The Pharisee Within

by Ronnie Hewitt

It is very difficult at times for religious people to be friends of sinners. Religion apart from relationship is more concerned with outward behavior than inward change. It values performance and perfection. The Pharisees were the standard of holiness in Jesus’ day. They were also arrogant and mean. Instead of showing mercy and leading people to God, they condemned and discouraged people. Jesus regularly called them out for their judgmental attitudes, usually using terms like “blind fools,” “snakes,” and “hypocrites” (Matt 26:16-33). The crazy thing is they believed they were pleasing God. They believed they were working hard to eradicate sin in themselves and those around them. Unfortunately, they were missing the message of Jesus entirely.

They were so frustrated with Jesus because He was supposed to be a rabbi, yet He was hanging around the heathens. They thought the point was to avoid sin, but Jesus had a habit of seeking out sinners. So they began questioning Him, Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners? (Luke 5:30) Jesus’ answer was brilliant. He replied, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 32 I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32)

As normal, it seems as if they missed the point entirely. And honestly, we often do as well. Apart from Jesus, there is no such thing as a “good person.” There is no distinction between righteous people and unrighteous people, or between the healthy and the sick. Without the grace of Jesus, there is only one category: Sinner. Jesus was trying to communicate His message, but many people missed it. He was saying that He came to save everyone, but only those who recognize their need for salvation will be saved.

When we miss Jesus’ message, we become blinded by our good works, religion, and our self-effort. It’s easy to judge the Pharisees, because they seem like fictitious characters. And yet, from time to time, I believe there is a Pharisee inside each of us. I know there is in me. I recognize his selfish ways whenever I think I’m better than someone, or when I compare my sin to someone else’s. Jesus’ message is that we are all sinners, but He came to call us to repentance. In Him there is grace, wholeness, and life.