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.