Teaching notes.jpg (4007 bytes)

Understanding the Pharisee spirit.  

Even a cursory read of the gospels leaves us in little doubt that the most continual opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit came, not from the Roman Empire the Jewish commoner or the heathen gentile, but from a group of zealously religious people called the Pharisees

It seems that almost everywhere Jesus went doing God’s work in the power of the Holy Spirit they were there to protest.  

Jesus loved the Pharisees enough to die for them, but He hated the Pharisee spirit. He knew better than anyone that He did not wrestle with flesh and blood and He would neither fear them nor come under their spiritual intimidation.

John the Baptist didn't like the Pharisee spirit either.

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (Matthew 3:7)

It would be a great mistake to think that the Pharisee spirit was peculiar to those amazing years in Galilee when Christ and His disciples walked amongst men.  A great mistake to think that the Pharisee spirit was somehow locked into those special days when the gospels and epistles were written and then they were no more.

Even - in the book of Acts - where we read of Pharisees being believers we still see that spirit manifesting..

But some of the sect of the Pharisees who believed rose up, saying, "It is necessary to circumcise them, and to command them to keep the law of Moses." (Acts 15:5)

So we can safely say that the Pharisee spirit - often called the religious spirit - is alive and well in the church today, and it would be a brave man or woman who could say that there was not a trace of it in their own Christian walk.  As I look back over my Christian life I can clearly see times when I was that Pharisee.

In five years time I will probably be able to look back and see that right now I have Pharisee blind spots. But oh how I want to work with the Spirit of God to rid every bit of the leaven of the Pharisees from my life!

Since this spirit is in terrible opposition to the work of the Holy Spirit and yet appears to be on God's side, it is vitally important that we can recognise the fingerprints it leaves on the Body of Christ.

In order to do so we need to examine the lives, the attitudes, the words and the behaviour of the Pharisees.

Pharisees means ‘separated ones’ a name apparently bestowed upon them by their opponents in substitution for their self chosen title ‘Hasidim’ meaning ‘The pious ones’.

The Pharisees formed themselves into an association which would have given them collective clout. According to the Roman historian Josephus, the association they formed themselves into was 6,000 strong.

They separated themselves from the common man by a scrupulous cold adherence to the letter of the law, but often, if not always, without its true Spirit.  

Certain Pharisee bound denominations have 'separated' themselves from other believers, holding the view that they alone are the true observers of the scriptures. 

I remember well the time a gospel singer asked me to accompany him to a small gospel hall in my home town where he had been booked to sing during one of the services. When I walked in with my friend - who was well known to them - I sensed their unease. When seven or eight gathered in a side room to pray for the service I instinctively joined them, but it was - not very subtly - made clear to me that I was not allowed to pray since I was not one of them.

The Pharisees were very confident - because of their long and disciplined theological studies - that they were God’s guardians in Israel against wrong doctrine and false teaching.

Despite their in depth knowledge of the scriptures they did not recognize the Author of those scriptures when the Word became flesh and moved amongst them. His teaching offended them.

Then His disciples came and said to Him, "Do You know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?" (Matthew 15:12)

They were zealous for God but without a true understanding of the grace and mercy of God and so they ended up in their zeal for God, opposing God. As Paul wrote about his Jewish brethren who had been so influenced by the Pharisees.

For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. (Romans 10:2)

The Pharisees fasted often, tithed meticulously, behaved righteously before all men and Jesus openly acknowledged this.

"For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 5:20)

Yet despite their outward righteousness they were declared by Jesus to be blind guides.

"Let them alone. They are blind leaders of the blind. And if the blind leads the blind, both will fall into a ditch." (Matthew 15:14)

John Fischer, author of the book '12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me)', writes

'What makes Pharisaical sin so dangerous is that it disguises itself as a form of enlightenment. This is what Jesus meant when he said, 

"If the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!" (Matthew 6:23

The darkness is great because one is deluded into thinking it is light. You think you are seeing better than anyone else, when, in fact, you can't see at all. This means the idea that what you can't see is farthest from you. A blind person knows he is blind. A Pharisee thinks he can see, and this is why the "light" within him is actually darkness. 

The mark of Holy Spirit produced 'light' is humility.

So I said: "Woe is me, for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips, And I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; For my eyes have seen the King, The LORD of hosts." (Isaiah 6:5 )

When Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus' knees, saying, "Depart from me, for I am a sinful man, O Lord!" (Luke 5:8)

Whereas the Pharisee 'light' produces the darkness of spiritual arrogance. They were proud of their righteous behaviour and drew their self worth from their righteous behaviour by setting their righteousness against the sinfulness in others around them.

"The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men-extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. (Luke 18:11)

God always opposes the proud (James 4:6) hence Jesus' harsh proclamations of woe to them.

"But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. 

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you devour widows' houses, and for a pretence make long prayers. Therefore you will receive greater condemnation. 

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matthew 23:13-15)

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you pay tithe of mint and anise and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone. "Blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!

 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. "Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also. 

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which indeed appear beautiful outwardly, but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness. "Even so you also outwardly appear righteous to men, but inside you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. 

"Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! Because you build the tombs of the prophets and adorn the monuments of the righteous, (Matthew 23:23-29)

Rebuking others was their perceived ministry.

And some of the Pharisees called to Him from the crowd, "Teacher, rebuke Your disciples." (Luke 19:39)

Finding fault with others was their perceived ministry.

