This article is broken up into four segments. The last segment provides the snippet of Brian Houston which the earlier segments set out to correct.
WHO IS JUST JUSTIFIED AND MADE RIGHTEOUS?
Jesus told a “parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous.”
“Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’” Luke 18:10-12, Emphasis added.
Was the pharisee justified and made righteous by his own efforts? Do you believe they could be made righteous by their own efforts? Was it the tither that was justified? Was it the one that kept giving? Jesus continues,
“… But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Luke 18:13-14, Emphasis added.
Who was made right before God in this parable? The Pharisee or the tax collector? Jesus was making the point in the parable that those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous” were in fact not. Righteousness and justification was given to the man who realised his sin and asked for God’s mercy.
THEN WHO CAN BE SAVED?
In the sermon on the mount, what did Jesus condemn the pharisees of doing that Jesus also demonstrated they did in his above parable? Jesus exposed their sin in trusting themselves in thinking “they were righteous”.
So what do you think Jesus was saying to the multitude about the Pharisees at the beginning of his sermon on the mount?
“For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matt 5:20
Was he telling the Jewish people to try harder than the Pharisees? Is Jesus challenging believers “not to live below the level of righteousness upheld by the Pharisees”? Was Jesus teaching the multitude to “exceed, or go beyond” the righteousness of the Pharisees?
No. Jesus’ message was against them and their false teachings. Instead, Jesus taught people to follow Him and his teachings. The scripture above was to dishearten his listeners to even bother trying to live up to the false teachers standards.
The Pharisees practiced the Law as best they could. The only issue was that the Law was designed to have people to depend on God to forgive and save man from their sins. No one in Israel could follow the Law perfectly, EXCEPT Jesus. The Pharisees and the Lawyers could not obey the law perfectly or be good all the time. Jesus kept EXPOSING the lies and hypocrisy of the false teachers who practiced the Law and believed they could follow it perfectly (Luke 18:9-14; Luke 18:18-26). When Jesus exposed the sin in the heart of the rich young ruler, one of Jesus’ apostles cried out, “Then who can be saved?” (Luke 18:26). This is where Christ wants his audience to be spiritually situated in his sermon on the mount.
JESUS VS PHARISEES
Jesus continually challenged the false teachers, leaders and prophets through His sermon on the mount. He exposed their false teachings, shows and hypocrisy (Matt 6:2; Matt 6:6; Matt 6:16). He warned people to not be like them and do the opposite to them (Matt 6:1; Matt 6:6; Mat 6:17). He is not encouraging people to exceed in the ways of the Pharisees. He is warning people not to follow them but instead follow him. Christ preached Himself. In this sermon, Jesus used the Law to point all his listeners to his teachings and to Himself.
In his sermon, the climax falls on the false teachers again. Jesus teaches about two ways, two trees, two gates and two foundations. Only one way leads to life. Only one tree offers life. Only one gate allows you to enter life and only one foundation offers true life.
Jesus associated the pharisees and their teachings (“false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves”) to the false road, the false gate, the bad trees and the bad foundations.
Through out the gospel accounts, Jesus reveals he is The Way, The Truth and The Life (John 14:6) and The Gate (John 10:7). When Jesus told people to watch out for wolves in sheep’s clothing, he was actually describing a wolf disguised as a shepherd. Jesus says HE is The True Shepherd (John 10:11). He is pointing the people away from the Pharisees, their false practices and their false teachings. The only option that Jesus offered was always Himself.
The people in this sermon were left with these two options:
- Follow Jesus and His teachings to life. Reject the Pharisees. Or…
- Follow the Pharisees and their teachings to life. Reject Jesus.
This is why after hearing this controversial sermon the writer states
“the crowds were astonished at his teaching, for he was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes” (Matt 7:28-29)
The Pharisees were the image of righteousness before the people. But Jesus was calling the Pharisees the “least in the kingdom of heaven” for nullifying or twisting “one of the least of these commandments” and for teaching “others to do the same”. He was reforming the people. He was rightly using the Law to bring them to despair. Who can honestly say that your own righteousness can surpass the righteousness of dedicated religious leaders? Who can honestly say that Jesus wants our own righteousness to exceed the Pharisees?
Well… Brian Houston does.
WHAT JESUS WOULD NEVER TEACH
Houston says that Jesus teaches that “your righteousness” can “exceed, or go beyond” the righteousness of the Pharisees through all means possible (especially in giving). He teaches “what the Pharisees did is only a starting point” and we are meant to exceed their righteousness. Houston believes that WE are to take “everything one step further.”
If Brian Houston actually believes this, any Christians should actually question if Houston is a pastor or a Christian at all. Brian Houston has missed the entire point of the New Testament, the gospel and how one becomes a Christian if he believes this.
Not only does he misquote Jesus saying, (“Jesus said we shouldn’t get angry”), Houston twists Jesus’ sermon to teach people that they can be made righteous through their efforts, especially in their tithing.
Houston then further demonstrates biblical incompetence by teaching that “You tithe because you put the Kingdom first in your life, and it is with a spirit of faith that you sow into God’s Word”. As we already have seen, tithing is not a requirement for Godly righteousness. It was of the Mosaic Law and not taught by Jesus and His disciples. Because tithing is of the Law, Brian Houston is flat out wrong saying, “You tithe… with a spirit of faith”. God rebukes Houston with this:
“Is the law then contrary to the promises of God? Certainly not! For if a law had been given that could give life, then righteousness would indeed be by the law.” Galatians 3:21
“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.” Galatians 2:21
“The law is not based on faith.” Galatians 3:12
According to Brian Houston and his beliefs, he must be an even greater Pharisee than the Apostle Paul (Acts 26:10). Paul says,
“Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as dung, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.” Philippians 3:2-10, Emphasis ours.
We will now leave you with the Pharisee of Pharisees to teach you how “to exceed” your own righteousness. This excerpt is found in the chapter, ‘The Power of Tithing’ from Houston’s book ‘You Need More Money’.
For I say unto you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righeousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)
Jesus said that he didn’t come to destroy the law but to fulfil [sic] it. This is why the Old Testament is so relevant today. However, the challenge to believers is not to live below the level of righteousness upheld by the Pharisees – His challenge to us is to exceed, or go beyond, it.
What the Pharisees did is only a starting point. Jesus took everything one step further. For instance, one of the Ten Commandments is not to kill or murder. Jesus said we shouldn’t get angry, because that would lead us to sin.
When Jesus said that the Pharisees ought to tithe, that sets a precedent for us to go further. New Testament tithing is different to the bondage and legalism of the Old Covenant. You shouldn’t feel depressed or miserable about it. You tithe because you put the Kingdom first in your life, and it is with a spirit of faith that you sow into God’s Word.” – Brian Houston, You Need More Money, Smithfield, NSW: Alken Press, 1999, pg. 72.