12 Signs You Are A Modern-Day Pharisee

by Frank Powell

The Pharisees are mentioned in pulpits and classrooms all over the world. They are the source of jokes. The topic of sermons. Man, I wish I had a penny for every time a Christian teacher referenced the Pharisees. I wouldn’t be here. Maybe in the Caribbean somewhere. But not here. #truth.

Here is the reality…Pharisees still exist today. And nobody wants to be a modern-day Pharisee. It just happens. Kind of like eating at Ruby Tuesday. No one knows how you end up there. But it happens. Then you are stuck eating below par food at an above par price. Not good.

Most Pharisees begin with good intentions. But somehow those intentions and motives morph into something not so good.

Here is my hope and prayer…you will read this and do an inspection on your heart. The following things flow from my own personal struggles with legalism and being a Pharisee. In many ways, I am a recovering Pharisee. I still have a long way to go. But I am thankful the grace of God allows me to stumble. Allows me to struggle. And still be His child.

So, here are 12 signs you are a modern-day Pharisees.

1.) You believe showing up for worship every Sunday makes you right with God.

Modern-day Pharisees try to measure everything. They must have metrics and barometers. Something to measure their righteousness. Anything to give them some security with God.

And I am not against barometers or metrics. Not at all. Barometers can reveal trends and expose inconsistencies. But modern-day Pharisees see metrics as essential to righteousness and salvation. Worship is not a time to draw into God. Worship is another check off the list.

For modern-day Pharisees, Christian living is not so much about transforming into the image of God. It is more about living up to the standard of God. And no one can live up to God’s standard. Except Jesus.

2.) You spend more time talking about what you are against, not what you are for.

Pharisees love to argue. They love to spend their time convincing others. If they had to list the actions and issues they are against, the pencil would run out of lead. But turn around and ask them to list what they are for? The pencil would not have to be re-sharpened.

Pharisees believe their job is to defend God and legislate morality. So they are against drinking, smoking, cursing, short skirts, talking back to parents, holding hands before marriage, and so on. And all of these things come before the gospel. Or maybe they are the gospel. Modern-day Pharisees can’t tell the difference.

3.) You believe God actually needs you.

Modern-day Pharisees believe God needs them on His team. They believe the church is dependent upon them.

Let me be real with the modern-day Pharisees. If God needs a human being for His church to survive, He is not a God worth serving. Or worshipping. Or following. God needs no one. God simply allows us to play a role. He allows us to play a part.

We just need to know our role. Play our part. And don’t think too highly of ourselves. God’s got this.

4.) You don’t repent of sin…you don’t have any “serious” sin to repent of.

Remember that time the modern-day Pharisees repented of sin in their life? Oh wait, they never have. They don’t have any serious sin to repent of. Pharisees have a reputation and status to maintain. Repentance involves vulnerability and weakness. Pharisees don’t show weakness.

Who cares if the God of the universe was humiliated and mocked by mere men? That has no bearing on a modern-day Pharisee.

Repentance is for people who sin really bad. Not for them.

5.) You make every issue black and white.

The Bible is grey on many issues. But modern-day Pharisees don’t deal in the world of grey. They must have everything black and white. In or out. Yes or no. Up or down.

You see, if an issue is grey, modern-day Pharisees have to do some work on the heart. And Pharisees don’t work on the heart. They don’t consider motives.

Here is another thing about grey. It does not allow modern-day Pharisees to keep score. Black and white issues, however, allow them to keep a tally of their righteousness. “I have never drank or smoke or gambled or cheated on my wife.” Who cares if their heart is full of lust, anger, and envy?

Making a grey issue black and white means modern-day Pharisees don’t have to deal with the motives underneath their actions.

6.) You would never condone homosexuality or fornication…but have no problem watching movies that do.

If someone were to preach on the evils of homosexuality or sex before marriage, a modern-day Pharisee would nod his or her head in agreement. “Yeah, that’s right preacher. Preach on!” But on Sunday night, they plop down in the recliner and find humor from a movie or TV show glamorizing the very thing they just agreed was wrong.

This is the real issue with modern-day Pharisees. They love to put on a show when the lights are on. They want people to think they are righteous. But Jesus does not inform the rest of their lives.