Now when they saw some of His disciples eat bread with defiled, that is, with unwashed hands, they found fault. (Mark 7:2)

Publicly exposing sinful behaviour in others was their perceived ministry.

Then the scribes and Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery. And when they had set her in the midst, (John 8:3).. This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him (John 8:6)

Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, "This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner." (Luke 7:39)

They were never the friends of sinners, and they accused Jesus (and His disciples) of being just that.

"The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, 'Look, a glutton and a winebibber, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!' (Luke 7:34)  

And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them." (Luke 15:2)

And their scribes and the Pharisees complained against His disciples, saying, "Why do You eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?" (Luke 5:30)

This leaven of the Pharisees was reflected in the attitude of the people.  

When Jesus called Zacchaeus down from the sycamore tree and declared that He was going to his house that day the people protested.

But when they saw it, they all complained, saying, "He has gone to be a guest with a man who is a sinner." (Luke 19:7)

As Paul wrote to the church

“A little leaven leavens the whole lump” (1st Corinthians 5:6 & Galatians 5:9)

The only things that could be said in their favour was that they really meant well. There were Pharisees who come out well. Nicodemus, Gamaliel and Joseph of Arimathea for instance.

Paul, known as Saul prior to his Damascus Road conversion, was a Pharisee. He genuinely believed that he was a zealous guardian of God's laws and he saw his role as ensuring that everyone else strictly adhered to God's laws.

They knew me from the first, if they were willing to testify, that according to the strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee. (Acts 26:5)  

..circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; (Philippians 3:5)

With Saul's conversion he was renamed Paul and what a joy it is to read of his view of himself from that point on.

For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. (1st Corinthians 15:9)

To me, who am less than the least of all the saints, this grace was given, that I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, (Ephesians 3:8)

They did not move in the gifts and anointing power of the Spirit, had no understanding of the gifts and anointing power of the Spirit, and therefore concluded that anyone who did had to be moving in demonic power.

Now when the Pharisees heard it they said, "This fellow does not cast out demons except by Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons." (Matthew 12:24)

A very, very dangerous thing to say, Jesus warned them. 

"Therefore I say to you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven men. (Matthew 12:31)

When Jesus healed the man with the withered hand in church, they attacked Him for doing it on the Sabbath. 

And behold, there was a man who had a withered hand. And they asked Him, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?" that they might accuse Him. (Matthew 12:10)  

They were so doctrinally aggressive that church members and even the leaders were frightened of disagreeing with them.

The parents of the blind man who was healed were frightened to say that it was Jesus who had healed their son for fear of the Pharisees driving them out of the church.

His parents said these things because they feared the Jews, for the Jews had agreed already that if anyone confessed that He was Christ, he would be put out of the synagogue. (John 9:22)

Even the Jewish leaders were intimidated by them and would not disagree with them lest they should be put out of the church;

Nevertheless even among the rulers many believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue; (John 12:42)

In this case because they wanted man's favour more than God's.

for they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God. (John 12:43)  

Their opposition to God’s Spirit at work divided the church.

This fellow isn't from God because He's working on the Sabbath. Others said, But how could an ordinary sinner do such miracles. And so there was deep division among them. (John 9:12)  

They could pull down but could never build up. Their spirit ran contrary to God's Spirit who says

Brethren, if a man is overtaken in any trespass, you who are spiritual restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness, considering yourself lest you also be tempted. (Galatians 6:1)

We read in the Bible where they derided

Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. (Luke 16:14)

Where they reviled

Then they reviled him and said, "You are His disciple, but we are Moses' disciples. (John 9:28)

Where they complained

And the Pharisees and scribes complained, saying, "This Man receives sinners and eats with them." (Luke 15:2)

Where they plotted against 

Then the Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him. (Matthew 12:14)

Where they assailed vehemently, where they cross examined

And as He said these things to them, the scribes and the Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently, and to cross-examine Him about many things, (Luke 11:53)

Where they disputed and tested

Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, seeking from Him a sign from heaven, testing Him. (Mark 8:11)

Jesus was the Word become flesh and yet they were stricter than Jesus. 

"For they bind heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. (Matthew 23:4)

They confronted Him, and His disciples, about not keeping the Sabbath holy. 

And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to Him, "Look, Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!" (Matthew 12:2)

They questioned Jesus on issues such as adultery, and divorce.  But they questioned Him, in their spiritual arrogance, not to learn from Him, but to 'test' Him and try to theologically catch Him out in His teaching.  

The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?" (Matthew 19:3)

Then they sent to Him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch Him in His words. (Mark 12:13)

They tried to trap Him on the question of allegiance to the governing authorities. 

"Tell us, therefore, what do You think? Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?" (Matthew 22:17)

They were so sure, so absolutely certain, that their zeal for 'truth' was godly and that God would be well pleased with their 'ministry'

However Jesus came with grace and truth 

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth     John bore witness of Him and cried out, saying, "This was He of whom I said, 'He who comes after me is preferred before me, for He was before me.'" And of His fullness we have all received, and grace for grace. For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. (John 1:14-17)  

Paul instructs us to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. (2nd Peter 3:18)

Truth and knowledge running always on the wheels of grace.  

Again and again and again scripture places a blessing on these fragrant wheels of grace. 


