Stopping The Cycle Of Self-Righteousness

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It’s called passing the blame. We all do it. We do it because it makes us feel better about ourselves. It gives us a sense of righteousness. But it’s a false sense of righteousness and Jesus doesn’t care for it.

Person A does something terrible and he gets caught. Red handed. There’s no getting out of it. He could repent but that would require a measure of humility, a lacking quality in the character of Person A. So Person A does what seems most logical. He takes a look at Person B and finds that Person B has done the exact same thing. Or, even better for Person A, something much worse. Problem solved. At the very least, Person A is no worse than anyone else on the planet. But most likely, as he sees it and in spite of his wrong doing, he’s actually much better than everyone else.

The problem here is that we are not called to meet the standard of Person B. We are called to meet the standard of a holy God. And we all fail miserably. So when we carry on about how much better we are than the other fellow we sound an awful lot like the out of shape man in his 30s who can’t quit talking about how good his high school football team was. No one cares. It doesn’t matter.

Jesus told a story to get across just how much he hates this type of self-righteousness (Luke 18:9-14).

A well-respected religious man went to the temple to pray. He would have been better off staying at home. Rather that pleading with and worshiping God, this man used his time of prayer to show God what a great guy he is.

“God, thank you for making me so awesome. I am so much better than all of the sinners out there, especially that heathen on the other side of the room. Oh, and I also wanted to remind you that I make the effort to tithe even more than I’m supposed to. I’ll bet you don’t come across very many people like me. You’re welcome.”

On the other side of the room, another prayer was being spoken. But this one was different. It was much more simple. And much more humble.

“God, I deserve death but I ask for your mercy. I am a sinner.”

The man who prayed the first prayer was a member of the religious establishment. He was well-respected and well-taught. The crowd listening to Jesus’ story was most likely expecting Jesus to commend this man, simply because he belonged to the right group.

But instead of commending him, Jesus condemned him.

It was the second man, a hated tax-collector, who Jesus said went home justified. His humble cry for mercy was heard and the transition was made from sinner to justified.

Pay attention the next time a politician or one of the toddlers living in your home does something foolish. You won’t have to wait long and, chances are, you’ll have a hard time telling the difference between the toddler and the politician. Notice the response when they get caught. More than likely, the response is something closer to self-righteousness than genuine humility.

“But he did it too!”

Now pay attention to your own tendency to respond in the same way when you are convicted or exposed in some particular sin. Remember, that you are not called to measure your sin against the sins of another. No matter how much better than the other guy you convince yourself that you are, you still fall short of God’s standard.

And that leaves you with only one logical prayer.

“God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”

Sin will always be your master until you come to grips with your need for the Master’s mercy.

“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 18:14 (ESV)

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