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When we sit down to play a game that we’ve never played before, we ask, “So, what are the rules?” People often think of Christianity in the same way. They want to know, “What are the rules?” I must admit, I struggle with this myself. But I’m beginning to see how destructive it is to think of Christianity primarily in terms of rule-keeping.

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You Might Be a Pharisee

Wes  —  August 1, 2011

You Might be a PhariseePeople throw around the term “Pharisee” a lot today. I think many are confused about what it means to be a Pharisee. There are probably a lot of Pharisees running around today, but let’s be careful about who we call pharisaical.

Using mostly the book of Matthew (the gospel account written with a Jewish audience in mind), I came up with a little test (much like Jeff Foxworthy’s “You Might be a Redneck” test), to assist you in knowing if you are a Pharisee or not.

1. If your spiritual life is a sham…you might be a Pharisee! The Pharisees only appeared to keep the Law. Their show of righteousness and spirituality was an act. Therefore, Jesus referred to them as “hypocrites” or stage actors (Matthew 5:19-20; 23:1-15). They didn’t care about keeping the Law, they only cared that they appeared to be keeping the Law. Some people today don’t care about following the Word, they only want to be seen as being spiritual.

2. If you think your salvation is so secure that no matter what you do you cannot fall from God’s grace…you might be a Pharisee! They seemed to have thought they were beyond falling from God’s grace because they were Jewish. “We have Abraham as our father,” seemed to be a phrase they favored (Matthew 3:9-10). Today we have people who think that just because they became a Christian at one time, they can turn their back on Christ and still be “in Christ.” The same Pharisee mentality is alive and well today.

3. If you think you’re better than someone else because they’re a “sinner”…you might be a Pharisee! The Pharisees would never dream of showing mercy and grace to those who needed it most (Matthew 9:11). They didn’t even realize that they themselves were in need of mercy and grace. We have all sinned and are all in need of grace (Romans 3:23). The Pharisees weren’t thankful for grace and mercy; they were simply thankful that they didn’t need grace and mercy (Luke 18:11). There are surely those today who don’t think they need God’s grace and think they can save themselves by simply being better than others.

4. If you can’t see that the Words of Jesus and the prophets were straight from the mouth of God…you might be a Pharisee! Their hearts were so hardened by sin that they would not accept the truth of God; even when it was staring them in the face (Matthew 9:34; 12:24; 23:29-39). As we look around the world today, we see countless people who refuse, just as the Pharisees refused, to accept God’s word.

5. If you ignore the principles of biblical examples because they don’t support your religious traditions and practices…you might be a Pharisee! The Pharisees had to be reminded that the man-made traditions concerning the Sabbath were contrary in application to what was found in biblical examples (Matthew 12:1-8). Today, we have people who have created their own religious traditions and practices, which when applied contradict the principles of New Testament examples. When someone dares to point out the principles of these biblical examples, those who hold to the man-made traditions claim that biblical examples are not authoritative and people can’t be expected to do things the way the First Century Christians did things. It seems to me that Jesus thought biblical examples were authoritative.

6. If you enjoy controlling other people and having religious authority over them…you might be a Pharisee! They were so drunk with power they decided to destroy an innocent man when He threatened their reign over the people (Matthew 12:14; 22:15). It seems there are three types of people in the religious world. The first type are people who love to be followed. They come up with all kinds of creative theologies and build a huge following. The second type are the those who follow the first type and hang on their every word. The third type are those who simply want to follow Christ.

7. If your worship is more about you than it is about God…you might be a Pharisee! Their worship was in vain because they honored God with their lips but their hearts were far from Him (Matthew 15:8). In Matthew 6 Jesus talks about the “hypocrites” that I can only speculate are Pharisees. He talks about their giving, praying, and fasting and how it is all a show. To the Pharisees, it wasn’t about what pleases God; it was about doing what makes other people take notice of them. Today, we have people trying all kinds of new things in worship with the motivation of drawing a crowd; sounds dangerously close to the Pharisees’ motivation to me.

8. If you’ve added all kinds of teachings and traditions that are foreign to Scripture to your religion…you might be a Pharisee! They taught the commandments of men as if they were doctrines from God (Matthew 15:1-12). It is amazing to me that those who want to simply stick with the Word are called Pharisees today. The Pharisees didn’t stick to the Word! They stuck to their religious books and traditions! They didn’t follow God’s instructions, they followed the instructions of their rabbis.

9. If you look for loopholes in the Word so that you can do what you feel like doing…you might be a Pharisee! It seems they were experts in finding “loopholes” so they could indulge their sinful desires (Matthew 19:3-9; 23:16-28). Instead of allowing the Word to equip them for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16), some people try to use God’s silence as a license to do whatever they want. That is pharisaical!

10. If you have passages of the New Testament you love, but practice the “pass over” with other New Testament Scriptures…you might be a Pharisee! They missed the big picture! They kept the Law when it came to small things, and neglected the more important parts of the Law like “justice, mercy, and faithfulness” (Matthew 23:23-24). Today, many have their favorite verses they love to quote free from context and avoid discussing verses that don’t fit their theologies.

We must understand, Jesus did not rebuke the Pharisees for keeping the Law! He did not rebuke the Pharisees for their zeal for the Law! Often people are accused of being a Pharisee when they simply believe every biblical “i” should be dotted and every biblical “t” should be crossed. This is not what Jesus had against the Pharisees. In fact, part of the problem Jesus had with the Pharisees is that they didn’t keep the Law well enough, even though they wanted everyone to think they did (Matthew 5:17-20)!

I think that it is ironic and reprehensible that today the ones who are called Pharisees are often the people who are honestly trying to please God by walking according to His word in the New Testament. That is not at all what the Pharisees were doing; they did not care about pleasing God. The Pharisees cared about power and prestige. The Pharisees cared about glorifying themselves and not glorifying God!

So the application is two-fold. Not only should we make sure we are not behaving like the Pharisees, we should also make sure we are not accusing people of being Pharisees who are not. Surely there are other “You Might be a Pharisee” applications which I have unintentionally overlooked, but I hope that these have been helpful.

Remember I love you, God loves you, and I pray that God blesses you! Have a wonderful day!

Wes McAdams
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