There are, I suspect, two defining and inter-related qualities that make for a Pharisee. The world would have us believe that one of them is being religious, and the other being powerful. The truth is that one is the conviction that I am quite a good fellow and the other is the conviction that you are not. Religion and power have nothing to do with it. It really matters very little the standard by which you measure. That is, I am a Pharisee if I pray, “I thank You Lord that I am not like this other man. I study and obey Your law, whereas he is a terrible law-breaker.” But I am likewise a Pharisee if I pray, “I thank You Lord that I am not like this other man. I study and embrace grace, whereas he is a terrible legalist.” If I condemn my brother because of His pride, while being proud of my exemplary humility, I’m a Pharisee.
While these are the two defining qualities there is a third thing that always shows up when our inner Pharisee determines to come out and play- the propensity to divide the people of God. There has to be black hats and there has to be white hats in order for me to be smug in my white hat and judgmental to the black hats. We who would rightly be aghast at any attempt to divide the church on the basis of skin color are quite comfortable doing so ourselves, on purpose, by the contents of our respective libraries, the instruments, or lack thereof we have on Sunday mornings, our understanding of the 4thcommandment or what guru we listen to.
It is a good thing to aspire to greater godliness, right and proper to seek to grow in grace. The danger is when we think we’ve found the thing, the key, the secret to a higher Christian life, the second blessing. We have, that is, all of us who have been regenerated, who have rested in the finished work of Christ, who are indwelt by His Spirit and adopted by His Father, all that we need for a life of godliness. And so does everyone else who has those things. There aren’t two classes of Christians. We have all had our shame covered; we are all dressed in the same righteousness, a righteousness not our own. That’s the one blessing we’ve all been given, and which can never be taken away from us.
Humility is the cure. Remaining ever clear on our own sins, and ever opaque on the sins of others is how we remember to beat our breast and cry out, “Lord be merciful to me, a sinner.” Eating humble pie is how we starve the beast that is our inner Pharisee. Feasting on our need, met by His grace, our lack met by His provision, our sin met by His righteousness, our death met by His life is how we live our best life now, and then, and forever.
I’ve got my own inner Pharisee. I thank you Lord that You are not like this man.