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The inner Pharisee and the engine of fear

I got back from our annual youth retreat yesterday. It was meaningful and fun though exhausting. I preached a message from John 7:53-8:11 (Jesus and the adulteress) that was received surprisingly well. I wrestled with how to communicate this text in our particular Asian American context. It seems like most affluent, high-functioning, church-going Asian kids don't struggle with overt sin issues like premarital sex, drugs, and alcohol, etc. I wondered how I would talk about someone being caught in the act of adultery. I could not think of a truly humiliating moment where I was caught doing something wrong. Most of my embarrassing moments are not shameful. And the truly shameful moments I could only share with my closet friends. Even so, those moments did not include any type of public shaming. That would be unbearable.

I live in fear of public shame. Many things I do are meant to avoid humiliation. I condemn myself and imagine the condemnation of others so that I can be motivated to behave correctly. This means I am far more critical of myself than I am of others. In fact, my condemnation of others indicates my own self-loathing. And self-condemnation is the gasoline of the fear engine. It keeps us running on the treadmill of Christian works. But eventually we get tired. I think most of us Asian Americans operate like this. And that's why I wanted to develop the idea of the inner Pharisee.

Among highly moral people, I suspect the inner Pharisee may be the biggest obstacle to receiving the gospel and enjoying the grace of Jesus Christ.


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