Queen Esther obtained grace and favour from King Ahasuerus. (Esther 2:17). 

The Psalmist declared God would give grace and glory (Psalm 84:11

The Prophet Zechariah prophesied that God would pour out on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the grace and supplication (Zechariah 12:10) 

The Apostle Paul declared that through Jesus he had received grace and apostleship (Romans 1:5)

He declared that through Jesus we received abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness (Romans 5:17) 

The Apostle Peter knew all about God's grace and was opened his letters with the blessing of grace and peace (2nd Peter 1:2)

but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen. (2 Peter 3:18)

(Also note that ten times 'mercy and truth' are bound together as an indivisible unit)

Grace is VERY hard for people in bondage to the Pharisee spirit to grasp. They can quote all the verses but they cannot grasp the concept in any measure. They see grace as being weak on sin.

They brought the woman caught in adultery to test Jesus. How could He let her escape 'the law' and still keep His credibility?

"Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?" This they said, testing Him, that they might have something of which to accuse Him. But Jesus stooped down and wrote on the ground with His finger, as though He did not hear. (John 8:5-6)

Jesus answers them, saying, "He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first." and begins to write again in the dust, presumably silently confronting them with sin issues in their own lives.

Convicted by their conscience they slunk away, eldest first.  Note there was no repentance. Just, as they would have seen it, humiliation.

Jesus showed mercy to the adulterous woman. In doing so was He going soft on sin?

No. His closing words to her were.

"Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said to her, "Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more." (John 8:10-11)

Our best example of grace and mercy was also the One who taught..

"..whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. "And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. (Matthew 5:28-30)

The One who would die to take away the sins of the world would not be One who compromised on sin. Sin is not harmful because it is forbidden. It is forbidden because it is harmful. How could Jesus claim to love us and allow something harmful to remain in our lives. He came to save us, not to condemn us.

"For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. (John 3:17)

That's why He said to the woman caught in the act of adultery..

"Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more."

The Pharisee spirit appears to be a righteous 'pious' spirit but uses righteousness as a measuring stick to condemn others. The Pharisee spirit is a condemning spirit.

Paul said that the letter without the Spirit who wrote the letter 'kills'. It is the Spirit that gives life and the two must not be treated separately.

who also made us sufficient as ministers of the new covenant, not of the letter but of the Spirit; for the letter kills, but the Spirit gives life. (2nd Corinthians 3:6)

We all -even as 'Spirit filled' Christians - probably have a measure of this cold spirit at work in our lives, but in my experience the the most serious examples of men (and even denominations) who are 'bound' by the Pharisee spirit have not known the baptism or fullness of the Holy Spirit.  An arguable observation perhaps!

Throughout the gospel accounts we see sinners crying out for 'mercy'  

When Jesus departed from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out and saying, "Son of David, have mercy on us!" (Matthew 9:27)

And behold, a woman of Canaan came from that region and cried out to Him, saying, "Have mercy on me, O Lord, Son of David! My daughter is severely demon-possessed." (Matthew 15:22)

The Pharisees were legalistic, judgmental, and without mercy.  Jesus said to them

"But if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy and not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless. (Matthew 12:7)

When Jesus addressed them He showed little mercy, because they were merciless.

Blessed are the merciful, For they shall obtain mercy. (Matthew 5:7)

What they sowed into others lives they reaped back from God.

"For with what judgment you judge, you will be judged; and with the measure you use, it will be measured back to you. (Matthew 7:2)

Likened by Jesus to vipers, every time they lifted their heads they would strike poison from their mouth into a fellow creature. And violence was never far from their hearts.

When they didn't like the answer Jesus gave when He stood before the high priest to be questioned, they spat in His face, and beat Him, and slapped Him. 

Then they spat in His face and beat Him; and others struck Him with the palms of their hands, (Matthew 26:67)

Many a Christian has felt thoroughly beaten up by the Pharisees.  On the very day that I write this I have spoken to a minister - a very Godly man - who is suffering enormously from the Pharisee spirit within the church he has recently been called to.  He and his wife are almost at breaking point.

It is so easy for each of us to see the weaknesses in our Pastors and elders. It is often said that we leave church and go home and have Pastor for lunch.

We are so gifted at seeing the speck in their eye. Not so gifted at seeing the moat in our own. 

"And why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye? "Or how can you say to your brother, 'Let me remove the speck from your eye'; and look, a plank is in your own eye? "Hypocrite! First remove the plank from your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

The Pharisee finds it hard to submit to Pastor or elders or brothers because he always sees their faults and has a constant burning desire to 'put them right'.  Scripture as always has the antidote.

'.. and that they have devoted themselves to the ministry of the saints- that you also submit to such, and to everyone who works and labours with us. (1st Corinthians 16:15-16)

Likewise you younger people, submit yourselves to your elders. Yes, all of you be submissive to one another, and be clothed with humility, for "God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble." (1st Peter 5:5)

Peter wrote to the church these words of wisdom

And above all things have fervent love for one another, for "love will cover a multitude of sins." (1st Peter 4:8)

The people feared their intimidation and condemnation, and so with ease they were able to influence the multitudes from behind the scenes. They persuaded the crowd to ask for the release of Barabbas, and the death of Jesus.

