Which Kind of Church Kid Are You?

I grew up in the home of a pastor. I spent my youth rolling down the aisle in fisher price cars and stuffing my face with communion bread after the service. I know church kids, because I am the stereotypical church kid. I was at every church function whether I wanted to be or not. Church kids are an interesting breed and in my experience there tend to be two different types of church kid: Pharisees or Tax Collectors.

The Pharisee Church Kid

There often is not much in between. When you grow up in the Church before the regenerating work of God, these two seemingly opposites develop. On the one hand, you hear the demands of the Law, demands like “do not commit adultery”, “do not lie”, or “do not steal”. The young little self-righteous Pharisee will hear these words and begin to immediately be puffed up in pride. “I can do this” so we think, and in our self-righteousness we become blind to our sin and thus follow the letter of the law and miss its spirit.

The pharisee lives there live comparatively. They are not interested in genuine righteousness, just comparative righteousness. He lives his life constantly evaluating everyone else. He will go to school and grow up amongst his peers denouncing them in self-righteous judgement. “I’m better than that guy”, so he thinks. The church kids who are probed to Phariseeism become moral little monsters, puffed up with a judgmental self-righteousness. How do I know so much about these little moral monsters? Because I am a recovering Pharisee.

The Tax Collector Church Kid

On the flip side, many church kids become the tax collector. Unlike the pharisee church kids, they become so fed up with rule following that they just give up Christianity completely. They realize they cannot get more gold stars than the Pharisee kids and that they struggle to live for God and constantly find themselves in sin. Some how along the way, either by their own hardness of heart or the incredible failure of their church, they completely miss the Gospel. The Tax collector kids realize early how unable they are to keep God’s law. They realizes that they are unable to obey and rather than becoming sorrowful over sin, they check out and abandon Christianity. These are the church kids who end up doing keg stands in college. They become so frustrated with their works based religious upbringing that rather than resisting their sin, they embrace it.

We Cannot Do It

Yet, the Gospel has much to say to both of these two types of people. In this sermon Jesus rebukes both the Pharisee and the tax collector. Jesus’ strongest rebuke is to the pharisees. It is often those who have the thick headed metal skull of Phariseeism that need a vicious blow to the head to get their attention. The hardest people to share the Gospel to are those who think they already believe it. So it is with the Pharisees.

Jesus regularly exposes the religion of the Pharisees as a complete sham, especially in the Sermon on the Mount. Yes, the Pharisees may be sparkling clean on the outside, but inwardly they have the grotesque stench of a decaying corpse. Jesus shows that the Pharisees have greatly missed the intention of the Law of God and shows them that they actually have not been keeping it at all. They have loved their neighbor, but hated their enemy. They have not committed adultery, but they indulge lustful thoughts. They take oaths, but manipulate the system so they can get away with deceit. This is the great frustration Jesus has with these Pharisees, they are hypocrites!

Now it easy for us to take a sledge hammer and beat the snot out of the Pharisees as if they are those people and not us. Yet more often than not when we are talking about Phariseeism we are talking about ourselves. Many of us are moral little monsters who place our hope in our religious performance. We pride ourselves on our moralistic skill and desire the praise of others to boost our spiritual ego.

Jesus teaches us this, there is no spiritual somebodies in the kingdom of God, there are only spiritual nobodies. Blessed are the poor in Spirit! Blessed are those who recognize their spiritual inability, for there’s is the kingdom of heaven! This is Jesus’ whole point, that the tax collectors are closer to entering into the kingdom than the Pharisees, because the tax collectors at least know they cannot do it on their own.

Church Kids in Need of Jesus

Yet both of these church kids, the Pharisees and the tax collectors are lost and in need of a savior. Both groups have completely misunderstood and distorted Christianity. The Pharisees create a religion of moralism while the tax collectors a religion of hedonism. The Gospel of Jesus Christ both rejects moralism and hedonism. Salvation cannot be earned through good works. We only enter heavens gates through the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ that we receive by grace through faith. At the same time Christ calls us as children of God to live in a manner worthy of the Gospel .

If you grew up in the church, I don’t know which kind of kid you were. Maybe you were the self-righteous pharisee or maybe you were the hedonistic tax collector. Regardless of your rebellious inclination, the Gospel is the power of God for salvation for all people, even church kids. If you are like me, along the way my pharisaical heart began to realize that I was not nearly as righteous as I thought I was. God began to show me how much of a sinner I truly am and that I needed a great savior. God was gracious enough to show me my short comings and to lead me to Calvary where my sins were paid. It is only through the gracious work of God that this little moral monster became an adopted son of God.

Jesus Saves Us from Legalism

If we are honest, there is a little bit of a Pharisee in each of us. We all have legalistic tendencies. We have our own standard that we hold ourselves to, and look down on all others who cannot measure up to our standards. Many who excel at keeping rules and abstaining for immorality become prideful and feel superior over their fellow man. The heart of a Pharisee tries to attain righteousness on his or her own strength and merit.

Throughout the Bible, Jesus has some stern words for the Scribes and Pharisees, but there is probably none sterner than Matthew 23. In this passage Jesus rebukes the Pharisees with seven different woes. Although there are several different areas Jesus rebukes them of, one of the main ones is this: The Pharisees care far more about external appearances while neglecting internal realities. In other words, the Pharisees were great at looking righteous on the outside, while ignoring the state of their own hearts.

It is like this for many Christians in our day too isn't it? We know what to wear on Sunday morning. We know good Christianese, and we can use big theological words. We have more merit badges for memorizing more Bible verses than the other kid. We give more in the offering than the guy on the pew next to us. We've attained that position of influence in the church and feel superior to everyone else. You see, many of us, just like the Pharisees think our external obedience can make up for our wicked hearts. We think if we could just be good enough, God must accept us!

Jesus tells the Pharisees in Matthew 23:25-26, "For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that outside may be clean." Jesus tells the Pharisees that they've got the order backwards. You can't clean up your outward behavior and expect it to transform your wicked heart. Transformation and righteousness starts within our hearts, and moves outward to external obedience. You see the Pharisees were so busy cleaning the outward part of the cup, all the while neglecting the inside.

Your outward religion and moralism will not save you. Period. You can't be good enough. You cannot give enough. You cannot serve enough. No matter how hard you try or how clean you make your outward cup, inside you are filthy. You see, we can't transform our own hearts. We are unable to clean that inward part of the cup. This is why we need Jesus!

Jesus died in your place for your sin. He takes on all your inward and outward filth, sin, and unrighteousness. For those who have faith and trust in him, he gives us purity. He gives us righteousness. Jesus, through the power of the Holy Spirit, takes that dirty cup and makes it spotless.

Your own works cannot save you. They are nothing but filthy rags. You need Jesus. Don't fall for the lie of religion that you can clean yourself up. You can't. Only Jesus can. Don't be like the prideful Pharisees, but may everyone of us fall on our face in humility before Jesus. From the deacon to the porn addict. From the Sunday School teacher to the homosexual. From the Pastor to the drunkard. We are all unclean before Jesus, and only by his blood are we made clean. There is no room for pride, because only through Jesus can we be saved.