Hinder Not Those Whom Wish to Enter

When Jesus speaks, people ought to listen, and when He speaks against the leaders of His day, we should all evaluate ourselves to see if His message applies to us.  The point must be made clear that we should not follow leaders without evaluation, but their lives and lessons should be compared to that of the Scriptures as our ultimate guide.  Once we determine our leaders have a general tendency to follow the Word we can lighten up our scrutiny some, but we must always compare what we see in the world to what God has said in the Word.

About the leaders of the day, however, Matthew records a message from Jesus that ought to strike fear into the hearts of leaders everywhere.  He gives the command to the people to do what they say, but not as they do (Matthew 23:1-3).  Jesus describes the reasons for his advice to the people but concluded the message with eight woes to the Pharisees.  It is these eight woes that will make up our posts for the next few weeks.

The First Woe

But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you shut off the kingdom of heaven from people; for you do not enter in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in (Matthew 23:13).

Matthew begins his woes by condemning the Pharisees for shutting the people out of the kingdom of Heaven.  John Calvin wrote "What purpose is served by religion and holy doctrine but to open heaven to us?"  Indeed, the scribes and Pharisees were the religious leaders of the day but they perverted the way to God by adding more and more rules to the people.  In short, they were attempting to add a level of righteousness that mankind, including themselves, could not attain, and that righteousness, according to them, was needed to enter into the Kingdom.

The reality of the matter, on the other hand is that God does indeed require that type of righteousness, but we can obtain that righteousness only through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.  So while the Pharisees were correct that perfection was needed to enter into the kingdom of God, they denied Jesus Christ as the only way to get there.  It is through His sacrifice alone that we find our way to God.  The woe that Jesus proclaims is due to the Pharisees attempting to gain that perfection on their own.

Woe to the Modern Day

The direct relationship this woe has to the modern church would be best described as cults and other religious groups.  These groups are highly moral people and the morality is a requirement for salvation.  In fact, every religion but Christianity requires a level of works to achieve the salvation that is being offered.  We must remember that God's standard is so high that no matter what our works are we cannot achieve them.  It is like jumping across the Grand Canyon:  Some of us leap farther than others, but all end up splattered on the canyon floor.

If you happen to find yourself in a group that requires a strict moral code as a condition of salvation it is wise to consider seeking counsel (from outside the group) as to whether you should stay.  A good church is one that accepts you for how you are, but also desires that your life will begin to transform to be more like Jesus.  It is important, however, that good works is never a condition of salvation, but rather it is an a result of living your life for Jesus.  He accepts us just as we are, but He loves us too much to keep us there, but our morality is never a condition of our salvation and we should clean up our life on our own as a mere result of spending time with Jesus.

As followers of Jesus, we should desire to increase our righteousness, but never let a church leader tell you that righteousness is a condition of salvation.