True Religion And Those Pesky Pharisees


For a long time I’ve read through the Gospels and had a deep disdain for the Pharisees. I thought they were self-righteous, legalistic, hateful, conniving jerks…which is what I’m sure Jesus meant when he called them a ‘brood of vipers’. What I’ve been missing, due to my dislike of the Pharisees, is that in their minds they completely thought they were right and honorable. They followed the Law, they made the right sacrifices, they knew the Scriptures, they were, in their own estimation, righteous. Then this Jesus guy came along and claimed to forgive sins, he healed on the sabbath, and he spoke with authority as they had never before heard.

A Rigid Religion

The Pharisees didn’t know how to fit Jesus into their rubric of religion. He completely baffled them.

So the Pharisees did what most people would do in that situation, they assumed that they were right and Jesus was wrong. We shouldn’t be shocked by this. When something comes along that totally messes with what we know to be right, we automatically assume that thing is wrong and that we are still right.

It’s easy to hate on the Pharisees for not seeing who Jesus was, after all we do have the fortune of hindsight in this case. But we can’t really condemn them without condemning ourselves. You see, we’re more like the Pharisees than we’d like to admit.

Rules, Rules, Rules

We read Scripture and we see rules, which is a shame because that isn’t what God intended when he gave us the Bible. As imperfect beings, we love rules. It’s much easier to say this is wrong, that is right and to sit in judgment of others than it is to embrace what the Gospel is really about, forgiveness for everyone.

People love to feel better than other people. Whether it’s about money, power, importance, class, intelligence, authority, talent or whatever, we love to know that we’re better than someone else. We’ve somehow turned Christianity into yet another way to judge people. “They need Jesus” we’ll say condescendingly, or “I can’t believe they’re ok with having homosexuals in their church”.

Its amazing to me how easily people, myself included, can use Christianity as a way to make themselves ‘better’ than others.

Jesus Is The Difference

The only difference between me and someone who doesn’t know Jesus, is Jesus. Not my charm, intelligence, talent, family, job, or education…the only thing I have that differentiates me from them is Jesus. And the kicker is, I didn’t do anything special to earn my relationship with him, it was a gift.

I don’t earn my righteousness by following a set of rules. This is where the Pharisees messed up. Jesus didn’t fit into their rubric of religion and they refused to change when they were presented with the truth. I am saved because Jesus broke that rubric and brought true religion, a right relationship with God, to mankind.

True Religion

Christianity is not about rules and it isn’t about being better than sinners, because we’re all sinners. Christianity is about accepting the greatest gift and learning to live a new life based on grace. Let’s not give in to our pharisaical tendencies, instead let’s give in to God’s grace and enjoy the freedom therein.



Featured image: Checklist designed by Phil Laver from the Noun Project