– by James Williams –
Last year, my family and I enjoyed some vacation time at the beach. After finding a place to put our towels, my oldest son and I jumped into the ocean to go body surfing. Fifteen minutes later, I looked up to find my wife—but nothing on the beach looked familiar. I thought I was still directly in front of her but, without realizing it, I had drifted a few hundred yards.
The gradual pull of the ocean can be so subtle that it’s hard to notice you’re drifting further away.
Likewise, for the believer who desires to be gospel-centered, the drift toward becoming more Pharisaical is also so subtle we might not even notice it.
The Pharisaical Pull
Nobody wants to be a Pharisee, yet our flesh seems naturally bent in that direction. The good news of the gospel seems too easy for our works-based, achievement-driven hearts. We know Christ achieved it all, but we still want to contribute. Even while we proclaim the gospel of grace, we fight the intense pull toward self-righteousness.
Jesus was explicit in his rebukes against the Pharisee. He welcomed the repentant sinner with grace and mercy, but offered sharp critiques to those who had supposedly achieved righteousness. Even as I read the “woes” to the Pharisees in Matthew 23, I find myself thanking God I’m not like them . . . thus revealing I’m closer than I think.
My father-in-law, a former surfer, informed me that when playing in the ocean it’s important to find a “point of reference”—a large, stationary object on the beach, like a lifeguard stand, unique landscape, etc. As you are enjoying the waves, you must continually look back to your point of reference and re-adjust yourself. Constant checks and re-adjustments keep you from drifting too far without realizing it.
For believers, the gospel is our point of reference. We continue to behold the beauty of the gospel and live under its truths. As we seek to live this kind of gospel-centered life, we must be aware of the drift towards a Pharisaical mindset and be ready to evaluate our hearts.
Here are five evaluation questions to ask ourselves to point us back to the gospel and keep us from drifting.
Where Do You Find Your Righteousness?
In Luke 18:9-14, Jesus tells a story to those who “trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” Two men went to the temple to pray. One was a Pharisee who thanked God that he wasn’t like the sinners, and then he went on to point out all the good he had done. The other man was a tax collector who wouldn’t even look up to heaven, but simply prayed “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”
Only one of those men went home justified before the Lord. The Pharisee was looking at his own good works to establish his righteousness and standing before God. Truly understanding our sinfulness and God’s holiness is incompatible with this type of self-righteousness. The tax collector recognized his sin and pleaded for mercy.
We also see that self-righteousness leads to treating others with contempt, judging others, and considering yourself better than others because you think you have accomplished something they haven’t. In the Pharisee’s mind, he’s been good enough. Why can’t other people get their act together?
Gospel reminder: The gospel teaches that believers are righteous, but it is an alien righteousness. We’ve been made new by a righteousness outside of ourselves, the very righteousness of Christ. Therefore, a true believer has no reason to boast except in Christ and him crucified. Any goodness we see in our life is the result of a changed heart and indwelling Holy Spirit, to which all glory belongs to God.