“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you,
except ye be reprobates?”- 2 Corinthians 13:5
“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” – Jeremiah 17:9
Christian theology rests on several basic presuppositional thoughts. First, there is a God. The Bible says in Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.” There is no argument. There is no debate as to whether God exists, or what His nature might be. There is simply the assertion that God exists.
Second, man was made in the image of God. “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.” (Gen. 1:27)
Third, the image of God, in man was perfect, until the day that sin entered into his soul. When man sinned, the image was shattered, and the heart became desperately wicked. To cover up the innate evil of the heart many people have turned to religion, reflected in the story of the Pharisees of Judaism. As a group of individuals, the Pharisees had much to offer the nation of Israel, which is why, as a class, they rose to leadership positions in the country.
The Pharisees were devoted to keeping the Law of Moses. Their name means to “be separate.” They had set themselves apart for a difficult task. There was a sincere, and fixed determination to keep all 618 provisions of the Mosaic Law.
The Pharisees were serious students of the Holy Scriptures. They intimately knew the books of the Bible from Genesis to Malachi. Long hours were given to memorizing the Word of God, and discovering the meaning of every passage, both literally and spiritually.
The Pharisees were teachers of the Law. What the Pharisees learned, they imparted to others who listened to what they had to say with great respect.
The Pharisees were orthodox in their interpretation of the Scriptures. The Pharisees believed in the doctrine of predestination, a sovereign God, angels, and the resurrection from the dead.
The Pharisees believed in separation of church and a pagan state. They wanted nothing to do with Roman politics, and so they were unlike the Jewish Herodians, who were always trying to curry favor with the Emperor.
And yet, for all of their religious activity, for all of their religious zeal and orthodoxy, the Pharisees became the object of the scorn and condemnation of Jesus Christ, because their hearts were still desperately wicked—and they did not recognize it.
Bishop J. C. Ryle noted that, “The blind man can see no difference between a masterpiece of Titan or Raphael and the queen’s head on a village signboard. The deaf man cannot distinguish between a penny whistle and a cathedral organ. The very animals whose smell is most offensive to us have no idea that they are offensive and are not offensive to one another. And man, fallen man, I believe, can have no just idea what a vile thing sin is in the sight of that God whose handiwork is absolutely perfect.”
During the days of His earthly ministry, Jesus exposed the true spiritual status of the hearts of the Pharisees. He exposed a hypocritical heart. The hypocritical heart is the heart that fails to practice what it professes. The hypocritical heart is the heart of the great pretender.
In some matters the Pharisees were sincere, and honest, and were worthy of being imitated. Jesus gave the Pharisees the honor they deserved, and encouraged the people to do the same in Matthew 23:2-3. Speaking to the multitudes Jesus commanded the people “Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat: 3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do.”
Jesus did not undermine the legitimate authority and respect the Pharisees enjoyed among the people, but He did challenge the false religious works of these people. The fundamental problem was that the Pharisees taught one way, and lived another way. The Pharisees hid behind a mask of social respectability, while living a lie.
Had the Pharisees lived out their doctrinal beliefs, had the Pharisees expressed the courage of their professed convictions, Jesus would never have denounced them. But the day came when their religious cover was unmasked. The day came when the God of heaven, and His Son on earth, had enough. The Lord began to expose the hypocrisy of the Pharisees because they were hurting not only themselves, but others as well.
One way the Pharisees were hurting others was through legalism. The Pharisees were imposing standards on others they were not abiding by. “For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders.” (Matt. 23:4)
It is one of the ironies of evil, and the fallen nature of the heart, that it demands perfection from others with force and fury, while feelings itself free of any moral restraints. The heart of the religious hypocrite lacks sincerity, sympathy, or humility.
A driving motive of the hypocritical heart, is a desperate desire to be thought of in a positive manner by others. Everything is done to be seen of men. The honor and glory of God is not in view.
In the desire for glory among men, the Pharisees began to make conspicuous their articles of faith. The prayer cases, or phylacteries, were made wider, and the tassels or borders of their garments were made larger.
The Pharisees walked about with an air of importance, and self-confidence, much like executives and entrepreneurs today are taught to do. The worldly wisdom, is that if you give the appearance of success it will breed more confidence in others, and people will trust and buy into your program. So the external trappings of success become very important. Titles also become significant, whether they are earned or not.
