“How foolish can you be? After starting your new lives in the Spirit, why are you now trying to become perfect by your own human effort?” (Galatians 3:3 NLT)
The dictionary says: “Pharisees were at various times a political party, a social movement, and a school of thought in the Holy Land during the time of Second Temple Judaism.” We’re most interested in the “school of thought” part of that definition because that is the part of “Pharisee” that is still with us today. The Pharisees were legalists. They believed one was made righteous by following the law. Except that they reinterpreted the law away from the law of Moses to a long list of laborious, picky rules that only they could follow because only they bothered with it. It’s a convenient way of self-justification. You justify yourself by a set of rules that only you care about, thus enabling you to judge everyone else who doesn’t. The Pharisees worked hard at their righteousness, making them feel that they deserved their robes and their long phylacteries. They were sure that God was fortunate to have them on His team.
That’s why, to one degree or another, we are all Pharisees. Anyone who has ever compared themselves spiritually to another is a Pharisee. Anyone who has judged anyone else by any standard whatsoever is a Pharisee. Anyone who has ever sent someone to hell in their own heart without passing the same judgment on themselves is a Pharisee. Anyone who has ever based their eternal security on the good things they have done is a Pharisee. Anyone who thinks they will get into heaven because their name is on a bronze plaque in the church due to their hefty donations is a Pharisee.
To one degree or another, we are all Pharisees.
That’s because earning our way to just about anything is what we’ve been doing since we were born. So it’s natural to assume that once we become a Christian, we immediately set about being a Christian. That’s the first mistake. Anyone who is trying to be something, isn’t. And since working our way to anything is so ingrained in us, we need help to even see that we are doing it, much less stop doing it. That’s why we are studying my book, 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me), and will be creating a virtual online Recovering Pharisee group where anyone can take part and interact with us as we seek to eradicate these hard-to-kick pharisaical habits from our lives. It’s all about learning to stop trying and start believing.
We are saved by grace, we are Christians by grace and we walk by grace. There isn’t a pharisaical bone in the body of grace. They are entirely antithetical to each other — like oil and water. And since we are seeking to not only know that grace for ourselves, but turn it outward toward others, we need to continually do a Pharisee check on our thoughts and attitudes. Nothing will kill grace faster than a Pharisee.