Tale of the Recovering Pharisee

“Why has it taken you so long to start writing a blog?”  As I sit and pontificate over your question I could contemplatively scratch my goatee and say with hesitancy that I’m “not… really… sure… why I waited so long.”  But that would certainly be a lie.  My introspective and meditative whisker rubbing would certainly have you convinced, but there would still be a ceaseless, nagging voice reminding me that I know the answer.  So here it is.  The long and short of it.  This is my first blog post about why I have been so reluctant to write my first blog post.  Fasten your seatbelts, ladies and gentlemen.

I am a perfectionist.  I don’t mean, “I’m a perfectionist because I like to do things well.”  I mean, “I’m a perfectionist because if I am presented with a task I will refuse to do it if I cannot do it all at once, flawlessly on my first try.”  My wife can attest to times when there is a household chore that I won’t touch because I can’t accomplish it all in one sitting.  Rather than chip away ever so slightly at a task over a period of time, I will let something sit undone until I can do it all at once.  Not only that, even if I do have the time, I won’t even attempt it if I can’t meet my own standard of perfection.  As you can see, there are two elements to this.  I need to accomplish things and I need to justify my accomplishments by results.  I am a recovering Pharisee.

(Sidebar: While the term Pharisee has a certain connotation in our culture, Pharisees have been largely misunderstood.  Pharisees were descendants of the hasidim or “pious ones” that opposed the Hellenism of the Jewish faith about 150 years before Jesus.  Because disobedience had caused their ancestors to be removed from the Promised Land and exiled to Babylon, their desire was to ensure obedience among the people of God so something like that would never happen again.  The Pharisees grew to be the largest religious sect during the time of Jesus (and beyond) and were the most respected religious members of their society.  They were looked up to and emulated by those in their communities.  When Jesus told the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, his audience would have heard, “The Parable of the Pope and the Pimp.”  It was a minority of this sect that gave the rest a bad name.  There were certainly some among them  that required more of others than they were willing to do (Matt. 23:4).  There were certainly some among them who were only obedient for the sake of being seen (Matt. 23:5-7).  There were certainly some among them who were so concerned with the minutiae of the Law that they neglected the point of the Law (Matt. 23:23-24).  There were certainly some among them that were outwardly obedient but experienced no inward change (Matt. 23:27-28).  It’s also evident that Jesus didn’t disagree with all of the Pharisees or their teachings (Matt. 23:1-3) and that some (or most) of them didn’t have issues with what Jesus was teaching (Luke 13:31).  We even see post – conversion Paul calling himself a Pharisee in the present tense (Acts 23:6).  Look at it another way.  There is no doubt that there are Baptists who are Christians, despite the accusations of…everyone else.  Yet, there is also no doubt that if Jesus were walking around in the plains of Kansas, he would have some strong words for the Westboro Baptist Church.  It wouldn’t be fair for people to read those exchanges and assume that all Baptists were hypocrites.  Ray Vanderlaan suggests that the Gospel writers recorded Jesus’ negative interactions with the Pharisees because of their unusual nature.  We shouldn’t assume that all Pharisees were hypocrites.  However, we can’t discount or ignore Jesus strong words for the aforementioned deviations from traditional Pharisaical teaching.  He also had equally strong words for another deviation I haven’t mentioned.  I mention it last, because this group has a “special place” in my heart.)

There was a group of Pharisees that were so intent on keeping a record of their good deeds (and making sure that it was longer than their record bad deeds) that they would often forget the reason for their obedience and become secure and assured in the righteousness achieved by their behavior.  I’m in this group.  I’m the hypocrite that gives everyone else a bad name.  I’m the one that makes people cringe when I call myself a Christian.  I’m this Pharisee.

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you build the tombs of the prophets and decorate the monuments of the righteous, saying, ‘If we had lived in the days of our fathers, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ Thus you witness against yourselves that you are sons of those who murdered the prophets.” (Matt. 23:29-31)

I’m the Pharisee that self justifies.  I’m the Pharisee that looks back at the time of the Prophets and assumes I would be the one who would listen to them.  I’m the Pharisee that looks at my good deeds and accomplishments as compared with my misdeeds and faults and sees a significant difference between the two…and not in a humble way.  I’m the Pharisee who walks into the Temple assured of his own righteousness before God and thanks Him that I’m not like the sinful tax collector.  I’m the Pharisee who would count himself blameless according to the Law (Phil. 3:6).  If Jesus were walking the hills and mountains of West Virginia, I’d be the Pharisee that he condemned.  But I’m also the Pharisee that Jesus died in place of.  And I’m recovering.

I’m learning to rely on the imputed righteousness of Christ (2 Cor. 5:21) rather than my self righteous filth (Is. 64:6; Phil. 3:7-8).  I’m learning to view my accomplishments as tools used for God’s glory rather than achieving my own righteousness (Matt. 5:16).  I’m learning that my obedience is a response to Christ’s obedience on my behalf (1 Thess. 3:1).  I’m learning that I am not justified by my work, but by Christ’s finished work (Gal. 2:1621).  I’m learning that it’s all grace (Rom. 11:6; Eph. 2:8-9).

So here we are.  You’re question hanging in the air.  Me stroking my chin pontificating over your question.  (I imagine myself with my pipe in my mouth as well.)  But now that you know the answer, you can see why no amount of chin stroking or pipe clenching will ever convince my heart that I had no reason for continuing to put this off.

“Why has it taken you so long to start writing a blog?”  Because I couldn’t. It wouldn’t be perfect.
“Well, why did you decide to start writing one?”  Because I realize that’s okay.

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