It’s so easy to let hypocritical attitudes creep into our hearts and allow ourselves to become religious pretenders. We may look good on the outside, but have hearts full of envy, greed, anger, worry, and self-righteousness. In the process, we lose the joy of our salvation and find ourselves just going through the motions of the Christian life.
Exodus 23 & 24
Straining Gnats & Swallowing Camels
Beginning in yesterday’s reading, Jesus, in talking to the scribes and Pharisees, uses the phrase “woe to you” eight times. He calls them hypocrites, religious pretenders who attempted to look good on the outside with all their religious deeds. But he said they were full of spiritual death inside. They lacked love and mercy, justice and faith. They believed their religious activities and long public prayers made them better than everyone else. They refused to see themselves as sinners in need of a Savior.
They loved themselves instead of the poor and needy. They legalistically carried out the law against others without mercy. In Matthew 23.24 He called them “blind guides.” They not only couldn’t see where they were going but were leading others astray. They couldn’t or wouldn’t see their own sinful hearts. Because of their knowledge of the law and pretending to live it, He said they would receive a “greater condemnation.”
He said they “strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!” The law designated certain things as clean and others as unclean, including animals. Unclean animals, like camels, could be used as beasts of burden, etc., but were not to be eaten or used as sacrifices. This pictured God’s desire to have a people set apart for Himself with clean hearts—a holy people.
Gnats were the smallest of the unclean animals and camels the largest. Some of the Pharisees would strain their drinks through cloth to keep from inadvertently swallowing a gnat. They focused on all the religious “minors,” while ignoring the “majors”—the attitudes of the heart.
But God always looks beyond the outward behavior to the heart.
“For the LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7).
“See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matt. 23.38). Religion is an empty shell. It’s only by coming into a right relationship with Christ that we can be saved and made whole.
Romans 10.9-13 says:
9 that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. 11 For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. 13 For “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
What does it mean to call on the name of the Lord? Often when the Bible talks about a name it refers to the person’s character as well as what he or she is called. The name of the Lord means who He is: Master, Savior, Judge, and Redeemer, among other things.
To call on His name means we must first recognize He is who He says He is. He alone is God. He alone is worthy to be called Lord and Master (v. 9a). It means we believe Jesus lived and died and that God raised Him from the dead (v. 9b). It, also, means we recognize our sinful condition and see our need for a Savior.
Have you ever come to that place in your life where you saw your desperate condition, repented of (turned away from) your sin, and cried out to Him (v. 13)? If not, you could be a religious pretender and not even know it.
If you do have a genuine relationship with God through Jesus Christ, could you still be straining out gnats and swallowing camels in any area of your life?
The Joy of Your Salvation
Even as sons and daughters, unless we keep growing spiritually with a Matthew 7.5 mindset, we run the risk of falling into the same attitudes as the Pharisees, demanding perfection from others without love, mercy, justice, and faith, and thinking we can hang on to our sins of the heart. If we are genuinely His children, we don’t lose our salvation, but we do lose its joy and vibrancy.
King David, in committing adultery with Bathsheba, must have come to believe that since he was “the king,” God’s anointed, he could live his life any way he pleased without consequence. But his unconfessed sin only brought him misery (Ps. 38).
After he confessed his sin he prayed:
“Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me away from Your presence, and do not take Your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of Your salvation …” (Ps. 51.10-12).
Do you have any Pharisaical attitudes of which you need to repent? Any secret sin that is keeping you from a joyful, vibrant relationship with God? Bring them into the light, confess them, repent, and ask God to restore the joy of His salvation to you.
Today’s Other Readings:
Exodus 23 & 24
Chapter 24.9-11 contains some incredible statements:
9 Then Moses went up, also Aaron, Nadab, and Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, 10 and they saw the God of Israel. And there was under His feet as it were a paved work of sapphire stone, and it was like the very heavens in its clarity. 11 But on the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand. So they saw God, and they ate and drank.
All of them saw God in some form. So incredible was what they saw that even the pavement beneath His feet appeared to be like heaven itself! Though we may never see God in the same way these Israelites did (at least in this life), we can behold Him in the person of Jesus Christ! The more we come to know Him through His Word, the more we see Him!
And if that isn’t enough, we can look around at all of creation and see His handiwork, “The heavens declare the glory of God … (v. 1).
30 People do not despise a thief
If he steals to satisfy himself when he is starving.
31 Yet when he is found, he must restore sevenfold;
He may have to give up all the substance of his house.
As sinful human beings, we can easily justify sin like the hungry thief in these two verses. But God has promised that if we are believers He will never allow anything in our lives that will force us to sin (1 Cor. 10.13). Instead, we’re to rely on God and respond in ways that glorify Him.
In the coming days, we’ll talk about how to shine the light of Christ, how some of us might be trying to make minimum payments on sin when the debt has been paid, sheep and goats in the church, and what it really means to be a friend of God.
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Today’s Featured Resources:
Idols of the Heart: Learning to Long for God Alone by Elyse Fitzpatrick
Do you feel discouraged, even defeated, in your battle against habitual sin? Are you dismayed or surprised by the situations that bring out your fear, anger, or distress? Elyse Fitzpatrick delves into the heart of the problem: deep down, we’re all idol-worshippers who put our loves, desires, and expectations in God’s placeand then suffer the consequences of our misplaced affections. Yet God loves his people and can use even our messy lives and struggles for his glory. Fitzpatrick shows us how to better search and know our hearts, long for our gracious Savior, and resist and crush our false gods. Includes questions for further thought. Revised edition.
How to Study the Bible by John MacArthur
The Bible is the Word of life. As such, studying the Bible is crucial to the life and growth of every believer. In this revised work, John MacArthur examines various Scripture passages in the Old and New Testament to answer both the “why” and the “how” questions of Bible study.
How to Study the Bible can be used alongside or apart from the audio series available from Grace to You in either a personal or group study.
- Corresponds with the audio message series available from Grace to You
- Features revised content and study questions
- For personal or group study use