Few things angered Jesus more than hypocrisy, and legalism was a brand of hypocrisy that He particularly despised.
The dangerous thing about legalism is that it especially attracts those of us who are religious . . . who want to please God.
Read what Jesus said to some very religious folks in His world:
And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever you would have gained from me is Corban” ’ (that is, given to God)—then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother, thus making void the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And many such things you do” (Mark 7:9-13).
That story’s a little confusing, but apparently some of the Pharisees had found a way of getting around God’s commandment to care for their aging parents.
Here’s how they reasoned: God has commanded us to take care of our parents, but He’s also told us to keep our vows. So, if we have goods that we could use to help our parents, we can avoid it by vowing these possessions to God or God’s temple.
“Mom and Dad, I have the means to support you, but unfortunately I’ve already devoted what I have to God. You know I can’t break my vows, so you’ll need to find help somewhere else . . .”
The catch here is that they could keep whatever they owned and use it however they wanted, and presumably it would go to the temple when they died.
Amazing, isn’t it? How could religious people be so hard-hearted?
But of course the first-century Pharisees weren’t the only ones guilty of it.
We should ask ourselves: do we elevate the letter of the law above the principle behind the law? Do we use Scripture to support unloving, unkind words or actions?
Jesus expects us to obey Him, of course, but He especially wants us to honor His nature—love, mercy, compassion, kindness, equity. If we ever interpret the Bible in a way that supports something else, we ought to recheck our interpretation . . . and our hearts as well.
Legalistic hypocrisy angers the Lord.