Although you probably don't realize it, you might be a Pharisee.
If you’re a Christian, “Pharisee” is the last thing you want to be called. We equate pharisaism with legalism and heartless rule-keeping. But modern-day pharisaism is far more than that. The most thorough condemnation of these religious leaders that Jesus gave is found in Matthew 23. As I read this passage, my conscience rebukes me. I may be more pharisaical than I realize. I found ten different condemnatory descriptions of the Pharisee in this chapter. I encourage you to reference the verses that go with each point. You may be a Pharisee if...
You don’t practice what you preach (3)
If you love to talk about God’s Word, but it doesn’t impact your own spiritual walk; if you’re indulging in the sins and neglecting the virtues that you preach to others, you may be a Pharisee.
You expect more out of others than you expect from yourself (4)
If you make excuses for your own sin while refusing to extend mercy for the sins of others; if you’re hard on others but easy on yourself, you may be a Pharisee.
You only do good works to get attention (5)
If you look around to see who noticed your act of service; if you prefer the ministry opportunities that get you the most attention, you may be a Pharisee.
You crave recognition and respect (6-12)
If your greatest aspiration is for people to respect and value your opinion, instead of pointing people to Jesus; if you find your satisfaction in being viewed as an expert in Biblical knowledge and Christian living, you may be a Pharisee.
You put barriers in front of Heaven’s gates (13)
If you add man-made requirements to the simple gospel message; if your listeners get the impression that they aren’t good enough to receive salvation, you may be a Pharisee.
You want clones of yourself, not disciples of Christ (15)
If your listeners start adopting your personal preferences instead of Scripture truth; if you see discipling as nothing more than adding notches to your belt, you may be a Pharisee.
You nuance God’s commands to get out of accountability (16-22)
If you use your impressive Scriptural intellect to inform others about what God “actually meant” in order to excuse your sin; if you look for loopholes in Scripture, you may be a Pharisee.
You focus on secondary matters while neglecting weightier matters (23-24)
If you’re testimony is marked by rule-keeping but not justice, mercy, and faithfulness; if you think your attention to Scriptural detail makes up for your lack of genuine faith, you may be a Pharisee.
Your public testimony hides your private depravity (25-28)
If you evaluate your life based off what others see instead of what God sees; if you try to appear spiritual in front of others in order hide your own greed and self-indulgence, you may be a Pharisee.
You use others’ sins as a platform to proclaim your spiritual superiority (29-36)
If you read about the sins of individuals in the Bible and say to yourself, “I would never do that”; if you build your personal soapbox upon the failure of others, you may be a Pharisee.
As I read Jesus words, “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites,” conviction grips my own heart. I see my desire for recognition and respect. I see my self-righteousness and arrogance. I see myself in these religious leaders: Woe to you, Aaron, hypocrite. You see, modern-day pharisaism isn’t just legalism and self righteousness; pharisaism could also be a craving for respect, making excuses for sin, or living for self-promotion. Ironically, it could be pharisaical to call someone else a pharisee.
If you see yourself in this list, like I did, there’s good news: you’re one step closer to reconciliation than the Pharisees, who never realized they were sick and need the Great Physician. Praise God, Christ came to save Pharisees like me. As he told one well-known Pharisee who came to him by night, “as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life” (John 3:14-15). Don’t look to your works, your reputation, or your intellect. Look to the cross of Christ. Humble yourself and serve the one who humbled himself to save you. If you are depending on your own works to get to heaven, take a moment to read what the Scriptures say about true salvation. If you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, take a moment and ask God to show you how pharisaism is sneaking into your life. Pharisaism comes in all shapes and sizes, but God’s grace can conquer them all.
Aaron Berry earned both his undergrad and MA in Bible at Bob Jones University. He, along with his wife, Hanna, and daughter, Brooklyn, currently live in Detroit, MI, where Aaron is pursuing his MDiv degree while serving as the Director of Recruitment at Detroit Baptist Theological Seminary and working on staff at Inter-City Baptist Church. You can follow him on twitter @AaronMBerry
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