4. Have decided that we don’t want to get what we deserve after all, and we don’t want anyone else to either.
Step 4 is a turning point for the recovering Pharisee. The first three steps are negative attitudes we want to overcome; the last nine are positive attitudes we want to adopt.
Both Step 3 and 4 deal with what we deserve. The Pharisee actually thinks he deserves a reward. He thinks that his meticulous attention to the details of the law gets him in good standing with God. This is also the basis on which he judges and compares himself with others — his attention to the law that others obviously don’t consider a priority.
But somewhere between Step 3 and Step 4, a radical transformation has taken place. The recovering Pharisee realizes he is a sinner, no better than anyone else. This isn’t something you just will upon yourself; it usually is accompanied by some kind of traumatic experience that forces you to see the ugliness of your sinful, selfish self. The kind of thing that prompted Bob Dylan to write, “I and I, one says to the other, no one sees my face and lives.”
It’s something that knocks you down. Something that breaks you. Something that makes you stop the stupid charade you’ve been playing and admit your folly. Something that hits you so hard you don’t have a choice but to go down. Something that humbles you beyond anything you can measure. It makes all your careful spiritual calculations irrelevant. Something that puts you at the cross with the rest of sinful humanity, realizing Christ died for YOU, and embracing anyone else who realizes that, too, even if it’s someone you would have formerly judged as being “undesirable.” You’re not looking down anymore because you are the one who is down. There’s no one below you, so it doesn’t matter. You’re as low as anyone can go.
Sadly, many Christians never make it to Step 4. We have ways of avoiding the truth about ourselves even when we are being knocked down. There are justifications and rationalizations that prevent us from hitting bottom. We protect ourselves, and we protect each other, too. Pharisees have unwritten rules about avoiding weakness and vulnerability. A Pharisee who has lost control of his own righteousness is joyfully on his way to Step 4, but all his friends back at Step 3 are going to try to prevent him from succumbing. There is no such thing as a Pharisee who has lost control. That would be a recovering Pharisee.
Recovering Pharisees have cast themselves on the mercy of God and are willing to take whatever comes next. Recovering Pharisees have relinquished control of their own righteousness and are waiting for instructions from God. Recovering Pharisees have lost their robes and phylacteries, seeing these as outward signs of an inner pride and separateness they are happy to be rid of.
And, for the first time in his life, a recovering Pharisee is happy he is NOT getting what he deserves, because he realizes what he deserves (and deserved all along) is death. So, in a complete reversal from his former self, the recovering Pharisee is surprised to find he wants everyone to know the grace and mercy of God, too — even those he formerly judged.
A recovering Pharisee feels like he just joined the human race.