Have you ever wondered why the church is so full of hypocrites? If Jesus is the way, why are so many Christians wayward? How is it that so many of His followers don’t look anything like Him? And why does the church often seem like a social club for religious snobs?
Simple answer? We’re Pharisees. The Pharisees were a Jewish sect known for their strict adherence to Jewish traditions. They did a great job at looking religious, but they were only concerned with outward appearances of spirituality. You see, what the Pharisees said they believed and the way they actually lived didn’t match. That’s all that being a hypocrite is. Want to know if you’re a Pharisee? Here’s a simple formula:
Stated Belief + Actual Practice = Actual Belief
Take what you say you believe (Stated Belief), add it to what you actually do (Actual Practice) and you end up with what you actually believe (Actual Belief). If your find your Stated Belief and your Actual Belief are different, then you may be having some Pharisee problems. Let me give you a couple examples to show how that works:
Ryan says he believes that reading his Bible every day is important because he believes that his relationship with God is important. But Ryan hasn’t cracked his Bible for months. What’s his actual belief? That reading his Bible isn’t important and his relationship with God really doesn’t matter.
Reading the Bible is important + Not reading the Bible = Reading the Bible is not important
Danielle says she believes that speeding is breaking the law and that it dishonors God, but she’s had 3 tickets recently that she blames on her “lead foot.” What’s her actual belief? That speeding really isn’t a big deal and that it doesn’t matter to God either.
Speeding is breaking the law and dishonoring to God + Speeding = Speeding isn’t really bad
This little formula can be easily applied to any area of your life: boyfriend/girlfriend relationships, honoring your parents, obeying the law, spending time with God, TV habits, music choices, how you dress, the way you talk about yourself or others, and the list goes on. Just do the math and you can instantly see if you’re a Pharisee.
I’m guessing you could probably think of one or two things that formula applies to in your life. If you’re like me, probably more. You see, it’s so easy for these things to slip by us completely unnoticed. We think we’re honoring God. We keep telling ourselves we believe what the Bible says, but all the while we ignore the glaring differences in our lives.
How does this happen? How do we get so off track from what we say we believe? I think it happens because we get used to being religious. We look like Christians, act like Christians, talk like Christians, and spend time with Christians, so we must be following Jesus—right? Not necessarily. We get so focused on playing the part of the Christian that we forget what it really means. Being a Christian means being a “little Christ.” If we want to stop being Pharisees, we have to stop just being “hearers” of God’s Word and start being “doers” of God’s Word. James 1:22-25 gives us the steps to do just that:
- Don’t just listen: “Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.” (James 1:22). Why does James say that merely listening to the word deceives us? Because listening alone isn’t enough! If we want to stop being Pharisees, we have to stop deceiving ourselves. James goes on to explain that anyone who listens to what God says but doesn’t do it is like someone who looks into a mirror and then walks away, completely forgetting what they look like. If you looked in the mirror and saw someone had written “Moron” all over your forehead while you were sleeping, would you walk away and forget about it? No! You wouldn’t leave the bathroom until it was scrubbed completely clean! (By the way, I’m not saying you’re a moron…it was just an example.)
- Look intently and continuously: “But the man who looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues to do this…” (James 1:25a). We must look intently and continuously into the mirror of God’s word. If you’re going to scrub your forehead clean, you’re going to get up close to the mirror, looking for any sign of marker and then attacking it with soap and water.
- Don’t forget: “…not forgetting what he has heard,…” (James 1:25b). We can’t always be reading God’s word, but we can be constantly remembering and dwelling on it. That’s why memorizing and meditating on Scripture is so important.
- Do it: “…but doing it…” (James 1:25c). Once you know what to do, just do it! No, it won’t always be easy or fun or comfortable, but that’s Jesus told us that. Jesus has called you and I to live like He did, not like the Pharisees that mocked and hated him.
This process is much—if not the majority—of the Christian life. God wants to change us into “little Christs,” but He’s not going to force us. We must surrender every part of ourselves to Him. As He takes over more and more of us (as we become more of “doers” and less of Pharisees) we will begin to look more and more like Jesus. At the end of the passage, James concludes that if we do these things, we will be blessed in what we do. May God bless you and I as we leave the Pharisee lifestyle.