Pharisaical thinking is a trap the enemy uses on many Christians. Essentially, it is a belief that your works make you righteous. It can hinder spiritual growth and authentic relationships with others. Jesus often spoke out against pharisaical thinking and behaviors, as He knew it was tied to hypocrisy, pride, and a lack of genuine faith.
In Luke 18:9-15, Jesus tells a parable of a Pharisee and a tax collector who come to the temple to pray. The Pharisee boasts about his righteousness and looks down on the tax collector, who humbly admits his sinfulness and begs for mercy. Jesus clarifies that the tax collector is justified before God because of his honest, humble, and repentant heart.
What God Really Wants
Jesus wants us to stop being fake and just be real. He doesn’t expect perfection. He invites us to be honest and wants us to cultivate a culture where we can invite others to do the same. He knew that if we don't get real with God, then we can’t get right with God.
When we aren’t real, we get caught up in lies that only trap our minds and hearts, keeping us focused on ourselves and our worries rather than trusting Him.
Luke 18:9-14 helps us understand the heart of God and His desire for us to cut off the Pharisaical thinking and just be real.
- “Also He spoke this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.” And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
How We Fall Into Pharisaical Thinking
Pharisaical thinking stems from pride and a fear of vulnerability. Here are some ways we fall into the trap of pharisaical thinking and passages to help you overcome.
Concealing Our Hurt
Often, we avoid sharing our true feelings and struggles with others because we fear being judged or rejected. We put on a mask of strength and pretend that everything is fine, even when we are hurting inside. This can lead to a pharisaical mindset where we focus on maintaining a facade of perfection instead of seeking genuine healing and support.
Mediate on Psalm 51:17 (or all of Psalm 51).
- “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise.”
Hiding What Is Beneath the Surface
We conceal our hurt, and as a result, we are reluctant to be authentic with others. We may feel that our flaws and weaknesses make us unworthy of love and acceptance. Or we might think that our hiding is actually working. The truth is, most can see past it and God already knows. Hiding our emotions leads to other problems, such as navigating conflict or difficulties working through situations, perpetuating pharisaical thinking, and preventing us from experiencing authentic relationships.
Mediate on James 5:16.
- “Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much.”
We may also fall into pharisaical thinking if we are more concerned with being accepted by others than God’s opinion. We may compromise our values and beliefs to fit in with a particular group or culture. This can lead to a superficial faith that values conformity over genuine life change in Jesus.
Meditate on Proverbs 29:25.
- “The fear of man brings a snare, but whoever trusts in the Lord shall be safe.”
Overvaluing External Appearances
Our culture often values outward appearances over godly character. Images of excellence and achievement are constantly being presented to us, and it can be tempting to measure ourselves against these unrealistic standards. This can lead us to focus on outward performance and neglect the state of our hearts.
Meditate on Matthew 23:27-28
- “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness. Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”
Finally, pharisaical thinking can stem from a lack of authenticity. We may have been told by parents, friends, or others to hide our imperfections. This only prevents us from experiencing true freedom and joy in how God sees us in Jesus.
Meditate on Matthew 15:8-9.
- “‘These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’”
There is no condemnation in Christ! You can draw near to God, and He will draw near to you, never turning His back on you.
What We Really Want
We all desire to be real and authentic, but many lies we believe stop us in our pursuits. To be real, we need to recognize our sinful nature and our need for Jesus as our Savior. This involves being honest about our weaknesses and failures and just being real!
Here are 5 ways we desire to be real with God and in relationships with others…
- Have real relationships: We desire genuine relationships where we can be ourselves and be open about our struggles. This means being honest about our feelings and our mistakes. When we have genuine relationships grounded in faith, we can start being real and honest and anticipate the life change Jesus promises.
- Remember our acceptance in Christ: When we remember we are made new in Jesus, and mediate on this over our longing to be accepted by this world, we begin to have an eternal mindset. This also diminishes the pull to hide our shortcomings and weakness. We can come to God and repent knowing we are fully forgiven and accepted in Christ (2 Corinthians 5:17).
