Jesus taught in Matthew 5:20, “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” (cf. Matt 16:11–12).

Have we already decided who the Pharisees are (i.e. “those sinners”)? Do modern-day Pharisees ever call other people “Pharisees” since being a nominal “Pharisee” fell out of style twenty centuries ago?

“Am I a modern-day Pharisee?” Do people tell you that you are a Pharisee, legalist, or judgmental? Do you wonder if they are right? Does loving Christ and keeping His commands make you are a “Pharisee” or a legalist (John 14:23–24)?

Christians can avoid slipping into the Pharisee’s mindset if they adhere to Christ. The Christian must examine oneself. Here are some characteristics of Pharisees:

(1) What did the Pharisees think about sinners?

Christ told in Luke 18:11–13, “The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’” (see also Matt 11:19; Luke 7:36–50)

Mark 2:15–17 accounts, “And it happened that He was reclining at the table in his house, and many tax collectors and sinners were dining with Jesus and His disciples; for there were many of them, and they were following Him. When the scribes of the Pharisees saw that He was eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they said to His disciples, ‘Why is He eating and drinking with tax collectors and sinners?’ And hearing this, Jesus said to them, ‘It is not those who are healthy who need a physician, but those who are sick; I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners.’”

(2) Did Pharisees keep some of God’s commands while ignoring the important parts?

In Matthew 23:23–24, Jesus warned, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others. You blind guides, who strain out a gnat and swallow a camel!”

(3) Did the Pharisees replace God’s commands with man-made traditions?

Jesus responded in Mark 7:9–13, “You are experts at setting aside the commandment of God in order to keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother’; and, ‘HE who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death’; but you say, ‘If a man says to his father or his mother, whatever I have that would help you is Corban (that is to say, given to God),’ you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or his mother; thus invalidating the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down; and you do many things such as that.” (see also Matt 15:7–9; Luke 16:14–15)

(4) What did the Pharisees think about baptism?

Luke 7:30 depicts, “But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him” (see also Matt 3:7).

Observe Mark 11:30–33: “‘The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me.’ And they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘If we say, “From heaven,” He will say, “Why then did you not believe him?” But if we say, “From men”’—they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. So they answered and said to Jesus, ‘We do not know.’” (see also Mark 7:3–4)

(5) Did the Pharisees worship and do charitable deeds for others to see them?

Christ declared in Matthew 6:5, “And when you pray, you shall not be like the hypocrites. For they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the corners of the streets, that they may be seen by men. Assuredly, I say to you, they have their reward.” (see also Matt 6:1–7; 23:5, 14, 27–28)

(6) What did the Pharisees think about marriage and divorce?

Matthew 19:3­–9, “Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?’ And He answered and said, ‘Have you not read that He who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, “For this reason A man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.’ They said to Him, ‘Why then did Moses command to give her A certificate of divorce and send her away?’ He said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.’”

(7) Do Pharisees expect people to recognize the status that they have attained?

Matthew 23:5–12, “But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries and lengthen the tassels of their garments. They love the place of honor at banquets and the chief seats in the synagogues, and respectful greetings in the market places, and being called Rabbi by men. But do not be called Rabbi; for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father; for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders; for One is your Leader, that is, Christ. But the greatest among you shall be your servant. Whoever exalts himself shall be humbled; and whoever humbles himself shall be exalted.”

How devastating are the practices of the Pharisees?

Jesus warned in Matthew 23:13, “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.” (see also Luke 11:52)

Christ declared, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy and not sacrifice.’ For I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance” (Matt 9:12–13).