We compare:

Then the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees make the outside of the cup and dish clean, but your inward part is full of greed and wickedness.

Foolish ones! Did not He who made the outside make the inside also? But rather give alms of such things as you have; then indeed all things are clean to you.

“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. Luke 11:39-42


Those who are in the flesh cannot please God. Romans 8:8

I’m mainly concerned with Luke 11:42.

It’s obvious that Jesus was rebuking the Pharisee’s for their neglect of duty. Yet, with respect to their neglect; what is the point of them doing what they ought to do according to Jesus if those who are in the flesh cannot please God?

Q: If they followed through with doing what Jesus wanted, would that please God in one sense and displease Him in another sense because of their state of “being in the flesh”?

4 Answers 4


The answer to this conundrum is found earlier in the same chapter of Rom 8.

Rom 8:5-9 - 5 Those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh; but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. 6 The mind of the flesh is death, but the mind of the Spirit is life and peace, 7 because the mind of the flesh is hostile to God: It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so. 8 Those controlled by the flesh cannot please God.

9 You, however, are controlled not by the flesh, but by the Spirit, if the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.

This is the central problem with the Pharisees that Jesus was talking about in Luke 11:42 - no transformation of character had occurred in their lives. They wanted to behave externally as if such a change had occurred by their hearts were unchanged. This is the central teaching of Jesus' seven woes against the Pharisees in Luke 11 and Matt 23.

That central problem is their love of self and not their supreme love of God. The NT discusses this transformation many times. Note the following:

  • Luke 11:42 - Woe to you Pharisees! You pay tithes of mint, rue, and every herb, but you disregard justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without neglecting the former.
  • Luke 11:46 - “Woe to you as well, experts in the law!” He replied. “You weigh men down with heavy burdens, but you yourselves will not lift a finger to lighten their load.
  • Matt 6:5 - And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. Truly I tell you, they already have their full reward.
  • Rom 12:2 - Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what is the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God.
  • Titus 3:5 - He saved us, not by the righteous deeds we had done, but according to His mercy, through the washing of new birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.
  • 2 Cor 5:17 - Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old things have passed away; behold, the new has come into being.
  • 1 Cor 2:16 - "For who has known the mind of the Lord? Who will instruct Him?" But we have the mind of Christ.
  • Rom 8:10, 11 - But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, He who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit, who lives in you.

It is this inner transformation by the miraculous work of the Holy Spirit that the Pharisees failed to understand.

APPENDIX - Imitation of God/Jesus

Here is a little more the NT teaching about the divine transformation that occurs when a person walks by the Spirit and not by flesh:

  • Forgive as Jesus forgave. Matt 6:12, 14, 15, 18:35, Eph 4:32, Col 3:13.
  • Be imitators of God. Eph 5:1.
  • Be holy as Jesus is holy. Lev 11:44, 45, 1 Peter 1:15, 16.
  • Be pure as He is pure. 1 John 3:3.
  • Partakers of the divine nature. 2 Peter 1:4.
  • We are being changed into Christ’s glory (= reputation). 2 Cor 3:18.
  • Pray as Jesus prayed. Luke 11:1.
  • We are to have the mind of Christ. Phil 2:5, 1 Cor 2:16.
  • Be kind because God is kind. Luke 6:34, 35.
  • Be merciful because God is merciful. Luke 6:36.
  • Be servants to others as Jesus was. John 13:15-17, 1 Peter 4:11b, Matt 20:24-28.
  • Be patient as Jesus was patient. 1 Tim 1:16.
  • Talk/speak as Jesus speaks. 1 Peter 4:11a.

Hebrews 11:6 says, “Without faith it is impossible to please him,” so Romans 8:8 could also read, “So then they that are in the flesh cannot have faith” because faith is the only way to please God. Faith is a fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and cannot be produced by human effort.

This is the sum of what Paul was saying in Romans 7:15-24 and the reason we can never trust in our own holiness to be justified in the sight of God.

Many religions of the world believe in one God–some of them even worship the God of Abraham–but they don’t believe in Jesus as their Savior. Without Jesus, they are in the flesh and cannot please God. They may even live holier lives than those who have put faith in Jesus as their Savior, but their flesh will fail to be holy enough to earn salvation (Romans 3:23).

In the passage from Luke, by Jesus saying “and not to leave the other undone,” it is made clear that Jesus was not arguing against doing what is right. God’s Word stresses holiness in our actions. The Pharisees’ error that Jesus rebuked was that they believed their actions could produce a right relationship with God.

A proper relationship with God, however, can only come by humbling ourselves and putting faith in a Savior, who is Jesus. Holiness is a fruit–not a root – of salvation.

In a similar instance listed in Matthew 23:26, Jesus told the Pharisees, “Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also.” That is, ‘good’ actions come from the inside out. Good hearts will change people’s actions (Proverbs 23:7 and Matthew 12:34-35), but people’s actions (in the flesh) cannot change their hearts.