But the chief priests and elders persuaded the multitudes that they should ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. (Matthew 27:20)

And probably, to some extent, the secular authorities feared them also, and feared this sway they had over crowds. Pilate could not find Jesus guilty of anything, but he did not have the courage to go against the Pharisees and see that justice was done by releasing Jesus. 

When Pilate saw that he could not prevail at all, but rather that a tumult was rising, he took water and washed his hands before the multitude, saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it." (Matthew 27:24)

Undoubtedly the Pharisees truly saw themselves as guardians of the Jew’s unique national and spiritual heritage, and the long standing traditions associated with that heritage. 

Then the Pharisees and scribes asked Him, "Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders.." (Mark 7:5)

Holding tightly to, and lifting these traditions on to a spiritual plane, ensured that they quickly became woven into the fabric of their faith, until they became associated with worship being offered as pleasing to God.

In Northern Ireland for instance we have a tradition of Christian abstinence - which is certainly not a bad tradition - but somewhere along the way tradition has become 'law' and that 'law' is used to soundly condemn.  The scriptures teach sobriety not abstinence. Paul's' admonition 'do not be drunk with wine' (Ephesians 5:18) has become, through tradition, 'do not drink wine'.

A member of my team told me the sad story about a friend of his. The man had been a 'hard man' prior to his conversion. A paramilitary man. A dangerous man. However his conversion radically changed him into a man of peace, a man of integrity, a man on fire for God. He married a girl from his church and while on holiday in France the man had two glasses of wine with a meal. His church 'found out' and disbarred him.  He asked them to show him one scripture that said he could not drink two glasses of wine with a meal and they could not, but they still disbarred him. Shattered, rejected and condemned he backslid and today is still in that sorry state.  

I could weep for this man. No wonder Jesus so detested the Pharisee spirit in men.

If Jesus appeared at a Christian wedding and produced approximately 120 -180 gallons of 'good wine' for the guests (John 2:7-10) we would quickly see Him being rebuked and probably disbarred by these well meaning 'guardians of the Word'.

I was deeply impacted by these words in Mark Buchanan's book 'Your God Is Too Safe'. (pages 108-109)

A number of years ago, a wise man pointed out to me the root difference between the ethic of Jesus and the ethic of the Pharisees. Usually we think of the difference in these terms: The Pharisees had an ethic of externals, of ritual and rigmarole, and Jesus had an ethic of the heart, of the heart’s inner workings. The Pharisees were concerned about not committing adultery while Jesus was concerned about lust, the root of adultery He was concerned with adulterousness. That’s true as far as it goes. Only it doesn’t go very far. The deeper difference between Jesus’ ethic and that of the Pharisees was this: The Pharisees had an ethic of avoidance, and Jesus had an ethic of involvement. The Pharisee’s question was not “How can I glorify God?” It was “How can I avoid bringing disgrace to God?” This degenerated into a concern not with God, but with self - with image, reputation, procedure. They didn’t ask, “How can I make others clean?” They asked, “How can I keep myself from getting dirty?” They did not seek to rescue sinners, only to avoid sinning. Jesus, in sharp contrast, got involved. He sought always and in all ways to help, to heal, to save, to restore. Rather than running from evil, He ran toward the good. ... The tragedy is that we have often preferred the ethic of the Pharisee to the ethic of Christ. We have become self-obsessed in our doctrine of sin, as though sin were merely a personal flaw like acne, plantar’s warts, or crooked teeth. As though sin is merely about personal victory or defeat. We seldom see sin as a brokenness that’s bone deep and creation-wide. Sin ruptures our relationships: with God, with one another, with the creation. It ruptures our own deepest self. So sin needs more than a private remedy, a personal therapy. Overcoming sin requires more than avoidance. The ethic of avoidance proves altogether too frail an ambition. God desires restoration and reconciliation - of relationships, of creation, of our own true selves. That’s the wider and deeper meaning of the Cross. (from pages 108-109)

As we read in Matthew chapter 15, and again in Mark chapter 7, and again in Luke chapter 11, the one thing that always triggered off a fearful - but righteous - anger in Jesus against the Pharisees was this very thing.  Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men

"Hypocrites! Well did Isaiah prophesy about you, saying: 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honour Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.'" (Matthew 15:7-9)

...you reject the commandment of God that you may keep your tradition (Mark 7:9)  

Paul wrote to the church about such attitudes.

Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," which all concern things which perish with the using according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:20-23)

Opposing the Spirit of God meant of course that they never knew that anointing presence of God upon their lives. The word without the Spirit brought death not life, because the two cannot be separated. They are one. So because they were not experiencing His anointing power, they believed that anyone else outside of their camp who did was deluded, or worse.  If they didn't believe Jesus was the Messiah why should anyone else?

"Have any of the rulers or the Pharisees believed in Him? (John 7:48)

So sure were they that if God was going to do anything He would do it through them that they attacked those who moved in the power of God.  

Now it happened on a certain day, as He was teaching, that there were Pharisees and teachers of the law sitting by, who had come out of every town of Galilee, Judea, and Jerusalem. And the power of the Lord was present to heal them......And the scribes and the Pharisees began to reason, saying, "Who is this who speaks blasphemies? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" (Luke 5:17 & 21)

The only thing the spirit of the Pharisees cannot cope with is a man or woman who fears God only. Such a man or woman is beyond their legalistic control and it greatly unsettles them.

Every single revival of God has had to run the gauntlet of the Pharisees.

