"Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness." (Matthew 23:27)
Now a hypocrite (hupokrisis) in the Greek of the New Testament times was someone who acted a part in a drama - a stage actor. It was someone who put a mask in front of their face and spoke a part. So, we think of a hypocrite as someone who says one thing, but does something else. That's certainly not a good thing to do, and when we find someone like that it's real easy to see their hypocrisy. Isn't it? And, we tend to also think that the Pharisees were just pretending to follow the Law when really they didn't. Right?
But, you see the Pharisees really, really, really studied the Law of Moses and probably, no, make that definitely, knew more about it than any of us ever will. They weren't just saying "follow the Law" while they did something else. They followed the Law to the letter. Their hypocrisy was worse than what we normally think of as hypocrisy.
Stop and think for a minute about what a stage actor does. A good actor can make you believe he is the character. He can put aside his own personality and manner of speech, then take on the vocabulary, accent, attitudes and affections of the character. Some modern actors are so good at it that we tend to think we know what their personality is like by the roles they play. But they are only acting. An actor in a play never becomes the character in the play.
The problem with the Pharisees was they thought that acting according to the moral law set out by God would make them moral. People think that if you put aside your immoral actions and then put on moral actions you become moral. As if! That's what an actor does and it doesn't change who he is.
Yet, I see and hear the same thing today and no one seems to get all upset about it. How many times have you heard or been told that to be a Christian you have to act moral? Haven't you been told that you need to do good works also? It usually goes like this:
* YOU ARE A SINNER!
* YOU ARE HEADED FOR HELL!
* REPENT OF YOUR SIN! ACEEPT JEEESUUUS!
* Now that you have accepted Jesus you must change your behavior and act moral and do good works.
Of course, you must have a script to follow if you are going to act moral. Just keep coming to Church and they will teach you the lines to say and where to stand, and what day to worship on, and what festivals to keep and what food to eat and drink, etc. If you do mess up and do something wrong, just come down and publicly confess it so we can all get off on your confession and gossip about it all next week.
STOP! Is it only me that sees a problem with this? Act moral? You mean like an actor in a play? You aren't moral because you act moral anymore than you become Hamlet by speaking the lines in Shakespeare's play. But that is what people are told to do. You are to "keep God's law" so go study real hard until you learn all the laws and then go out and do them. Yeah, you can learn all about God's law and go out and follow it and you will be just like the Pharisees: A Hypocrite. Congratulations! You've learned to play the part and your next performance will be on a stage set in hell.
(Right about now, I think a lot of people are getting nervous about this. I imagine some are even boiling mad.)
Now there is a tendency that if I say "A" is wrong people will think I'm saying the opposite of "A" is right. If we can't act moral then I must be saying act immoral! Hey, it's all of grace! He must be one of those "grace is all you need" folks. Just "believe" in Jesus and don't worry about sin. Feel goood about yourself.
Nope. You don't get it. It isn't about acting at all. Acting moral or acting immoral isn't the point. It's what's inside that counts. That's what Jesus is talking about here: Whitewashed Tombs. They are completely dead on the inside even though their actions look right. They were only good at playing the part but were not really good.
The BIG MISTAKE is thinking that sin is the result of ignorance. It goes like this: unless you gain knowledge of moral actions you will act immoral. If you act immoral you will die and go to hell. Thus, they tell you, gain knowledge of God's law so you are not ignorant and then you can act moral and will have eternal life.
Hmmm, isn't that what Satan said? Gain knowledge of good and evil and you won't die. It was a lie in the garden of Eden and it is still a lie today. Look closer at what Satan said: If you have knowledge of good and evil you will have LIFE. The only life Satan could talk about was by procreation. But, flesh only begets flesh. Spirit begets spirit. Remember, God breathed into Adam and Adam became a living soul. Life only comes when the spirit of God is placed in us. Or, as Jesus said, you must be born again. To be born of water is to be born flesh and blood. The baby forms in the womb that is filled with "water" and when the water breaks, the baby is born. The same thing must happen at a spiritual level. We must be immersed (baptized) in the spirit or we remain dead.
The problem then isn't knowledge or lack of knowledge and it isn't acting moral or acting immoral. The problem is that men are dead. No amount of knowledge of morality and no amount of acting moral can cure that. Until you are alive all your actions are worthless. It's mere play acting passed off as morality. The only way to become alive is to receive life as a free gift from God.
Now this is where the "Antinomians" went wrong. They grasped the idea that life only comes through grace and thus claimed all you need to teach is grace. What ol' Dr. Luther pointed out was that it won't work. Until we are aware of our state of sin we will never seek grace. The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross isn't meaningful until you first realize just how bad off you are. So, the law is taught first and foremost to convict us of our sin. Then, and only then, does the cross make sense and we cry out for that salvation. What we have to avoid is getting stuck there thinking that Jesus paid the price for our sin and if we just correct our acting we have done the right thing.
There is another purpose to the law even after that. Though we have the life of spirit placed in us, we still have some things to deal with. What the study of God's law can do is show us where we are holding back. Sin doesn't come from ignorance. Sin is the result of what we call the carnal mind, or self, or ego, or flesh. Until that carnal nature is dealt with, we are not what we ought to be. So, the law is a good standard to look at. When we see our sin exposed by the law, it indicates there is some of that old self still left to deal with. This is when most Christians run into trouble. We cannot deal with the source of the sin just by acting out the law in the flesh. We have to repent of the source of the sin, too.
The carnal nature only trusts itself and constantly seeks self-preservation. That's the whole problem in a nutshell. As long as we trust in our self, we are not truly trusting in God. We have to turn from self-trust to God-trust. In the Bible, that's what faith is all about. We correct immorality by faith - increase our trust in God and eliminate the trust in our weak flesh. By faith, we receive the grace of God, the implant of His spirit, and it is from that source of life that all goodness comes. We no longer play act morality. We have morality placed in us and moral action then becomes the most natural thing we can do.
It's called "fruit of the spirit" you see? Fruit only comes from live plants. You don't hang fruit on a dead plant and call it alive. Likewise, you don't hang moral action on a dead body and call it good. That is the very definition of hypocrisy. But, a live plant will produce fruit in due season. A man with the spirit of God in him will produce spiritual fruit just as easily. Just give it time. And, quit play acting.