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By Larry Osborne
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2012 Larry Osborne
All right reserved.
Chapter OneAccidental Pharisees
The Dark and Dangerous Side of Overzealous Faith
Let's be honest.
Passionate faith can have a dark side—a really dark side.
Just ask Jesus.
When he showed up as God in the flesh, those who thought of themselves as God's biggest fans and defenders wanted nothing to do with him. They tried to shut him up. When they couldn't, they had him killed.
That's obviously passion gone bad.
But the ancient Pharisees aren't the only example of the dark side of overzealous faith. Our history books are filled with other examples. Think of the Crusades or the Inquisition, for starters.
But that's not why I've written this book. It's not about ancient Pharisees. It's about accidental Pharisees—people like you and me who, despite the best of intentions and a desire to honor God, unwittingly end up pursuing an overzealous model of faith that sabotages the work of the Lord we think we're serving.
The problem is not spiritual zeal. That's a good thing. We're all called to be zealous for the Lord. The problem is unaligned spiritual passion, a zeal for the Lord that fails to line up with the totality of Scripture.
Unfortunately, most of us think of unaligned zeal as someone else's problem. We have a hard time seeing it in ourselves.
It's easy to see the scriptural misalignment in the crazy guy on the street corner with the "Turn or Burn" sign. The same with the cut-and-paste theology of people who toss out the Scriptures they don't like. It's also easy to spot it in the pompous coworker with a big Bible on his desk, a chip on his shoulder, and a tiny heart in his chest—the self-proclaimed great witness for the Lord—whom everyone tries to avoid and no one wants to eat lunch with.
But we seldom see it in the mirror.
That's because for most of us, areas of biblically unaligned and overzealous faith are unintentional. They're the result of blind spots, not sin spots. We're doing our best with the knowledge we have.
But it doesn't matter whether someone is overzealous by choice or by accident. Either way, it messes up everything. It hurts everyone, the overzealous and the victims of their zeal.
Jerks for Jesus
You've probably known a jerk for Jesus, someone who thought they were advancing the cause of the kingdom when in reality they were simply embarrassing the King.
I think of a man in our church who sees himself as a mature, front-of-the-line Christian. He's passionate about the Scriptures. Loves to study. Digs deep. He knows far more than most, so he's taken it upon himself to become a spiritual watchdog to protect the rest of us.
He barks at and then attacks anyone who misspeaks or who misuses or misunderstands the Bible. He thinks he's helping out Jesus by keeping the heretics out.
But all he does is scare the hell out of people.
Not literally. Just figuratively, unfortunately.
The problem is that God never asked him to be a pit bull for right doctrine. God does ask him (and all of us) to contend for the faith. But he asks us to do it in a manner exactly opposite of the way my pit bull friend defends the gospel. We're supposed to avoid quarreling, to be kind, and to gently instruct people who oppose us.
My friend's pit bull methodology illustrates the biggest problem with overzealous faith and the reason why it's so hard to self-diagnose. It's almost always true to Scripture, but it's not true to all of Scripture. It's partially right. It fixates on one area of God's will (for instance, defending the faith) while ignoring other parts (doing so kindly and gently).
Unfortunately, for most of us, when we think of having overzealous faith and being a jerk for Jesus, we picture someone with bad breath, bad theology, and no people skills. So it never dawns on us that we could be included.
But the fact is, we all have areas of unaligned faith and incomplete understanding. We all have blind spots, and we all have sin spots; when the two mix, it's a dangerous combination. It's hard to get everything right. That's why I call those of us who step over the line into overzealous and unaligned faith accidental Pharisees. We've stumbled into a place we never wanted to go.
No one starts out with the desire to become a Pharisee. They're the bad guys. We all know that. In the same way, no one ever looks in the mirror and sees a Pharisee. I've never heard anyone describe himself as a Pharisee. I bet you haven't either. The word always describes someone else.
But the truth is that accidental Pharisees are made up of people just like you and me, people who love God, love the Scriptures, and are trying their best to live by them. The thing to note about accidental Pharisees is just that. They're accidental. They're like dinner at Denny's. No one plans to go there. You just end up there.
So how does it happen? What are the early warning signs? What do we need to watch out for?
The Innocent and Dangerous Path
The journey to becoming an accidental Pharisee usually starts out innocently enough. It's often triggered by an eye-opening event.
Sometimes it's a mission trip, a conference, or a powerful new book. Sometimes it's a small group experience that makes everything else feel like you've just been playing church. Or perhaps it's a new Bible teacher who opens your eyes to things you've never seen before.
So you step out in faith. You make some big changes. You clean up areas of sin and compromise. You add new spiritual disciplines as you excitedly race off toward the front of the following-Jesus line.
But as you press forward, it's inevitable that you begin to notice that some people lag behind. And it's at this point that your personal pursuit of holiness can morph into something dangerous: a deepening sense of frustration with those who don't share your passionate pursuit of holiness.
This is the critical juncture.
If you allow your frustration to turn into disgust and disdain for people you've left behind, you'll end up on a dangerous detour. Instead of becoming more like Jesus, you'll become more like his archenemies, the Pharisees of old, looking down on others, confident in your own righteousness.
That, of course, is a terrible place to be.
But actually it can get worse.
If you continue farther down the path of contempt for those who fail to keep up, you'll end up in a place of arrogance. Fewer and fewer people will measure up to your definition of a genuine disciple. Inevitably, being right will become more important than being kind, gracious, or loving. Thinning the herd will become more important than expanding the kingdom. Unity will take a back seat to uniformity.
And your metamorphosis will be complete. You will have arrived at a place you never intended to go. You'll be a full-fledged Pharisee. Accidental, no doubt. But a Pharisee nonetheless.
In the following pages, we'll discover how to recognize and avoid these dangers. We'll turn to the words of Jesus to uncover the early warning signs of a budding Pharisee and to expose the subtle indicators that a particular path of discipleship (even if well worn and hugely popular) is actually a spiritually treacherous detour to avoid.
In addition, if you're a parent or serve in a position of spiritual leadership, we'll look at steps you can take to make sure that the things you teach, the structures you create, and the way you lead don't unintentionally foster the dark and dangerous side of overzealous faith—or worse yet, create your own little brood of accidental Pharisees.
But first, we need to begin with an accurate understanding of what it means to be a Pharisee. Who were the Pharisees? How did their name become associated with hypocrisy and misguided zeal for God? And exactly how short (and subtle) is the journey from high commitment to high treason?
Excerpted from Accidental Pharisees by Larry Osborne Copyright © 2012 by Larry Osborne. Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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