- Stop faking: Pretending is exhausting and steals our joy and peace. Remember what Jesus taught in Luke 18 and be like the tax collector.
- Be humble: Being real requires humility, acknowledging our sinfulness and our need for God's mercy. Humility comes with a promise (see 1 Peter 5:6-7).
- Accept God's mercy: Being real also involves recognizing God's mercy and grace in our lives. We don’t have to continue to beat ourselves up over past mistakes or pharisaical thinking. Instead, we can discover and live in our freedom in Christ.
How to Identify Pharisaical Thinking | Are You Being Fake?
As hard as it might be, we must honestly assess our thoughts. In Romans 12:3, Paul reminds us that one way to be transformed is to develop the ability to see ourselves accurately. This will help you to identify and cut off pharisaical thinking.
Using Luke 18:11-12, here are a few ways to identify pharisaical thinking.
- Prayed to himself, not God. “The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself…” (Luke 18:11). The Pharisee wasn’t praying to God. He was conversing and praying to himself.
- Thanked God he wasn’t like others. “‘God, I thank You that I am not like other men—extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector.” (Luke 18:11). He sets himself higher than others based on his standards, not God’s.
- Told about all the ways he “followed the rules.” “‘I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.’” (Luke 18:12). He proudly proclaimed how his works make him acceptable and showed no dependence on God.
5 Ways to Just Be Real!
In Luke 18:13, the tax collector's attitude and actions provide a model of what it means to be real and right before God.
“And the tax collector, standing afar off, would not so much as raise his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me a sinner!’” (emphasis added)
- He is honest. He admits that he is a tax collector, a profession that was notorious for corruption and greed. He does not try to justify himself or minimize his sins. He knows that there is a vast gulf between himself and God, and he acknowledges it.
- He is humble. He does not feel entitled to be in the temple or heard by God. He stands at a distance and does not even raise his eyes to heaven. He recognizes that he is unworthy and that any favor he receives from God is an act of mercy.
- He is broken. He beats his chest, a gesture of grief and remorse. He is not proud of his past or present actions. He acknowledges that he is a sinner and needs God's forgiveness. He understands that sin is bitter and that only by turning away from it can he experience the sweetness of God's grace.
- He is needy. He prays a simple, sincere, and shameless prayer. He does not try to impress God with his eloquence or religious knowledge. He simply asks for mercy because he knows himself and his needs. He recognizes that he cannot save himself or earn God's favor.
- He is repentant. He is giving us a master class on how to be real before God. He acknowledges his sin, expresses his need, and asks for mercy. He is not just sorry for getting caught or for the consequences of his actions. He is genuinely remorseful and desires to change.
In contrast, the Pharisee exemplifies a prideful and arrogant mindset marked by self-righteousness and a judgmental spirit. He compares himself favorably to others and boasts about his religious achievements. He thinks he deserves God's approval and blessing because of his good deeds. However, Jesus says he goes home unjustified, while the tax collector goes home justified. The tax collector is real before God, while the Pharisee is living in a delusion of his own making.
So, how is the tax collector real? He is real because he is honest, humble, broken, needy, and repentant. He acknowledges his sin and his need for God's mercy. He does not rely on his righteousness but on God's grace. He is a model of true humility, which is the foundation of a genuine relationship with God.
How to Be Real
To be real and cut off pharisaical thinking.
- Understand that you need God.
- Understand that you need mercy.
- Know that you are a sinner in need of salvation.
- Be real with God to be right with Him.
Pharisaical thinking can be dangerous and harmful to ourselves and others. It can lead us to believe that we are better than others and that we are saved by our own works rather than through grace and faith in Jesus.
However, when we embrace honesty, vulnerability, and authenticity, we allow God to work in our lives and transform us from the inside out. Only by acknowledging our need for God can we truly experience His love and redemption.If you want to explore more about being sincere and feeling Jesus' love, we invite you to join us at Abundant Life Crossroads Campus. Here, you will find a community of Christians devoted to demonstrating their faith in genuine and authentic ways. Together, we can discover the true meaning of living life abundantly and the joy of walking in the truth of God's love.