Via Merriam-Webster:

PHARISAICAL : marked by hypocritical censorious self-righteousness

My definition:

PHARISAICAL : When my prideful, rule-following, God-manipulating tendencies replace my humble, grace-loving, God-dependent desire.


My Sunday school class has been working through the gospel of Luke. It’s been challenging to say the least. I find myself standing with the Pharisees in the crowds. The ones with the check lists. The expectations. The standards. Thinking, “I’ve followed the rules and you should have to also.” But what does Jesus say to the pharisaical?

“Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” Luke 5:31

Again and again the Pharisees were examples of what not to do, what not to say, and who not to be. The culmination of this teaching came in Luke chapter 15, in the parable of the prodigal son. The Pharisees in the audience would have recognized themselves in the description of the older brother: “Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command …” (v. 29). The older brother believed the father owed him big for the obedience he had shown him. But at the end of the parable, the younger brother enjoys the party and fellowship with the father, and we don’t know if the brother accepted the invitation to join them or not.

As Tim Keller writes in The Prodigal God, “If, like the elder brother, you believe that God ought to bless you and help you because you have worked so hard to obey him and be a good person, then Jesus may be your helper, your example, even your inspiration, but he is not your Savior. You are serving as your own Savior.”

So how do I battle this tendency in myself? How do I evaluate my decision making? I ask myself these two questions:

  1. Is my desire in this action to please God or to impress others?

  2. Is my decision not to do this action because I fear the judgment of God or the judgment of others?

For example, back in college, a popular itinerant pastor did a weekly Bible study near campus. I didn’t go very often, but when I did, it was so others would see me there, not because I really wanted to go. My desire was to impress others.

And just last week, our eight-year-old asked if he could go trick-or-treating. My first thought was “What if _____ finds out we let him do this?” not “Do I feel I am sinning by doing this?” My decision was based on whether or not others would judge me.

Using these questions to think through my motives helps me know myself and fight against my pharisaical-self.

I want to please God, but not to get pleasures in return, but because His pleasure becomes my pleasure. I want to enjoy the lavish grace of God, not buckle under the pressure of all the rules. I want to enjoy fellowship with others, not see myself in competition with them.

I want to be at the party with God, the younger brothers, and all the older brothers who final saw themselves as the “chief of sinners.”
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