The Gospel: Dealing with the Pharisee’s Carcass
Keeping the Gospel in front of you daily is even more important than making sure you eat three square meals a day. Continually reminding yourself of your standing before God in Christ is essential if you are going to live as a disciple of Jesus Christ in such a way as to render loving obedience to Him. All our striving to live according to the Law of God apart from a functional faith in the Gospel is both frustrating and fruitless.
Yet a functional faith in the Gospel of Jesus Christ is not a reliance upon having faith. A functional faith is a joyful reliance upon Jesus Christ and the benefits we received from him that secure our standing under grace before a holy God. Don’t take any comfort from having faith. Don’t assure your soul that because you have faith everything is okay with you. Confidence before God in your possessing faith is to turn faith into the grounds of your salvation. This can be a form of pride! Rather faith boasts in the cross of Jesus Christ. Faith looks outside of itself to its saving object Jesus Christ. Drawing a sense of spiritual wellbeing from having faith is like praising yourself for eating a lavish meal rather than praising the superb quality of the food and the one who cooked the meal.
Faith certainly serves an important function in the Christian life. You can’t be a Christian without faith, just like you cannot be healthy without eating and drinking. Yet the sustenance from the food and the water or milk are what bring health to your body. Likewise it is Jesus Christ who sustains you spiritually. Faith is not the power of salvation, the Gospel is. Faith is simply the empty hands that are opened to receive Christ. However, just like eating and drinking we must continue to look to the Gospel in faith. The Gospel is as necessary for us to live out the Christian life as it is to begin the Christian life. The Gospel not only justifies us and reconciles us to God and is what guarantees eternal life, the Gospel is necessary if we are to mature and grow daily in obedience and personal holiness. The Gospel is the good news we need to hear daily so we might be encouraged, lifted up and strengthened to resist temptation and to press through with obedience to the Father. This is why we need to proclaim it to ourselves daily.
Do you know how to preach the Gospel to yourself? Do you know why this is so important? Many of us theoretically believe that by trusting in Christ we have been forgiven and justified before God. Yet, most of us as Christians still carry the carcass of the Pharisee around in our hearts. A Pharisee basically is one who functionally believes that it is by his or her performance that God’s favor and love are secured and maintained. Some Pharisees actually believe (like the believer who trusts in his or her faith) that they perform well. They comfort their hearts before God by looking at how well they live their lives (or think they are living their lives). Their boast to themselves and others and even to God is found in their performance. Christian Pharisees give a kind of lip service to justification. “Oh, yes Jesus saved me and I am forgiven and accepted before God by what He has done.” Yet underneath, in their heart their reliance is really upon themselves. The problem with the self-confident Christian Pharisees is they really do not see themselves in light of the Law of God. This in part is due to the fact that they look merely to the letter of the law and not to the spirit. This was the problem with the rich young ruler who declared to Jesus after he listed the commandments, “All of these I have kept from my youth.”
The Gospel really does not go deep enough into one’s heart and mind unless it is preceded by a robust and thorough understanding of the doctrine of sin, particularly the Bible’s teaching on total depravity and total inability due to original sin. Without an understanding of sin then all one gets is “gospel light” at best and no Gospel in the worst case. The Pharisees of Jesus day diminished the full scope of the law and hence failed to see just how sinful and needy they were. Sadly, many professing Christians do the same thing.
On the other end of the spectrum is the defeated Pharisee. This is the guy or gal who still believe that when push comes to shove, it is their performance that will either secure God’s favor or lose God’s favor. They confess faith in Christ but at the end of the day they remain looking at how well or how poorly they have performed. There may be a few days when they see their commitment to the Lord as working well. During these brief episodes they may have some comfort, some assurance that God really loves them. Yet sooner or later, they will mess up and they dive into despair and fear for certainly they have lost God’s love. How could God love them after what they did and did again for the umpteenth time? They are still Pharisees, just defeated ones who still hope (but they lose a bit more of it every time they sin) that they can one day perform well and consistent enough for God to love them.
The Gospel really, really, really humbles you. You cannot truly believe the Gospel and think for a moment that you perform well enough to either secure God’s favor on your own or buttress the work of Christ, so at least in part, God accepts you for what you have done. No, the Gospel pulls the foundation of all self-confidence and self-righteousness out from under our feet. The Gospel tells us that unless we stand on Christ alone we do not stand at all before God. Yet, the Gospel really, really, really comforts and encourages you. It proclaims that having been justified by faith you have peace with God through Jesus Christ through whom we have also obtained access by faith into this grace in which we stand (Romans 5:1-2). It is not your performance even after coming to Christ that secures you this standing in grace but it is Christ’s performance, his obedience.
Jesus Christ propitiated the wrath of God by his perfect life sacrificed upon the Cross. The infinite benefit of him doing this becomes yours through the gift of justification. Once you rest in Christ by faith, God’s wrath is forever removed from you. There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. This is true even when you sin! For the believer God is indeed no longer angry because the believer in Jesus Christ has become a justified, restored and adopted child of God who is dearly and forever loved by the Father.
Now holding to this Gospel by preaching it to yourself daily has as its aim your personal holiness. It is actually by believing the Gospel that you will find motivation and power not to sin but to live a life of love for God that moves in the trajectory of obedience. This does not mean that you will not sin but it means that even when you do and feel sorry for it and confess your sin, you have not lost God’s love by your sin, nor have your restored God’s love by your repentance. It is just that amazing. The more you see this the more of the Pharisee's carcass you lose - good riddance!