Religious Spirits (Part 2)
by Juan St. Thomas
[Christian Boot Camp (CBC) is a series of teachings on topics (which CBC refers to as Belief Deceptions) that cripple people and churches, such as pride, offense, anger, fear, self-righteousness, denial, blame-shifting, enabling and victim mentality, just to name a few. These teachings—complete with accompanying slides, handouts, and other collaterals—can help your church get on the road to total health. The following article is a very short excerpt of the CBC teaching on the subject of Self-Righteousness. Contact Innovative Church & Worship Consulting for more details.]
As I mentioned in Part 1, the terms are interchangeable: Religiosity, self-righteous, and Pharisaical (Pharisee-like). So in this article, I’d like to focus on Jesus’ warnings of the behaviors of the Pharisees. Could you have anything in common with the Pharisees? Here are fifteen Pharisaical traits that Jesus taught us to avoid:
1. They Had a Sense of Entitlement. I get it: The Pharisees had a long-standing church culture in place, when along comes this young Dude in His early 30s who had a huge following, and was teaching things that were, to them, outrageous. In their minds, people should behave in the synagogue (church) the way they behaved. Had they known the Word, however, they would have remembered Proverbs 16:2: People may be pure in their own eyes, but the LORD examines their motives.
2. They Were Judgmental. It seems like every time Jesus said or did something publicly that the crowd was in awe of, the Pharisees pounced. Let us always remember James 4:12, which says, There is but one Lawgiver and Judge, the One who is able to save and destroy. So who are you to judge your neighbor?
3. They Were Lazy. In Matthew 23, Jesus said, “The teachers of religious law and the Pharisees…crush people with unbearable demands and never lift a finger to ease the burden.” I can think of at least ten other scriptures off the top of my head that I could insert here, but the bottom line is that laziness leads to complacency, which always leads to self-righteousness.
4. They Were Full of Pride. The Pharisees wore clothing that was meant to publicly display their piety (holiness, righteousness). They prayed openly for everyone to see. Let’s remember that when we want people to esteem us for our righteousness, God Himself opposes us (see James 4:6).
5. They Were Filled with Anger. To pick just one instance, in Mark 3, Jesus had healed a man’s hand...on the Sabbath. How did the Pharisees respond? Verse 6 says, Then the Pharisees went out and immediately plotted how they might kill Jesus. Perhaps we haven’t plotted to kill someone, but Jesus told us that when we’re angry at our brother, we’re guilty of murder (see Matthew 5:22).
6. They Were Offended & Unforgiving. Unforgiveness is a dangerous thing to take on; with potentially eternally damning consequences. Jesus clearly warned us, “But if you refuse to forgive others, your Father will not forgive your sins” (see Matthew 6:15).
7. They Were Hypocrites. Jesus made this clear in Matthew 23:3 when He warned His disciples about the Pharisees, “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”
8. They Were Selective with which Parts of the Word They Chose to Obey. I see this a lot today. When we come across a scripture that is in contrast to how we currently live, God wants us to give up our ways for His ways (repentance). His ways are always better than our own.
9. They Had Self-Made Traditions and Rituals. “Your disciples don’t wash their hands according to our tradition.” “You shouldn’t have healed this man on the sabbath.” To put it bluntly, man-made rules have been the downfall of the church for centuries.
10. They Thought They Knew the Word. There’s nothing worse than hearing a believer misquote a scripture. If you’re in a teaching situation and you’re not 100% sure you’ll quote it verbatim, either pull out your phone and google it, or just stay silent.
11. They Valued Their Knowledge of the Word Over Obeying the Word. We’ve all been there: You’re listening to a sermon and the speaker begins to quote a familiar scripture, so you momentarily check out because you’ve heard it a million times. Great, you know the scripture. But I believe God would ask, “Are you obeying that scripture?” Here’s an example:
"I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service. And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God." -Romans 12:1-2
12. They Couldn't come under God's Human Authority. I used to be the music director of a large church. We had a young, talented musician who desperately wanted to be on our worship team, but I had a couple of simple requirements that he refused to conform to. The result? As much as I wanted to use him on the team, I simply couldn’t because he just couldn’t submit to human authority. Don't let this happen to you.
13. They Were Unteachable. I’ll make this point very short: someone who is unteachable has a problem with pride (putting self above all else).
Whoever heeds instruction is on the path to life, but he who rejects correction will go astray. -Proverbs 10:17
14. They Viewed Jesus’ Teachings as a Threat to Their Lifestyle. I’ll be the first to admit it: being a follower of Jesus has been a threat to the way my flesh wants to live. As believers, it’s important to always remember Jesus’ counsel to count the cost of what being a follower of Him will require of us (Luke 14:25-33).
15. They Never Caught God's Heart. A religious spirit will always tell us that we’re doing better (in our relationship with God) than someone else. If you haven’t read Isaiah 58 in a while, today would be a great day to do so (read Isaiah 58 here).
Most of us have been guilty of at least one of these Pharisaical traits at one time or another. The simple solution is to stay connected to God and His Word, stop comparing ourselves to others, and to be humble enough to know that we all have a ways to go in our spiritual maturity. Tell the Holy Spirit each and every day that He has carte blanche to check you (before you “wreck you”). He will, because He loves you and wants you to be free of religious bondage.
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