The Heart of the Pharisee II

2 The Pharisee and the Law of God

The Question of Motive

‘The last temptation is the greatest treason: To do the right deed for the wrong reason’, wrote T.S. Eliot in Murder in the Cathedral. If I understand Eliot correctly, then the rightness of a deed is measured first and foremost not by the deed itself, nor by the consequences thereof, but by the motives behind it. In an age of excessive pragmatism not everyone might agree, but this does not change the factual value of the statement. In fact, Eliot is merely echoing a truism that has been recognised and taught through the centuries by sages and holy men alike.

Scripture, especially, is clear on this point: ‘The Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts’, David said to Solomon (1 Chron. 28:9), and in Proverbs we read: ‘All a man’s ways seem innocent to him, but motives are weighed by the Lord.’ (16:2). God, it seems, has a special interest in motives, and according to the apostle Paul even keeps a record of them for the day of judgment: ‘He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts.’ (1 Cor. 4:5).

It is my conviction, and the thesis of these articles, that the fundamental distinction between the Pharisee and the Christian is to be found in the area of motives, and that all other differences are merely symptomatic and secondary. More than a mere inference drawn from observing the Pharisee in history, this conviction is derived from the pages of Scripture itself, both Old and New Testament. The Pharisee, as the archetype of the religious person who rejects Christ, obtains his religious zeal from a source other than God. The ‘why’ of his passion differs from that of the Christian, and it is here that their paths diverge.

What is this ‘why’? What is the driving force behind Pharisaism? What is it that drives a person to embrace the law of God, yet reject the Lawgiver? These are the questions we are faced with in our search to understand the heart and mind of the Pharisee, and we shall now endeavor to answer them.

The Real Purpose of the Law

We shall take, as our point of departure, the law of God as observed by a Pharisee. We shall then proceed to look at the real purpose of the law, and how this insight is either ignored by the Pharisee so as not to threaten the fabric of his Pharisaism, or, on the other hand, understood by the Pharisee, causing him to convert from his Pharisaism to true, authentic Christianity.

To put this another way: There is something in the law of God that challenges the heart of Pharisaism, and, when noted, leads the observer away from the law as a means of salvation, and to Jesus Christ. The difference between the Pharisee and the Christian, therefore, lies in the way they view the law of God, and specifically how they define the ultimate function of the law. If we can isolate this difference, we have come to the heart of Pharisaism.

The Conversion of a Pharisee

In a sense, then, we are interested in the conversion of the Pharisee, and the process that underlies it. It should be noted that the Pharisee is not beyond redemption, nor that God has no desire to save him. Too often we read Christ’s classic discourse on Pharisaism in Matt. 23 with affirming nods of disgust, yet completely ignoring the heart wrenching conclusion of the chapter: ‘O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.’ (v. 37).

It is also noteworthy, and almost unbelievable, that God chose a Pharisee as the main author of the New Testament. It might be argued that God did so because of Saul’s learning, or perhaps because of his seemingly inborn commitment to orthodoxy and Pharisaical adherence to absolutes. He possessed tools and traits, in other words, that would later prove immensely valuable to Paul the Christian apologetic. Perhaps these factors do come into the equation, but I suspect that God chose the apostle Paul for a greater reason: In Paul we see an incarnation of the transition from law to grace. His testimony is not just one of personal salvation, but of universal salvation. As we see in the person of Christ the perfect union between God and man – one that we would not have been able to grasp without the reality of a man in whose life this truth incarnated itself – so we see in the person of Paul the death of the Old Covenant and the birth of the new. He is the two covenants incarnate. He represents to us both Adam and Christ. Adam, not vile and sinful, but Adam as righteous as any man can hope to be: Adam the religious man, Adam the Pharisee. Yet in spite of this, Adam the transgressor, sentenced to death. In Paul we see the sentence carried out. We see an execution, and we hear Saul the Pharisee, the circumcised Hebrew and Benjamite of Phil. 3, crying out ‘I no longer live’, recognising and admitting that even for the very religious man the wages of his sins are death, and that in Christ the judgment is carried out. Yet we also hear him say ‘Christ lives in me’, as he identifies with Christ in his resurrection, and becomes a new creation in Christ. From this new vantage point, he looks back to his life of Pharisaism, and in what can truly be described as one of the most shocking statements in the Bible, calls it ‘scubilon’; literally ‘excrement’.

