The Bible says a great deal about the Pharisees. Even if one does not know them by said title, the average self-proclaiming Christian knows their traits and their positions. They’ve simply become part of the Christian dialogue, mainly because of their great enemy–their great threat.
The Pharisees were the religious teachers and spiritual gatekeepers in their day, and their great threat was Jesus Christ, the incarnation of the very God the Pharisees claimed to follow. Though the Pharisees were recognized by the people as upholders of traditions and supposed truth, Jesus Christ called them to task constantly and unapologetically, bringing to light their hypocrisy and oppressive teachings.
But I have an important question that my fellow Christians and I must constantly address: are we the Pharisees of today?
I consider this, for the Pharisees of old followed the Law and the Prophets, given to the people of Israel centuries earlier as a foundation for their religious practices. Over time, the priests and religious leaders of Israel developed a more restrictive form of the original law. These religious persons were, according to Christ, “children of hell”, for through their greed, pride, and hypocrisy, they oppressed those seeking the true knowledge of God.
Similarly, the modern Christian church is now two thousand years removed from Christ’s physical presence here on earth. We use ancient texts of the New Testament, in addition to the Law and Prophets, to create the basis of our beliefs and practices. In an ever-more postmodern culture, we consider ourselves gatekeepers of spiritual truth. We have our religious festivals, our traditions, and our restrictions on behavior. So, the question must be asked: are we following in the footsteps of the Pharisees, and if so, how would Christ respond to us?
I am not going to speak for anyone but myself in answer to this question, and I must acknowledge my sin and repent. Too often, I see attitudes and behaviors in my own life that echo Christ’s enemies more than Christ himself. And what fascinates me about my own pharisaic mindset is that it forms not by intention but by the natural progression of human arrogance left unchecked. The process works as follows: I find a spiritual weakness in my own life, and I confront it through action; when I later see what I perceive as the same flaw in another who makes no effort to change, I judge them–not actively through thinking about it but passively in my instinctual gut reaction of believing myself more spiritual than that other person. This insidious, pharisaic attitude sneaks upon me like a virus and infects my heart to a degree that I do not see, and it shows itself at moments I least expect. I don’t know about you, but I am guilty.
I do not find it coincidental that this occurs among modern Christians. Frankly, I believe that God, in his infinite wisdom, sent Christ to the earth at a time when he would be in direct conflict with the Pharisees, because God also knew that Christ’s followers would, over time, fall into the same sinful patterns that the Pharisees did. As the master storyteller, the Lord constructed the historical narrative in such a fashion that the failure of religious leaders in the past would serve as a direct warning to religious persons in the future, particularly those who claim to follow the highest rabbi of all, Jesus Christ, who took these false religious leaders to task. May he do the same time to us through his words in Scripture and the leading of the Holy Spirit.
If he convicts you of such a sin–of being merely religious rather than loving, seeking greed instead of good, and longing for an increase to your earthly kingdom rather than God’s heavenly one, rally against your sin through repentance. God knows the soul; God knows the mind, and “a broken and contrite heart [he] will not despise” (Psalm 51).
Thanks for reading,