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Confessions of a Pharisee

“Only what God says matters." by Kathleen Bustamante

Ever have one of those minding-your-own-business moments when—BAM!—you’re blindsided by a sudden revelation? Okay, maybe it’s just me, but it was that kind of moment that left me spiritually dazed and dizzy. I realized I was a modern-day Pharisee. Ugh, I’ve had to say it a million times over. But confession is good for the soul, right?

Realizing that I had some Pharisee in me was a truth nugget hard to chew, let alone swallow. Like a reheated microwave meal, it left a bad taste in my mouth. But since it was in me, I knew I needed to do whatever it took to get that Pharisee out.

To be clear, when I say “former Pharisee” (as in the title), I am in no way indicating that I am now free from all such pharisaical tendencies. But there is marked improvement. Knowledge is power and now that I’m aware of the legalistic characteristics that I have, I can do something about them and stay on top of the problem.

And make no mistake, it is a problem—one that Jesus doesn’t take lightly and, therefore, neither should I. Jesus called the Pharisees hypocrites, snakes, a brood of vipers and blind (see Matthew 23). I do not want to be lumped into any of those categories, especially by Jesus. As much as I didn’t want to admit to those tendencies, the alternative was much less appealing. Every bitter thing is sweet when I allow Jesus to get His hands on it.

Here’s what I know now: Pride blinded me.

Pride blinded me.

Pride does ugly things to a person and really does go before a fall (see Proverbs 16:18). My haughty attitude towards my husband after he sinned (which greatly affected me) went on for some time. The more time that passed, the less I recognized sin in my own life.

And then a visiting pastor at our church, who didn’t know me personally or about the situation, privately gave me a verse that I didn’t immediately recognize. I went to my seat to look up the Scripture reference he gave me, and let’s just say I was embarrassed to the roots of my toenails. The verse was Acts 3:19 (NIV): “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the LORD.” 

Beyond the embarrassment, I was also a bit indignant. Me? Repent? He’s the one that blew up the sin meter! And yet, my husband knew he had sinned and was repentant; the Pharisee in me was oblivious to the sin in which I was marinating.

I have since repented and those times of refreshing have come. I’m also rooting out other areas of pride in my life because, seriously, no one wants to receive a verse like that again.

Taking offense is easy.

It’s easy to get a Pharisee riled. It’s pretty easy to get me riled up, too. I can get offended that you got offended. Been there, done that, bought the snarky “I’m on offense” t-shirt.

One day my two daughters laughed when I walked in the room and for a hot minute I assumed they were laughing at me, so I immediately took offense. “Seriously?” you ask. Sadly, yes. It really didn’t take much.

There’s already far too much hypersensitivity in society; I don’t need to add to it. If I’m living for an audience of One and my pharisaical tendencies are eliminated, what anyone else says or does is not going to offend me. Now, I just give everything immediately to Jesus; it really is that simple.

I don’t know it all.

If I already have the answer figured out in my own mind, what anyone else says (even God) will automatically be wrong. Wait! What? That’s right, even the Pharisees thought Jesus was wrong about things. And If I’m honest, so do I sometimes.

But Isaiah sets the record straight: “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD. ‘As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts’” (55:8-9 NIV).

I don’t know it all, so there’s no reason for me to pretend I do. It took me a long time while homeschooling my kids to embrace that it really is okay to admit that I just don’t have all the answers.

People matter more.

In a “look out for number one” society that believes if you don’t look out for yourself no one else will either, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that other people matter more … more than me, more than rules, more than walking a tight line.

When I become so self-absorbed that all I can see is me, me, me, everyone else looks the same. But people are not cookie cutter creations. Each person is unique in design and is going through unique situations. The Christ in me needs to recognize that.

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you” (Romans 12:3 NIV). Humility is the essence of God manifested in His people.

Hypocrisy helps no one. 

Like a social media post, my public persona can be far more glamorous and righteous-looking than my actual life. And thinking that’s not hypocritical is right up there with telling myself those aren’t flies, they’re sky raisins.

The whole gist of it is this: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? … You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye” (Matthew 7:3, 5 NIV). 

I don’t want my life to only appear to have higher standards and morals than it actually does. I want to genuinely be living those morals out. I want others to look at me and see Christ alone. Being real and truthful with myself and others is crucial.

My opinion doesn’t matter.

“What do you think?” It’s a question I’m asked all the time, and I’ve always been quick to answer. After all, if they’re asking my opinion, they must think I have something valuable to contribute to the matter. Or so the Pharisee in me likes to think.

But here’s the thing: my opinion doesn’t really matter. Only what God says matters. Everything I hear is not cake with me as the icing, so I’ve decided I’m not even going to frost that cake when it’s presented. If it doesn’t line up with what the Bible says or what the Father would say, then I have no business expressing a personal opinion that would contradict that.

I am not in charge.

I may have been told a time or ten that I can be a bit on the bossy side. In fact, my own husband (bless his heart) has verbalized that sometimes it’s my way or the highway. Okay, so I’m ready to admit that those times when I tried to control things … they didn’t turn out so well. You’d think after the first time I’d get a clue, but this determined Pharisee thought she was large and in charge and kept riding the bull until she eventually got thrown. Every. Single. Time.

But now, my former Pharisee self realizes that it’s not my place to put others in their place. Revolutionary, I know. Therefore, I’m issuing a Declaration of Dependence … on God. I’m not in control; He is. And I’m okay with depending on Him. It’s less painful, too.

After acknowledging my various pharisaical tendencies, I understand that alignment is essential. My thinking, words and actions must align to God’s; if they don’t, everything’s out of whack. And it was such a misalignment that alerted me to a lurking Pharisee within. Because the body, soul and spirit are all connected, an ongoing physical back problem made me realize there was more going on. Where one area suffers, another is affected. Once I started dealing with the Pharisee within, my back came into alignment as well. 

Having our words and actions aligned to God’s is the product of being aligned with His Spirit. He is faithful and His promises are true. In His word, He promises to not leave us with our inner pharisees or any other tendencies that don’t align with Him. He has made His dwelling in us, and He makes holy every one of His dwelling places. Rely on Him, surrender to Him, invite Him to make you holy and this time you’ll be surprised by the revelation that He is able to do exceedingly above and beyond what you could ever ask or imagine. God is faithful, even to a former Pharisee like me.

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