In the light of the above, the obvious question that arises is this: ‘What happened between the sixth and seventh verses of Phil. 3? What happened to effect the conversion of such a great and committed Pharisee?’ The answer might seem obvious: ‘Acts 9, of course: The account of Paul’s conversion.’ Yet it is more than that. When we study the account of Paul’s life and conversion, then Acts 9 becomes merely one act of a much greater drama unfolding itself across the pages of the New Testament. To think that Paul was drawn to Christ by an overwhelming experience on the Damascus road is to underestimate the work of God in his life. Rather, we have reason to believe that the Acts 9 experience was a culmination of a long religious history that had prepared him for this event. He was a man ripened and mature, ready to be picked.

To discount his past would be no different to giving the credit for Augustine’s conversion to the voice of the child who cried ‘tolle, lege; tolle, lege’ in a garden in Milan on a summer’s day in 386. These famous words, known and quoted for centuries by Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants alike, would have meant nothing to the great church father were they not uttered against a backdrop of inner restlessness, spiritual hunger and religious disenchantment. Paul, like Augustine, had a long religious history that prepared him for that one fateful event that would become the turning point in his life.

To argue that the historical records provide us with precious little insight into the mind of the unconverted Paul (As opposed to Augustine, for instance), is also incorrect. We are given a striking glimpse of the apostle’s psyche, in his pre-conversion days, by none other than Paul himself, in what is perhaps the most misunderstood and misquoted chapter of the New Testament.

The Man in Romans 7

I am, of course, referring to Romans 7. Even as a young Christian I found it incredulous that seemingly well-meaning Christians glibly quoted Paul as though he had provided the church with the poem of great excuse.

For what I want to do I do not do,
but what I hate I do.
I have the desire to do what is good,
but I cannot carry it out.
For what I do is not the good I want to do;
no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.

If the defeated man who penned these words were sketching God’s best hope for the Christian, then perhaps we should seriously reconsider our use of the term ‘conversion’ as a description of what happens to the sinner who finds Christ. Moreover, we should put a question mark behind verses such as 1 John 3:9 and 5:18, where we read that the one born of God ‘does not continue to sin.’

This does not mean that we follow the 19th century holiness preacher in his quest for sinless perfection or entire sanctification. To draw such a caricature of the theologian who rejects the view that Romans 7 presents us with a picture of the normal Christian life is unfair, to say the least. No, we acknowledge that the believer shall never be completely free from sin in this life, and we have no desire to prove otherwise.

The question, however, is this: Is Paul using Romans 7 to prove this point? And if not, does that mean that the point remains unproven in Pauline theology? In other words, are we not allowed to be weak once we no longer have Romans 7 as an excuse for our weakness?

The answer to the second question is obvious, and not much need to be said in reply. The perfectionist thesis is not espoused by Paul or any of the New Testament authors, and certainly does not stand or fall by any interpretation of Romans 7. Barth’s accusation that those who disagree with him on Romans 7 do so because of the ‘spectacles of their own piety’ (1980:270) is therefore unfounded.

The answer to the first question is less obvious, and it is here that we find the much-discussed difference of opinion amongst theologians and scholars. It is certainly not my aim to try and settle a centuries old theological dispute in the spate of a few paragraphs, yet it should be pointed out that the scale seems to be turning more and more in favor of the view that Paul is not referring to the Christian’s remaining struggle against sin, but rather to the ‘impotence of the ego outside Christ and the power of his Spirit’ (Ridderbos 1975:126).

Law or Spirit?

The real question, of course, is not whether we are faced in Romans 7 with Paul before or after his conversion, but rather whether we are faced with Paul as a man under the law or as a man led by the Spirit. It is important to see the difference. To state that the legalistic person is of necessity a pre-Christian person is anachronistic, and this is nowhere better illustrated than in the letter to the Christians at Galatia. Theirs is the classical post-conversion return to the law, and Paul uses extremely strong language to try and bring them back to their senses, reminding us that Christianity and legalism are not mutually exclusive.

