Sometimes we are held captive by things we think are good. Many times these things are, in themselves, very good for us. Take being a healthy person for example. If a person has balance then they can enjoy foods that are not so good for you every once in a while and take a break from their exercise routine when something big pops up. However, there exists a group of people who feel that even one misstep in their diet and exercise regimen will ruin their lives forever.
I used to be one of those people. I felt that if I missed a workout I would instantly spiral back to the 300 lbs. of a man I used to be and lose all the health benefits I had worked hard to gain. Not working out or having a doughnut would have ruined my entire day and my self-esteem. I (and many others like me) had missed the point of living healthy in the first place. It became a matter of pride and a glorification of my outward appearance. I wanted people to know me as a fit guy who looked like he lived out all the health advice he gave out.
I forgot that being healthy is about living a long, fun, productive life doing the things with my family I want to do both now and when I am an older man. I became so caught up in the rules that I forgot the purpose behind them. And I gauged others by those same rules. If a person did not follow the rules a “healthy” person should follow then they were beneath me or less than I was. I put myself up on a higher pedestal because I was a super fit guy. How petty!
Hopefully you are looking at the example from my past and how I used to live that you see that person as an egomaniac that put himself before others. The problem is that as bad as that was, we do the same thing with our spiritual life. Just as I was held captive by obsession with fitness and could not enjoy life the way God wanted me to many people get caught up in being so spiritually fit that they forget the point of why there are guidelines in the first place. We become prisoner to the things that should set us free.
When Jesus walked this Earth as a man people did the same thing. The Jewish religious leaders had extrapolated out over 600 rules that people had to live by to keep a right standing with God. Breaking these rules had consequences that separated their relationship with God. The three major groups of religious leaders were the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Essenes. For today’s time we will consider the Pharisees.
The largest group of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day were Pharisees. These men had spent the majority of their lives studying and memorizing the Scriptures. By the time they were adults they would have had then entire Pentateuch (first five books of the Old Testament) committed to memory. They knew every rule and followed them so well that they were held in high esteem in the community. They were respected, revered, and even feared by many. And they loved it.
When Jesus confronted these leaders it was most often because they had missed the entire point of why God gave the Law to Moses in the first place. Paul teaches in Hebrews chapter 10 that the Law was meant to show us how unclean we were compared to God. This would create humility and have us seek his forgiveness and live a life that honors him. Instead, the Pharisees found their self-worth in following these rules and put others beneath them if they did not. They had become a prisoner to the Law, even though they did not know it.
Let’s examine what Jesus taught on this subject in Matthew chapter 23. Take time to carefully pour over the entire chapter. This will give you the entire context. Now let’s examine a few verses to chew on:
Matthew 23 (NLT)
 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence!  You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish,and then the outside will become clean, too.
 “What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity.  Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.
These people looked great on the outside. Almost everyone wanted to be like them! But in Jesus’ estimation they were nothing better than pretty graves: pure on the outside but worthless on the inside. They had become enslaved by their exacting lifestyle. They missed the whole point of following the Law and because of that they missed out on a true relationship with God. In another sermon, Jesus taught that people like this would stand before God and God would not even know them because they had focused on following the rules and not truly having relationship with him.
So where are you and I today? Are we set free by a relationship with Jesus or are we held captive by following the rules? Do we see ourselves as better because we have more “good” in our lifestyle than others and feel that makes us a better person? Do we place our value and self-worth in the fact that we do the right things when others do not? If so we have missed the point.
We should live good lives because we love God, not because we want to be loved by God. Nothing we do can take away that love. We cannot earn it All we can do is accept it and live a life of gratitude. Take time today to analyze your motives. See how you react to a normal (lost) person’s lifestyle. Do you feel like you are better because of your self-righteousness? Or do you see that person as someone who needs you to share the truth of salvation with them?
Let’s not live as a captive to following the rules. Live a life that honors God because of his great love and mercy towards us. Take time today to begin to pray daily for God to renew our hearts and make us a people who value others the way he values us. And moreover, let’s enjoy the freedom we have that he has given us to know him and life for him.