By Elizabeth Prata
The Pharisees lived scrupulously for God. They said they loved Him. They lived a moral life. They did all the rituals. They vigorously protected the Temple. They howled prayers in the streets. They attend all the feasts. They seem humble. Looking at them, you’d think they were the picture of religious perfection.
Here is the truth. They did not love God. They hated God. They did not repent. They were unteachable. They loved money. They were prideful. They hated salvation. They made others into sons of hell twice as bad as they are. They hated souls. They killed Jesus.
Believers would agree with the above, I think. A Christian of any level of maturity, any age in their walk reading the Bible, can see the Pharisees were God-haters. ‘Sure’, you say, ‘they were hypocrites’. Notwithstanding that Jesus called them hypocrites, Bible readers can see that many in the Pharisee group did not live as they preached.
The scribes and Pharisees sit on Moses’ seat, so practice and observe whatever they tell you — but not what they do. For they preach, but do not practice. (Matthew 23:2–3).
We can tell they hated God because they rejected every sign Jesus did, signs that they demanded. We can see that they knew the Law but did not practice it. They rested on their knowledge of the Old Testament but did not love the people. They didn’t help the people know more of God. hey were not a light. ‘Sure! easy-peasy to see that!’
Yet it is hard for today’s believers to see that their favorite Bible ‘teacher’ is also a Pharisee-type person. When you point out the same things, they say, ‘Nooo, she says she loves God! She lives for Jesus! She’s so moral! She’s so vigorous and passionate! He is so humble, he even says so! He preaches every week and does all the right things! How can you even say they hate souls!!
Jesus explained in Matthew 23:5-7, in His warning against hypocrites,
Everything they do is done for people to see: They make their phylacteries wide and the tassels on their garments long; they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues; they love to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces and to be called ‘Rabbi’ by others.
So how can you tell if someone claiming to love Jesus and teaching His word is a true believer or a hypocrite? One way is that the Holy Spirit gives illumination of His word to your mind. If you’re in the Word, you will know truth from error. When something wrong is taught to you, you can detect the difference. Then you can check the difference in His word.
Staying in the word also hones your discernment. Hebrews 5:14 says,
But solid food is for the mature, for those who have their powers of discernment trained by constant practice to distinguish good from evil.
The Spirit also dispenses spiritual gifts to all He sees fit, and one of those is the gift of discernment. (1 Corinthians 12:10). In your congregation you’ll have someone or several someones who possess an extra dose of discernment and who is highly sensitive in detecting truth from error. Seek them out, ask, pray it through and then regroup to train your own discernment by being a Berean. (Acts 17:11).
Finally, here is a helpful article from Founders Ministries on 5 ways to see The Difference Between the True Christian and the Hypocrite, talking about the true nature of conversion from the Puritan book The Christian’s Great Interest by William Guthrie.
I know we all have blind spots. Sometimes while living in the moment we’re in, we can’t see outside of it. I know sometimes it’s easier to see the past false teachers than today’s because of our myopia. But the Spirit points us to all truth, so read the Bible, stay in close fellowship and submission in your congregation, listen to others further along in your walk, and pray for wisdom. He is so generous he will give wisdom without reproach! (James 1:5, Psalm 51:6, Proverbs 3:6).