In other words, if Paul were speaking in Romans 7 as a man under the law, then he was indeed speaking about a potential Christian experience, but we need to understand that for the Christian such an experience is an illegitimate and undesirable one. ‘Christ is the end of the law’, Paul points out three chapters later, and so to put oneself back under the law is to go the path of Galatian bewitchment, which he calls ‘a different gospel’ in that epistle.

This means that the ego’s impotence, spoken of by Ridderbos, may indeed be experienced by Christians from time to time, but it is hardly the same as ‘struggling against sin’. The impotence of Romans 7 is then that of a person under the law, and it is portrayed in stark contrast against the life led under the guidance of the Spirit in Romans 8, albeit it an imperfect life. The contrast is especially accentuated by the dark décor of Romans 7. What we find here is not new life in Christ, but fatalism and despair. As Martyn Lloyd Jones points out in his commentary on this passage: ‘The regenerate man, when he falls into sin, has to say that he has done something which he does not believe in doing; he is aware that he is not already perfect; but he does not speak of himself as a man who lives a frustrated, defeated life of failure.’ (1973:199), and ‘He [Paul] is not talking about a tendency to sin, he is talking about a captivity to sin.’ (1973:220). He adds: ‘In the Christian sin is not a master and he its slave. Sin to the Christian is an annoyance, a nuisance; it is something that worries him, and sometimes trips him up; but it never drives him to despair.’ (1973:254).

If the issue is one of law versus Spirit, rather than one of ‘saved’ versus ‘unsaved’, it follows that the wretchedness and despair of Romans 7 belong not only to the legalistic person before his conversion, but to anyone who looks to the law as a means of salvation, and that includes the Christian. Even scholars who are uncomfortable with a simplistic ‘before and after conversion’ interpretation of Romans 7 and 8 tend to acknowledge this: ‘The law speaks not of privilege and achievement, but only of failure and guilt. For sensitive Christians, therefore, who know how God hates sin, to be diagnosed by the law is a miserable and depressing experience.’, writes J.I. Packer in Knowing God (1973:288). The point, of course, is that Christians are not to look at the law, but rather to the gospel, as Packer proceeds to point out.

With the above in mind it would appear that our question has answered itself: The experience of Romans 7 is not possible without the law of God, and the depressing effect of this experience is not to be understood as the normal and daily experience of the Christian who is led by the Spirit. Therefore we can safely assume that Paul is speaking as ‘a man under the law’ who has not yet tasted the liberty of the Spirit (or who, having tasted, has lost focus), and as such as a Pharisee, albeit a Pharisee with a difference, as we shall promptly see.

Do All Those Under The Law Share the Experience of Romans 7?

In stating the above, one problem still remains. The fact that Paul’s despair followed his exposure to the law does not necessarily mean that all people who are under the law reach a point of despair. To put it differently: You cannot have the despair without the law, but you can have the law without the despair. It is the exception, rather than the rule, for the legalist to cry out ‘Wretched man that I am!’, and this fact is well illustrated by the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18.

Two men, both aware of God’s holy standard as it is revealed in his law, pray in the temple. The one believes that he has lived up to the law, and he thanks God for this. The other knows that he has broken God’s law, beats on his chest, crying out: ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’, and in the process sounds remarkably like the man in Romans 7. The striking conclusion of the story is that it is this man, the tax collector, who is justified by God, and not the Pharisee.

What is the point of the parable? Surely not that God delights in those who break his law whilst despising those who don’t? No, the point is that the purpose of the law was met in the life of the tax collector and not in the life of the Pharisee. This purpose is clear to see in Rom. 3:20: ‘Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.’ What God looked for in the temple prayers was consciousness of sin, not observance of the law, and he found it in only one of them.

This is also the point of Romans 7. We would not be far from wrong if we were to say that the law, in its final analysis, was given to be broken rather than kept, for it is in breaking the law that we become conscious of our need of a savior. The force of Paul’s ‘Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord’ would simply not have been the same without his preceding ‘Wretched man that I am. Who shall deliver me from this body of death?’ As a matter of fact, without a knowledge of one’s own wretchedness there is no need of Christ and his Spirit at all, which provides us with the main reason why the tax collectors as a group entered the kingdom of God ahead of the Pharisees (Matt. 21:31).

