The Pharisee in All of Us

In Luke 18:9-14, our Lord recounts the story of two men who go up to pray at the temple, one a Pharisee and one a Publican, or tax collector. One filled with self-righteousness, the other completely void of the trait.

How likely it is that all of us would fit in to one of these categories. How many of us have muttered, either openly or under our breath, “Man, I’m glad I’m not like that person.” Our own egos, our sense of pride, have blinded us to our deficiencies, and are thus one of the greatest enemies of God today.

We let our own weaknesses of the flesh consume us yet we see no reason to turn to God for help, for doing so would only signal to others our inability to control our own lives. We believe in God, but keep Him at arm’s length. We pray like the Pharisee in our Scripture verse above, a prayer that is empty and meaningless because it is void of contrition. We are quick to follow the church laws and if there is an opportunity to give, we may give more just so others can see our works. If the church were to call for a two-day fast, we would go five days to show our devotion.

Yet all the while, sin runs our life. We see no need for true repentance because in comparison, we are much better than others. We attend church faithfully, sit in the same pew, and pray over every meal. We have many Bibles in our home on display, and religious wall decorations all around us. If someone were to visit our house, all they would have to do is read the wall plaque that quotes Joshua 24:15, “But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” to know that they have entered a Christian home. Prayer is nothing more than a rote action because it’s something that is called on us to do as good Christians.

However, the reality is we are separated from God because of our religiosity, yet we do not even sense the disconnect. There can be no communion with God to a heart that is not penitent (Psalm 51:17).

So where does that leave the Pharisee of today? As long as he trusts only in his own righteousness and ignores the mercy of our Creator, there is no home in his heart for Christ’s love. Instead of measuring himself by the teachings of Christ, he measures himself only with himself and therefore there will never see a reason to repent. He has no issue seeing the failings of others, but his own arrogance hides his inadequacies (Matthew 7:5)—inadequacies that God clearly sees.

There is such a difference between the publican and the Pharisee. One brought his position and standing among men to his prayer, while the other brought the recognition of his sins and the need for forgiveness to his prayer. One lifts himself up, the other lifts up God.

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner.”

A simple prayer such as this opens the door to a communion with God. If we as sinners—and that includes every single one of us—would but ask for such mercy in a simple but profound way, we can be assured that God will hear us (1 John 1:9).

Empty yourself of the Pharisee within you and let Christ into your heart today.