After recently finishing lessons on the Sermon on the Mount, the subtle self-righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees are often on my mind. Hypocritical (6:1), dividing between those they must love and those they may hate (5:41), and seeking the things of this world, under the guise of religious devotion (6:32; cf. 23:6-7).
The term "Pharisee," however has been spun in our modern culture in a very, well, pharisacial way. Jared Wilson explains in The "Religious People Boogeyman":
“Pharisee,” “legalist,” “religious person” is the church version of racist or Nazi. It is the rhetorical nuclear option specifically designed to shut up anyone with questions and paint them among their brothers and sisters as graceless jerks. But I think it actually works the other way around:Read his entire post. "Pharisees" are still hypocritical, unloving, and fundamentally worldly... they're just not always who you think they are. In fact, the Pharisee in the pew is probably not even the guy in the suit. He may actually be the "coolest" guy in your church.
Employing the “religious people” boogeyman ironically indulges in what it professes to decry. It is a great way to pray along with the self-justified pharisee, “I thank you God that I’m not like those religious people.”
If you’ve got real legalists in your church—and you do—the only way to intentionally offend them is by preaching the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. Everything else is just vain posturing and prideful provocation.
And Jesus says - in sober warning - the self-righteous, unloving, and the hypocritical, however influential and hip, will not enter the Kingdom of Heaven without repenting.