Are you a Christian Pharisee? What is that, and how would you know if you were?

I was spending time with the Lord one day, and He dropped a word on me. He spoke to my heart and said, “I didn’t go to the cross so that My people could become Christian Pharisees.” Ouch. Over the past couple of years, I’ve thought about this word He gave me. I knew I would eventually write about it. But at that moment, He began to download what it meant. And just how much His Church, His Ecclesia, has traded His character to pick up the mantle of the Pharisees of His day. Many of us are far too much like a Pharisee and not enough like Jesus. And it’s killing the effectiveness of the Church.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were many things, but legalistic, self-righteous, hypocritical, and self-important name a few characteristics. They were also, to some extent, well-meaning people and genuinely believed in what they thought was the “right way.”

How Bad is It?

How Pharisaical are we as Christians in the U.S.? One study reports that 51% of people who identify as Christian characterize as self-righteous. Only 14%, which is one in seven, seem to represent the actions and attitudes consistent with Jesus. In the middle are a mix of Jesus’ character and Pharisaical action and attitude. If these numbers are true, we aren’t doing a very good job of representing the character of Christ. Jesus didn’t go to the cross so we could pick up the mantle of the Pharisee.

Which category do we fall in? Here’s a list of characteristics.

Characteristics of Christian Pharisees

As you read this list of Christian Pharisees’ characteristics, don’t let your mind wander off to who this reminds you of. Instead, look inward. Ask the Lord to show you what’s hidden in your heart. Let the words be a mirror to how they reflect your attitude and actions.

The Attitude of Christian Pharisees

Do you think or say things like…

“If they knew their Bible as I did, things would be better for them.” This way of thinking is judgment and self-righteousness rolled up in a neat little package. If you get smug and self-righteous about reading or learning something in your Bible, you’ve missed the heart of Jesus and shifted into arrogance.

“I follow the rules, so I’m in right standing with God.” Following the rules doesn’t keep you in right standing with God. Righteousness comes from the mercy and love of God. He extended it to us through the work of the Cross. Not because of any work or show of our own. “Following the rules” is a response to the love of God, not a box to tick off.

“I don’t hang around with people like that.” It’s important to have like-minded people around you in your inner circle. But Jesus never meant for ALL of your circles to be like that. The Pharisees in scripture wouldn’t “defile” themselves with people who weren’t in their club.

Or maybe it’s not that extreme for you. Perhaps instead, you are “simply more comfortable with people who are believers or go to church than people who don’t.” Either way, it’s a religious spirit in action. My good friend calls this the Christian Country Club. And I agree. If you aren’t part of “our exclusive club,” you’re not welcome. One of the reasons the Gospel isn’t growing the Church is this Christian Country Club mentality and that Christians don’t know any non-Christians.

“I have some issues and problems, but that’s between God and me, and at least I am better off than so-and-so.” This type of thinking leads to portraying that you “have it all together.” Then, you become like a whitewashed tomb, seemingly perfect on the outside but corrupt on the inside.

“If they to worked harder at doing what’s right, then they would be better off.” Self-righteousness has reared its ugly head again. The Pharisees were all about works and outward shows of righteousness. It’s by grace, through faith, that we are saved. Not works. Not rituals. Not deeds.

“The way they’re doing church isn’t the ‘right way.'” The Pharisees were excellent at keeping the letter of the law. They were always lurking around to point out or catch Jesus doing something they disagreed with according to the law. Was He doing things “the right way?” If you think a lot about or like to point out to others how they (or a church) don’t have the right method, theology, or doctrine, it’s time to check your heart.

Other Christian Pharisaical Attitudes

Now that I have you thinking let’s add on to our list. You could even use this as a way to let the Holy Spirit show you where you land on the scale.

Just a reminder… don’t let condemnation set in. But also, don’t let it just fall to the floor. Use what you discover as a way to let Jesus work on your heart and transform those areas, and put them into action. Without action, there is no genuine change, only lip service.