The person under the law in Romans 7, therefore, does not represent every person under the law. This truth has oftentimes been missed by expositors who ignore the fact that the average law abiding Pharisee knows very little of the despair of Romans 7, and it has also caused many to outright reject the notion that the person in Romans 7 is unregenerate. To quote Martyn Lloyd Jones again: ‘The unregenerate never speaks in that way. Not only so, the unregenerate man never condemns sin in the way this man does who says, “What I do, I do not allow; I do not approve of it.” The unregenerate man never uses such language. Neither does he ever say that he hates sin.’ (1973:198). He is right, of course, and his argument also holds for the person under the law.

The question that remains is this: What kind of a person are we then seeing in Romans 7, if not every person under the law?, and the answer is to be found in the specific command that triggered the experience for Paul, and caused him to go from a self righteous Pharisee to a broken man in despair as a result of his inability to keep this command.

The Problem of Covetousness

In Romans 7 Paul mentions the command by name. As unbelievable as it may sound, many debates over this chapter never allude to the fact that there is only one Old Testament law under discussion here, namely the last of the Ten Commandments: You shall not covet. Note verses 7 and 8: ‘Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness.’

The key to understanding Romans 7 lies in the uniqueness of this command. Paul was not condemned by the law as a murderer, blasphemer, adulterer, thieve, idolater, or because he broke any other of the first nine commandments. Neither did he struggle with any of these. On the contrary, in describing his legalistic righteousness as a Pharisee in Phil. 3 he calls himself ‘faultless’. No sincere Pharisee would have dared to do so had he struggled with the obvious requirements of the first nine commandments.

The problem arose with the final command. Defined as ‘eagerly desirous’, covetousness refers to inner compulsion, and the prohibition to covet addresses itself to the inner person, differing from the other commandments in this respect. Whereas the rest of the law prohibits actions, the tenth commandment prohibits an intention. We break it before we break any one of the other, as the doing of a sinful deed is preceded by the motive or desire to do so: ‘…after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin…’ James tells us in his epistle (1:15). The first sin, as an archetype of all sins to follow, also clearly reveals to us covetousness as a precedent of sin: ‘When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it.’ (Gen. 3:6) The real origin of sin, in other words, can be traced back to the problem of covetousness. In fact, as Jesus pointed out in the Sermon on the Mount, where covetousness is present sin has already been committed (Matt. 5:27-28), and the carrying out of covetous intentions is mere coincidence and formality. In this sense we can say that the command not to covet is really a summary of the Ten Commandments, for where coveting is no longer present sin would no longer follow.

The problem of sin, therefore, is an inward one, and it is the purpose of the tenth commandment to illustrate this. To put it another way: The problem of sin is a spiritual problem, and this can only be pointed out by a spiritual commandment. When the tenth commandment confronted Paul, he acknowledged it as ‘spiritual’, but in failing to keep it he had to acknowledge himself as ‘unspiritual, a slave to sin’ (v. 14). While the first nine commandments revealed to Paul his ability to meet the external demands of the law, the tenth commandment revealed to him his inability to live up to the law’s spiritual requirements. In this sense sin was ‘recognised as sin’ in his life (v. 13).

Paul’s despair, culminating in his ‘wretched man that I am’, came about solely as a result of the one commandment that he found impossible to keep. It is this experience, more than anything else, that revealed to him his need of salvation, and that prepared him for the conviction that something needed to be done about his ‘un-spirituality’. It is also here that the distinction is to be found between the regular legalist and the man in Romans 7. The former is blind to the unique spiritual nature of the tenth command, and views it on the same par as the other nine commandments, namely as yet another external requirement to be kept in order to procure salvation. As such the legalist, and that would include the Pharisee, has no knowledge of his own depravity, experiences no despair, and sees no need to call on a savior.