After all, they went to church…and life group. The checklist is complete.

7.) Your salvation is based on your works, not on Jesus.

Modern-day Pharisees believe in their works. That’s why they love James 2:14-26. But they skirt around passages about grace. Oh, yeah. They believe Jesus died on the cross for their sins. But they turn around and mock the cross by trying to earn their salvation.

8.) You read the Bible to substantiate your convictions, not to be shaped into God’s image.

During the time of Jesus, no one knew more Scripture than the Pharisees. They studied the Scriptures relentlessly.

Modern-day Pharisees do the same. But they turn around and use the knowledge to convince others why they are wrong. The Bible is their personal weapon. Modern-day Pharisees use it to throw rocks at all the misguided, evil sinners in the world.

To modern-day Pharisees, the Bible is not a means to grow into the image of God. It is a means to convince the world of fallacies and misguided theology.

9.) You believe outsiders should conform to a certain lifestyle before they are accepted as “Christian.”

This is a Pharisee trademark. Before non-Christians can be considered “part of the group,” they must conform to a certain lifestyle. Stop all of the cursing and drinking. And stop doing all the stuff “bad people” do.

Once potential Christians “fix their lives,” modern-day Pharisees gladly welcome these people into their family. Just don’t revert back to “sinning” again. Membership in the group is always conditional.

Instead of meeting people where they are, modern-day Pharisees force people to come up to their level. And until these people live up to the standard, they will be on the outside looking in.

10.) You don’t know the difference between a convert and a transfer.

Modern-day Pharisees get just as excited when someone joins their church as they do when someone joins the kingdom of God. In fact, they don’t see much distinction between the two. They celebrate a baptism the same way they celebrate a family moving from across the street.

This is why no real desire for the lost exists. The church is adding “members.” But they are being added to the directory of the local church, not the directory of the Kingdom. Modern-day Pharisees don’t care. As long as the “church” is adding people.

11.) All of your Christian friends look and act just like you do.

Pharisees are exclusive. They pick and choose who enters the group. But Jesus never valued exclusivity. Just look at his chosen twelve. A tax collector (Matthew). A doctor (Luke). Fishermen (Peter and Andrew). A Zealot (Simon). That’s a conglomerate of guys from many different backgrounds.

So, look around at your group? Is it essentially a collection of men and women cut from the same mold?

12.) If someone tries to rebuke you, you get angry and offended.

Remember what happened Jesus rebuked the Pharisees? Their hearts broke. They repented. And Jesus used them to start the church.


When Jesus called out their sins, the Pharisees crucified him. Modern-day Pharisees see any rebuke as a personal attack. They immediately go on the offensive. Some get angry and storm off. Others proceed to make a list of sins to the person rebuking them.

Regardless, modern-day Pharisees refuse to have a heart receptive to rebuke. It undermines their external righteousness. And it undermines the lie that they are perfect.


Understand the reason I can write this post is because I have experienced all 12 of these in my life. I want to draw people to Jesus. I want to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. I hope you do as well.

I ask you to pray for me and my struggles. If you have a comment or another sign of a modern-day Pharisee, respond below.

I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!

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Mya October 15, 2014 - 7:53 am

WOW! Real talk! May the Lord help me be a REAL child of God and not a modern-day pharisee!!! May the Lord bless you and continue to inspire you M. Powell.

Frank Powell October 15, 2014 - 9:33 am

Mya, thanks for the comment! Pharisaical tendencies are present in all of us. Especially in me. We must constantly seek the Lord and ask Him to expose our heart. It is our heart that reveals our true nature and character (Prov. 27:19). Blessings!

Andrew Gilmore October 15, 2014 - 11:32 am

I tend to fall into a lot of these traps too. But what always leads me back is the Greatest Commandment. I try to use it as a filter for all decisions.

Frank Powell October 15, 2014 - 2:08 pm

Andrew, I am in the same boat is you. I try to allow the power of the gospel to inform every area of my life. I still have a long way to go, but God has convicted me of many Pharisaical tendencies in the past few years. Thanks again! Blessings!