  • Finding it hard to be friends with people who do the wrong things.
  • Believe it’s not your responsibility to help people who won’t help themselves.
  • Feeling grateful to be a Christian when you see other people’s failures and flaws.
  • People who follow God’s rules are better than those who don’t.
  • Giving unsolicited and out-of-the-blue advice on matters of belief, theology, and doctrine to others.
  • Compelled to let someone know that what they believe is wrong and tell them the right way.
  • Judging those who see things differently.
  • The “right action” is more important than the “right attitude.”
  • Can’t accept a rebuke, especially from people you deem to be “less spiritual” than you.
  • “I will only listen to God.” Since Holy Spirit frequently speaks through people, this reveals great spiritual pride.
  • Sees more about what’s wrong with people and churches than what’s right.
  • Keeps score on their spiritual life compared to others.
  • Feels better about yourself because of “all the things you do for the Lord.”
  • Believes you are appointed to fix everyone else.
  • Acts as a self-appointed watchman or Sheriff of God’s Kingdom.
  • Goes on a mission to tear down whatever you believe is wrong.
  • You have a leadership style that’s bossy, overbearing, and intolerant of others’ weaknesses or failures.
  • Have a sense that you are closer to God and what you do is more pleasing to Him than others.
  • Proud of how spiritually mature you are compared to others.
  • Have mechanical prayer life.
  • Focuses on works and making comparisons rather than your relationship with the Lord.
  • Suspicious and opposed to new movements, churches, etc. This is an obvious sign of jealousy or pride that God wouldn’t do anything new without doing it through me or us (meaning denomination).
  • Prone to view supernatural manifestations as evidence of God’s approval. This behavior is just another form of keeping score and comparison.
  • Unable to join anything you don’t deem perfect or nearly perfect.
  • Tend to glory in what you are doing, building, etc.
  • Critical of other people’s walk with God.
  • Identity is rooted in a lifestyle of Christianity instead of Christ.
  • You know more about the truth of Jesus (or the law) than the WAY of Jesus.
  • Your closest Christian relationships are based solely on ministry activities.
  • Project righteousness but are inwardly filled with sin.
  • Try to conform to outward holiness without inward transformation.
  • Judge others by their appearance.
  • Ready to throw stones at others for the same (or similar) things you do in secret.

In short, Christian Pharisees are a religious spirit coupled with a political spirit that breeds bondage and condemnation, blocking true liberty. It’s a form of godliness through regimen and repetition and expects that of others. The Christian Pharisee mindset replaces a genuine relationship with the Lord with works and traditions to earn salvation. It’s concerned with outside appearances of being holy and righteous and develops a harsh, judgmental attitude toward others. It’s rigid and legalistic, craving position and honor among the people. It acts pious, self-righteous, or super spiritual.

And it’s hindering your relationship with God, misrepresenting Jesus, and blocking your ability to reach the lost. 

Recognize yourself? Me too. What do I do next?

Repent. Renounce. Renew. Re-Educate

  • Repent wherever you saw yourself in this list, and for every instance, the Lord brings to mind that you have operated this way.
  • Renounce the belief, action, or attitude specifically. Repenting and renouncing evicts the demon, but that’s only the beginning.
  • Invite Jesus to renew your mind and teach you His heart, actions, and thoughts.
  • PUT IT INTO ACTION. Remember, no consistent and lasting good fruit equals lip service only, not genuine transformation.
  • Ask Him to alert you when you are being a Christian Pharisee. Being consistent tears down the house of the religious spirit so it can’t come back.

There’s so much more to this than I can write in a single post. Dig a bit deeper and study the scripture involving the Pharisees and let the Lord take you on a journey of discovery and rebirth.

“In the meantime, when an innumerable multitude of people had gathered together so that they trampled one another, He began to say to His disciples first of all, ‘Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy.'”—Luke 12:1

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