My time in God’s Word this morning didn’t make me feel good. I read Matthew 23, in which Jesus blasted the scribes and the Pharisees for their hypocrisy. At first, I felt relatively comfortable with this chapter as I applied the Lord’s harsh words to present-day evangelicals who either fail to practice what they preach or deliberately tinker with Scripture so that they lead others into deception.
But the Holy Spirit began getting a bit personal with me at verse 24: “You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel!” (ESV). He reminded me of times I’ve displayed outward “obedience” all too fastidiously while I covered up secret sins. Like the Pharisees, I’ve leaned on my self-righteous legalism as I distracted myself from the ways that I willfully rebelled against the Lord.
The next couple of verses intensified the indictment against me.
25 “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. ~~Matthew 23:25-26 (ESV)
To be fair to myself and honest in my writing, I have stopped living in deliberate hypocrisy for quite some time. I’ve received God’s forgiveness, and His Spirit has been graciously helping me resist temptation with increasing frequency. Yet the Lord wanted me to remember that, at any time, I could fall back into my legalism and hypocrisy (1 Corinthians 10:12).
The Holy Spirit needs to constantly cleanse my heart through His Word so that I obey Him with integrity. Thankfully, He has been faithful to expose any hypocrisy in me and to lead me in confession and repentance. Today, He may have reminded me of the many times I’ve acted just as hypocritically as those First Century scribes and Pharisees did, but He also encouraged me that He will cleanse me as I look to Him.