The human heart cries out to be free.
Everything within us fights against the bondage of tyranny and oppression. Our souls were not made to live in cages of fear that restrict us from the joys of liberty. Once we get a taste of such relief, our appetite for more becomes consuming. It is every bit as true for God's people who have existed too long in the suffocating grip of legalistic demands and expectations.
There are killers on the loose today. The problem is that you can't tell by looking. They don't wear little buttons that give away their identity, nor do they carry signs warning everybody to stay away. On the contrary, a lot of them carry Bibles and appear to be clean-living, nice-looking, law-abiding citizens. Many are so respected in the community, their neighbours would never guess they are living next door to killers.
They kill freedom, spontaneity, and creativity; they kill joy as well as productivity. They kill with their words and their pens and their looks. They kill with their attitudes far more often than with their behaviour. The amazing thing is that they get away with it, day in and day out, without being confronted or exposed. Their intolerance is tolerated. Their judgemental spirits remain unjudged. Their bullying tactics continue unchecked. And their narrow-mindedness is either explained away or quickly defended. The bondage that results would be criminal were it not so subtle and wrapped in such spiritual-sounding garb.
John puts the capstone on his introductory remarks by summing up the difference between contrastive styles of ministry: "For the Law was given through Moses; grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17) Let's look at the example of the Pharisees.
Obsessed with duty, external conduct, and a constant focusing only on right and wrong (especially in others' lives), they promoted a system so demanding there was no room left for joy. This led to harsh, judgemental, even prejudicial pronouncements as the religious system they promoted degenerated into external performance rather than internal authenticity. Obedience became a matter of grim compulsion instead of a joyous overflow prompted by love.
But when "grace and truth were realized through Jesus Christ", a long-awaited revolution of the heart began to set religious captives free. Fearful bondage motivated by guilt was replaced with a fresh motivation to follow Him in truth simply out of deep devotion and delight. Rather than focusing on the accomplishments of the flesh, He spoke of the heart. Instead of demanding that the sinner fulfill a long list of requirements, He emphasized faith, if only the size of a mustard seed.
The change spelled freedom, as the Lord Himself taught: "You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). Rigid, barren religion was, at last, replaced by a grace-oriented relationship - liberating grace. His followers loved it. His enemies hated it... and Him. Without a doubt, the earliest grace killers were the Pharisees.
- Taken from Chapter 1, The Grace Awakening by Charles R. Swindoll