rebelling against low expectations

A Special Name for (Very Spiritual) Christians Like Me


I consider myself a very spiritual Christian.

You see, I have this invisible rule book in my head with lists of esteemed religious rules. I pretty much obsess over them — that’s what we truly spiritual people do, right? And all of this is out of strict obedience to God.

These rules cover many important topics, like:

– exactly what is acceptable behaviour during (and before and after) a worship service
– what people should say on Twitter
– what books people should read and what movies they should see
– how they should teach a Bible lesson
– what they should be praying for (specifically)
– what tone of voice they should use

You know, ridiculously important things like that.

Recently I discovered that the Bible even has a name for really spiritual people like me, with my regiment of self-imposed, extrabiblical rules.

I’m a Pharisee.

In other words, I am like the hyper-religious leaders in Jesus’ day. I have a strict moral code (made of dozens of rules that reflect mere personal opinion) that I judge others by. I can be hypocritical. I can be proud. And the worst of all, sometimes I think I’m better than Jesus.

What a horrible, horrible thing to think, is it not? But I do. And I wonder sometimes if you do too. I would never necessarily say that, but I act like it. I act like what Jesus did and said was not enough. I need more rules. More specific. Better.

And sometimes Jesus got His hands dirty when I just washed mine, and He condescended to serve sinners when I think I’m too good for others, and He showed grace when I would have exacted vengeance. And He is holy, and I’m darkly sinful.

But there is good news for the sinful twenty-first century Pharisee today. That man who we judged has shown us grace at the cross. He died for our hypocrisy, our self-righteousness, our false vanity. And so we can cling to the hope He gives, the mercy He extends.

So let us not trust in ourselves, but rest solely in Him.

“Do not trust in yourself, lest sin thereby have much more power over you.” — Augustine

“The place where God has supremely destroyed all human arrogance and pretension is the cross.” — D.A. Carson

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Photo courtesy of Lauren Rushing and Flickr Creative Commons.


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About the author

Jaquelle Crowe Ferris

is the former editor-in-chief of The Rebelution and author of This Changes Everything: How the Gospel Transforms the Teen Years (Crossway). She's the co-founder of The Young Writers Workshop and hosts a podcast for youth called Age of Minority. She's married to Joe and lives in Nova Scotia, Canada.


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  • Great article Jaquelle!

    Pride can be one of the biggest stumbling blocks. Whenever I am being or was prideful, I feel almost sick in the soul. That’s the conviction of the Holy Spirit telling me it’s wrong.

    Pharisees also judged people. As Christians we sometimes judge people like we are in the place to judge. But we should look at the log in our own eye before we look at the speck in others. Matthew 7:3 Being judgemental is also something I’m struggling with because I tend to question absolutely everything… in a good way I guess. 😛

  • I really liked this, Jaquelle. So many times Christians are viewed as being hypocritical bigots. Part of that we can’t change (abortion and traditional marraige, for instance, are topics we won’t hold popular opinions on no matter what). In general, though, Christians really are far too judgmental (uh, yeah, I should know since I’m one of the biggest Pharisees around). I once read a *very* convicting article (I’ll try to find the link to it and put it below) about 3 “immodestly dressed” women who walked into a church. Their hearts were longing just to feel God’s presence, but instead they were frowned upon by their fellow church-goers for not looking exactly right. Yes, of course modesty is important, but the job of a Christian is to love, not to condemn.

    the article:

    • Hey Ruthie. You’re right – we are often far too judgmental, especially about other new Christians (as that article pointed out). We definitely need wisdom on navigating the line between not being judgmental (especially over stuff that is not sin, for example, what hymns people like) yet still pursuing holiness and helping our brothers and sisters in the fight against stuff that is sin. Thanks for sharing!

  • Good article, Jaquelle. This helped to understand a little better what the Christian attitude should be. It’s not judgmental and full of hate, it’s the place where mercy, grace, and humility collide, because of the cross of Christ. Thank you for this convicting article!

  • This reminds me of comedian Michael Jr., who jests about “over-saved” people—people who act so Christian you can’t even have a normal conversation with them. “Hey, are you thirsty?” “Thirsty for the Lord.” It’s a nice sentiment, but if you are defining your life by how Bible-sounding you can make yourself sound all the time, you’re just promoting your own self-importance. Unfortunately, sometimes I think we’re all a little over-saved sometimes, but fortunately God is pretty good about orchestrating spiritual slaps in the face to remind us what’s what. It worked for Saul/Paul, anyway.

  • Wow, thanks, Jaquelle! I had never thought about it like that before, but you’re right – I am a Pharisee.

  • Wow, incredible. I definitely have the tendency to be a Pharisee. I love to study the Word of God, but do my actions and attitudes point people to the Word Himself? Will strangers realize that I’m a child of the living God by my lifestyle, or by the scriptures I share on Facebook?

    Finding the balance between rules and leniency is one of the toughest endeavors in the Christian faith – and one that causes the most division in the Church. The point is, there is no balancing the Law and Grace, because we are completely under Grace. Rules are very good, but not when they cause legalism, hatred, and division. If we pursue Christ, though, it won’t be a matter of trying to balance two sides. As always, this was a great article, Jaquelle! Thank you so much!

  • Excellent reminder, Jaquelle! (I really appreciate your honesty:) We all fail a little in this area I believe, at some point in our lives at least. It’s hard not to judge others by our own standards. We who are so unfit to judge! To extend the same grace offered to us isn’t as easy as it would seem.

