21st Century Pharisees: Diagnosing the Problem

by | Feb 14, 2017 | David Appelt

This is post one in a series on the trouble we often find in being a follower of Jesus in appearance only. Come back more every week for more in the series.

“They do all their deeds to be seen by others. They make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long…”

Matthew 23:5 (ESV)

Twenty-First Century Phylacteries and Pharisees

The phylactery and the fringes were the 1st century equivalent of Twitter. These were the easiest ways for pharisees and people to broadcast their righteousness. It’s been 2000 years, and remarkably little has changed. There are just as many pharisees now, and you and I love practicing our righteousness before men as much as ever (Matthew 6:1).

It’s much easier to make ourselves look like we follow Jesus than it is to actually follow Jesus. We can show up at church smiling, we can post quasi-christian inspirational quotes or bible verses, all day long; we can write blog posts until our fingers fall off. We can do all of those things and look spiritual, without actually being useful for God or seriously following him.

Appearances are deceiving

Our instagram likes and retweets will not matter when we stand in front of God. Our appearances of piety will matter very little, if at all. They won’t count for us any more than the loud prayers and long fringes of pharisees counted for them.

“They do all their deeds to be seen by others. They make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long…”

Matthew 23:5 (ESV)

A 21st century paraphrase: They do all their deeds to be seen by others. They spend more time posting a picture of their devotional on instagram than they do reading my word. They make sure they pray long out loud in crowds, but they never pray to me personally. They rave about how exciting their church’s Sunday morning presentation is, but they don’t ever get excited about me, only the lights and sounds. They make sure their morality is publicized and tweeted; they ensure their sin stays under the rug.

Are we a disciple in appearance only, or are we truly following Him? And be careful how quickly you answer that question, as your appearance will fool you just as easily as it can fool others.

We actually have to put our feet to the pavement, not just put up appearances. We have to play the part of disciple, not merely look the part.

Ways to un-become a pharisee

What would this actually look like? First and foremost: it starts with our response to sin. That’s where the Christian life starts. God shows us our sin, shows us our need for a savior, and we turn from sin to cling to Christ.

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

John 14:15 (ESV)

Second, we realize that we must prize God over all things. This goes along with the idol of self, as we will learn that the final love that God must conquer is our love of self. However, if we truly prize God over His creation, over our reputation, over what He might give us, we will be truly on the path of discipleship.

“He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent.”

Colossians 1:18 (ESV)

Third, develop the ability to confess sin and own up to your own unrighteousness. The habit of honest accountability in our lives where we are honest about our specific shortcomings with other Christians will remind us of the gospel and keep us from pride.

“But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.”

1 John 1:7 (ESV)

Fourth, we need to know and do. We must not be content with merely the right knowledge, neither ought we be content with only the right actions. But they must be bound together by the work of the Spirit and Love for God.

“But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves.”

James 1:22-23 (ESV)

Check back for more posts on this series every week! And pick up Desiring God (available for free download below) as this book saved me from my own phariseeism years ago.

Recommended Resources

Complacency and Pride by Joe Thorn
Complacency and Apathy from Joe Thorn
American Spirituality by The White Horse Inn
Desiring God by Jon Piper

David Appelt serves as the creative arts director at NewLife Community Church in Canal Winchester, Ohio. He graduated from Capital University with an emphasis on Music Ministry. He plans on pursuing pastoral ministry in the future.
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