In our world of scientific advancement and achievement, some view atheism as the biggest threat to Christianity. While the lie of evolution has certainly done harm to many, it is not the foremost foe of the faith. Instead, Satan has worked to get people to believe lies about God. Such was his modus-operandi in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1). His tired tactics are still the same. Scanning the globe, we see that misrepresentation of God is the number one distraction from the plain truth of the gospel. In America, a certain type of spirituality is perhaps public enemy number one. The adversary of which I speak is the spirit of the Pharisee. Though the official pharisaical movement passed away years ago, its influence still remains. It is seen in many modern Christians who are marked by religious busyness, but who have little experience at abiding in Christ. Consider three characteristics of a pharisaical spirit.
Pharisees have an exclusive approach to God.
When Jesus walked on earth, He encountered a group of legalistic perfectionists who snubbed their noses at those who didn’t buy into their system. They openly criticized Jesus for hanging out with sinners (Matthew 11:19). They sneered at a woman caught in adultery, thinking she was beyond the bounds of forgiveness (John 8:11). Jesus rebuked them: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you don’t go in, and you don’t allow those entering to go in” (Matthew 23:13). Be on guard against an exclusive form of Christianity. Jesus has offered salvation to all (1 John 2:1-2), and we have no right to shut the doors to any person or group of people. When we self-righteously pick and choose who deserves God’s acceptance, we prove that we have a sick and twisted form of religion.
Pharisees live as if religious tradition is more important than God’s truth.
Jesus rebuked them saying, “They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines human commands” (Matthew 15:9). “We’ve always done it that way” is perhaps the modern mantra that best depicts this aspect of the pharisaical spirit. Contemporary Pharisees are more concerned with following church tradition, or the tradition of a parent or grandparent, than they are with following Scripture. The Great Commission and Great Commandment often take a backseat to maintaining the status quo, or to man-made “convictions” and “standards.” Children of Pharisees are raised to carry on the torch of extra-biblical tradition, not necessarily to love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, and mind (Matthew 22:37).
Pharisees have a way of corrupting churches.
Jesus warned His disciples: “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees” (Matthew 16:6). Just as leaven permeates a loaf, prompting it to change, self-righteous Christians influence local congregations in harmful ways. They can evoke a spirit of comparison and complaining, performance and prejudice, showiness and self-righteousness. May we heed the words of our Lord and guard our hearts from the hollow, man-centered ways of the Pharisee.
Dr. Patrick Latham