1) The unrighteous will live by self-interest.
2) The self-righteous will live by judgment and defensiveness.
3) The righteous will live by faith.
2) The self-righteous will live by judgment and defensiveness.
I think there are 2 kinds of self-righteous people. SELF-righteous, meaning I rely on myself to be righteous. It’s my religion, its my works, its my effort in serving, in reading the bible, in prayer — it’s a compilation of these things that make me righteous. Self-righteous people look down on others. It’s my way or the highway. My religion is better than your religion. My denomination is better than your denomination. My church rocks, your church is on the rocks. These are the very visible, “strong” self-righteous Christians and you don’t want to mess with these people because they’ll steamroll you over.
The other group of self-righteous people are not what you would automatically think of as being self-righteous. These are the bruised fruits. They’ve been burned. They are damaged goods. These people are stuck. They know what they like and what they don’t like.
Both groups of self-righteous people have a similar streak — they are like boulders — whatever you say, they can’t be moved.
Jesus was continually bumping heads with self-righteous religious leaders throughout his ministry. And Jesus was the Son of God. He was the embodiment of truth. He was the way, the truth and the life, through him we can be reconciled with God.
And rather than surrendering before this truth and repenting, all they could do in response was to be critical and defensive. And in the end, they crucified him.
From God’s perspective, seeing the response of these self-righteous Pharisees and teachers of the law must have been so heart breaking. Throughout his ministry, Jesus demonstrated over and over his heart for these people. They are religious. They want to honor God. They mean well. No one starts on this path of choosing religious leadership as a vocation with the intention of being judgmental. And certainly none of them signed up for this knowing that they would one day murder another fellow Rabbi and Jewish teacher just because they can’t accept his teachings. Jesus and his teachings didn’t jive well with the religious leaders so their solution was to get rid of him permanently and to silence the voice of truth.
I doubt any one of these leaders could envision themselves when they first started out as a young Rabbi being this kind of a monster.
Their position is so tragic because they are so close. Their religion has brought them face to face with the person who can free them from their self-righteousness. They are on the fence, in the middle ground, so close, yet they missed the point entirely.
As a young kid growing up, all I wanted was to make my dad proud. He was my hero. He could do no wrong. I realized at a young age that my dad valued education so I devoted myself to being the best in my class. And I saw the look of approval on his face whenever I brought home a report card with all A’s and the look of disapproval when there was one A minus. My dad meant the world to me and I didn’t want to let him down.
When I was in elementary school and I got into a scuffle with some kids at recess. They’d be like go back to China. First of all, I am not Chinese. And just because I am in an all-white neighborhood, why are they picking on me just because of my race?
And I’d get all worked up. And my brain would be racing as I was thinking what my comeback would be and all I could say was, yeah, well, my dad is smarter than your dad. That was probably a true statement in 90% of the cases since my dad is pretty smart. That is how much I looked up to my dad. As I got older, I realized that this comeback wasn’t too effective so I signed up for tae kwon do and I let my feet do the talking.
When I became a Christian, much of that child-like desire for approval from my dad got transferred to the Christian life. God seemed please when people read the Bible so I read my Bible. God seemed approving when I prayed so I prayed. God seemed to have a heart for the lost and taking care of others so I reached out to the lost and was an older brother for other students on the Berkeley campus.
I heard about missionaries to Ecuador like Jim Elliott and I was like, sign me up, I’m there. I walked on Telegraph and there was a homeless person who had need and I took him out to lunch because this pleased God.
Pleasing God is a great motivation for the Christian life. But I was a young Christian, this pure and innocent desire to please God was mixed in with a lot of pride. I didn’t verbalize it but looking back, I believed God was lucky to have me on his side. It was like there was a draft and I was a lottery pick and Team God got the number pick and He used it to get me.
With this youthful zeal and pride intermingled, I became a very self-righteous person. I looked down on people who couldn’t keep up. I elevated myself. I was driven by hard work and visible results in terms of the size of my small group and how many people I led to Christ. I thought I had living faith, but I realize now that I spent much of my early years in this middle ground between the realm of the unrighteous and the righteous.
In the years that followed, this youthful strong self-righteousness was replaced by the “weaker” bruised version of self-righteousness. We hit a rough spot as a church and I was on my own. Zeal was replaced by judgment. A heart that was tender toward God and quick to obey was replaced by defensiveness.
And it took a lot more spiritual energy to move me even one step because I had become a spiritual boulder, immovable.
And I share this because I find this pendulum swing in my heart at work all the time. When I am doing well, when I am reaching out, when I am praying and discipling others, I am that strong self-righteous one. When I fail, when life throws me some curve balls, when people wrong me or disappoint me, I am that weak, bruised self-righteous one. In both cases, I am immovable. I have life all figured out. I am in the judgment seat. I am defensive. I cannot be moved.
That’s why we need the church — we need help getting out of this viscious cycle, the pendulum swing from one end to the other.
We need each other so that we can be reminded of the essential things. Jesus Christ. Faith in him.