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The Parallel

If anyone had a spiritual heritage it was the Children of Israel. They meticulously recorded their history and told and re-told the events surrounding the people of God to their children. There were great things to tell. There were mountain-trembling revelations from God. They walked through a sea on dry land, received water from a rock and healing during the posting of a bronze serpent. They saw the Ten Plagues and experienced the miraculous flight from Egyptian captivity. They were amazed at the discovery of Canaan, the battles won and the land gained, and the heroes of old and all of their exploits. To know that they were the children of Abraham was reason enough to inflate the chest and put a smile on their face.

Then there is the New Testament church. What a heritage they have as well. There was the Day of Pentecost, the signs and wonders, the miracles or all sorts, and the outpouring of God’s Spirit. There was the wildfire growth of the church and adventurous missionary journeys. The churches formed from early church growth are the foundation for what we have today.

Around the early 1900’s, the New Testament church began to grow quickly again. The Spirit of God began to be poured out more and people began to explore the possibilities of God. Organizations were formed, and their goal was to be the church that was started in the Book of Acts. Theologians studied the early church and tried to imitate their ability to operate in the gifts of the spirit, pray with the laying on of hands, and declare the individual responsibility of every believer to find God for himself. New songs were written, great messages were orated, and churches began to grow again. God has blessed this effort greatly to the point that we now have “super churches” all over the world where multiple thousands of people convene weekly.

With heritage comes a sense of pride. Ivy-league universities boast of their enduring standard of excellence, automobile companies display their history of auto making as a testimony to their quality, and everywhere we look we see symbols of heritage. “Since 1872.” “Serving the community since 1974.” “First Bank of America.” “Hanscom and Sons and Sons and Sons Construction.”

This sense of pride is quite evident in religious circles. Churches proclaim their heritage by displaying walls of plaques or photographs of founders and pastors. Some church buildings boast their construction date in masonry near the front entrance. They want people to know they have been around a long time and are considered a reliable source of religious matters.

The Children of Israel were notorious for pride in their heritage. They knew the Law of Moses line by line, they dressed a certain way, they prayed a certain way, and they followed Jewish custom and cultural structure to the letter. There was a group of people that displayed this pride in heritage more prominently than any other group did. They were known as the Pharisees. Not only did they follow the Law as succinctly as possible, but also they felt righteousness was owed to them because of their diligence to these laws and their efforts to abide by them. After all, these laws had been around for hundreds, even thousands of years, and had been passed down through the generations. They were established and reinforced in the synagogues. They had tremendous pride in their heritage.

When Jesus was on earth performing His ministry, He seemed to focus a fair amount of attention to this group of Pharisees. His comments to them were commonly soaked with rage and contempt. He continually attacked their self-appointed loftiness calling them a “generation of vipers” and “whited sepulchres full of dead men’s bones.” He wasn’t upset because they had a heritage, or even that they had pride in their heritage. His perpetual discomfort with these people lay in the fact that they felt they had obtained righteousness or deserved the blessings of God because they had followed the letter of the law of that heritage. This is evident in the prayer of the Pharisee who was in proximity to the praying publican. The Pharisee prayed, “Lord, I am thankful that I am not a sinner like this publican.”

There is a parallel between these proud Israelites and people in the modern-day church who have a religious heritage. Perhaps the lineage of people who know Christ, for some, goes back three and four, maybe five generations. It’s possible that some may have religious relatives who lived centuries ago. If so, what a wonderful heritage. Knowing that those before them knew God and served Him is something to be truly thankful for.

So, you’re reading along here and you’re thinking, “Okay, big deal. The Israelites have a heritage, and religious people today have a heritage.” The problem with this heritage is that it can tend to lead the benefactors to believe that salvation comes to them differently than it comes to first-time Christians. Commonly in religious circles there are “laws.” If we are multiple generation believers, there is a pride in the fact that our grandparents kept the laws or traditions and our parents kept them, and now so do we. This has a propensity to be a dangerous mentality. To an extreme, someone might actually think that just keeping the laws their ancestors kept and following the traditions of old will contribute to, or guarantee, salvation.

Having grown up a third-generation believer, I understand how easily this can be misunderstood. I was taught laws regarding how I looked, and how I spoke and acted, how to worship, how to give of my time and finances, and how to “be” a Christian. Some of the laws were biblical, but a large portion of them was purely traditional. Paying attention to all of these things is beneficial and will help your Christian walk, but doing them because you see someone else do them or because you grew up doing them does you no benefit spiritually. The most dangerous pitfall is when a person follows these laws and traditions because they grew up doing them, and, because of these deeds, they feel that salvation is owed to them or they have earned it. Jesus teaches us that everyone that is saved will be paid the same reward (eternal life) in the end, whether you grew up believing in Him or were saved in the last breath before the end. The parable He used was about the workers in the field. Everyone was paid equally no matter if they started first thing in the morning or if they began in the eleventh hour. Another danger is feeling that since you grew up in church you are any better than anyone else is. The spirit of human competition clutches us and makes us think that since we have been serving God all these years we have an edge on Him, are masters of theology, and are much better Christians than the guy who came to know Christ just last weekend.

The solution to it all is to find the counterpoint of pride. Consider the publican’s prayer. “Have mercy on me God, for I am a sinner.” Aren’t we all? Does “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” only apply to people who do not have a spiritual heritage? It’s hard, I know, but humility has to be exercised constantly in the Christ-life. Pride in a heritage is so easy to accumulate. We stress pride in so many things and it carries over into spiritual matters. We have national pride, team pride, school pride, company pride, pride in craftsmanship, pride in quality, pride in achievements, and even pride in our knowledge of Christ. It is good to have pride in these things, but not to the point that it hinders you. The Children of Israel had tremendous pride in their heritage. Some of them, not all, but some, missed the Lord Jesus Himself when He was on earth because they felt they had religion by the tail. They knew the law and the prophets. In fact, they were the descendents of Father Abraham and Moses himself. Surely they should know exactly how Christ would come to earth. He should come in majesty and power and destroy the sinners and pagan nations all around them. They completely missed Him because He came humbly, as one of us, and took on sin to save us from sin. I believe it is possible to be so aware of the heritage we might have that we might expect God to be certain things, or expect Him to move in certain ways, or expect Him to grant us eternity just because we have always “known” Him, or about Him. What a mistake if when He comes to us now, in Spirit, to minister to us, or to cause us to minister to someone else, we miss Him because of our pride and religious heritage. In humility may we know Him. In humility may we do His will. In humility may we allow Him to lead us into effective ministry, which may include bypassing our laws, traditions and heritage and finding out what He wants to do now…not what He did 10, 25, 50, or 100 years ago. There is a parallel between modern-day Christians and the Jewish Pharisees. The lines can be seen clearly.

A prayer: “Lord, grant me humility to line up with You, no matter what my religious heritage may be.”