Are You a Pharisee? Questions that Will Help You Know


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It's time for a heart check . . . a Pharisee heart check. Here are questions to help you know where you fall on the love/legalism comparison.

I chose freedom as my first focus word for change in The Faith Project because although I can’t remember a time when I didn’t believe in Jesus as my Savior, I haven’t always lived in His freedom and I want that to change.

I want to know more. To dig deeper. And to live out that “indeed” freedom Jesus talked about with His followers.

Last week, I took a close look at freedom that comes through forgiveness. But is there more?

I’m free from sin. Am I free from anything else?

Paul spoke about freedom from the Law, but what does that mean?

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1–2

Jesus talked about it in Matthew 12, after His disciples picked grain, crushed it in their hands, and ate it . . . much to the chagrin of the Pharisees.

Am I a Pharisee or a follower?

Pharisees are rule followers. Legalists.

Followers enjoy freedom.

I want to be a follower, but I wonder if I have some inner Pharisee going on too. I’m okay with the Law. I like rules. I’m a rule keeper. Rules keep things orderly and simple. Do this. Don’t do that. Just follow the rules!


Digging deeper into Jesus words in Matthew 12, the truth is bigger than simple and orderly. The truth—freedom is a matter of the heart. (That’s like Jesus isn’t it? Going to heart matters.)

[Tweet “Freedom is a matter of the heart. #truth #thefaithproject #Jesus”]

In Matthew 12:7, Jesus quotes Hosea 6:6:

I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know me more than I want burnt offerings. 

Have you ever been that child who obeyed the rules when mom and dad or your teachers were watching but did whatever you wanted when no one was around? Yep, me too. (Okay, so I don’t follow the rules perfectly. I like rules. I’d like to follow them perfectly, but no . . . I don’t.)

As parents, we want our children to obey because they love us and trust that our guidance is not intended to spoil their fun but to help them grow and keep them safe. We don’t want obedience just because they’re trying to avoid disapproval and consequences.

That’s the heart of the heart issue.

Jesus said it this way, “I want you to show mercy, not offer sacrifices.”  Matthew 12:7

It’s not about how we worship, but about who we worship.
It’s not about how well we obey, but why we obey.
It’s not about living right, but living with love.
It’s not about avoiding consequences, but about loving the Lord.

That’s why Jesus stressed the importance of acting out our love for God by loving others. If I fail to love, I’ve failed to obey. I’ve missed the point. And I’m not free.


Because failure to follow in love leaves me enslaved to my own selfishness. And obedience without love is blanketed with pride. Ouch!

But freedom wants me to follow out of love, knowing I won’t be perfect and that’s okay. Because the point is trust and love . . . surrendering to freedom in Christ not because of what I’ll get but because of my heart’s desire for the One who loves me so much He gave up everything to make me free.

It's time for a heart check . . . a Pharisee heart check. Here are questions to help you know where you fall on the love/legalism comparison.

It’s time for a heart check! An—are you a Pharisee heart check?

Here are some questions I’m asking myself:

  1. Do I worry more about obeying God when others are watching?
  2. Do I worry more about getting caught than about what I’ve done?
  3. Do I act one way with my Christian friends and another with non-Christians?
  4. Do I get angry when friends “get away” with things I don’t?
  5. Do I spend more time thinking about “fixing” others than I spend wanting God to change me?
  6. Do I stop for regular attitude checks about my love for God and others?
  7. Do I let society and my friends decide what’s sin and what isn’t?
  8. Do I care more about unrighteousness than I do about self-righteousness?
  9. Do I worry too much about what people think?
  10. Do I use myself as the standard for judging others?
  11. Do I avoid people who don’t think and act just like me?
  12. Do I keep a running list of all the ministry things I’m doing?

I don’t know about you, but some of these made me squirm a little.

I’m glad. At least, I think I am. I will never change what I don’t admit and face. And change is my reason for The Faith Project.

So, I’m digging into that wide, long, high, and deep love of Christ.

Love that invites you and me to mercy over sacrifice, and love over legalism.

I’m praying for His love, grace and mercy to change me. That’s a good kind of heart check.

What do you think?

Guard your heart above all else, for it determines the course of your life. Proverbs 4:23

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  1. Lisa Morris says:

    Yes, ouch! I think there is a Pharisee in all of us. Thank you for reminding us through Scriptures what Christ teaches. I really enjoyed this post! Visiting from Me, Coffee, and Jesus Linkup!

    1. I agree, Lisa. I guess that’s why I wanted to take a closer look at it. Just a reminder to myself of those areas to surrender never allowing myself to get relaxed about my need for God’s constant grace in my life. Thanks and blessings!

  2. Many of those questions make me squirm too. And that makes me want to examine my heart in a deeper way. One thing that struck me as I was reading a religious book this morning was a sentence about abandoning ourselves to God’s will…and I just thought, but HOW?? How do we really do this? How do we live in freedom?
    Thank you for a beautiful and thought provoking post. I know I will be back to read more.

    1. That’s a tough question isn’t it? Knowing and following HIs will completely surrendered. Knowing and trusting that as true freedom. Oh, I have so much to learn and so much more to put into practice. But I love the adventure. His grace. His guidance. A blessed journey. Thank you and many blessings, Colleen.