Kevin October 15, 2014 - 2:04 pm

I disagree with number 5. Jesus said that he is THE WAY, THE TRUTH and THE LIFE. His Word is the same.

Carson Barker October 19, 2014 - 4:23 pm

I haven’t read anything in the Bible about what political party to be, if there should be a fellowship hall in the church building, what college I should go to, or even what I should wear to church… We don’t have the answer for everything. The way I read what Frank was saying in #5 is that Pharisees try to make up answers to certain things that are not specifically mentioned in Scripture. Then they bind those answers on others. I would be like me saying to be a good Christian you must, “Be a Republican”, “not have a fellowship hall in the church building”, “Go to Freed-Hardeman University”, or “You have to wear a dress shirt and slacks to church.”

Phoenix October 19, 2014 - 5:46 pm

So you assert there is absolutely no ambiguity in the Bible at all? Nothing that can go one of two ways and neither party are wrong? I am not talking about salvation. And that is what you reference when you say He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life: salvation. Salvation by the grace of God is as clear as day in the Scriptures: sanctification through the cross of Jesus and His merit being imputed onto us. I am not looking to be confrontational, but all Christians should be willing to acknowledge the Bible is ambiguous in areas not related to salvation, otherwise their eyes are closed. 🙂

Patrick October 15, 2014 - 9:29 pm

I was worried that this list would be aggressive ,and laden with overstanding about what a Pharisee was, but I was encouraged by the tone, accuracy, and message of this post! We should try to hold to righteousness as much as the Pharisees tried, we just have to make sure our righteousness is God’s righteousness (reference to #8 I think).

Frank Powell October 22, 2014 - 2:00 pm

Patrick, thanks for the comment. I try always to be fair. I hope people see that my goal is to draw people to Jesus, not start arguments or be controversial for the sake of doing so. Blessings man!

Nathan October 16, 2014 - 11:50 am

Pretty good read! I would like to point out certain things though.

Not everything in the Bible is complete black and white, but God is clear on many things. Sin is sin, and it’s a frequent occurrence that people will try to make the issue gray/grey to avoid repenting. That’s just as bad as someone making everything black and white to lord their self-imposed superiority over others.

While Christians should not be obstructive to people who struggle with visible sins (excess drinking, cursing, that kind of thing), we should not just leave the sin alone either. Paul made it clear that we can’t continue to live in sin that grace may abound. We’re all sinners, but we need to keep genuinely repentant hearts and make the effort to fight our sins. The best way to deal with brethren who sin (also known as everybody) is to lift them up and tell them they can beat their struggle. The cursing thing is a battle I fight on a daily basis. Accordingly, I have made efforts to remove negative influences. God doesn’t want us to act like Pharisees to people struggling with sin, because that alienates them. But he doesn’t want us to turn a blind eye to sin either. It’s separation from God after all.

Still, this is a really good read with a lot of truth to it. 🙂

Frank Powell October 16, 2014 - 3:30 pm

Nathan thanks for the response. I think we all must work to remove sin and strive for holiness! Blessings man!

Bethany October 16, 2014 - 1:24 pm

I cringe reading this because I’ve lived most if not all of these out at some point or another in my Christian walk. I agree that probably most Pharisees have the best of intentions. I know I did, but I am so glad I found the truth in Jesus and His word, not in men or traditions of the church. The grace of God is a powerful, powerful thing.

Frank Powell October 16, 2014 - 3:28 pm

Bethany, I am with you. It hurt to write some of the things I did knowing my actions in years past did more to push people away from Jesus than towards him. Thankful God is merciful! Blessings!

Dora Shelton October 17, 2014 - 7:27 pm

I will have to Think about this and ask God to help me…But I believe strongly in Relaying on God’s Grace and that JESUS is my Intercessor..The Blood of Jesus Covers my sins…I Attend Church to Enjoy Praising God and Learning what God wants me to Do…

Carson Barker October 19, 2014 - 4:10 pm

I think another thing Pharisees do is force their opinions on others. It kinda ties in with the black and white issues. If its not in the Bible you should make your own opinions about it and stick to those opinions. Don’t bind them on other, nor let anyone bind theirs on you. Follow the blatant things in the Bible, but everything else do what is benaficial for your faith.

