Is it possible to live holy lives in an immoral world? Are Christians even supposed to impose their values over others, or is it something more? Imposing our values on the world is not what holiness is all about. As I previously discussed, God put laws in place to enable His people to stand out and be separate from the pagan world around them. They were created so the Jewish people would know how God wanted them to live.
After a time, the rulers of the law (those priests who enforced it) added their own rules and interpretations of holiness. By doing so, became slaves to those laws. But Jesus saw their hearts and called them hypocrites. So let’s look at how Jesus showed “holiness” while he walked among us. Let’s also compare his actions to those of Christians and the church in general today.
We’ll start with the culture of the day and go from there. In particular, let’s look at the political situation of the day. Why? Because so much of what goes on in our world seems to revolve around politics, and Christians have somehow got it in their minds that there is only one political party of which God approves. In the States, it is the Republican Party, and in Canada, it is the Progressive Conservative Party. Did Jesus involve himself in politics? Would he do so today?
Did Jesus Care About Politics?
When Jesus walked the earth, the rulers, or the main political party, if you will, were the Romans. Rome, at that time, was the largest and most powerful empire in the world, with its capital city situated in Rome. Jesus never went there. However, we do know that he obeyed Roman laws because he said in Matthew 22:21, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”
Rome’s relationship with the Jewish people was not easy. After they broke free from the horrific rule of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, the Jews were determined to never again stray from God’s laws. This resulted in the birth of fanatical groups that promoted “holiness”. This was not the holiness God created through the Law, but more of a self-righteous holiness that developed through the religious leaders of the day.
One group was called the Pharisees (who were strict about observing the Law) and the other was called the Sadducees (who rejected the authoritative nature of God’s laws). Like most extremist groups, they both started out with good intentions, but along the way, those intentions and beliefs got skewed so much that they drifted away from the original plan—to love the Lord God with all their heart, soul, and mind. And to love their neighbour as themselves (Matthew 22:36-40).
How Jewish Courts Operated
In addition to the Pharisees and Sadducees, there was a ruler hierarchy. The Sanhedrin was a Jewish court and God laid its foundation when He commanded Moses to choose seventy of Israel’s elders (known as leaders and officials) among the people.
“You shall appoint for yourselves judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.”Deuteronomy 16:18, NKJV
If there were 120 men as heads of families in a city, then they had enough people to form a local court called The Sanhedrin. The people would come to them with their disputes, which were settled according to the Laws of Moses (Torah).
The Great Sanhedrin was in Jerusalem (think of it as the Supreme Court). It was made up of seventy rabbis (teachers) and the high priest. This court convened every day (except for festivals and on the Sabbath) to deal with matters about religious and ritual law. While they had the right to self-govern, ultimately the Roman government required that everything and everyone be subject to Roman authority.
So, if a case was heard in which the penalty was death (as in Jesus’ case), the Jews had no power to carry it out, so it fell to the local Roman governor, which would have been Pontius Pilate, to decide the case. The hierarchy was like this: while the Sanhedrin governed the Jews, they still reported to the governor, who reported to the king (Herod), who reported to Rome (Emperor Caesar).
The Jewish “Big-Brother”
So the Jewish people were not only ruled by what I’ll call “big brother,” aka the Pharisees and Sadducees, but they also had to deal with their new oppressors, Rome. Rome wanted their obedience, their worship, and their money. The Pharisees and Sadducees wanted the same. They loved it when people saw their piety and often flaunted it (Luke 18:9–14). In fact, the rules for fasting increased under the Sanhedrin. The Pharisees added two fast days, Monday and Thursday of each week, as a case of public display and piety. These were days not commanded by God. Jesus talks about this in Matthew 6:16–18.
