Self-righteousness is an inner feeling that springs forth from the wicked well of moral superiority. By nature, as children of Adam, we all drink from this well daily. We are like the Pharisee described in Luke’s gospel who thanked God that he was “not like other men” who (he imagined) were far less noble than he.
So if we are all afflicted by this scourge by nature, how will we ever be rescued from it? The answer is found in clearly seeing the portrait Scripture paints of who we truly are:
No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it. (1 Corinthians 10:13)
My Greek professor—Dr. Sam Lamerson, who has become my dear friend—unpacked a more literal reading of this verse, explaining that the phrase “what is common to man” is translated from a single Greek word: anthropinos (manlike). The deepest meaning of this verse goes far beyond acknowledging that we are all tempted in ways common to everyone. It actually reveals the awful truth that the seeds of the most sinful man are planted deep within the hearts of every man. In other words, the seeds of the worst sins, sins committed by the most depraved people, are in all of us. When this truth seizes us, we are on the road of being rescued from self-righteousness.
What sin is beyond your reach? When we see sin in others that we believe we could never commit, we become their judge, and self-righteousness drives its roots deeper into the soil of our sinful hearts.
Shortly after trusting in Christ in September of 1995, I told my first spiritual mentor that I simply could not accept the Scriptural assessment of King David as being a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22). You will recall that David was the guy who should have been on the battlefield leading his troops instead of in bed with another man’s wife. And if that wasn’t wicked enough, he tried to cover up his sin by arranging for the woman’s husband to be killed in battle! How could this David be a man after God’s own heart? I have never forgotten my mentor’s explanation:
“Tommy, your problem is that you don’t see David’s story as your story.
And until you do, you will not begin to plumb the depths of the truths of the Gospel!”
Well of course, he was right. There was no way I saw my life story as David’s life story. I had not committed adultery. I had not committed murder. I was not what David was. Or was I?
In his book, Holiness By Grace, Bryan Chapell put it this way, “The scandal of Scripture is nothing less than the revelation of our own humanity. However untouched by the world’s corruptions we may believe ourselves to be, the Bible says our humanity makes us no more beyond the most detestable sins than was King David.”
I have been rescued from self-righteousness by coming to understand that I am never more than one poor decision away from damaging my witness, disgracing my family, and disqualifying myself from pastoring the church God called me and my family to plant. That sobering thought protects me from any misguided notion of moral superiority and keeps me focused on this truth: like the apostle Paul, I am the chief sinner, with the seeds of every sin within me. And that is why I need Jesus!
This is the Gospel. This is grace for your race. NEVER FORGET THAT . . . AMEN!