Pharisees were the strictly religious Jewish people of Jesus’s day. They were so confident of their rightness that the term Pharisee and self-righteousness are nearly synonymous and frequently interchangeable in the context of the Bible. To be a Pharisee however, generally requires that you have a reinforcing social group or family to reinforce the self-righteous belief. Being a recovering legalist, I know how easy it is to slide into self-righteous attitudes. Without a diligent on-going relationship with God, it easy to make form theology or religious participation the priority and from there to slide into a self-righteous groove.
Jesus warned his disciples to guard against the teachings of the Pharisees and Teachers of the Law. He knew that people loved rules and creating elite hierarchies based on keeping them. The best way to protect ourselves from this is an ongoing relationship with Christ grounded in daily devotional excellence in prayer and Bible study. If we drift into self-righteous territory and become Pharisees, we can do more harm to the Kingdom than if we became militant atheists.
Some warning signs for when we are drifting near the rocks of the self-righteous and becoming Pharisees.
We might be Pharisees if our church is a mutual admiration society, and if we attend all the services, events, and retreats, we think this makes us better or special.
We might be Pharisees if we talk about our church and our religious activities more than we talk about God or Jesus.
We might be Pharisees if we spent more on religious art, jewelry, bumper stickers, or nameplates last year than we gave to our church last week.
We might be Pharisees if we think that only a particular type of worship music should be used (only contemporary, only old). Either exclusive extreme is indicative that we may have a spirit problem.
We might be Pharisees if we think that only one Bible translation is the legitimate Word of God. This applies unless we read Greek and Hebrew, the rest are translations or paraphrases of translations, all have strengths and weaknesses.
We might be Pharisees if our prayers are always a reaction to circumstance.
We might be Pharisees if our Bible study is usually to prepare for a class or to prove a point.
We might be Pharisees if our Bible study is almost exclusively topical. It’s hard for us to listen when we think we already know the answer.
We might be Pharisees if we analyze people before we choose to love or trust them.
We might be Pharisees if we perform any religious duty in order to be seen doing it.
We might be Pharisees if we refer to any group of people as ‘hated by God.’
We might be Pharisees if we scratch and claw to be religiously relevant or profound.
We might be Pharisees if we believe that success validates ministry.
We might be Pharisees if we criticize a ministry that is drawing many new people before we take the time to become familiar with that ministries beliefs.
We might be Pharisees if we criticize a church or ministry that we don’t think is up to date before we take the time to become familiar with what they are about.
We might be Pharisees if we judge or measure any person or ministry as being of little value or worth when using standards borrowed from the world based on appearance, wealth, measurable success, great advertising, music, or marketing.
We might be Pharisees if we spend more time defining what kind of Christians we are than we do sharing our life or the gospel.
We might be Pharisees if we spend more time talking about praying, loving, or serving than we actually spend doing it.
We might be Pharisees if we will forgive anything except…
We might be Pharisees if we think anything we have done, said, or written deserves any special consideration or attention beyond simply pointing toward our Lord and Savior.
We might be Pharisees if our life is a frenzied drudgery of religious activity and it is etched on our face.
We might be Pharisees if we place the needs of a hypothetical or imaginary category of people (like seeker) that ‘we might meet’ or who ‘might attend our church’ above the spiritual needs of the real people around us.
We might be Pharisees if we write a blog post like this thinking, ‘I’m not self-righteous or a Pharisee because I’m pointing at the people who obviously are.’
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