Frank Powell October 21, 2014 - 10:29 pm

Carson, I agree with you. Christians have struggled with the line between traditions and doctrines forever. And it is a tragedy when someone forces another to adhere to their opinions of Scripture instead of Scripture itself. Thanks for the comment!

Kwameh A Barnett October 20, 2014 - 2:33 pm

Thank you brother Frank Powell. If truth be told, anyone calling themselves a Christian will find themselves somewhere in the list of 12. I certainly see myself. Thank goodness for Grace and Mercy…along with growth in the word so I can openly admit my sins. I must daily renew my mind to keep off the path of the Pharisee!

Frank Powell October 21, 2014 - 10:31 pm

And we would be in the same boat. Testing my own selfish desires against the desires of God is a daily practice. Otherwise I can quickly fall into the trap of self-righteousness and legalism. Thanks for the comment!

carrah October 22, 2014 - 12:14 pm

Thanks for sharing. I believe this is part of the reason I have difficulty in going back to church. This is exactly the behaviors from christians/my own family….
in the church community I was raised in.

Frank Powell October 22, 2014 - 1:58 pm

Carrah, I hope your experience will not result in continued bitterness or animosity towards the church. The reality is every Christian is broken. No one is perfect. I have been stung by people in the church as well. But I love Jesus, and I cling to his perfection, and I cling to the gospel, which sanctifies us despite our failures. Blesssings to you!

Matt October 23, 2014 - 7:14 pm

“Stop all of the cursing and drinking. And stop doing all the stuff “bad people” do.” How is this any different that a soteriology that looks for fruit worthy of repentance? Rather, I believe we should push back against the easy believism so prevalent now. This article: some good points, some not so good.

Bernadette October 24, 2014 - 1:28 pm

It is wrong to think that works alone and not the Cross can earn you salvation. But it is also wrong to believe that we are automatically sent to heaven for simply believing Jesus is Lord. We need both; we need to accept God’s love and grace and at the same time prove our love to Him through our praise and work. James didn’t write this passage to be ignored; if that belief is a mockery of the Cross then why is it in the Bible?

Frank Powell October 25, 2014 - 10:16 am

Bernadette, I agree with you. Works and grace are both very important. The Pharisee mindset is that works equate to salvation. Jesus shows us that is not possible through the cross. So works are now an outpouring of the grace we have received from God. Our salvation is secure in Christ, and our works flow from that reality. We work from our salvation, not for our salvation. That’s the point I intended to make. Thanks. Blessings!

Matthew Davidson October 30, 2014 - 9:57 pm

You’re talking about two totally different things. We can not do anything to be saved, not one single thing. However, if we say we believe, yet that belief doesn’t change us and order our steps, we need to reevaluate our belief. Anyone who believes they are a co-savior with Christ is fooling themselves, only Jesus can save us, only His works.

Matthew Davidson October 30, 2014 - 9:53 pm

They might have added “You write articles that show everyone else how bad they are, but leave yourself self out as a culprit” The word generalization comes to mind when i read this. Aside from the works salvation thing, the rest could be ascribed to just about anyone, if the accuser is in the right mood and wants to place blame on others. For instance, it’s nearly impossible to find a movie or TV show that doesn’t have a “love scene” in it, so to say people who watch movies which have references to sex outside of marriage are Pharisees, probably just indicates that the writer feels guilty about the same thing. I personally judge a movie on the basis of what it offers as a whole, not merely on the amount of worldly behavior that the characters indulge in. Also, anyone who sits around telling people they are Pharisees because they like to argue religion is in fact encouraging arguments as they are forming one! It’s the job of every believer to defend the truth, and so few do it that the ones who do defend it end up looking like overbearing legalists, due in great part to the fact that they are often the sole defender of the truth in the immediate vicinity.

Frank Powell October 31, 2014 - 10:09 am

Matthew, I certainly struggle with all of the points above. As it relates to tv and movies, I will watch movie that have sin in them. The Bible is full of rampant sin. Where I draw the line is when shows glorify the sin and mock God’s values. There is a difference. The Bible never makes light of sin or glorifies it. Blessings!

