Pandering to Sacred Cows
The danger of seeking the righteousness of man
“The Pharisees, who were lovers of money, heard all these things, and they ridiculed him. And he said to them, ‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.’” (Luke 16:14–15)
A very real danger faced by sinners in every age is that of seeking to be man-righteous rather than God-righteous — that is, of being tempted to curate a persona that will gain the approval of men, but not the approval of God. For the Pharisees, this looked like tithing mint and cumin while at the same time craving money like a pack of half-starved coyotes. It looked like straining gnats and swallowing camels, carefully washing the outside of the cup and leaving the inside untouched.
The Pharisees, in other words, were masters at putting their fingers in the air to determine which way the winds of cultural approval were blowing, and then tailoring their words and deeds in such a way as to win the admiration of all who might be watching. And all the while neglecting the weightier matters of the Law like justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matt. 23:23). Jesus is therefore right to level this charge against them: “‘You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts.’”
The irony of this, however, is that standards of righteousness that are merely cultural are not true indications of actual righteousness. In fact, they are very often idolatrous perversions of the truth, as Jesus goes on to say: “‘…what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.’”
What this means is that those who spend their time pandering to a society’s sacred cows in order to make themselves appear righteous before others, are in fact working against themselves. In the attempt to show themselves righteous, they are actually revealing themselves to be both fools and idolaters. In the vain scramble to show forth their virtue, they wind up grovelling in the dirt before some gaudy golden calf. The righteousness of man is not the righteousness of God.
As Christians, we need to learn to identify cultural idols when we see them, and unequivocally refuse to bend the knee. We must refuse the temptation to use them as occasions to polish our reputations or to appear respectable in the eyes of our families and peers. Instead, we should remember that Babylon is a place brimming with idols — some of them sixty cubits tall (Dan. 3:1) — and that though they are exalted among men, in the eyes of God they are worthless abominations.
Faithfulness might end in a furnace, but on the other side of that — glory!
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