The growing prevalence of Pharisaism

Last night, I enjoyed delightful conversation over dinner with an old friend. (She’s not old, our friendship is!) She’s that special kind of friend to whom I can say just about anything. We talked of family and faith, friendships and failures.

Our faith conversation left me refreshed. We agreed that there is much we do not know, and a childlike faith is exactly what God desires from each of us. After all, God said, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways and My thoughts than your thoughts” (Is 55:9).

Yes, we are to pursue to know Him more. We are to study His Word and seek to understand His truth for life as given to us in His Holy Word. It is in His truth that we find our way, our strength and our hope. But we cannot in our pea-sized brains understand God fully on this side of heaven. Anyone who claims to, I believe, is in danger of Pharisaism.

Typically, we equate Pharisaism with the behaviors of the Pharisees during Jesus’ time – a group driven more by their religion rather than their relationship with God. But there is so much more about them to recognize. The Pharisees were rigid, rule-followers who were so concerned with their self-righteousness they had no real concern or compassion for others. It was their way or the highway. They were right, others were wrong. The result of such a self-righteous attitude was a critical spirit and condescension to the “less-than-righteous” person. Can you imagine such a thing?

I think you can more than imagine it. I think you, like me, have seen it, and even at times, exemplified it.

This is exactly why God sent His son. Jesus did not come just for the sinfully unrighteous, but for the sinfully self-righteous. He came as the perfect sacrifice to God on our behalf, regardless of our sin natures, so that we might not have to endure the just punishment of our sin, but instead, could live forever with Him. This is the good news, the glad tidings promised in the Christmas story. Sadly, the morally-unrighteous often feel unworthy of accepting His sacrifice on their behalf, while the self-righteous feel altogether too worthy to need it. But Jesus offers His gift of grace to all those who will humble themselves before Him and recognize their need of Him.

There is much we do not know, and we would do well to admit such. Even the greatest theologians and biblical scholars of all time who share a true belief in Jesus as Savior cannot fully agree on every point. Perfect understanding must not be attainable by any one human. Yet I am witnessing a fascinating, although somewhat terrifying happening in our culture, especially by way of social media.

With the increasing number of attacks on Christianity, the rise of other religions, the blasphemy and heresy that plague much of television and movies, many are stepping out to defend the faith. Praise God! Tweets abound, mine included, proclaiming the truth of God’s Word. We are called to do this, yet we must always do so with the humble admission that the perfect truth we proclaim is brought forth from our imperfect human vessels.

Paul taught this principle to Timothy, “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth” (2 Tim 2:15). Our responsibility is to do our best to accurately handle the word of truth as we go forth in the Great Commission. This is an attitude of the heart, to prayerfully seek divine understanding of His Word and a careful presentation of it for His glory. Will we at times fail? Of course. We are human. But will God use that which is preached for His glory? Absolutely.

If we have any hope of presenting truth in a transforming way to others, it must be done so with a spirit of humility, and never to tear down others, but to build them up in the faith. None of us has arrived at the gates of heaven where we will see him “face to face”. Until then, we must avoid crossing the line between our confidence in God’s Word and our confidence in our own understanding of it.

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