Tom November 1, 2014 - 8:12 am

Faith without works is dead, only initial salvation (Romans 4:1-5, Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5) is by grace through faith without any works.

MissedOne November 6, 2014 - 7:13 pm

…#13 you put up blogs about how normal people just like you are “doing it wrong”

Trisha Brown December 7, 2014 - 10:06 pm

I really don’t think this article captures the heart of what Jesus was saying. The pharisees exalted their own reasoning over God’s. They were afraid that breaking God’s law would lead to further punishment, and put up a buffer between God and His people of rules that they reasoned out themselves that added to and took away from God’s law leading people into ceremonial obedience and sacrifice for God rather than circumcision their hearts in a relationship towards God. Jesus constantly challenged their rules. Why did Jesus heal the paraplegic out of all the sick people at the pool that day? He had a mat to carry. The Pharisees took a simple command, “rest on the Sabbath day, keep it holy.” And turned it into a long lists of what defines rest, what defines work, and so on. Carrying your mat was work, and so Jesus demonstrated their hearts by healing a man and watching them immediately condemn the man for carrying his mat on the Sabbath. Jesus even said the leaven of the pharisees and Saducees was the same: human reasoning. It creates a religion (list of does and don’ts that glorify themselves above a relationship with God and metamorphosis through the Holy Spirit). The result or the fruit is a clean outside and a dirty inside). That is why fruit is so important, not actions. This article looks at actions, but it is the fruit of those actions determines righteousness. Jesus was judged as a glutton and a drunk, John the Baptist was judged to be demon possessed, but wisdom is known by her children. By their fruits you know them.

NeedsMet December 17, 2014 - 3:42 pm

Love the article. I think the 1st thing I will say is dont sweat the people that have replied negatively. I have encountered such as well and have had to come to a couple conclusions. #1, Jesus told us that we would encounter resistance. Also, no servant is above his master. Meaning that Jesus tool a lot of flack from people, mostly Church leaders. So if we follow Jesus, its going to happen to us too. We should be thankful when we get it. It means that we are on the right track and that we are suffering along side of Jesus. Phariseeism to some extent is in us all. Not sure its possible to weed out entirely. But its the recognition of it that is the important part so we can work on it.

Frank Powell December 21, 2014 - 8:21 am

Thanks for the encouraging words. The criticism seems loud at times, but you are right. If someone is not in front pushing against cultural norms, attacks won’t come. I pray people are spurned to think seriously about my words and not allow anger and frustration to terminate on itself. Blessings!

NeedsMet December 21, 2014 - 3:57 pm

Thanks a lot for the reply. Hey, I have a proposal for you. I run a radio Internet Church on Sundays and Wednesdays. Sometime after the new year, I am going to start doing devotionals. It wont just be me. I have several pastors lined up from all over the US and some international pastors that want to do them as well. It will a pastor a day keeps Satan away, or something like that. Pastors will do the devotionals on a rotating basis. It will be fun. If you are interested in getting your message out over the air, just let me know and we can talk.

NeedsMet December 17, 2014 - 4:03 pm

I do one curious this that I noticed in the article. Its not really a good and bad point. Just a point. The article says that if you surround yourself with only those that think that same way you do, you might be a paraphrase. Sounds like Jeff Foxrwothy you might be a redneck. 🙂

Anyway, We all tend to gather together those those that think and act like we do. I have taught classes before where I have seen this. The 1st day of class, people just sit anywhere. But after just a few days, people that have like problems sit together.

Like Spirits like to group together. Maybe its safety so they dont get ridiculed by others for their issues. Maybe its just because groups are stronger than 1 love person that can be picked off.

Not really sure, but this always happens. Go to any Church and you will find the same thing. Clicks of people. bad ones, good ones etc.. Unless you can get into the popular click, just like in school, you dont get anywhere and are easy prey for the nasties.

I love to debate the things of God. But its very very hard to find people willing to do this without getting angry and defensive. Not sure if there is an answer here or in your article for this. We have always banded together for better or worse.

Kerri Stites December 22, 2014 - 5:19 pm

Wow! This is great stuff! Thank you for being so bold. Sometimes stuff needs to be said. Thank you for this.

Maria Smith September 29, 2017 - 11:20 pm

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