Maggie H. Johnson

Writer • Speaker

Recovering Pharisee

My mama always used to say, “Given the right circumstances, anyone is capable of doing anything.” This was her way of trying to curb the pharisaical tendencies that had already begun to form in my childhood heart.

I wonder if there are other mamas like mine –  compassionate women who never give up on their babies, even when their hearts grow hardened to the gospel of grace. I wonder if these women pray incessantly – just like my mama did – that their children would encounter Jesus in a life-wrecking way. I wonder if they listen patiently to the self-righteous soap box of their offspring while simultaneously trusting that God’s love can level the most legalistic heart.

I wonder about these kinds of things, because I have to believe that there are people out there who pray for the recovering pharisees just as much as they pray for the recovering alcoholics.  We all have our addictions, my vice just wears different clothing.

Addiction is addiction is addiction. And I’m addicted to rules, to guidelines, to laws that convince me I’m better than you.

That’s why Jesus knocks the wind out of my sails when he says to Nicodemus (and to me): “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him, ” (John 3:17). I got so caught up with doing right and being better that I missed the point: Grace.


Being a pharisee might make me feel awesome for a period of time, but like most addictions, the high won’t last. I need the grace of Jesus to sober me up, to shock me back into the reality of my position before God. In his book Wild Grace, Max Lucado says, “God dispenses his goodness not with an eye dropper but with a fire hydrant. Your heart is a Dixie cup, and his grace is the Mediterranean Sea. You simply cannot contain it all. So let it bubble over. Spill out. Pour forth. And enjoy the flood.” That’s the effect of grace – unhindered, overflowing, untainted love.

When my mama cautioned, “Given the right circumstances, anyone is capable of doing anything,” what she was really saying is this: The ground is level at the foot of the cross.

This recovering pharisee is learning the bigness of God. He was too small to me before – only powerful enough to save the hard-working types, those who could pick themselves up by their bootstraps. I ignored the fact that he is also the God of the forgotten. He is God over the tired, the nothing-left-to-give types, those who can’t see a way out. He is God over the ones who just can’t catch a break, and even for those who keep making the same mistakes over and over and over again.

The ground is level at the foot of the cross, even for this recovering pharisee.


  1. Maggie, I must say that your writing and blog posts have made me think!:) (Thank you!) God is also still working in me in so many ways and directions that only He is plenty capable of!😉 Thanks for sharing your insights and as always; I enjoy reading them! Keep calm and Pray on!!:)

  2. Andrea Lum Freeman

    September 11, 2016 at 10:51 pm

    Your words mean so much to me. There was a time once, and I’m sure you remember, when my own legalistic, pharisaical heart led to a friend to reminding me that rules without relationship equals rebellion. Little did I know it would be my own rebellion. Following rules & trying to earn my way through perfection left me empty & thirsty for more. Only the grace of God, accepting the assurance of His grace & believing it wholeheartedly is what is quenching my thirst for MORE. Thank you for your words, sweet child. YOU are a joy to my heart.

  3. very good , It touched my heart

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. They spoke to me because of how I’d been feeling lately. I’m saddened that when our eyes are opened to see the Truth that God is and receive His grace to live right, we all become pharisees. Been there too Maggie :((

    In the past months, I’ve been made aware that sin is not about weight BUT stain. It’s not the gravity of sin – not how badly our garments are stained but whether or not they are still pure. As Christians, we forget that we were all prodigals lost in our own worlds till we responded to LOVE and allowed His grace to help us return home. The only people Jesus ever condemned were those who forgot that “but for the grace of God, there go I.”

    I believe in God. I believe heaven mourns – not only for the lost that have not come home to God but also for us, the saved. We forget so easily that the blind cannot see. Instead of praying that their scales of blindness be removed and their stony hearts be replaced with tender flesh, we sit on thrones of condemnation. How are the lost to encounter God who is LOVE when all they experience are Christians who have forgotten the 2nd greatest commandment: Love your neighbour as yourself.

    Thank you Maggie – for reminding us: Let him who thinks he stands be careful, lest he falls. I now pray just like your mum does. All God desires is to have His children home. Stay blessed!

  5. What an awesome God do we serve that He does not hold our sins against us, but shows us the grace necessary to continue in the journey!

  6. You illustrated such so well, I was astounded. Thank you, Maggie!

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