John Wesley had to preach in the fields because the churches said he was not of God. Here is a paraphrase excerpt from his journal.

May 5th AM preached in St. Anne's; was asked not to come back'

May 5th PM preached at St. Johns; deacons said 'get out and stay out''

May 12th AM preached at St. Jude's; can’t go back there.

May 12th PM preached at St. George's; kicked out again.

May 19th AM preached at St. Andrew's; elders called special meeting and said not to return.

May 19th PM preached on the street and was run out of town.

May 26th AM preached in a field ; got chased by a bull that was let loose.

June 2nd AM preached at the edge of town; police moved me on.

June 2nd PM preached in a pasture and 10,000 came to listen to me preach.

However, even John Wesley was not immune from the same spirit! For many years he denounced George Whitfield as a false teacher. Later in life he mellowed. A man asked him if he was confident he would see Mr Whitfield in heaven and he relied "No Sir, I don't" 

Then, after a pause, he added, "because he will be too far ahead of me in the queue!"

The early days of the Salvation Army received the same Pharisee condemnation. Why would God ever use ex-prostitutes and ex-drunks when there were ordained ministers in town?

When the reformation began, church authorities admitted that changes were needed, but they said, who could accept that they should come from that quarter - meaning Luther.

I have worked closely with a man who lives for Christ and whose whole heart is to help the broken, the hurt and the lost find their salvation their freedom and their destiny in Christ. Using his own money he built a superb youth club in a somewhat deprived area and worked tirelessly to see young people brought to Christ. As the fruit appeared so did the Pharisees. They told him in no uncertain terms that he was a wolf in sheep's clothing and that God was luring him along the path he was on to his destruction.

The man was totally devastated. Were they right? Was this true? 

In his despair he rang a well known man of God, one of the world's great preachers. This great old man of God who had walked through such things many times said, "Son, pull your drawers up and get on with it" (drawers meaning 'pants' or trousers')  It was good advice.

The youth club goes from strength to strength and the man, now a Pastor, has built a very substantial church nearby. The mission verse he has built the church on is taken from Matthew 25:35  '..I was a stranger and you took Me in'.

The crowds have come in and the Presence of God has also come in. He is now building a church that will seat 2500 people.

Rick Joyner put it well when he wrote..

"Some one is going to detest what we are doing. Who do you want it to be? God or men?"

Jesus told us that the things He did, we would do also, and greater. He said those who believed would among other interesting things, heal the sick, do miracles, and cast out demons. He commissioned disciples to preach the good news, heal the sick, cast out demons and raise the dead. His last words on earth to them were go and make more disciples teaching them to obey all that I have taught you to obey.

He never did, and never has countermanded that commission. 

The spirit of the Pharisees resisted the work of the Spirit during Jesus’ days, and still resists the work of the Spirit today.  

Churches where the spirit of the Pharisees rules will be clean on the surface, with everything in it’s place, but it will be spiritually dead on the inside.  Religious and lifeless. Like a whitewashed tomb

Associating the Kingdom of God with the legal lifelessness that makes up their church life they see anything contrary to their experience, that is liberty and life, as being counterfeit of their 'real'.

Max Lucado put it well when he wrote,

'Sometimes we Christians, instead of being fishers of men, become critics of the saved. Instead of casting nets we cast stones. Instead of extending helping hands we point accusing fingers. Rather than helping the hurting we hurt the helpers'

Let me share such an illustration of the Pharisee spirit from my own life.

I was told of a Christian lady who was being tormented night and day by 'pictures' of the devil. She felt so defiled by these incessant pictures that she felt she could never be allowed into heaven and was now in the mental unit of the local hospital. Her husband asked me to visit her in the hospital and I was pleased to do so. 

During my visit to the hospital her husband mentioned that she had been seeing a minister from another denomination for six months prior to her hospitalisation and he felt that she trusted him.

When I got back from my brief visit to meet her I phoned this minister with a view to the both of us trying to help this dear sister.  When I told him that I had been into the hospital ward to meet her he immediately interrupted me, saying

"How could you get into the ward to see her when I couldn't"

"Her husband invited me in" I replied.

I then explained to him that I thought she was being spiritually tormented. He thought this was nonsense and said so, declaring her to be mentally ill.

"Let me ask you something son" he said "Have you or have you not ever spoken in another tongue?"

"Yes I have indeed"  I replied.

"Have you ever been present at the casting out of a demon" he asked.

"Many times" I replied.

"Son its people like you who split churches" He said. 

Shaken by this unexpected turn of events I said.

"I only came to you to see if we could work together to help this dear sister and it is you who are attacking me"

"Why don't you read the scriptures and stick to them?" he said angrily.

"Sir"  I replied as gently and inoffensively as I could, "I believe that I do. Speaking in tongues is mentioned nearly twenty times in the New Testament. The first verse declares that believers will speak in tongues and the last verse tells us not to forbid the speaking in tongues.  (Mark 16:17 and 1st Corinthians 14:29)

"Also" I continued, "I try to be a disciple of Jesus Christ and His commission to disciples has not changed. We are to preach the good news, heal the sick, cast out demons and raise the dead.  I have never raised the dead yet but one day I believe that I will.  I believe that I do read the scriptures and stick to them"

He then started to accuse me again and again of being a 'church splitter' and eventually I had to interrupt him saying "Sir, I must go now, but I pray the Lord's blessing be upon you"

As I gently set the phone down, still shaken and almost in disbelief, he was still proclaiming his accusations down the phone.

