Yet we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ ... (Gal. 2:16 ESV)
The Pharisees were hypocrites because they thought that what God would do for them depended on what they did for God. So they read their Bibles, prayed, tithed, and kept the Sabbath as if their salvation depended on it. What they failed to understand is that God’s grace cannot be earned; it only comes free.
There is a way out of Pharisaism. The way out is called the gospel. It is the good news that Jesus Christ has already done everything necessary for our salvation. If we trust in him, he will make us right with God by giving us the free gift of his grace. When we reject our own righteousness to receive the righteousness of Jesus Christ, we become former Pharisees.
Most former Pharisees have a problem, however. It is hard for them to leave their legalism behind. Although initially they received God’s grace for free, they keep trying to put a surcharge on it. They believe that God loves them, but secretly they suspect his love is conditional, that it depends on how they are doing in the Christian life. They end up with a performance-based Christianity that denies the grace of God. To put this in theological terms, they want to base their justification on their sanctification.
This means that most former Pharisees—indeed, most Christians—are still in recovery. There is still something of the old legalist in us. Although we have been saved by grace, we do not always know how to live by grace. The gospel is something we received some time in the past, but not something we live and breathe. Galatians was written for people like us." ~ Philip Ryken