Recovering Pharisee

Introduction to 12 Steps for the Recovering Pharisee (like me):
Finding Grace to Live Unmasked

This book by John Fischer uses a somewhat tongue-in-cheek 12-step model for recovery from the spiritually deadly disease of performance based righteousness and elitism. The medicine goes down smoothly with a healthy dose of humor. Here are Fischer's unique 12 steps and his introduction to the book. (For more about pharisaism, see Brent T.'s article, "The Leaven of the Pharisees".)

The 12 Steps for Recovery from Spiritual Pharisaism

1. We admit that our single most unmitigated pleasure is to judge other people.

2. Have come to believe that our means of obtaining greatness is to make everyone lower than ourselves in our own mind.

3. Realize that we detest mercy being given to those who, unlike us, haven't worked for it and don't deserve it.

4. Have decided that we don't want to get what we deserve after all, and we don't want anyone else to either.

5. Will cease all attempts to apply teaching and rebuke to anyone but ourselves.

6. Are ready to have God remove all these defects of attitude and character.

7. Embrace the belief that we are, and will always be, experts at sinning.

8. Are looking closely at the lives of famous men and women of the Bible who turned out to be ordinary sinners like us.

9. Are seeking through prayer and meditation to make a conscious effort to consider other better than ourselves.

10. Embrace the state of astonishment as a permanent and glorious reality.

11. Choose to rid ourselves of any attitude that is not bathed in gratitude.

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.

The Introduction

As I have grown to understand the gospel and learn more of God's grace, I have also become conscious of a corresponding struggle with pride and self-righteousness. Like anyone, I want to be well thought of. I am often conscious, as I am even now, of picking my words carefully, like walking through a minefield of impressions, so as to appear honest while stopping short of the naked truth that might implicate me more than I am willing. It is a problem that the Pharisees of Jesus' day sought to overcome by concealing themselves behind a whitewashed religious veneer.

So when a gentleman came up to me at a summer festival at which I was teaching and commented on how he had found my writings to be, for him, like a twelve-step plan for recovering Pharisees, I realized that I had been working on rooting out this problem for quite a while, though until now it had never been the focus of my work. I decided it was time to make it such. His fingering of this correlation struck a chord in me, as did the use of the recovery model as a creative approach to this chronic spiritual disease.

My use of the recovery model in this book is admittedly somewhat tongue-in-cheek. I am not expecting Pharisee recovery groups to spring up all over the country as a result of my discussions here (though it might not be such a bad idea), nor am I expecting people to see these steps as some sort of methodology through which they can accomplish the permanent eradication of pride and self-projected superiority. I am more interested in borrowing the recovery model as a way of unmasking, and potentially freeing us from, the intoxication of spiritual pride and prejudice that continually lures believers away from the grace, gratitude and life of astonishment that the Spirit of God desires for us.

It is my firm belief that the prideful attitude of the Pharisees and their practice of measuring out righteousness are problems that affect not only Christians, but everyone at some point. They are built into human nature. They even accompany other religions and cults. Pharisaism always seems to show up whenever righteousness is pursued in any form, at any level. Acceptance on the basis of performance was how most of us began our lives, and it's not easy to shake. In biblical history this is called the Old Covenant.

The Old Covenant requires a standard of performance and a reason to be obedient to it. But the standard, in its truest form, is impossible to pull off consistently. It could be argued that this is the whole point of God's dealings with humanity through the covenants. The Old Covenant is there to break us, to show us that we cannot live according to its precepts--that sin and selfishness dwell in us to a significant degree so as to rule out the possibility of following even the clear call of Jesus to love God, self and others. This inability to follow the standard, along with its accompanying humility, qualifies us for a Savior--someone who will fulfill the law on our behalf and grant us righteousness as a free gift. This is God's grace as given to us in the New Covenant through the death and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

The Pharisees enter the picture as the ones who figure out a way to make the Old Covenant work for them, thus making the new one unnecessary. As official interpreters of the laws of God, they adapt the standard through their own interpretation until the law (actually, their version of it) becomes something that is not impossible to perform but indeed quite possible, though difficult and meticulous at times. The "standard" is set so that attaining it is difficult enough to weed out the undesirables but not so difficult as to become overly burdensome--and that's the key. Armed with this new standard, Pharisees can then qualify themselves for righteousness and judge those who, according to their measurement, fall short. Once this course is entered upon, it can branch into a myriad of avenues of arrogance, judgment and false humility.

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 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. Jesus called the Pharisees "blind guides."

So it is necessary in this darkness we call light to identify our error and get free from our entrapment--exactly the job of all recovery groups. It could even be argued that our churches ought to be more like this. The church should be the most honest place on earth--a place where it is possible to say among friends: "Hi, I'm John, and I'm a Pharisee."

"Hi, John," comes the echo, and we reveal in the realization that this is the meeting place of accountability for equals. These are the Simons who want to come down off their pedestals and join the company of saved sinners at the feet of Jesus, who, like the prostitute anointing his feet with perfume and tears, can't seem to get enough of this grace and forgiveness. This is the gospel for those courageous enough to tear off of their masks of adequacy and self-righteousness and get on with a life of gratitude and love for others. This is the Pharisee recovery group of which I speak, and these are the steps which will lead us out. I know, for I am an expert in the downturned look, the haughty eye, the wagging head--and I've had enough of it.

Welcome to the group.

Copyright 2000, John Fischer
Published by Bethany House Publishers
ISBN 0–7642–2202–3

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