Beware of the Pharisees

The Pharisees and Sadducees are no more. As religious groups, they died out in AD 70 with the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the temple. In Matthew 16:6, Jesus said ‘Take heed and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and of the Sadducees’. So if Jesus’ warning is still relevant for us today, the ‘leven’ or spirit of these groups must live on. These people appeared to be holy, but were not. They were white-washed tombs full of death and decay.

Elsewhere, Paul warns us against religious people who ‘having a form of godliness, deny the power thereof: from such turn away.’ Deeply religious people, no doubt. Using Christian terminology, they speak of Christian things, but their own hearts have never been touched by God’s grace. Their religion is powerless to bring them to God’s presence, in this life or the next, and their unregenerate hearts are as steeped in sin as ever they were.

These people are still around. Popular religious leaders, church members and pillars of the community may all be Pharisee-leven. They may admire Christ, but from afar. They enjoy reading of Him in the gospels, but they never apply the Gospel itself to their own lives. What Paul writes in Romans is overly-complicated hair-splitting to these people. They look at real born-again people with a mixture of cynicism, contempt and pity. Their God is kind and decent, with moral standards, but he requires no cross or atonement, because these Pharisees don’t need saving. Religion is merely civility and morality with a little spiritual binding agent.

The good thing about Britain’s rampant secularisation is that the Pharisee population has shrivelled. Once the churches were filled with these polite gospel-deniers; now they obtain their respectability elsewhere.