And you can't get to heaven
on a pair of skates
'cause you'll roll right past
those pearly gates.
-The Deacon Went Down
So this week I heard a sermon on knowing whether you've been saved or not. The pastor spoke of the difference between being saved and having it make a difference in your life and just having an "emotional experience. And it made me think about the motivations one would have for coming to Christ: fear, as in Peter's realization of whom he faced; need, as in the many who were healed by Jesus; intellectual reasoning, like the Egyptian eunuch. Or needing to get out from under something evil that seeks to control you, which is where I fall in.
But as you look at all these stories, each one had the common thread: it started with faith. But as I searched these stories out, I found that there was a greater variety in the reasons why people thought they were right with God, but were NOT. In just a brief look through the book of Matthew, I saw several examples of why the Pharisees thought they were in a good place with God.
1- The company they kept. In Ch 9 v 10-13, they attacked Jesus for dining with tax collectors and other sinners rather than with, say, themselves. But Jesus explained that first you have to KNOW you need a "doctor"- and the Pharisees were all about telling each other, "How well you are!"
2- Appearances. Right afterward the question of fasting came up. The Pharisees made a great show of this, donning the sackcloth and ashes. But if you remember last week what Isaiah said about fasting- that it wasn't denying yourself, but denying yourself FOR OTHERS- you see that that was just a game.
3- Keeping the "rules". In the beginning of Ch 12, they get on the Disciples for plucking heads of grain to chaw on on the Sabbath. And just after, they attack Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. Now certainly by the LETTER of the Law they were correct. But Jesus showed them, both in the Word and in His deeds, that God is more concerned with the Law's INTENT.
4- "We know better". The 'arbiters of what's right' began to defend their way of doing things by contradicting what Jesus did. But it was hard to do this in a rational way when faced with what He was doing. So much so that it got to a point (Ch 12 vv 22-30) that they claimed He cast out demons by the POWER of demons. Jesus told them, using their own warped logic, "A house divided against itself cannot stand," which might be the world's most famous way of saying, "That just doesn't even make sense."
5- "If you were right, there'd be some kind of sign". At the end of Ch 12 as well as the beginning of Ch 16, the Pharisees sought a sign. But Jesus knew that it's more than just atheists who wouldn't believe a sign if it was right in front of them. Some people are either so convinced of their world view, or so subconsciously afraid of the consequences of their being wrong, they won't even entertain the notion that they have something to learn. They'll show you reams of material that "proves" their point and upbraid you for not reading it, too- when all you really need to know is in the Word.
6- Family connections. "I go to the same church my parents did. If it's good enough for them..." but was it? In the very end of Ch 12, Jesus' family (yes, Virginia, Mary had other kids later) shows up, but He tells His followers, whoever does the will of the Father is His family. Later on, the Pharisees would claim salvation from being "children of Abraham", to which Jesus told them he could make "children of Abraham" from the rocks in the road they walked.
7- Tradition. Oh, there's that dirty word. At the start of Ch 15, they attack Jesus because His guys didn't wash their hands in the correct manner. And He came back at them, explaining how their piously following traditions was the reason they were so far off track. They used tradition to explain everything, to a point where the clear command of God (such as "Honor your father and mother") had been riddled with loopholes. And if there was any doubt at how HE felt about tradition, He finished it off by quoting Isaiah: "...and in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the Commandments of men." Writer's note: It sure seems to me that whether you are a resistant Jew or a devout Catholic, the first thing in the Bible that gets ignored is Isaiah.
8- I paid at the church. At the end of Ch 17, they made a big deal over the Temple Tax. Did your Master make the proper contribution? You can feed a lot of hungry without faith. I've heard many times, "I can be a good person without believing in God." True enough. But being a good person and getting into heaven? That's where you have to quote the singer Cat Stevens: It's hard to get by, just upon a smile. Good looks won't get you into the movie theatre; and good deeds won't get you into heaven.
9- The final, chilling example on my list is the rich young ruler story from Ch 19. The man had kept all the Law from birth, and had really good intent. But Jesus asked Him to do one more thing- put God ahead of everything else, and follow Him. Well, there was a LOT of "everything else" in the man's life... and he couldn't "pull the trigger", at least not right then. Treating God as a hobby, a Sunday thing, wasn't gonna cut it. Jesus doesn't call all of us to "leave everything" as Peter put it, but He knows what you value more than Him- and THAT has to be put behind Him.
So, to sum it up:
Your associations won't get you into heaven.
Nor will your "best face forward".
Nor will following the rules.
Nor will standing on your self-image.
Nor will waiting for "proof".
Nor will what family you belong to.
Nor will the traditions you follow.
Nor will money.
Nor will your good deeds.
Faith, true faith- that is the one thing that will save you, and a lot of people that base their concept of faith on the things listed above will hear the words, "I never knew you." Have you ever thought about that verse? (Ch 7:22 BTW) Those people claimed to have prophesied, cast out demons, and did good works. But the man who is saved, truly saved, will be able, will WANT, to claim just one thing: and that is what the tax collector claimed in Luke 18: "Have mercy on me, o Lord, a sinner."