Recovering Pharisee

Jessi Strong

I asked Jesus to come into my heart when I was four years old. Growing up in a Christian home, I heard Bible stories, attended Sunday school, and learned to pray before meals and bedtime. I should have become more convinced of my need for a savior as I read more of God’s Word. Instead, I began to see myself as a pretty good person—especially compared to the tax collectors and prostitutes with whom Jesus surrounded Himself.

Things came to a head when, as a teenager, I took my youth pastor’s challenge to read through the New Testament once a month. I found, with every trip I took through the Gospels, that Jesus confused me more. It seemed like He was intentionally driving away good people. Rather than praising the rich young man of Mark 10:17–31 for his goodness, Jesus gave him another task. Each time I read the parable of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11–32), I sympathized more with the older brother than with the younger one, who truly deserved to wallow with the pigs for intentionally messing up his life. One verse in the Gospel of Mark was particular troubling:

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And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are healthy do not have need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).

I watched my peers experiment with drugs and alcohol, lie to their parents and sleep with their boyfriends. They were obviously the sinners that Jesus talked about, so I thought that made me the righteous one. But I knew from Sunday school stories that the righteous Pharisees were the bad guys of the Gospel narratives. I was worried to align myself with them: If I was a Pharisee, did that mean heaven was out of my grasp?

I took my problem to my youth group mentor. She first had me read the Ten Commandments and then pointed me to Jesus’ commentary on them in His Sermon on the Mount:

You have heard that it was said to the people of old, “Do not commit murder,” and “whoever commits murder will be subject to judgment.” But I say to you that everyone who is angry at his brother will be subject to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, “Stupid fool!” will be subject to the council, and whoever says, “Obstinate fool!” will be subject to fiery hell (Matt 5:21–22).

I had made the dangerous mistake of comparing my behavior with the people around me rather than measuring my life against God’s standard. I had formed a false dichotomy between the healthy and the sick—I had thought all humans were spiritually one or the other, but we are all sick and in need of Christ to save us.

The gospel message made sense to me when I understood my place in Scripture. It also helped me view others with the grace God has extended to me. These days I take comfort in being the prodigal son—in being sick and rescued instead of healthy and self-reliant—and in knowing that my salvation is not dependent on my own good behavior.

Scripture quotations are from the Lexham English Bible (LEB).


Article courtesy of Bible Study Magazine published by Faithlife Corporation. Originally published in print, Vol. 6 No. 4