The man in Romans 7, in other words, cannot merely be labeled as regenerate, unregenerate or legalistic. Rather, he is a person who experiences the holiness of God, and in the light thereof, sees the long shadow of his own wretchedness. Perhaps the clearest treatment of this aspect of Romans 7 is that of Martyn Lloyd Jones’ 257 page exposition of the passage, with his findings summarised as follows: ‘What sort of man is Paul describing therefore? He is describing a man who is experiencing an intense conviction of sin, a man who has been given to see, by the Spirit, the holiness of the Law; and he feels utterly condemned. He is aware of his weakness for the first time, and his complete failure. But he does not know any more. He is trying to keep the law in his own strength, and he finds that he cannot. He therefore feels condemned; he is under conviction…This is the experience of a large number of people, sometimes of people who have been reading a book on Revival, or the biography of some great saint. Suddenly they are brought under conviction by the Holy Spirit. They see that the whole of their past is wrong, that it is loss. They see the meaning of the law for the first time. They have lost their self-righteousness, they are “dead”, they are “killed” by the Law; and they then try to put themselves right, but they cannot do so. They may remain like that for days and for weeks, even for years. Then the truth about Christ and His full salvation is revealed to them, and they find peace and joy and happiness and power.’ (1973:255-256).

Lloyd Jones also emphasises the fact that the above experience is brought about not by the first nine commandments, but by the specific command not to covet, noting the following: ‘The Apostle is really saying…”I would not have known that lust was sin in and of itself if the law had not taught me so”. That was undoubtedly true of the Apostle before his conversion as it was true of all the Pharisees. They thought of sin only in terms of external actions [italics mine]. As long as a man did not perform an evil act, he was not guilty of sin.’ (1973:115).

The tenth commandment, then, is the bridge that leads a man from self-righteousness and Pharisaism (‘I thank you that I am not like all other men: I don’t rob or commit adultery…’) to conviction of sin (‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’), and on towards salvation (‘…this man…went home justified’). It is the classical transition from ‘what-I-do’ to ‘who-I-am’, from whitened sepulchre to dead men’s bones, from cleaning the outside of the cup and dish to being overwhelmed by the greed and self-indulgence on the inside.

It is here that the paths of the Pharisee and God’s saints diverge. ‘The ultimate proof of the sinner is that he does not know his own sin.’, Luther said, and the same can be said of the Pharisee. Strangely reminiscent of the attitude displayed by the first sinners in history, the Pharisee is the last to acknowledge the reality of his sin, or to take responsibility for it, and the first to see the sins of others. For the Pharisee ‘Nothing so needs reforming as other people’s habits’, as Mark Twain quipped. When asked ‘What’s wrong with the world?’, the Pharisee never responds with the words of G. K. Chesterton in his well known correspondence stopper to The Times: ‘I am.’ The famous and immortalised sentence from Walt Kelley’s comic strip Pogo, ‘We have met the enemy and he is us’, is a sentence never uttered over the lips of the Pharisee.

Jesus Christ and the Tenth Commandment

If the command not to covet serves as a bridge between the two covenants, between law and grace, and between the Pharisee and the Christian, then it should not come as any surprise that Jesus Christ employed it in exactly this way. In the first teaching of Christ recorded in the New Testament, he says: ‘Do not think I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them, but to fulfil them.’ (Matt. 5:17). Clarifying the statement, which must have sounded rather unorthodox to his audience, for it was not generally felt that the law needed ‘fulfillment’, he added: ‘Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.’ (v. 20). This statement, too, must have sounded strange, for the Pharisees were as righteous as was humanly possible. Christ’s message was clear: The law was not yet fulfilled, and the party who gained a reputation for keeping the law was not as righteous as they could be; in fact, not even righteous enough to enter heaven.

The riddle is solved in the next few verses, with Christ quoting from the law and the rabbis six times, each time emphasising the obvious external requirement of the law, and each time pointing to a much deeper spiritual principle behind the words. Especially the first two statements confirm the division between the first nine commandments and the tenth commandment: ‘You have heard that it was said…”Do not murder…” (sixth command). But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.’ Anger, of course, corresponds with covetousness, albeit a negative form thereof, and is well defined in the Oxford dictionary as ‘hot displeasure’ (1964:48). It is a desire for revenge, for payback, and as such the motive that precedes the sin of murder – the very motive forbidden by the tenth command. And then the second statement: ‘You have heard that it was said, “Do not commit adultery” (Seventh command), but I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart’ (Tenth command).

This even corresponds with the way in which the tenth command presents itself in Exodus 20. Coveting your neighbour’s wife (Tenth command) clearly precedes committing adultery with her (Seventh command). Likewise, coveting your neighbour’s possessions (Tenth command) precedes the act of stealing from your neighbour (Eighth command). In fact, every time you break one of the first nine commandments, you end up breaking two commandments: The one in question, as well as the tenth!

