Nathan W. Bingham
Connecting in a Hyper-Connected World

Confessions of a Functional Pharisee

Too often I’m a functional Pharisee. There, I’ve said it.

Despite professing faith in Christ alone, and despite confessing I’m saved by grace alone, my gaze too often moves from His passion to my performance. When this happens, despite what I say, I’m a functional Pharisee.

I’ve said before how the Gospel is the doctrine I most struggle to believe. I keep wanting to climb the stairway to Heaven, when all the while the Gospel is something that must be received, not earned. This is a drum I keep beating because there’s an amazing Gospel I must keep believing!

…the Gospel is something that must be received, not earned.

What a performance! Surely God will bless me now.

Consider Phil-the-Pharisee.

Phil-the-Pharisee is behind in his Bible reading. He realises that he has a prayer meeting to attend, or a Bible study, or some other “Christian” type event. He panics when he realises he’s not up-to-date with his Bible reading. Quick as a flash he reads twice as many chapters than he normally would, says a short but well articulated prayer, and then strolls out the door, shoulders back, confident he is now in God’s “good books” and blessing awaits.

How many times have you found yourself in a situation like Phil-the-Pharisee? How often do thoughts similar to his swirl around in the back of your head?

I confess that too often I’m like Phil-the-Pharisee. Too often I’m a functional Pharisee.

Wake up! Your “good days” just aren’t that good.

Earlier this week I was reading chapter one from The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges (affiliate link). My often beat up inner Pharisee once again received a knock-out punch. The power behind the punch was the reminder that even on my best, most spiritual and disciplined day, I still fall far short of God’s standard of “good”. My good days just aren’t that good.

Bridges says that no matter what good deed we are doing:

“We are always, to some degree, looking out for ourselves, guarding our flanks, protecting our egos. It is because we do not realize the utter depravity of the principle of sin that remains in us and stains everything we do, that we entertain any notion of earning God’s blessing through our obedience.”

Bridges goes on to sum up his entire first chapter with this spiritual principal:

Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.

Now that’s God glorifying, man humbling, good news! My acceptance before God is by grace alone and rooted in the person and work of Jesus Christ alone, and not in the quality of my performance. And if you’re a Christian, so is yours.

You’ve got your theology right, but are you a functional Pharisee? If so, don’t despair, you’re not beyond the reach of God’s grace.

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