Pharisee. The infamous “P” word in the pages of scripture. Pharisee, the current formal term for a spiritual legalist or in laymen terms a spiritual snob. Today, when you think of this word Pharisee you correlate terms like hypocrites, narrow-minded, extremist, and insincere fundamentalists.

But it wasn’t always so. In Jesus day, this “P” word was a badge of honor & discipline.

The Pharisees excelled in everything we commend & admire.

Radical? Check.

Quiet times? Check.

Theological? Check.

Spiritual disciplines? Check. Check.

If we are not careful, we will miss the temptations we face to become the New Testament’s favorite bad guys. Honestly, anyone can become a Pharisee. No one starts out with the desire to become a Pharisee. If we are not spiritually sensitive and Christo-centrically cautious we will slip into the sloppy life of what Larry Osborne calls “Accidental Pharisees”. Accidental Pharisees are made up of people just like you and I. People who love God, love scripture, and are trying their best to live by God’s commands hoping they will escape Hell.

The bottom line is this, as long as we only imagine a Pharisee as a spiritual loser, or a derogatory term, we will never recognize the clear and present danger in our life to become Accidental Pharisees. We will never realize that it is often a subtle journey from being zealous for God to being unintentionally opposed to God. It is a thin line to making a “good thing” into a “God thing”. It is a slippery slope to make the right things our righteousness. It should impress on us that though they thought they would hear “Well done, good and faithful servant!” instead they heard “I never knew you, Away from me you evildoers”.

So how do I know if I am a Pharisee or a potential one anyways? Here are some questions we should use as devotional diagnostics.

You might be a Pharisee if you work hard to be loved by God instead of working hard because you are loved by God.

You might be a Pharisee if you belong to a church whose mission is their preferences instead of making their preference the mission.

You might be a Pharisee if you put your trust in right rituals instead of Christ righteousness.

You might be a Pharisee if you worship traditionalism instead of respecting tradition.

You might be a Pharisee if you think your credit with God relies on a religious “to-do” list instead of an “already done” list by Jesus’ death and resurrection.

You might be a Pharisee if you stress doctrine but lack devotion.

You might be a Pharisee if you desire public success but lack private sanctity.

You might be a Pharisee if you think theology is just about you and not about Jesus.

You might be a Pharisee if you major in minors and minor in majors.

You might be a Pharisee if you have changed behavior without a changed heart.

Are you a Pharisee? Are you putting your trust in religion instead of a relationship with Christ? Do you trust in good works, a double life, or in anything else besides Jesus? Do you look down on people because they don’t match up to your spiritual standards, are you prideful & mean to those who don’t match up with your prestigious and religious resume? Then you might be a Pharisee. The things you are trusting for freedom actually have you in bondage.

But here is the good news. Jesus Christ, who had all the power in the world, saw us enslaved to the very things we thought would free us. He gave us all His riches for simply trusting that He was good. He gave his life, paid the debt of our sins, purchasing us salvation. He gives freedom to the religious and the rebellious alike. Yes, He even frees Pharisees. Just ask Nicodemus and Paul.

Question: In what ways do you struggle with your inner-Pharisee?

For God’s Glory,

Cam Triggs