  • Hello Dave, can you clarify what you mean when you said: “so Romans 8:8 could also read, “So then they that are in the flesh cannot have faith” because faith is the only way to please God.”. While I agree with the the principle from Hebrews 11:6, shouldn’t it read instead: “those who are in the flesh do not have faith? Or at least compare Romans 8:8 with this verse: “and that we may be delivered from perverse and evil people. For not all have faith.” 2 Thessalonians 3:2
    – Cork88
    May 8, 2022 at 20:15
  • 1
    @Cork88 [Biblical] Faith is impossible for/in the flesh. [Biblical] Faith is something that only the spirit can access. Faith is believing in something that the natural man/eyes [i.e. the flesh] can't ‘see’
    – Dave
    May 9, 2022 at 0:07
  • @NihilSineDeo Gal 5:23? Faith is listed as a ‘fruit’ of the spirit? I appreciate a very few translations translate ‘pistils’ faithfulness, but that word is almost universally translated as ‘faith’ elsewhere.
    – Dave
    May 9, 2022 at 0:14
  • @Dave Ah, makes sense.
    – Cork88
    May 9, 2022 at 0:31
  • Yes you’re correct about that now that I looked at the Greek but that doesn’t mean I agree with how you expounded, namely that faith doesn’t come from us humans. That would mean we are predetermined and have no free will making God unjust. So your interpretation of Gal5 seems very forced. May 9, 2022 at 2:01

This question is mixing chronology and covenants.

There is a chronology to what happened in Luke and an aftermath whereby the old covenant no longer applies because Jesus dies. (And then establishes a new covenant at His resurrection)

There are similarities in that those under the old covenant still had to be saved by faith but they were awaiting a deliverer with the solution. Paul is saying the solution has happened and faith now has to be placed in the finished work.

But even under the old covenant there were prerequisites that needed to have been met.

Part of the prerequisites is being in covenant. And the Pharisees were under covenant by bloodline. Part of the reason why Jesus says that if in other cities the same miracles would have been performed they would have repented but in the old covenant only Israel belonged to God and was His DIRECT responsibility. The other prerequisite is faith, however they replaced faith which leads to works with works themselves being the demonstration of faith. Yet they faith was misplaced it was placed in the works themselves rather than the promised deliverer

“but that Israel who pursued a law that would lead to righteousness did not succeed in reaching that law. Why? Because they did not pursue it by faith, but as if it were based on works. They have stumbled over the stumbling stone,” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭9:31-32‬ ‭

If they had at least had faith like Abraham who didn’t place his trust in the sacrifice of Isaac but in the God who asked him to sacrifice Isaac, even under the old covenant they would have been justified. Instead they put their trust in the flesh and what the flesh could do, and deemed this as righteousness. Only that righteousness belongs to God and is imputed, never earned.

“But it is not as though the word of God has failed. For not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel, and not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring, but “Through Isaac shall your offspring be named.” This means that it is not the children of the flesh who are the children of God, but the children of the promise are counted as offspring.” ‭‭Romans‬ ‭9:6-8‬ ‭

Being born in the non-divorced southern kingdom of Judah from the lineage of Abraham was not a guarantee to being pleasing to God. They had to have faith like Abraham. It was Abraham’s faith that reckoned him righteous.

“I will get my knowledge from afar and ascribe righteousness to my Maker.” ‭‭Job‬ ‭36:3‬ ‭

Righteousness belongs to God and He has to input it.

Pleasing God requires faith.

“And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.” ‭‭Hebrews‬ ‭11:6‬ ‭

  • So the Pharisee’s were attempting to live by the law to attain righteousness? That’s your point? (Lev 18:5)
    – Cork88
    May 8, 2022 at 22:29
  • 1
    They pursued righteousness by works not by faith @Cork88. They tried to earn it, not receive it by faith and as a consequence allow the works to flow naturally. May 8, 2022 at 23:35
  • So that makes sense in relation to their sinful neglect. New angle to view it for sure.
    – Cork88
    May 9, 2022 at 0:34

There is no contradiction.

  • They boasted about their lineage: Luke 3:8
  • They were obsessed with outward cleanliness: Mark 7:1-9
  • They loved money: Luke 16:13-15
  • They were quick to pointlessly admonish others: Mattt 12:1-8
  • They were strict and stringent for insignificant things and understood the Law literally : Matt 23:23-24

They were strict followers of their man-made traditions, or doing works of the Law and not understanding the spirit of the Law which is before all Love.

In context, the meaning of Rom 8 is not about natural condition of all humans but about those who put their confidence in their flesh such as circumcision or their lineage. Rom 8:1 is about those who have faith in Jesus in contrast with followers of the Law.

Look at Phil 3:4-11, the works of the flesh are things we do that does not come from Love, such as Circumcision, Feed banning, Observing special days, Reciting many prayers with a rosary, etc. All of these have no values for salvation. These works of the Law does not save.

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    – agarza
    May 9, 2022 at 18:26
  • @Confie Toi en l eternel You said: “In context, the meaning of Rom 8 is not about natural condition of all humans but about those who put their confidence in their flesh such as circoncision or their lineage.” I’m pretty sure the context is talking about the natural condition, Paul contrasts people who are in the Spirit as opposed to being “in the flesh”. We are by nature children of wrath (Ephesians 2:3).
    – Cork88
    May 10, 2022 at 5:20
  • Yes, but the background of the Romans epistle is about issues in Jewish/Gentile relationships. - What is "to have confidence in the flesh" in Phil 3:2-8 ? - Who is the true Jews according to Paul Rom 2:28-29 ? - What does ending in the flesh mean in Gal 3:1-3 ? The flesh is in some text a reference to the tradition of the Law, as in "fleshly commandments" in Heb 7:16, because of circumcision and the like. May 10, 2022 at 16:01

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