  • Thank you so much for your honesty Jaquelle! I completely understand what you are saying… It’s like you just opened me up! Praise the Lord for His undeserved mercy and grace towards us!! This article was very encouraging. God bless you!

  • Yeah, but my list of things that we’re not supposed to do is like five times longer than the one you mentioned. Thereby I can justifiably look down on you… =vD

  • In the Google Dictionary for Pharisee:

    A member of an ancient Jewish sect, distinguished by strict observance of the traditional and written law, and commonly held to have pretensions to superior sanctity.

    Then I searched sanctity:

    The state or quality of being holy, sacred, or saintly.

  • Great article, Jaquelle! The whole thing really grabbed my attention, but probably my favorite line was “And sometimes Jesus got his hands dirty when I just washed mine”. That hit me hard, because it is so true. Thank you for reminding me of that–I needed it.

  • Once again, God’s grace shines through. Two of the men saved in the gospels were Nicodemus and Joseph, Pharisees. God’s grace is shown through the salvation of the adulterer in John 8 and the moralist in John 3.

    Both are there with one of their purposes being to give us hope, as a prostitute or a Pharisee, that God’s grace is enough!

    Great thoughtful article! Thanks!

  • thanks Jaquelle for your transparency

    as a black male, I understand this all too well. as a member of a predom white church this doesnt get easier. my fam bein from the hood?? thats just the icing on the cake! I got saved in youth group… but I still was from the urban context.

    so I didnt look like everybody else…

    I didnt talk like everybody else…

    I didnt grow like everybody else…

    i hated myself for that.

    What are you supposed to do when somebody tells you that you shouldnt use the lingo you use? or wear your clothes the they way you do? yo if I could change my skin trust me I would in a heart beat but it doesnt come off I already tried. Then maybe Ashley’s parents would like me.. then maybe people could approach me.. feel comfortable around me… not be forced to talk about Mike Brown or somethin or some other “relevant criteria to my life.”

    I really try Jaquelle I really do, your post was mad encouraging 🙂

    • This makes me really sad to read….no one should be treated badly because of their skin color! Kanji, I can’t completely relate to you, but there is one thing that I know to be true that everyone needs to understand in their life. You are completely accepted in Jesus! He loves you the way you are, and just like that, not any other way. He doesn’t want you to be any other way. It took me awhile to accept that, and I still sometimes struggle with who I am and what gives me significance in life.
      I used to want to change myself. I didn’t like this thing about me, or wished I was more like this person, or wasn’t so different than my friends. But then I realized, this is how God made me. Why would I want to be different?
      I also have two adopted brothers from Ethiopia. They are the only two people who have dark skin in our church. That’s hard for them, I know, but I’m so glad that they get the chance to grow up knowing Jesus because He (along with family and friends) will help them get through that!
      No, people will not always accept you, and it will still be hard, but the truth of who you are in Jesus will never change!

    • I can’t say I know exactly how you feel, but I’ve had a small taste in a different way. I’m mixed-race, but I look more white. So growing up in a mostly black church, I felt some of that rejection and predjudice. But practically half the church is related to me, so it was pretty minimal.

      I like when Jesus talked to the Samaritan woman in John 4. The Jews hated the Samaritans because they were different ethnically, but Jesus broke the trend and showed love to the woman.

      The good news is that, as people see you growing closer to God, you will gain their respect. Only God can change people’s attitudes toward you, so if you continue to follow Him and trust Him, He will work things out. And no matter what, God made each of us like we are for a purpose. What if God wants to use you to break that racial divide? That’s quite a testimony. So trust in the Lord! His love for you never changes – no matter what. God bless, man! Keep walking with the Lord!

    • Hey, Kanji. Thank you for your honesty and encouragement. And thanks for sharing a bit about your church situation and the struggles that are going on. Know that I’m praying for you and for your church and for grace and wisdom for you in your interactions there. God bless, Kanji. 🙂

    • Keep fighting! It sounds like it’s really a struggle to love yourself. What I’ve learned in life is that if they don’t accept you as you are, they probably aren’t worth being friends with. Hope that tidbit of advice helps! And above all, STAY STRONG!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


    • Don’t b afraid of who you are! God made you with dark skin and he has a purrpose for that dark skin! You are beautiful (or handsome) in God’s sight just the way you are! Shine for him and don’t let what other people say get you down!

    • Ooh thats ruff…im sorry to hear that. I dont think its right to treat fellow humans like that. God made you perfect. Thats all I can say.

  • I totally understand! I used to be like that too, until a pastor friend of mine told me a story. He said (not in exact words) If a man who is known for being a drunkard came into church wearing a torn nasty shirt and old jeans. Would you ask your neighbor ‘What is he doing here?’ Or would you say ‘I’m so glad he finally came to church!’. Now ask yourself what would Jesus think? That really helped me, I hope it helps you too!

  • That’s OCD behavior. Jesus’s message is that that stuff doesn’t matter. Augustine was pretty much an asshole. Discount.

    • Hi! I’m not a moderator or anything, but would you mind not saying “a*****e” on here? This is a clean website. (@Brett_Harris:disqus am I overstepping my place on here as a commenter?)
      Welcome to the Rebelution! How’d you find us? We don’t get many non-teens on here 🙂

  • I totally get what you are saying, last year I felt myself slipping into that way of thinking as welll, (I’m a PK to:) But the AMAZING thing about jesus is that he gives FREEDOM! He does not bind us with harsh rules but frees us with the trutth and leads us with guidelines! He is so strong, but he chooses to be kind annd to love us unconditionally! How wonderful!! Thank you for posting this!!

rebelling against low expectations

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