The Pharisees made a point of appearing in the synagogues carelessly attired during these fast days. They wore mourning clothes and disfigured their faces to look sad in order to exhibit their superior “holiness” before the people. The phrase “disfigure their faces” (Gr. aphanizō) means they covered their faces. It is a figurative expression for mournful gestures and the neglected appearance of those wanting to call attention to themselves. The important thing about these two religious groups is how Jesus noted their hypocrisy. They did not practice what they preached, for their motives weren’t out of love for God but out of a desire to gain praise from the people for their actions.
Who are the Pharisees and Sadducees Today?
So, if we could look at these two groups of people—the Pharisees and Sadducees—in modern terms, we would see that one group, the Pharisees, sadly resembles some evangelical Christians today who love to adhere to the authority of the Scriptures and often add things to the Scriptures that aren’t commanded.
Jesus never called out the Roman government for their laws, their rampant idol worship, or their sexual immorality. He only called out the Jewish religious leaders of his day. In fact, he took an entire chapter of Matthew to tell us what he thought of the Pharisees and the scribes (recorders and interpreters of the law) in Matthew 23. At times, the Pharisees and Sadducees would even team up to confront Jesus (Matthew 16:1–12), but Jesus made a point of calling out the Pharisees the most as they were the most dogmatic of the two groups.
I have no doubt that Jesus would be calling out the religious leaders of our day too. While most churches quietly do the work of the Lord, others do not hide the fact that they are religious zealots, just like the Pharisees of old. In the States they are known as Christian Nationalists and in Canada they are called Reconstructionists.
These groups are dangerous to the cause of Christ and are leading thousands of Christians astray with their conspiracy ridden and racist rhetoric. The other group, the Sadducees, who did not accept the Scriptures as the authoritative word of God, would be churches who are more liberal in their acceptance of gays in the pulpit or a woman’s right to choose.
How Did Jesus See These Two Groups?
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cumin and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!Matthew 23:23-27, NKJV
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisees, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so, you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness
When Jesus walked the earth, His example of holiness was far removed from that of the Jewish ruling body. He offered tangible help. He loved the loveless. Jesus communicated and associated with people who were considered “sinners” and often found these same people giving up their sinful lifestyles to follow Him. He was always at odds with the religious elite of his day because he offered love, healing, and hope to all who came to Him. He favoured justice and mercy over the rule of law (Matthew 2:7–13), and He did it all without condemning those who sinned or condoning their sin.
Not so with some Christians today. There are many issues in the church that get Christians riled up. The two most common are abortion and gay rights. If you think abortion or homosexuality did not exist in Jesus’ day, you are wrong. Romans often killed their children after they had been born. The practice of infanticide was so widespread throughout the Roman Empire that it was considered normal. As for homosexuality, it was as prevalent then as it is today.
What Does God Require From You?
And now, because of Jesus, Christians stand before God as holy priests called to be God’s example to the world. Shame on those Christians who believe that standing outside an abortion clinic with protest signs and gruesome pictures of dead babies somehow glorifies God. Shame on those Christians who think that protesting at a gay pride parade with signs condemning all homosexuals to hell is glorifying God. Jesus taught us what holiness looked like by showing us how to interact with the world. He reached out in love, which resulted in many being saved.
Why does God require holiness from you? To show the world the light and love of God Himself. Jesus came so that we might have life. Our job is to share that life with those still walking in sin, and we are to do it with love and not condemnation.
Here’s how you can live a holy life in an immoral world:
- Feed and care for the homeless
- Care for widows and orphans
- Visit the sick in the hospital
- Bring meals to the elderly or sick
- Spend time with those who are lonely or alone
- Be kind to those who are different than you
- Don’t force your beliefs on others
- Help your neighbour when they ask
- Be loving, not condemning in your actions
- Pray for those in need and who need prayer
- Serve the Lord with a thankful heart
Finally, remember that as Christians we are not here to change the world, we are here to serve it. God is not your political tool to be used and thrown about because you don’t like where the world is headed. Jesus returning soon! Will he find you serving others as his Holy Priests or will he find you serving your own political agenda?