I've had this post rolling around in my head for a long time. It is a delicate issue and has taken a lot of thought to be able to express in words.
There are a few "buzz-words" in Christianity that are ill-defined. One of them is legalism. When we think of legalism in the Bible, we almost immediately think of the Pharisees. The Pharisees were a religious group that were extremely adamant about keeping all aspects of the given law. Despite that point, Jesus pointed out that they were lacking, or lost. I think that the idea of the Pharisees can not only cause us to stumble, but can also divide us greatly. We know that Jesus did not come to abolish the law, but rather fulfill it but Salvation by grace alone through faith alone doesn't give us free-license to do whatever we want to do--I think we can all agree on that! Jesus wasn't condoning adultery when the he stood up for the woman the Pharisees dragged before Him. He confronted their hearts (aka motives) and then dealt with her by telling her to turn form her own sin. Like the Pharisees, we can be very focused on God's Word and what it teaches--and that's a good thing. But like the Pharisees, we can also do it for the wrong reasons and without love. That's a bad thing. But there is something else is far more successful at dividing the Church: judging the heart.
A few Sundays ago as I was sitting in church listening to a sermon about the attitudes of the Pharisees, our pastor made a statement and the first thing that flashed through my mind was: I wish ________ (insert name here) could have heard that! I have a feeling that I am not alone. If you tell me that you have never sat in a sermon thinking: "I wish so-and-so could hear this!" then, well, I don't believe you. We've all done it. I recognized the irony in my thought almost immediately and felt ashamed. And then my mind wandered to the many times that I felt anger or "judged" by someone else's convictions. For instance,(and please excuse me for this illustration, it simply seems to be the most obvious) my mind will say that so-and-so always wears dresses so she must be judging me for wearing pants. Logically, that is not true, yet my sinful mind wants to convict that person of judging me when chances are, they haven't. It is possible that this person does it because it is what she believes God desires from her, yet she doesn't see pants as wrong. I actually know many women who believe that way. Paul addresses this issue in his letter to the Romans. Evidently, the Roman church was struggling with judging the convictions of others. Notice I say the convictions....not the sins! Big difference! The Bible instructs us to judge sin and deal with it. It even gives us clear instruction on how to search our own hearts before confronting the sins of others. (Matthew chapter 7) But it never condones judging the heart. That is for God and God alone! No one but God can see into your heart and know the motives for what you do. I believe that this is what Paul was addressing in Romans chapter 14. How beautiful it is to be able to sit alongside another believer who had different convictions than you and be in perfect unity despite it!
That brings me back to the Pharisees. The things they did were good. Yet Jesus, who was qualified to judge their hearts, addressed the motive behind their obedience. Why did He do that? Was it so that we could recognize a Pharisee when we see one? Um, well....no. If you have followed my logic, you will see that the only ones qualified to address YOUR heart and YOUR motives are you and God. More than that, when we think of others who hold different convictions as "Pharisees" we committed a great irony. Since you are not qualified to judge the intentions of others, you have labeled them with a title that you yourself deserve. Being a Pharisee is about judging the heart. Ouch.
I started thinking about Nicodemus., He was a Pharisee, yet he had a desire to know what Jesus was teaching and to know whether or not it was truth. When I read his story, I have a hard time believing that he was that terrible of a person-Pharisee or not. Nicodemus was the one who eventually stood up to the Pharisees and asked the question: Does our law judge a man before it hears him and knows what he is doing? John 7:52 Nicodemus got it. After his encounter with Jesus, he understood what it meant to judge someone without knowing all of the facts! Eventually, he reappears in chapter 19 providing spices with which to embalm his Savior. He is a changed man. Thank you Jesus for not dismissing him or giving up on him!
I have a feeling that a little bit of pride-lovin' Pharisee lives in each of us. I wonder, however, how the Body of Christ would look if we could all do what we can to kill our inner Pharisee? I wonder, if we could simply accept the convictions of others without feeling judged, or better yet, just sit and talk with them and attempt to understand them. Get to know them. I am sure it would take us moving far out of our comfort zone, but God never instructed you to even build a comfort zone! It isn't horribly important that we all agree on everything, but the proper response to feeling conviction would be to search it out for ourselves and find what we believe to be true according to God's Word. We also need to pray and ask the Holy Spirit to guide us in the matter. If we are firm enough in our own convictions, then we really shouldn't feel judged by what others believe (unless they admit that they are judging us then in reality, it is more their problem than yours!)
How different would we be if we understood that the only one we are qualified to judge as a Pharisee is ourselves?