The three sermons by Zac Poonen titled "Fifty Characteristics of Pharisees" that many have heard on sermonindex are now available as a book titled "FIFTY MARKS OF PHARISEES" from firstname.lastname@example.org (Texas, USA) and from email@example.com (Bangalore, India).`
Here is the first chapter:
In the gospels we read of three leavens that Jesus warned people against:
1. The leaven of Herod (Mark 8:15)
2. The leaven of the Sadducees (Matt.16:6)
3. The leaven of the Pharisees (Matt.16:6)
These represent three types of Christians.
The leaven of King Herod was worldliness. In Mark 6:20, we read that Herod enjoyed listening to John the Baptist. But two verses later, we read that he also enjoyed watching Salome dance (who was probably scantily dressed and dancing in a sexually provocative way). There are Christians like that today, who can enjoy listening to a powerful sermon on Sunday morning and then enjoy watching a filthy movie the same afternoon. Herod enjoyed listening to John the Baptist because John was a fiery preacher unlike the boring Pharisees. But enjoying listening to a fiery prophet doesnt mean that one is spiritually minded. Worldly Christians are not usually hypocrites like the Pharisees. They enjoy worldly entertainment and dont hide the fact that they enjoy it.
The leaven of the Sadducees was false doctrine. They were liberal in their beliefs. They did not believe in angels, or miracles or the resurrection or the spirit world. There are Christians like that today who are cessationists. They dont believe that God does any miracles today and they dont believe that the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit are available to Christians today.
The leaven of the Pharisees was primarily hypocrisy. They were doctrinal fundamentalists and they were righteous in their external lives. Jesus Himself gave them a certificate in these two areas (Matt.23:3, 25). They tithed, prayed and fasted regularly, and kept the external commandments of the Law and even engaged in missionary work. There are Christians today who do all these things but who are still like those Pharisees.
Some Christians could have a mixture of all of these three leavens.
From the above description, one would imagine that Jesus greatest conflict would have been with the followers of Herod or the Sadducees. But it was not so. His greatest conflict was with the fundamentalist Pharisees who preached holiness! And it was the Pharisees of all people, who were most eager and determined to crucify Jesus.
Today in Christendom, the Sadducees and Herodians are not as dangerous as the Pharisees. A Herodian may be going to hell. But he cannot lead others astray, for it is obvious to everyone that he is a worldly person. As for the liberal Sadducee, no-one is likely to be deceived into imagining that he is spiritual, when he does not believe in miracles or even in the resurrection from the dead.
The most dangerous person in todays Christendom (as in Jesus time) is the Pharisee, who has all his doctrines right, and who preaches holiness. But his holiness is a legalistic holiness produced by laws and rules. And his righteousness lacks the the joy and peace of the Holy Spirit (Rom.14:17). Such a man is dangerous because he can mislead Christians into a false holiness.
It is important therefore, for us to understand the characteristics of Pharisees. Not much is written about the characteristics of Herods followers or of the Sadducees apart from what I have already mentioned. But when it comes to the Pharisees, a great deal is written about them in the gospels. So God must be wanting us to study their characteristics.
All believers whose doctrines are fundamental and who are pursuing after holiness are in danger of becoming Pharisees without even knowing it. Since most of us fall into that category, let us approach this study with deep humility.
There are at least fifty characteristics of Pharisees that I have discovered in the gospels. If even one of them fits us, then we are Pharisees, even if we dont have the other 49 characteristics. This is not a comprehensive list. If you look into your own life, you may discover some other characteristics that are not mentioned in the Bible.
The spirit of the Pharisee is diametrically opposed to the Spirit of Christ. That is why it is so serious. Just as we would not want an atom of the spirit of hell in us, we should not want an atom of the spirit of the Pharisee in us either.
One primary mark of Gods blessing is that the Holy Spirit gives us light on ourselves. If we do not progressively get light on the un-Christlike areas in our life, we are not really being blessed by God. Health and wealth are not the marks of Gods blessing, because many unbelievers have both of these even more than most believers.
When God shows us areas of un-Christlikeness in our lives, He wants us to cleanse ourselves from them (2 Cor.7:1), so that we can partake of His Divine nature. Thus our personal life, family life and church life will become brighter and brighter. We will then be liberated from legalism and only then will be able to fly like the eagles in the sky. We will remain earth-bound if we do not see the Pharisee within us.
God gives us His word so that we can have light on ourselves and not for us to see Phariseeism in others. It is only when we see Phariseeism within ourselves and cleanse ourselves from it, that we can be useful to God in His work.