Pharisee Alert

th-12I have a built-in Pharisee alert that typically sounds off whenever I throw back to the judgmental, condescending, legalistic attitudes that characterized much of my early Christian experience. You may remember I’m a recovering Pharisee, which means I will never stop being one; I will just stop drinking, and it’s a daily challenge. Thank God we only live a day at a time. I could never take on the whole rest of my life.


My Pharisee alert is called Marti, and she sounded off two days ago when she heard the first part of my Catch on Brian Wilson.

Here is the paragraph in question:

We all, when we come to Christ, want to be better people. That’s understandable. And if you want to be a better person, it helps if you hang around other people who want to be better, too, and avoid those who are trapped in the sins and addictions that once trapped you. This makes tons of sense, and to a certain degree — and maybe for a certain period of time — it may be what needs to happen. But it’s where this thinking goes from here that often leads on a very slippery slope to separation, judgment, and bigotry — all the errors of the Pharisees.

Here I‘m basically saying it’s alright to separate yourself from “sinners” — even hang around people who are trying to be better — for a while, until you get your feet on the ground (until you actually are better?) and then you can get back out there with “sinners” as long as you don’t become a Pharisee. Problem is: by then, you will already be one.

I’m basically saying it’s alright to start down the road of being a Pharisee as long as you know when to stop. A few drinks are okay. Any alcoholic knows a few drinks will never be okay. So why should a few hits from the Pharisee bottle be alright?

It’s the whole “better person” idea that is problematic, along with the whole idea of avoiding sinners, as if that would help you avoid sinning.

Marti pointed out to me that she never wanted to be a better person. She knew she was a sinner and she was just glad to be saved and all she wanted to do was tell everyone in the whole world about this so they could be saved too. Being better never entered her mind. It’s only us recovering Pharisees that know all about trying to be better. It is a flawed concept.

We can never be better anyway. We can’t change a hair on our heads. Only God can change us and those changes come by way of the Holy Spirit. And those changes don’t necessarily mean we will be “better.” We will be people with love, joy, peace, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, and faithfulness, but not necessarily better. As a matter of fact, as we grow, we will be more and more aware of our sinfulness and need of a savior, not less. A better person doesn’t need a savior. A better person is already a Pharisee.

Therefore, I‘m taking a whole Catch to point this out because if you followed what I said, I started you down the wrong road and I led you astray. Jesus called the Pharisees “blind guides.” I get that now. It’s not good enough to just be a Pharisee, you’ve got to make other Pharisees around you so you can all feel better about it, like a bunch of alcoholics getting it on.

So I am retracting my statement. And if you bought that paragraph, I apologize for leading you astray. Better read this over a few more times and get yourself to your local chapter of Pharisees Anonymous right away.

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6 Responses to Pharisee Alert

  1. Roberta Parry says:

    So is Marty saying she has no Pharisee bone in her body? I find that hard to believe. Marty, I have yet to meet a person who is free of Phariseesism completely.
    About myself, The hardest part of my recovery is being able to respond to Pharisees ( who are not yet in recovery). I just want to hit them upside the head, instead of asking Jesus to meet them on the Damascus road, and then the HS reminds me of how deeply I was entrenched and only Jesus could show me the Light and bring me out of the darkness. By the way, Marty you do inspire me to move out of my safety zone and walk with Jesus – Birdie

  2. Mark Seguin says:

    Thx Pastor John & Marti… Luv you both. 🙂

  3. Tim says:

    I think it’s okay to leave people behind.
    Depending on what you’re coming out of some new believers may need to leave their old life an old friends behind. Especially in cases of addiction, gangs and many other scenarios.
    It doesn’t have to be because “I’m better than” but “I can’t be there or do that anymore”.
    I’m a little lucky in that I can hang with most anyone. Not everyone can or should.

  4. Lois Taylor says:

    Thank you for your apology, John. However, don’t beat yourself up over it. We sinners can relate. At least your “alert” got to you in time. Your honesty is refreshing. Keep looking up!

  5. Lisa in Sunland says:

    In keeping with Tim’s comment, actually, I think you had it right about some (or most?) people needing a season of avoiding sinners. Not to be a “better person” – I can agree that part might be going down the wrong path — but to have some practice of walking in the Spirit and listening to God, studying His Word, and gaining His strength to avoid the sins. To become more mature a disciple and arm oneself with the Word before going forth into places that used to tempt us. If new Christians don’t spend a season with a Bible and with brothers, how are they to acquire the belt of truth, gospel of peace, etc. to defend themselves against temptation?

    Galatians 6:1 Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

    Psalm 1
    1 Blessed is the one
    who does not walk in step with the wicked
    or stand in the way that sinners take
    or sit in the company of mockers

    So in my view, apology not needed – you were right. Blessings on ya.

  6. Pingback: Legalism Exposed

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