“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. Mat 23:27,28There are actually quite a few verses like that in the gospels where Jesus very strongly condemns the religious leaders of his day.
So we got our fill of people doing good works and not being holy. It is a bit depressing. People try very hard to be holy and they fail. They fall in love with the concept of holiness but they miss actual holiness. They do all the things that make men think of them as holy but not the things that make God think of them as holy.
Rob Bell uses these passages in a typical way. The Pharisees? They are other religious leaders. Guys I don't like. Me? I am like Jesus. I am the truly holy one that calls out those bad leaders. I know what God really cares about.
You see these passages used this way a lot. Protestants use them against Catholics. Calvinists use them against Pentecostals. Liberals use them against conservatives. Everyone can think of someone else who is just playing church and does not really have an authentic relationship with Jesus.It is ironic because one of the things Jesus criticizes them for is looking down on other believers.
But what about us? How can we avoid this trap of becoming beautiful on the outside and dead on the inside? Many times we do things over and over again. They are part of our routine. But do we really connect with God through these things? Things we do over and over are never going to give us a big spiritual high every time. So does that mean we should stop doing them? That is not that practical. Even if we searched for a higher high every week that would put even more emphasis on the thing we were getting the high from and not God Himself.
You need to remember that the things are not typically bad. Going to mass. Saying a rosary. Speaking in tongues. Whatever it is the act is often not a bad thing. It is just not something that can save you on its own. So the solution is not to stop doing the good thing. It is to do it better. Scott Hahn said, "Some say we pray the Our Father too much. I say we contemplate it too little."
When we contemplate things we need to remember that we are simple beggars before God. Spiritual pride is at the root of much of this. We think we have arrived because we do a bit more praying then the next man. That is not what we believe. We confess we are saved by grace alone. But we forget that. So we should deliberately try and internalize that truth.
The other safeguard against this is to avoid too many purely spiritual ministries and do more people ministries. This is often overstated. Rob Bell talks about doing the things God really cares about. He means helping the poor and suffering. But we can't do that in the way God wants any more than we can pray in the way God wants. Still there is something about real people and real problems that can keep us grounded. Pride is a lie. We are not really better than other people. Interacting with other people makes it harder to believe that lie.