Jesus commanded His followers to reveal the opposite attitude of the heart of the Pharisee, for inordinate pride will be punished, while humility will be rewarded. “Whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted.” (Matt. 23:4)
To reinforce His opposition to the cold, religious, hypocritical heart, Jesus pronounced seven woes upon them (Matt. 23:13, 14, 15, 16, 23, 24, 27). The Church is reminded that it is always a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God). When the Pharisees and scribes heard the condemnation of the Lord, they had two options.
First, individuals could have agreed that what Jesus said was true, and they could have repented. Biblical repentance is characterized by specific components of sorrow, return, restitution, and humility.
In biblical repentance there is genuine sorrow for what has been done because it is an offense against the holiness of God, and because of what it cost the Son of God.
“Alas, and did my Savior bleed,
And did my Sov’reign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?
Was it for crimes that I had done
He groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity, grace unknown,
And love beyond degree!
Well might the sun in darkness hide,
And shut his glories in,
When Christ the mighty Maker died
For man, the creature’s sin.
Thus might I hide my blushing face
While Calvary’s cross appears,
Dissolve my heart in thankfulness,
And melt mine eyes to tears.”
If someone has never wept over sin because sin is an offense to God the Father, and caused the death of Jesus Christ, then let them ask the Lord for the gift of genuine repentance.
In biblical repentance there is a return to a life of righteousness. The virtues of goodness, decency, integrity, and honor, are not just words but concepts to be embraced with the whole heart.
“[For] drops of grief can ne’er repay
The debt of love I owe;
Here, Lord, I give myself away,
’Tis all that I can do.”
In biblical repentance every effort of restitution is made to right wrong, no matter what the cost. When Zacchaeus came to faith, the first words of his renewed heart were,
“Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor; and if I have taken any thing from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold. 9 And Jesus said unto him, This day is salvation come to this house, forsomuch as he also is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:8-10). Any effort to justify, minimize, or avoid the penalty and punishment of one’s actions, does not constitute biblical repentance.
In biblical repentance there is bowing low before God and man. Gone is self-confidence. Gone are the words of what one will, or will not do, apart from the grace of God. There is a new healthy self-distrust that is reflected in the speech and actions.
In biblical repentance there is a quietness that begins to possess the speech, for righteousness demands a holy hush when the matter of sin is being dealt with. The Bible teaches that in the great Day of Judgment, when all the souls of earth appear before the Great White Throne there will be silence. In that day, the sons of Adam and the daughters of Eve, will be quiet, as indeed they should be.
When the heart of a hypocrite is exposed there is opportunity for genuine repentance to take place. When it does, then grace and mercy is free to flow on the other side of evil, and the principle of Romans 8:28 begins to take effect. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” God can take any act of evil and make good come out of it. And He will do just that for the heart that truly repents.
When the Pharisees heard the words of Jesus exposing and condemning them, they could have repented. A second option was to reject the divine judgment, and move to kill the voice of God—and that is exactly what so many of the Pharisees did. At the earliest possible moment, they found a way to lay hands on Jesus Christ, and they had Him executed.
The Pharisees wanted to silence the Savior who called their conscience into judgment. There are individuals who have departed from the Church because they did not want to face their guilt and shame and repent. And so they will go to hell clutching their hypocritical pride, and it will sink them to the lowest level.
The Pharisees, who knew the Scriptures did not follow in the footsteps of David, who prayed, “Search me O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts. And see if there be any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. Amen.” David never tried to silence the voice of God through the prophets that came to him to challenge his unrighteousness. Rather, David responded to the gospel message, and repented as often as he needed to.
Today, the gracious God of heaven invites the Church to come to Christ afresh for forgiveness and cleansing. This very day the Lord can deal with the backslidden, or hypocritical heart. The secret sins of the soul can be dealt with. But the heart must say, “Father, I have sinned. Forgive me, and from this moment on, have Thine own way.”
“Have Thine own way, Lord
Have Thine own way,
Thou art the Potter,
I am the clay.
Mold me and make me,
After Thy will,
While I am waiting,
Yielded and still.”
Come to Christ.