What is a Pharisee?
The Pharisees were the most strict followers of the Torah (Jewish Law) in ancient Judaism. While the observed the Torah with something that was close to outward perfection, they were hard-hearted and sour on the inside.
The Pharisees wore phylacteries (prayer boxes) on their arms or heads – a practice that probably began with good intentions, but became a religious status symbol quickly… often made of silver or gold to also show off wealth.
Self-righteous, judgemental, and hypocritical… the Pharisees were the result of taking bits of the law and mixing with human pride.
Jesus Christ spoke against their self-righteousness often. And for good reason. They were sinners.
Just like I am.
6 Signs You Might Be A Pharisee
The Pharisees stood for everything that Jesus spoke against- self-righteousness, artificial holiness, and judgment. Here’s how you can avoid these pitfalls.
Signs You Might Be A Pharisee #1
You spend more time talking about the things you are against – not the things you are for.
Our example here is in Jesus Christ. Think of some of the things that Jesus Christ spoke against:
- love of money
… but then, think of all of the things that He spoke FOR! He spoke often of Heaven, of our Father’s love for His children, and the Kingdom of God. And His life was a lesson- He condemned sin, but He also scandalized the Pharisees by showing love to “the least of these”, people who were on the down-and-out, people who were ceremoniously unclean, and people who spent the majority of their adult lives sinning, or even making a living by sinning.
Yet some of His harshest words were for the Pharisees.
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.” Matthew 23:25
Ouch. The Pharisee cleans their skin to ceremonial perfection… but not their heart.
Signs You Might Be A Pharisee #2
You believe that you are worthy of salvation- or able to get to Heaven on your own.
There is only one way to Heaven, and that’s through realizing that you are a sinner, and totally incapable of doing good on your own.
“We are all infected and impure with sin. When we display our righteous deeds, they are nothing but filthy rags. Like autumn leaves, we wither and fall, and our sins sweep us away like the wind.”
Isaiah 64:6 NLT
We aren’t capable of building a bridge to Heaven ourselves because even the things that we try to do for God are tainted with sin and unrighteousness.
Jesus Christ plainly said this on earth several times, perhaps most notably in John 14.
Jesus said to him, “I am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me. If you had known Me, you would have known My Father also. From now on you do know Him and have seen Him.”
Signs You Might Be A Pharisee #3
You secretly think you’re better than other Christians, and that God has blessed you.
Jesus saw the self-righteous behavior of the Pharisees but He preferred the blatant sinner with a contrite heart to the self-righteous religious leader, blind to his pride and darkness.
I know that may sound like a bold claim, so here’s my reference… Jesus Himself in a parable from Luke.
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Signs You Might Be A Pharisee #4
You want to be seen as holy, and parade your self-righteousness around.
I had the good fortune of going to Bible College, something I would recommend to every High School Student who wants to learn how to study the Bible and get a Bachelor’s degree at the same time! There was a man who I admired who would fast about once a month, and I don’t know this for any other reason than that he was absent from the cafeteria. I don’t think very many people noticed that he was gone, or if they did, I don’t think the man made a big deal of it. He spent that time praying in his room.
There was another young man who would also fast, but he would still go to the cafeteria and drink water. Drinking water is super healthy, but I don’t think health was his motive. He wanted to be seen denying the enchiladas and pizza and other cafeteria goodies.
Now… I think God can use us despite our pride… but do you see the difference in these two examples?
“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.”
When you show your good deeds around and post about them on Facebook, that’s all of the reward that you’re gonna get. God the Father sees our hearts and knows our motives. If humility and service were our goals, we wouldn’t boast about our deeds to others, but rather try to hide our treasure in Heaven.
See also: Prayers that God will always say YES to!
Signs You Might Be A Pharisee #5
You don’t repent of sin, because your sin isn’t that bad.
Repentance is true humility in action. It’s admitting that you are a sinner in need of a Savior. We need to repent daily of our sins… not for salvation but to keep humility. Let me explain further because I don’t want to confuse anyone. You repent of sin once as someone who is not a part of God’s kingdom when you first accept God’s offer of salvation through Jesus Christ. That’s justification.
Then you walk with Christ… and get distracted, and fall.
And repent again, as often as it happens. Which, if you’re like me, happens every day in both your thoughts and your actions. Repent of these shortcomings and ask God to help you to see those sins in the same way that He sees them. That’s sanctification.
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.
However. A Pharisee doesn’t think he has any sin- at least not any serious sin.
He doesn’t look to Christ as His measurement or example, but rather to other sinners. He plays the comparison game.
It’s not that he doesn’t fall, but he sort of pushes it under the rug and hopes that no one (including God) saw it in order to salvage his all-important pride.
Repentance is humility in action, and a Pharisee cannot see that.
See also: 12 Things the Holy Spirit Does For Us
Signs You Might Be A Pharisee #6
You have two different lives- one on Saturday night and one on Sunday morning.
You preach on Facebook about how a certain group of people is living life all wrong- whether it be someone with a different political view, someone in a same-sex relationship, or someone in jail, yet you have similar or worse sinful thoughts in your mind and nurture them inwardly.
This is true of so many Christians who would never consider watching porn, but who watch explicit shows that show sex scenes.
Then they go to church, feel no conviction for their actions, and dig just a little deeper away from Christ.
This is par for the Pharisee. He doesn’t live his life with integrity.
However, a true Christian is open about his shortcomings and even admits and confesses his sins to others.
Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.
What To Do About Your Pharisaical Heart…
Grace for the Pharisee
I write these things because I have dealt with them, and continue to battle them. Growth is not instantaneous, it’s a journey.
Here’s some tips on how to kill the Pharisee in your heart.
- Pray to the Father for an open heart when it comes to what He wants you to learn through His Word.
- Allow the Bible to change your heart and soften your hardened heart.
- Look at others with grace. And assume that you are the worst sinner in the room.
- Serve others without seeking applause or thanks.
- Find a way to bless someone anonymously.
- Ask your pastor how you can best serve your church, and you can feel free to tell him that you are okay with the behind-the-scenes jobs.
See also: 4 Ways to Pray for Your Pastor
A Prayer for the Pharisee In My Heart
Father, help me see myself as you see me, as your child, and a sinner who desperately needs You. Help me to see my sin clearly and help me to grow in my hatred of anything that separates me from You. Allow me to see people as you see them: as sinners in need of a Savior. Help me in my journey to treat others as Jesus treated them, and help me keep the inside of my cup clean.
What about you?
What do you think? Do you struggle with a pharisaical heart like me? What tips would you add to this list?
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