That evening in prayer I asked the Lord if I had done anything to incite this reaction but got no reply.

However as I swung my legs out of bed the next morning I believe the Lord suddenly dropped this sentence into my spirit.

"I had little success with the Pharisees. Why do you think you will fare any better?"

Until that moment I had never given a seconds thought to the Pharisees, believing, I suppose, that they were unique to the times of Jesus.

A year or two later I had another 'extreme' encounter with the same spirit.

I received an email from a person stating that they thought my web site was so good they were going to give it a prominent link on their web site. 

Naturally I clicked through to see the web site in question and what I saw horrified me. The whole web site was extremely aggressive in condemning persons and churches for their false doctrines and false teachers. There was not one positive comment I could read. It was devoid of mercy. Full of malice.

At first I honestly thought it was one of the 'spoof' Christian web sites, where those against Christianity set up what appears to be a Christian site but is in fact intended to bring discredit on the faith.  However as I read on and on I gradually could see that it was probably meant to be Christian.  After much prayer I emailed the site owner with a polite request that my site not be linked as I was distressed by both the tone and content of their site. As gently as I could I explained that this did not represent Christianity.

I received a fiery email in reply from the web site owner - who turned out to be female - telling me that this was her ministry.

I replied - as graciously as I knew how - giving her several verses to show that this attitude was not scriptural and got another fiery reply mentioning the two witnesses in the Book of Revelation as a proof scripture for her attitude.

After several exchanges we agreed to disagree and she removed the link from her site.  I was so shaken by her view of 'ministry' that I began the editorial section of this web site and posted the first editorial entitled 'Passion, yes. Aggression, no'

I have found it almost impossible to help a person where the Pharisee spirit has a strong-hold because the man (or woman) bound by the Pharisee spirit is un-teachable.  It is actually like talking to a concrete wall. Your words fall to the ground in front of you. There is no real debate or discussion. 

Indeed the Pharisee reaction to one of their flock who believed that Jesus was moving under the anointing of God’s Spirit..

“Are you trying to teach us?” (John 9:34)

Anyone who did not see the Kingdom exactly as they saw it was quick to be told they were deceived.

Then the Pharisees answered them, "Are you also deceived? (John 7:47

Such a person seeks to live in spiritual perfectionism. 

A friend of mine is a wonderful trophy of God's grace. Once a man who did time in jail for his crimes, he was radically saved. Those who are forgiven much love much (Luke 7:47)  He loves Jesus. Despite much family trouble he is always rejoicing. Always. He goes round doors in the evenings telling people about His Saviour. His joy and his love for Jesus is infectious and he has led many to Christ.  I am privileged to know him.  A local church asked him to give his testimony and he prayed and worked on what he would say for a week before nervously getting up and telling his story of God's grace. (Public speaking rarely comes naturally to men with such a background) Many were deeply moved and came to him afterwards to tell him so. He was greatly encouraged. 

Then one man came up to him to tackle him on a 'doctrinal issue'. (I believe, from memory, his issue was predestination - Why evangelise when God has predestined who will be saved) The man had been unable to hear the good and see the miracle of my friend's life, but was listening for anything he perceived from his theological standpoint as error that must be exposed.  God's self appointed watchman. The Pharisee spirit. My friend said that had he not been so strong in the Lord he would have been well knocked down that evening.

The man bound by the Pharisee spirit will be reading this paper right now, not with an attitude of perhaps learning something, but looking diligently for 'the errors' so that he might expose them.

Rick Joyner in his excellent article 'confronting the religious spirit' says 

'When a religious spirit is founded upon pride it is evidenced in perfectionism. The perfectionist sees everything as black or white. This develops into extremes as it requires that everyone and every teaching be judged as either 100% right or 100% wrong. This is a standard that only Jesus could comply with and leads to serious delusion when we impose it on ourselves and others. True grace imparts a truth that sets us free, showing us the way out of our sin, or to higher levels of maturity'.

He goes on to say, 

'Because we 'see through a glass darkly', or in part, we are compelled to always be open to greater accuracy in our beliefs and teachings. One of the greatest delusions of all is that we are already complete in our understanding, or 100% accurate in our perception or actions. This closes us to further understanding and correction. The perfectionist both imposes and tries to live by standards that stifle true maturity and growth'.

Speaking of the religious spirit, he says that 

'when it combines with the martyr syndrome it is almost impossible for a person to be delivered from his deception. At that point any rejection or correction is perceived as the price he must bear to 'stand for the truth' This will drive him even further from the truth and any possibility of correction'.

He also writes 

'such a religious spirit is so slippery that it will wiggle out of almost any attempt to confront it. If you address the pride, the fears and insecurities rise up to attract sympathy. If you confront the fear it will then change into religious pride masquerading as faith'.

My experience in ministry bears witness to what he writes.

Looking at the language and the actions of the Pharisees helps us to recognize the fruit of this spirit at work in our midst...

A sample of Pharisee language.

“He eats and drinks with tax collectors and sinners?”

“He’s a drunkard and a glutton”

“He casts out demons using demonic power.”

“He’s breaking the Sabbath!”

“He speaks blasphemies?

“He’s evil”

“If He was a prophet, He would know who this woman is - for she’s a sinner.”

