees were legalists. Their legalism, however, was the result of trying to reduce the law down to something manageable in the lives of the people. This did not leave them to become too strict, but, far too lax in comparison to the fullness of what God required.
The Bare Text of the Law vs. The Full Ethics of the Moral Law
Old Testament scholar Gordon Wenham helps to see this point by observing that the text of the law does not give us a complete accounting for the fullness of what the moral law actually requires. Or, as Wenham puts it, there is a “gap” between the bare text of the law in the Bible and the fullness of the ethics (moral law) required by the Bible.2 So, the bare text of the law “sets a minimum standard of behaviour, which if transgressed attracts sanction,” but the “ethical ceiling is as high as heaven itself, for a key principle of biblical ethics is the imitation of God. Man made in God’s image must act in a godlike way: ‘Be holy, for I the LORD your God am holy’ (Lev. 19:2).”3
From this, we can see that the legalism of the Pharisees manifested itself in two ways: (1) they sought to keep the bare text of the law, rather than the fullness of the biblical ethic (moral law) of what it means to imitate God; and (2) they boiled down the full biblical ethic of the law into manageable principles that seemed to make the law possible to keep.
New Testament scholar J. Gresham Machen makes this point powerfully:
The legalism of the Pharisees, with its regulation of the minute details of life, was not really making the Law too hard to keep; it was really making it too easy. Jesus said to His disciples, “Except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, ye shall in no wise enter into the kingdom of heaven.” The truth is, it is easier to cleanse the outside of the cup than it is to cleanse the heart. If the Pharisees had recognized that the Law demands not only the observance of external rules but also and primarily mercy and justice and love for God and men, they would not have been so readily satisfied with the measure of their obedience, and the Law would then have fulfilled its great function of being a schoolmaster to bring them to Christ. A low view of law leads to legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace.4
1 Alexander Guttmann, Rabbinic Judaism in the Making: A Chapter in the History of the Halakhah from Ezra to Judah I (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1970), xii. Cited in Moisés Silva, “The Place of Historical Reconstruction in New Testament Criticism,” in Hermeneutics, Authority, and Canon, ed. D. A. Carson and John D. Woodbridge (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1986), 120. I am indebted to Silva’s article for much of what I have written about the nature of legalism here.
2 Gordon J. Wenham, “The Gap between Law and Ethics in the Bible,” Journal of Jewish Studies 48, no. 1 (1997): 17–29.
3 Wenham, “The Gap Between Law and Ethics in the Bible,” 18, 26.
4 J. Gresham Machen, The Origin of Paul’s Religion (New York: Macmillan, 1921), 179.