This is part two of a three-part series on the necessity of standards, the dangers of standards, and how to deal with differences in standards with other believers.
As we saw in the last article which you can find here, standards are a necessary part of Christian living and are not in and of themselves a sign of being a legalist or a Pharisee. There is, however, a possible pitfall with the way we approach standards in the Christian life. Jesus spent most of his ministry teaching against the errors of the Pharisees because as He said, they shut the doors of heaven in the faces of sinners (Matt 23:13). The Pharisees were known for living separate lives. So, if we are to have standards in our lives, how do we avoid being a Pharisee? This article will deal with the dangers of approaching standards in the wrong way.
The Pharisees did live separated lives, but Jesus said that they did everything that they did to be seen of men (Matt 23:5). They were so concerned with what people thought they had nothing to do with people who did not live like them and they looked down at them. In Luke 18:9-14, there is a story about a Pharisee who walked into the temple. In the corner, he saw a sinner praying for God’s mercy; but all he could think about was how bad that man was. The Pharisee prayed and thanked God that he was not like that man over there.
The caution here is that we don’t allow our standard to cause us to think we are better than other people. Our relationship with God is not based on the things we do, but the shed blood of Jesus Christ. In fact, Isaiah 64:6 says that our righteousnesses are as filthy rags. Living a holier life or a more separated life will not make God love you more. We are accepted in the beloved according to Eph 1:6 which means that the only basis of our acceptance in the sight of God is based on Jesus who is “the beloved.” Our standards do not make us more acceptable to God.
“Pharisee-type believers unconsciously think they've earned God's blessing through their behavior. Guilt-laden believers are sure they've forfeited God's blessing through disobedience or lack of discipline. Both have forgotten the meaning of grace- God's unmerited favor to those who deserve only His wrath.” - Jerry Bridges
Lacking love for people
Imagine a woman walks into your church with a short skirt on and fishnet stockings. What would the average person in your church’s reaction be to that person? One of the saddest things I have seen in churches is church members avoiding people who do not dress or act like them. As we walk by in the mall, we think things or make comments about how that person isn’t dressed very well or those people aren’t acting right. We get so focused on the outside that we don’t reach out to people who have serious needs. In Matthew 23:23, Jesus said, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith: these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone.”What matters in these people’s lives more than anything else is their relationship with Jesus. They need to see justice, but also mercy and faith in Christ.
Focus on externals and ignoring the inside
One of the biggest dangers with standards is that people can become focused on externals and ignore their relationship with God. When the standards are emphasized, people begin adopting them without knowing why they should even do these things. I really believe that this is one of the driving factors in children abandoning the practices of their parents in Christianity. They never were taught thoroughly about why we do these things. They may have been given some generic answer, but no one was willing to answer their questions because authority figures just assumed it was rebellion.
In Matthew 23:25, Jesus again warned the Pharisees: Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess.They were so focused on looking good that they did not focus on the inside. True standards must be a personal outgrowth of a relationship with God. Recently, I had a young growing believer ask me about music standards, but that person did not have the basics of their Christian walk down. I deferred answering that question at the time because his walk with the Lord needed to be dealt with first and then as the Lord teaches him, he could decide what standards he needed in his life.
Making manmade standards the commands of God
If you remember our definition of standards you will notice that standards are manmade rules for life. Traditionally, the problem with standards is that they have been presented as God’s commands. Going back to our illustration using cliff and fences, the cliff is the actual sin while the fence is merely protection to keep you from going over the cliff. We used the illustration of dating standards in the previous article. The cliff or sin that we are trying to avoid is fornication. If for some unforeseen reason, I end up alone in a room with another woman, have I committed fornication. No. Violating a standard is not a sin. It may not be wise, but it is no sin. We must be careful not to teach manmade standards as if they were the Word of God. The Pharisees were also guilty of this. Matt 15:9 says, “But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” The Pharisees had many extra rules added to the law to keep them from breaking the law. The law had 613 commandments that were given, but these were not enough for the Pharisees. The one law about keeping the sabbath day was amplified by 39 other commands about how to keep the sabbath. It was these oral traditions from the rabbis that Jesus was often accused of violating and challenged. They made their traditions and commands equal to the commands of God.
In our teaching and practice of standards, we must keep these cautions in mind lest we become like the Pharisees. As we saw from the example of Joseph, standards do not automatically make a man a Pharisee or legalist. It all comes down to why we are doing what we are doing and how we are doing it.