It becomes clear then, that the righteousness of the Pharisees was one based on their observance of the first nine commandments, as well as all the other external requirements of the law, and not of the tenth commandment. As such the Pharisees were not righteous enough. Also, it explains what Christ meant when he spoke about fulfilling the law without abolishing it. By enabling people to adhere to the underlying spiritual requirements of the law, the law shall be fulfilled, and by doing so the external commandments shall never be broken, and so the law is not abolished. Of course the fulfillment of the law also refers to the accomplishments of Christ that are imputed to the Christian by faith, but that is not the focus of this study. Suffice it to say that the fulfillment of the law is both legal, in the sense of a ransom or penalty that has been paid on our behalf, and practical, in the sense of the offender being rehabilitated. Our focus here is on the latter, not the former.

The Rich Young Man

If any doubt remains about Christ’s treatment of the Ten Commandments, and whether it corresponds with Paul’s treatment thereof in Romans 7, then such doubt is removed in a story about yet another man who thought he had the ability to keep the law. It is found in Matt. 19, and so overfamiliar to us that we often miss its obvious message. A rich young man comes to Jesus, asking: ‘Teacher, what good thing must I do to inherit eternal life?’, and in the process reveals his inadequate understanding of morality and righteousness. Christ responds by pointing to the law, quoting five of the first nine commandments (he stops at number nine!), and adds the command to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ from the book of Leviticus. The man answers like a typical law abiding Pharisee would, by claiming that he has kept all these, and then asks if there is anything that he still lacks. Note Christ’s response: ‘This one thing you lack.’

The rest of Christ’s well known response has very little to do with a lesson in giving, and neither is it one reserved for rich, young men. Rather, it is the one reserved for all religious people who believe that they have the ability to keep the law: ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.’ It was, of course, the tenth command drawn to its logical conclusion: You shall covet nothing on this earth, and so you shall be happy to give away even what you have. It was also, as always, the impossible command for the unregenerate legalist and Pharisee, and so the young man went away sad. The message was so clear that even the disciples, in astonishment, asked: ‘Who then can be saved?’ Christ’s answer reveals that his dialogue with the rich man was not an effort to negotiate salvation, but an illustration of the impossibility to find righteousness through the path of legalistic efforts and doing ‘good things’: ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’

According to Jesus, therefore, nothing less than perfection will get us to heaven. This is clear from both passages discussed above. The last of the six references to the law and its spiritual nature in Matt. 5 concludes with the words: ‘Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.’ (v. 48), and to the rich young man Jesus said: ‘If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions…’ (Matt 19:21). Such perfection can only be attained by Christ himself, of course, and provides the basis for our salvation. But this perfection is more than a mere ‘positional’ reality in heavenly places. It is made manifest in the life of the individual who goes beyond the keeping of the first nine commandments to the tenth commandment. This is indeed impossible for the unregenerate, no matter how legalistic they may be.

Summary and Conclusion

By studying the conversion of the most famous Pharisee in history, we have seen that a certain understanding of the law of God played a vital role in the process. As someone who once believed himself to be ‘faultless’ in obeying the law, the apostle Paul was driven to despair by his inability to keep the tenth command, ultimately recognising himself as ‘unspiritual’, and crying out for a savior as a result of this insight. We saw how Jesus Christ used the law in the same way, proving that the ultimate purpose of the law was not to be obeyed externally, but to reveal a spiritual demand that could not be met by the carnal person, resulting in God himself having to effect such a great and impossible salvation. We also saw, in various passages, that the Pharisee is characterised by a conviction that he has the ability to keep the law and so procure salvation for himself, completely missing the real purpose of the law, namely to make people conscious of sin, especially the sin of covetousness.

With the above in the back of our minds, it would appear indeed that the main difference between the Pharisee and the true Christian is to be found in the realm of motives. The Pharisee does the ‘right deeds for the wrong reasons’, as the inborn covetousness of his heart has not been dealt with, whereas the Christian has been freed from covetousness, and so does right without any ulterior motives. The practical implications of this basic and fundamental distinction between the two are so vast that we shall set aside an entire chapter for the purposes of discussing them in greater detail.