Matthew 23:15 (NIV) “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.”
Just as it is impossible for a bad tree to bear good fruit (Matthew 7:18), an ungodly teacher cannot produce a godly disciple. A person can only teach what he or she knows. And, in the case of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, they had a lot of head knowledge of the Scriptures, but their hearts were far from knowing God Himself.
The teachers of the law and the Pharisees knew the letter of the law. But outside of a relationship with God, the letter of the law is fatal to the soul (2 Corinthians 3:6). Jesus Himself pointed out that the Pharisees were scrupulous in their observances, going so far as to count out precisely one-tenth of small seed crops like dill and cumin, and leaves of mint to ensure that they gave an exact tithe of even these (Matthew 24:23), But their hearts were devoid of justice, mercy, and faithfulness.
When these men made a convert, instead of teaching them to know God and showing them God’s power, love, and grace, they loaded down these new believers with lists of rules to follow, and shades of meaning of the various commandments. Their new faith then, became all about rules and requirements, and left out the all-important element of relationship with God. Such a religion cannot save, but merely attempts to imprison the will behind the bars of regulations – a death trap, as Paul clearly learned during his days as a Pharisee (cf. Romans 7:9-11).
The faith that Jesus came to bring stood in stark contrast to the religion of the Pharisees. His faith is one in which believers are brought into vital relationship with God through His own faithful life and sacrificial death (Romans 5:18-19), a proximity from which they can develop a genuine relationship with God Himself. But such a new and radically different faith, a different pathway to justification, necessarily showed the path of the Pharisees for what it truly was: a path to failure, and ultimately to hell.
Father, this is really crucial. There is still a tendency for us to introduce new believers into a faith of rules and requirements instead of relationship. Partly this is because it is easier, but partly it is because that is all many of us know! Help us, Lord, to keep our living relationship with You at the forefront of even our own disciple-making activity, so that our converts are twice as much children of heaven as we are. Amen.