12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee


Some of my most treasured possessions are letters of condemnation.  One man wrote us a letter asking us to remove his name from the mailing list of the Giving & Sharing Newsletter. After several unkind jibes, he stated: “. . . you, Mr. Nickels, are a traditional Bible Pharisee!”  After considerable reflection, I think this gentleman is onto something.  We have met the Pharisees, and they are . . . US!  You and I are “Joe Pharisee.”  That is because we are all slaves to self-righteousness and judgmentalism.  It’s built into human nature.  We think we know God’s laws, then associate keeping the commandments with righteousness, and declare “A Christian wouldn’t do that.”

Would you be interested in reading a book that hits you right between the eyes and labels you as a self-righteous Pharisee?  Probably not.  Yet, that is what the Bible is about.  Jesus magnified the Law to a much higher spiritual plane, demonstrating that there is no way anyone can be truly righteous — not one of us.  We cannot be made right before God by being “better” than anyone else.  We need to lay aside the Pharisee in all of us, and embrace the grace, gratitude, and joy of a spirit-filled life in the Messiah.

John Fischer, musician, songwriter, and speaker, has written a book that convicts all of us of being Pharisees.  He points the way out of our hopeless condition.  12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me) is not a book for the fainthearted.  It is frightening to realize that “Sin is my nature, the only thing I know how to do.”  A Pharisee does not need a Savior, because he thinks he earns salvation.  We, however, are addicted to sin, and often refuse to recognize our dreadful condition.  As we deal with the unpleasant fact that we abysmally fall short of perfection, Fischer gives twelve helpful steps in his book:

1.  We admit that our single most unmitigated pleasure is to judge other people.  We are comforted when we find others who are “worse” than ourselves.

2.  We have come to believe that our means of obtaining greatness is to make everyone lower than ourselves in our own mind.  Instead, we should put ourselves in other’s shoes, and give them the benefit of the doubt.

3.  We realize that we detest mercy being given to those who, unlike us, haven’t worked for it and don’t deserve it.  Suppose a mass-murderer on death row tearfully repented of his heinous act, and begged the court for mercy.  If his death sentence was commuted, many would be indignant.  If you have been given mercy, you don’t care who else gets it, because you are so thankful you obtained mercy.  But, if you earned mercy, you don’t want others to have it, if they haven’t earned it like you did.

4.  We have decided that we don’t want to get what we deserve after all, and we don’t want anyone else to either.  Since all have sinned, and the wages of sin is death, we are all under the death penalty.  As recovering Pharisees, we finally realize that we do not want “justice”; instead, we want mercy.  The Kingdom of God is for sinners who face their sin; destruction in the Lake of Fire is for those who refuse to see their sins.  However, it is ironic that neither one thinks they got what they deserved.

5.  We will cease all attempts to apply teaching and rebuke to anyone but ourselves.  Whether we have been in God’s Church for forty years, or one year, we need to continually be like a new believer.  They are wide-eyed with amazement, enthused about learning more Truth, feeling like they have a long way to go.  It would be unthinkable for a newcomer to apply a teaching to anyone but themselves, because he assumes everybody else knows more than he does.  They are the antithesis of Pharisees in every way.  May we all stay young in the faith.

6.  We are ready to have God remove all these defects of attitude and character.  David Roper wrote, “Before we can be greatly used by God, we must see the monstrous evil in our souls.”  That, my friend, is a tall order!

7.  We embrace the belief that we are, and will always be, experts at sinning.  Jesus’ damning question to the judgmental Pharisees was “Who among you is without sin?”  John explains, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves,” I John 1:8 (NIV).  Facing our sins every day, we need to deal with our own sins, and not someone else’s.  Alcoholics sometimes benefit by joining Alcoholics Anonymous organizations.  Likewise, we need to be part of the “Pharisees Anonymous” club.  “Hello, I’m Richard, and I am a Pharisee.”

8.  We are looking closely at the lives of famous men and women of the Bible who turned out to be ordinary sinners like us.  The Sunday School stories about great Bible heroes are only half-truths.  They show only the good side: David’s slingshot slew Goliath, Samson’s jawbone mowed down a thousand Philistines, Jonah’s whale saved him from a watery grave, Moses’ rod parted the Red Sea, Jacob saw a ladder reaching to Heaven, etc.  Yet, the disappointing fact is that Solomon was a bigamist, Samson a womanizer, Jacob a deceiver, Gideon an idolater, David was an adulterer and murderer, and Jonah ran away from God.  Why is God so brutally frank with the strengths and weaknesses of His champions?  God operates through human imperfection.  God did not condone the sins of His people.  He uses sinful men and women to nevertheless demonstrate His power and love for mankind.  What an awesome God!

9.  We are seeking through prayer and meditation to make a conscious effort to consider others better than ourselves.

10. We embrace the state of astonishment as a permanent glorious reality.  If we are blessed to enter the Kingdom of God, we will be amazed at three things: that some are there we thought had no chance, that some are not there that we thought for sure would make it, and, most of all, that we are there!  Did Christ begin His first sermon with a statement that does not apply to most people?  “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven,” Matthew 5:3.  No, only those who realize their own inadequacy and unworthiness will be in the Kingdom.  It is amazing grace, astonishment, that God would even consider offering to us forgiveness of our debauched sins, and the gift of eternal life.  Pharisees think that they deserve a place in God’s Kingdom.  Recovering Pharisees know that they don’t even begin to qualify.  What a surprise to receive a gift you totally don’t deserve!

11. We choose to rid ourselves of any attitude that is not bathed in gratitude.  Being thankful and grateful for God’s gifts is the antidote for Phariseeism.  If you are truly thankful for what God has done, and is doing daily, for you, there is no way you can judge others.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we will try to carry this message to others who think that Christians are better than everyone else.  I like the T-shirt slogan, “I am not perfect . . . just forgiven!”  May God help us live a life of gratitude for His love and mercy, and present our bodies as a living advertisement for His grace and love.  I need the forgiveness of the Messiah because I am a chief sinner.  That was the message of Paul.   Recovering Pharisees need to know that being saved is better than being better.  No matter how much we love God’s Law, strive to live by it, and recommend its virtues to others, “He is blessed who is forgiven” should be our motto.

I heartily recommend 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me), by John Fischer.  You may order it online at www.giveshare.org/amazon, or borrow it from our Sharing Library, C/O John D. Crissinger, PO Box 581, Granville, OH 43023.