“Here is the reality: Pharisees still exist today. And nobody wants to be a modern-day Pharisee. It just happens.”
The Pharisees of Jesus’ time are talked about in pulpits and classrooms all over the world. They are the source of jokes. The topic of sermons. Man, I wish I had a penny for every time a Christian teacher referenced the Pharisees.
Here is the reality: Pharisees still exist today. And nobody wants to be a modern-day Pharisee. It just happens.
Most Pharisees begin with good intentions. But somehow those intentions morph into something not-so-good.
My hope and prayer is that you will read this and do an inspection of your heart. The following things flow from my own personal struggles with legalism and being a Pharisee.
In many ways, I am a recovering Pharisee. I still have a long way to go. But I am thankful the grace of God allows me to stumble. Allows me to struggle. And still be his child.
So, here are 12 signs that you are a modern-day Pharisee.
1. You believe showing up for worship every Sunday makes you right with God.
Modern-day Pharisees try to measure everything. They must have metrics and barometers. Something to measure their righteousness. Anything to give them some security with God.
And I am not against barometers or metrics. Not at all. Barometers can reveal trends and expose inconsistencies. But modern-day Pharisees see metrics as essential to righteousness and salvation. Worship is not a time to draw into God; worship is another check off the list.
For modern-day Pharisees, Christian living is not so much about transforming into the image of God. It is more about living up to the standard of God. And no one can live up to God’s standard—except Jesus.
2. You spend more time talking about what you are against, not what you are for.
Pharisees love to argue. They love to spend their time convincing others that they are wrong. If they had to list the actions and issues they are against, the pencil would run out of lead. But turn around and ask them to list what they are for, and the pencil would not even have to be resharpened.
Pharisees believe their job is to defend God and legislate morality. So they are against drinking, smoking, cursing, short skirts, talking back to parents, holding hands before marriage and so on. And all of these things come before the gospel. Or maybe they are the gospel. Modern-day Pharisees can’t tell the difference.
3. You believe God actually needs you.
Modern-day Pharisees believe God needs them on his team. They believe the church is dependent on them.
Let me be real with the modern-day Pharisees. If God needs a human being for his church to survive, he is not a God worth serving. Or worshipping. Or following. God needs no one. God simply allows us to play a role. He allows us to play a part.
We just need to know our role. Play our part. And don’t think too highly of ourselves. God’s got this.
4. You don’t repent of sin because you believe you don’t have any “serious” sin to repent of.
Remember that time the modern-day Pharisees repented of sin in their life? Oh wait, they never have. They don’t have any serious sin to repent of. Pharisees have a reputation and status to maintain. Repentance involves vulnerability and weakness. Pharisees don’t show weakness.
Who cares if the God of the universe was humiliated and mocked by mere men? That has no bearing on a modern-day Pharisee.
Repentance is for people who sin really bad. Not for them.
5. You make every issue black and white.
The Bible is gray on many issues. But modern-day Pharisees don’t deal in the world of gray. They must have everything in black and white. In or out. Yes or no. Up or down.
If an issue is gray, modern-day Pharisees have to do some work at the heart level. But Pharisees don’t work at the heart level. They don’t consider motives.
Here is another thing about gray: It does not allow modern-day Pharisees to keep score. Black and white issues, however, allow them to keep a tally of their righteousness. “I have never drank or smoke or gambled or cheated on my wife,” they say. “Who cares if my heart is full of lust, anger and envy?”
Making a gray issue black and white means modern-day Pharisees don’t have to deal with the motives underneath their actions.
6. You condone in secret what you preach against in public.
If someone were to preach on the evils of sexual sin, a modern-day Pharisee would nod his or her head in agreement. “Yeah, that’s right, Preacher. Preach on!” But on Sunday night, they plop down in the recliner and find humor from a movie or TV show that glamorizes the very thing they just agreed was wrong.
This is the real issue with modern-day Pharisees. They love to put on a show when the lights are on. They want people to think they are righteous. But Jesus does not inform the rest of their lives.
After all, they went to church and small group. The checklist is complete.
7. Your salvation is based on your works, not on Jesus.
Modern-day Pharisees believe in their works. That’s why they love James 2:14-26. But they skirt around the passages about grace. They believe Jesus died on the cross for their sins, but they turn around and mock the cross by trying to earn their salvation.
8. You read the Bible to substantiate your convictions, not to be shaped into God’s image.
During the time of Jesus, no one knew more Scripture than the Pharisees. They studied the Scriptures relentlessly.
Modern-day Pharisees do the same. But they turn around and use the knowledge to convince others why they are wrong. The Bible is their personal weapon. Modern-day Pharisees use it to throw rocks at all the misguided, evil sinners in the world.
To modern-day Pharisees, the Bible is not a means to grow into the image of God. It is a means to convince the world of fallacies and misguided theology.
9. You believe church outsiders should conform to a certain lifestyle before they are accepted as “Christian.”
This is a Pharisee trademark. Before non-Christians can be considered “part of the group,” they must conform to a certain lifestyle. Stop all of the cursing and drinking. And stop doing all the stuff “bad people” do.
Once potential Christians “fix their lives,” modern-day Pharisees gladly welcome these people into their family. Just don’t revert back to “sinning” again. Membership in the group is always conditional.
Instead of meeting people where they are, modern-day Pharisees force people to come up to their level. And until these people live up to the standard, they will be on the outside looking in.
10. You don’t know the difference between a convert and a transfer.
Modern-day Pharisees get just as excited when someone joins their church as they do when someone joins the kingdom of God. In fact, they don’t see much distinction between the two. They celebrate a baptism the same way they celebrate a family moving from the church across the street.
This is why no real desire for the lost exists. The church is adding “members.” But they are being added to the directory of the local church, not the directory of the kingdom. Modern-day Pharisees don’t care, as long as the “church” is adding people.
11. All of your Christian friends look and act just like you do.
Pharisees are exclusive. They pick and choose who enters the group. But Jesus never valued exclusivity. Just look at his chosen twelve: a tax collector (Matthew), a doctor (Luke), fishermen (Peter and Andrew), a Zealot (Simon). That’s a conglomerate of guys from many different backgrounds.
So, look around at your group. Is it essentially a collection of men and women cut from the same mold?
12. If someone tries to rebuke you, you get angry and offended.
Remember what happened when Jesus rebuked the Pharisees? Their hearts broke. They repented. And Jesus used them to start the church.
When Jesus called out their sins, the Pharisees crucified him. Modern-day Pharisees see any rebuke as a personal attack. They immediately go on the defensive. Some get angry and storm off. Others proceed to make a list of sins of the person rebuking them.
Regardless, modern-day Pharisees refuse to have a heart receptive to rebuke. It undermines their external righteousness. And it undermines the lie that they are perfect.
Understand that the reason I can write this article is that I have been guilty of all 12 of these in my life. I want to draw people to Jesus. I want to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. I hope you do, as well.
I ask you to pray for me and my struggles. If you have a comment or another sign of a modern-day Pharisee, respond below.
Frank Powell is lead writer and editor for the blog at Bayside Church in Granite Bay, California. He is also a husband, father and Jesus follower. Occasionally he plays golf. Often he drinks coffee. You can find more of his content at Blog.BaysideOnline.