Do you remember the story of the two men who went up to the Temple to pray? Jesus said one went home justified and the other did not. Do you remember why? What separated them was the sin of comparison. You might think that the Pharisee was guilty of the sin of self-righteousness, and you would be right. Self-righteousness is the sin of comparison. It is the sin of thanking God that we are NOT LIKE OTHER MEN!
[Jesus] also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14)
The Pharisee was pleased that he was not like other men. In looking around at others, he always found himself standing on higher and more holy ground, because he kept looking down and comparing himself to others who were known by society to be the worst of the worst.
The Pharisee was speaking as an outsider. Self-righteous people always think they speak as outsiders. They believe they are not like others because they are simply better, and being “better,” they are quite sure, places them in a special category. And so it does, but not the category they think!
We are all self-righteous by nature. We are all recovering Pharisees. We have a tendency to keep an eye out for others who seem to be doing a little worse that we are; we put them down so we can lift ourselves up in our own eyes. That is why the Pharisee chose to compare himself with the obvious sinners and outcasts of society, rather than comparing himself with the patriarchs—Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It was a whole lot more comfortable comparing himself to the dregs of society! Our Lord spoke very directly about this kind of thinking:
Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5 ESV)
The gospel is the only cure for the disease of self-righteousness. Preaching the truths of the gospel to ourselves everyday (I am the chief sinner in need of The Great Savior) will help us keep an accurate view of who we really are (sinners) and what we are deeply in need of daily (grace). If you don’t see yourself as the chief sinner—if you are not painfully aware of the log in your own eye—you will always tend to put yourself up above others who commit sins you believe you could never commit. Self-righteousness makes you judge others instead of coming alongside them as their brother or sister in Christ. Self-righteousness makes you uptight, angry, condemning, and you will damage one relationship after another.
And please understand that trying to be less self-righteous is not the solution to your self-righteous problem. Even if you did manage to become less self-righteous, you would become more self-righteous about that! The key to good spiritual health is not in what you do, but rather in what you believe.
Let my friend and Bible teacher Steve Brown close out today’s message with an excerpt from his book, What Was I Thinking? We recently read through this marvelous work in our Brother Brigade men’s group, and I highly recommend it to everyone who struggles with feelings of self-righteousness—which means all of us! Steve suggests,
Maybe the solution isn’t in anything we do but rather in what we know. Could it be that the solution isn’t in making ourselves less self-righteous but rather in recognizing that we are self-righteous? In fact, the secret to getting better might be to simply recognize how difficult it is to get better, take our self-righteous shortcomings to Jesus, and tell everybody we know that we’ve been to him—and why we went there.
Sounds like good counsel to me. What do you think? It just might help all of us from seeing ourselves as not like other men!
This is the gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!