Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of Heaven. –Matthew 5:20
Jesus’ number one human enemies were the Pharisees (Mark 8:11). They were churchy, religious pretenders of holiness (Matthew 23:27-28). They only cared about external, physical things that you could touch and see…especially the matter of being part of the “in crowd.” They did not bother with the inward psychological state of people; or whether morals were growing in their hearts. In fact, when John the Baptist and Jesus came on the scene, in the same Spirit as the Old Testament prophets, with a message of repentance from sin, righteous living, and forgiveness of sins by faith in God—the Pharisees were the first to resist such a message (Luke 7:30). The message was hard for them to bear in many areas—especially the view of Jesus as the Son of God (John 10:33)—but even though Jesus and His forerunning prophet had impeccable morality, of which the Pharisees could scarcely come up with a reason to accuse them—they resisted because they were content to be lovers of money (Luke 16:13-15), sexually immoral with regard to divorce and remarriage (Matthew 19:3), leading silly women astray laden with sins (2 Timothy 3:6), and OPPONENTS OF GOD IN THE FLESH! If any one group of clergy were ever demon-possessed, it was the Pharisees! And Jesus says it was so in the Gospels, multiple times, calling them children of the devil and Hell (John 8:44; Matthew 23:15).
1. The Pharisees resisted Jesus and His message mainly because He was a preacher of great morality. He exposed the Pharisees for cancelling out God’s commandments through man-made religious traditions (Mark 7:9). Jesus called for them to abandon these silly traditions and get back to obeying God’s commandments from the heart, as they were meant to be. While the Pharisees tried to level various accusations against Jesus, such as blasphemy (Matthew 26:65), sedition (John 19:15), tax evasion (Luke 23:2), or some other such thing—their testimonies always contradicted in the court in which He was tried. Such was the immoral kangaroo court system by which Jesus was condemned to the cross. Jesus was moral; and His enemies were immoral—so it should be no surprise that the court in which His enemies prevailed did not truly administer justice.
2. Throughout all of church history, the spirit of the Pharisees has continued among the clergy. In the early church, it was found among the Judaizers and Gnostics. Those who opposed the church fathers had a Pharisaic spirit. Many of the Catholic popes, cardinals, and bishops in the medieval times had some of the worst Pharisaic spirits ever, in that they scarcely allowed the Catholic saints to be admitted the barest necessities for their survival—and only by divine interventions, were these saints helped by God, in spite of these Pharisaic church leaders. Butler’s Lives of the Saints; St. Patrick, St. Francis of Assisi, and Martin Luther bear strong testimony of this. In the 1500s, 1600s, and 1700s, the Church of England’s clergymen were always prone to a Pharisaic, externalist, formal spirit. God rose up the Puritans in these times, and finally John Bunyan, Jonathan Edwards, George Whitefield, and John Wesley—leading to the formation of the Methodist Episcopal Church and countless independent Calvinist churches inspired by these saints. There are many stories of Anglican clergy persecuting these blessed saints of God, with the worst Pharisaic hatred and violence known to the imagination. During the English Reformation, it seems both the Catholic and Anglican clergy tried to outdo each other with their brutal torments of “heretics,” as recorded in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, or the “dissenters” in Benjamin Brook’s Lives of the Puritans. The clergy who opposed the revivals of Edwards, Wesley, and Charles Finney—all morally-driven revivals—should bear the label of modern Pharisees, and I’m sure they are in Hell now if they didn’t repent. In the modern era, Pharisees can be found opposing other morally-driven saints, such as Evan Roberts, William J. Seymour, Smith Wigglesworth, Leonard Ravenhill, David Wilkerson, as if they were on some kind of Pharisaic hit list. All of these saints had to leave their denominations in order to continue their journey on the way to Heaven: whether it was a holiness association, or the Salvation Army, or Church of the Nazarene, or Assemblies of God. The Pharisaic spirit looms over all denominations at the leadership levels—and the same will be for any church or denomination that will ever be established in the future.
3. Resistance to Morals: The Number One Sign of a Pharisee. I think theology generally tends to distract people from the subject of true righteousness and living a life of holiness, which is the only thing that really determines entrance into Heaven (Hebrews 12:14). Pharisees seem to thrive on abstract doctrines and Bible teachings, which have no point of reference to morals (2 Timothy 3:7). But notice: Jesus and the apostles were the exact opposite: everything they taught was to point people to greater morals, holiness, and righteousness by faith in God (Acts 17:30). Don’t be deceived: whether it’s called cheap grace, no-lordship salvation, easy-believism, or antinomianism—Pharisees are always immoral. They always find ways to excuse their carnality, immorality, and the like—and they are also resistant to people morally correcting them, because they are unrepentant. Like the time Stephen rebuked the Pharisees, and they grinded their teeth, stopped up their ears, and stoned him to death! (Acts 7:51-60). Pharisees always resist the Holy Spirit, because they are inhabited by demons of rebellion (John 8:44). They are in the habit of reading portions of the Bible, and ignoring or explaining away the moral sections; they don’t submit to, or obey God’s commandments in Scripture, when they come across them. There is resistance to change–resistance to transformation by the morals of God’s Word. And so, there is a spiritual veil on their eyes in the reading of the divine text (2 Corinthians 3:15). There is simply no way that a carnal, self-excusing, immoral clergyman is even saved (Matthew 23:33)—and there is simply no way God is calling him to do what he is doing (Jeremiah 23:21). Whether he is a priest, pastor, bishop, elder, overseer, or some other such clergyman—if he is intentionally carnal and resistant to true morals and holiness: he’s a Pharisee; and not living in the state of salvation.