  3. When I read your Pharisee check list, Deb, I found myself giving thanks to God for all the work He has already done in my heart, turning me away from law and toward love. Yes, I’m still a work in progress, and I saw more than one “ouch” there, but I’m so encouraged that He has begun and will continue the good work in me.

    1. Martha, We are each a work in progress. I don’t think we’ll get any of it right until we see Jesus face to face, but I want to keep a healthy tension. I don’t want to let myself get lazy and “churchy.” Letting His love shine in me and through my cracks to others. Oh my, so thankful for His amazing grace. Blessings to you!

  4. Great post, Deb! Like many others, I struggle with Pharisee-like attitudes towards others and myself. Nothing short of God’s grace and love is helping me to move beyond the Pharisee attitudes. Being baptized in the Holy Spirit has slowly lessened my legalistic attitudes.

    Clearly, I’m still a work in progress!


    1. I think we will all be works in progress until we see Him face to face. Then we’ll get it. Until then I want to keep leaning in and following closely. Blessings to you!

  5. Mardene Carr says:

    Well well…you must have been a fly on my wall. There are far more Pharisees in church than we would are to admit. Great post!

    1. Thank you Mardene. Yes, I’m afraid it’s true. I just don’t want to be one of them. 🙂 Thanks so much! God’s blessings to you!

  6. I was a little bit nervous to read your post…I mean the title scared me! LOL However, those are great questions you posed to help keep ourselves in check! I think that it is healthy to regularly ask ourselves those questions, change what needs changing and foster the areas where we are doing ok.

    Thanks for sharing! Blessings, Joan

    1. You’re so funny! It’s so easy for those of us in the church to turn into Pharisees. After all, we’re doing what we’re supposed to do. Right? It’s a daily battle to remember it’s “not about me.” That selfishness just sneaks in sooooo easily. Blessings my friend!

  7. I’ve always been a “rule follower” and as a child always wanted to gain the approval of others…perhaps by following rules,,,afraid of making a mistake. Freedom in Christ has set me free…to know the truth and continually work on and check my motives behind my obedience. Is it “outward obedience?” Ouch! These are great questions Deb!

    1. Thanks, Valerie! I’m guessing you may be an oldest too. We firstborns have a tendency to be pleasers. And we learn early on the benefits of “doing it right” and pleasing others. So thankful Luther reminded us to go ahead and “sin boldly” when our sin is doing the right thing . . . even when our motives aren’t pure. Oh, the blessing of being covered by grace. Thanks for your kind encouragement.

  8. Deb –
    Such a great post a good reminder to us all to check our heart and motives. I loved this section the most: It’s not about how we worship, but about who we worship.
    It’s not about how well we obey, but why we obey.
    It’s not about living right, but living with love.
    It’s not about avoiding consequences, but about loving the Lord. Such truth packed in few sentences. Thanks for sharing today at #Unite. Blessings

    1. I need to make a sign out of those sentences and place them over my desk. I need that constant reminder to keep me focused on His grace. It’s just too easy to get sidetracked. Blessings to you too, Debbie!

  9. Deb, These are great thoughts. I’m a rule follower too. But I also love freedom. I think it is a dance between my flesh and the Spirit. Your questions address the issue so well. Bless you, my friend. I always enjoy your thoughts.

    1. I like that Debbie – a dance between flesh and Spirit. Rev calls it a “healthy tension.” Always praying to stay there, and by God’s grace leaning in closer to Spirit truth than my own selfishness. Thanks so much for your kind encouragement. Blessings!

  10. such an important post and questions to ask…I left a church because of the intense legalism, and ran from modern day Pharisees before I was a Christian. I have many unbelieving friends who cannot stand Christianity because of the modern day’s one of the saddest things for me, but one of my ministries is to help bring the loving Christ to these people. thank you for this post! Visiting today from #testimonyTuesday

    1. Thank you for visiting, Kathy. I agree. It makes me sad the number of people Pharisees chase away from fellowship. Praying to keep my heart free so those with questions feel safe talking with me. I so appreciate that you took the time to share your thoughts. God bless you!

  11. Wow, Deb, what a convicting list of questions you have there. They really do make me check my heart. Just this morning I was doing a devotion on obedience with my kids about Moses vs. Pharaoh and who they were most like. Now that the tables are turned I can see why they might have been squirming in their seats. 🙂

    1. I need these heart checks every day. I laughed reading your comment about your children squirming during your morning devotion. I’m hoping these questions challenge me to squirm regularly. Praying to keep my heart tender and my life surrendered. Blessings my friend!

  12. Caleb Suko says:

    This post caught my attention right away because I’ve been thinking about this topic for some time now and been wanting to write a post myself but haven’t gotten around to it yet.

    I think your list of questions is very helpful especially since it’s so difficult to self-diagnose this type of problem. In order for our hearts not to turn hypocritical and legalistic like the pharisees it’s vital that we use introspective questions like this that help us compare who we are inside with the truth of God’s Word.

  13. Hmm… your questions definitely get one thinking. I guess we can all be Pharisees at times. As I continue in my walk, I do notice it immediately whereas in my early days as a follower it was harder to recognize. Great post! Joining you from His Purpose In Me linkup!!

  14. What a great list of questions! I love how you highlight that freedom is an issue of the heart. And, of course, it is for freedom that Christ set us free. Thanks for linking up at #LMMLinkup.