“God, I thank You that I am not like other men who’re always sinning”

“He’s not from God, because He doesn’t keep the Sabbath.”

“He mixes with sinners and eats with them.”

A sample of Pharisee behaviour.

The Pharisees went out and plotted against Him, how they might destroy Him and His ministry.

Then the Pharisees came testing Him.

Then the Pharisees went and plotted how they might entangle Him in His teachings.

Then the Pharisees came out and began to dispute with Him, The Pharisees complained against His followers.

The Pharisees watched Him closely that they might find an accusation against Him.

The Pharisees began to assail Him vehemently, and they watched Him closely.

The Pharisees brought to Him a woman caught in adultery.  

They couldn’t bring Jesus under their control so they sought to destroy, first His reputation and then His very life. 

And then later when the disciples were moving powerfully in the healing gifts of the Holy Spirit, they sought to ban their ministry. The fearless disciples replied 

“You decide whether God wants us to obey you instead of Him” Acts 4 :19  


Worldliness, lukewarm-ness, unbelief  (how many Christians do not even believe the opening pages of scripture) a love of mammon, hypocrisy, a frightening lack of discernment, and at times sheer apostasy. There is talk now of 'the other great faiths'. In certain quarters what God calls evil is being called good. Fictional witchcraft is as popular within the church as without. The editorial page on this web site reveals some of the pain in my heart that these issues bring.

That's why God raises up men and women with the anointing to bring correction.

The Word of God is the Sword of The Spirit. Not the sword of man. When carnal flesh wields it people die. When the Spirit wields it through a man or woman people live. 

When I feel lukewarm I sometimes have a bath and read Tozer. His words slap me around the face and I am the better for it. One of my favourite writings by him is entitled 'We need men of God again'  You can read it here.  He also wrote the following words about the men God sometimes calls to bring drastic divine correction to the Body of Christ.

"God has always had His specialists whose chief concern has been the moral breakdown, the decline in the spiritual health of the nation or the church. Such men were Elijah, Jeremiah, Malachi and others of their kind who appeared at critical moments in history to reprove, rebuke and exhort in the name of God and righteousness... Such a man was likely to be drastic, radical, possibly at times violent, and the curious crowd that gathered to watch him work soon branded him as extreme, fanatical, negative. And in a sense they were right. He was single-minded, severe, fearless, and these were the qualities the circumstances demanded. He shocked some, frightened others and alienated not a few, but he knew who had called him and what he was sent to do. His ministry was geared to the emergency, and that fact marked him out as different, a man apart." 

There is a real cry for the John the Baptist ministry right now.  

Many a man with a Pharisee spirit sees himself as such. He is not.  One brings life in his wake. The other death. Those at the receiving end know the difference. We are called to be salt and light.  Not salt and vinegar.

We MUST guard our doctrine.

Take heed to yourself and to the doctrine. Continue in them, for in doing this you will save both yourself and those who hear you. (1st Timothy 4:16)

Probably the most overlooked part of guarding our doctrine is to make sure we have not embraced anything of the doctrine of the Pharisees.  Jesus warned His disciples saying,

 “"How is it you do not understand that I did not speak to you concerning bread? -but to beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees." Then they understood that He did not tell them to beware of the leaven of bread, but of the doctrine of the Pharisees and Sadducees. (Matthew 16:11-12)”

If our doctrine is indeed the doctrine of Jesus we will carry the anointing of God upon our lives

Jesus answered them and said, "My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. (John 7:16)

The high priest then asked Jesus about His disciples and His doctrine. (John 18:19)

And they continued steadfastly in the apostles' doctrine and fellowship, in the breaking of bread, and in prayers. (Acts 2:42)

You will know when you walk in His doctrine. People will be drawn to you. Sinners. Sick people. Tormented people. Lonely people. Hurting and frightened people

And a sure sign will be that the Pharisee spirit will rise up against you.

This challenging check list taken from an article entitled 'Confronting the religious spirit' - might prove helpful as a health check for us all .

  1. The tendency to see our primary mission as tearing down what we believe is wrong. Such a persons ministry will produce more division and tearing down than lasting works that have been built and are bearing fruit for the Kingdom

  2. The inability to take a rebuke, especially from those we may judge to be less spiritual than ourselves. Think back on how you responded the last few times someone tried to correct you.

  3. A philosophy that will not listen to men, but 'only to God'  Since God usually speaks through men, this is an obvious delusion, and reveals serious spiritual pride.

  4. The inclination to see more of what is wrong with other people, other churches, etc than what is right with them. John saw Babylon from the valley, but when he was carried to a 'high mountain' he saw the New Jerusalem. If we are only seeing Babylon it is because of our perspective. Those who are in place of true vision will have their attention on what God is doing, not men.

  5. Overwhelming guilt that we can never measure up to the Lord's standard. This is a root of the religious spirit because it causes us to base our relationship to Him on our performance rather than on the cross. Jesus has already measured up for us. He is the completed work that the Father is seeking to accomplish within us. Our whole goal in life should be simply to abide in Him.

  6. The belief that we have been appointed to fix everyone else. These become the self appointed watchmen, or Sheriffs in God's Kingdom. These are seldom involved in building, but serve only to keep the church in a state of annoyance and agitation, if not causing serious division.

