The Self-Righteous Trap

As soon as I swung, it seemed like his whole face was covered in blood.

I think I cried louder than he did.

We were playing with one of those balls you get at the dollar store.  You know the type.  They’re about the size of a soccer ball but they weigh somewhere around 0.389 ounces.  If you plan on doing anything more than rolling the ball across the floor, you’re in bad luck. Playing with it outside is out of the question because the slightest breeze always sends the ball soaring to the house at the end of the street with the pit bull.

So you can imagine our frustrations when my friend at daycare was trying to pitch the ball to me so that I could hit it with a big tree limb.  Oh, to be five again.

I kept telling him to come closer so that I would have a chance to hit the ball.

He did come closer.  And that’s when I saw the red all over his face.

In trying to fix one problem we walked right into another one.  Well, I guess I should say that he walked in to it.  Zachary, If you’re reading this, I’m sorry.  I hope that the headaches have stopped.

Self-righteousness works the same way.  If we’re not careful, our best escape attempt could land us right in the thick of it.

We all know the obvious form of self-righteousness to avoid.

“I have never had a drop of alcohol, I quit watching TV when Touched by an Angel went off the air and I have the entire New Testament memorized.”

There’s certainly nothing wrong with that kind of a lifestyle.  The self-righteousness comes into play when we start to think that living this way makes us right with God.  Things get really bad when we think that the people who don’t live this way are set to board the next train to hell.

This is classic self-righteousness.  We’ve seen it in others a lot and yes, we’ve even been guilty of it ourselves.  We know what to look for and what to avoid.

And it’s here where the trap is set.  It’s here that we can become so unself-righteous that we become, well, self-righteous.

Here’s how it works.

“I’ve made my share of mistakes and we all know that I still do.  I’m not some perfect Christian.”

On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with this.  We’ve all made mistakes and we will continue to until Christ returns.  Nobody is perfect.

The problem comes when this becomes a crutch for me and I convince myself that my imperfections are just my way of keeping it real.  At least I’m not like that self-righteous guy at church that has half the Bible memorized.

Both types of self-righteousness arrive at the same destination by different routes.

Traditional self-righteousness is fueled by pride.

“Hey, everybody!  I just finished reading through my Bible in a month.  God must be so proud.”

The more subtle version of self-righteousness is fueled by false humility.

“Well, you know me.  Just a rotten old sinner.”

But they both come together in a temple with a Pharisee that said, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men” (Luke 18:11).

Any time we compare our righteousness to another’s we are missing the gospel and falling victim to some version of self-righteousness.  There is only one that we must compare our righteousness to and we always fall woefully short (Romans 3:23).  But, in his grace, he will not leave us to wallow in our false humility.

Instead, In exchange for our righteousness, he gives us his.

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.  2 Corinthians 5:21 (ESV)