  7. A leadership style which is bossy, overbearing, and intolerant of the weakness or failure in others. As James said: "But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace"

  8. A sense that we are closer to God than other people, or that our lives or ministries are more pleasing to Him. This is a symptom of profound delusion that we draw closer to God by who we are rather than through Jesus.

  9. Pride in our spiritual maturity or discipline, especially as we compare to others. True spiritual maturity involves growing up into Christ. When we begin to compare ourselves with others it is obvious that we have lost sight of our goal - Jesus.

  10. A mechanical prayer life. When we start feeling relief when our prayer time is over, or when we have prayed through our prayer list, then we should consider our condition. You never feel relief when your conversation is over with the one you love.

  11. Doing things in order to be noticed by men. This is a symptom of the idolatry of fearing men more than we fear God, and results in a religion that serves men instead of God.

  12. Being overly repulsed by emotionalism. When a person who is subject to a religious spirit encounters the true life of God it will usually appear excessive, emotional and demonstrative, such as David demonstrated when he brought the ark of God into Jerusalem.

  13. Using emotionalism as a substitute for the work of the Holy Spirit. This would include such things as requiring weeping and wailing as evidence of repentance, or 'falling under the power' as evidence that one has been touched by God. Both of these can be evidences of the true work of the Holy Spirit; it is when we require these manifestations that we are beginning to move in another spirit.  In the first great awakening, Jonathan Edward's meetings would often have some of the toughest, most rebellious men falling on the ground and staying there for up to 24 hours. They got up changed, and such seemingly strange manifestations of the Holy Spirit fuelled the Great Awakenings. Even so, Edwards stated that he believed that men faking the manifestations worked more to bring an end to the Great Awakening than the enemies of the revival.

  14. Keeping score on our spiritual lives. This includes feeling better about ourselves because we go to more meetings, read our Bibles more, do more things for the Lord, etc  These are noble endeavors, but the true measure of spiritual maturity is getting closer to the Lord.

  15. Being encouraged when our ministry looks better than others. We could include in this being discouraged when it seems that others are looking better, or growing faster than we are.

  16. Glorying more in what God has done in the past than in the present. God has not changed. He is the same yesterday, today and forever. The veil has been removed; we can be as close to God today as anyone ever has been in the past. A religious spirit always seeks to focus our attention on works, and making comparisons rather than simply drawing closer to God.

  17. The tendency to be suspicious of, or, to oppose new movements, churches etc. This is an obvious symptom of jealousy, a primary fruit of the religious spirit, or the pride that asserts that God would not do anything new without going through us. Of course, those with such a mentality are seldom used by the Lord to birth new works.

  18. The tendency to reject spiritual manifestations that we do not understand. This is a symptom of pride and arrogance that presumes our opinions are the same as God's. True humility keeps us teachable and open, patiently waiting for fruit before making judgments. True discernment enables us to look for and hope for the best, not the worst. That is why we are exhorted to "Prove all things, hold fast to what is good (1st Thessalonians 5:21)

  19. The overreaction to carnality in the church. The truth is that there is probably far more carnality in the church and a lot less of the Holy Spirit than even the most critical person has seen. It is important that we learn to discern between them, be delivered from our carnality, and to grow in our submission to the Holy Spirit. But the critical person will want to annihilate those who may be 60% carnal, but were 95% last year and are making progress, instead of helping them along their way.

  20. The overreaction to immaturity in the church. There is a certain amount of immaturity that is tolerable with the Lord. My two year old is immature compared to my nine year old, but that is okay. In fact, he may be very mature for a two year old. The idealistic religious spirit only sees the immaturity without considering the other important factors.

  21. Being overly prone to base evidence of God's approval on manifestations. This is just another form of keeping score and comparing ourselves to others. Jesus did some of His greatest miracles, such as walking on water, to be seen by only a few. He was doing His works to glorify the Father, not Himself. Those who use the evidence of miracles to testify and build their own ministries and reputations have made a serious departure from the path of life.

  22. The inability to join anything that they do not deem as being perfect or near perfect. The Lord joined and even gave His life for the fallen human race. Such is the nature of those who abide in Him.

  23. Becoming overly paranoid of the religious spirit. We do not get free of something by fearing it, but by overcoming it with faith in Christ Jesus.

  24. The tendency to glory in anything but the cross of Jesus, what He has accomplished and Who He is. If we are building our lives, ministries or churches on anything but these, we are building on a shaky foundation that will not stand.

Paul exhorts us to

 "Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith" (2nd Corinthians 13:5). 

He does not tell us to "test your neighbour," or to "test your pastor", but "yourselves". Using this to measure others by can be  symptom that we have a serious problem. 

If this article has given you illumination about another ministry, which is causing serious problems, be sure that you use it in the Holy Spirit. 

Let us heed the warning to the Galatians:

Brethren, even if a man is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, lest you too be tempted (Galatians 6:1).

Here's a good note to close on. 

With God nothing is impossible

The man who was once the Pharisee of all Pharisees was the one who ended up writing the most famous words ever penned about love.

Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails. But whether there are prophecies, they will fail; whether there are tongues, they will cease; whether there is knowledge, it will vanish away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part. But when that which is perfect has come, then that which is in part will be done away. When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child; but when I became a man, I put away childish things. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know just as I also am known. And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. (1st Corinthians 13:1-13)

May the Lord bless you.

[all emphasis in bold type are mine]

return to top