Self Righteous

Luke 18:11-12

When William Carey, early pioneer of missions, had his 70th birthday, he wrote to one of his sons these words:
"I am this day seventy years old, a monument of Divine mercy and goodness, though on a review of my life
I find much, very much, for which I ought to be humbled in the dust; my direct and positive sins are innumerable,
my negligence in the Lords work has been great, I have not promoted his cause, nor sought his glory
and honour as I ought, notwithstanding all this, I am inspired till now, and am still retained in his Work,
and I trust I am received into the divine favour through him
."

In 1793 William Carey went to India.
He was often called the father of modern missions.
His vast ministries for Christ included translation of all or parts of the Bible into more than 40 languages and dialects.
He was the originator of the well-known missionary slogan, "Expect great things from God;
attempt great things for God
."

How could a man of such remarkable faith in God, who had accomplished so much for God,
lamented toward the end of his life his own sinfulness and shortcomings?
Why didn't Carey speak with the gratitude and praise on what God had done to him?
Was Carey's attitude due to an unhealthy, low self-esteem, or did it reflect a healthy realism that is characteristic
of a godly, mature Christian?
Should Carey's attitude be an example for us to follow, or should we write it off as an unfortunate bit
of introspection that comes with old age?

These are not just theoretical questions, because Carey's attitude addresses two significant needs
among committed believers:.
First, there is the need for a humble realization of our own sinfulness.
Second, there is the need for a grateful acceptance of God's grace.

Christians tend toward one of two opposite attitudes.
The first is a relentless sense of guilt due to unmet expectations in living the Christian life.
People characterized by this mode of thinking frequently dwell on their besetting sins or on their failure to witness
to their neighbors or to live up to numerous other challenges of the Christian life that are so often laid up on them.

Christian Pharisaism

The other attitude is one of them varying degrees of self-satisfaction with one's Christian life.
We can drift into this attitude because we are convinced that we believe the right doctrines and that we read
the right Christian books, and that we practice the right disciplines of a committed Christian life,
or that we are actively involved in some aspect of Christian ministry and are not just "pew sitters" in the church.

Perhaps, we have become self-righteous about our Christian lives because we look at society around us
and see flagrant immorality, pervasive dishonesty, wholesale greed, and increasing violence.
We see a growing acceptance of abortion as a "right" and homosexuality
as an acceptable alternate lifestyle.

Because we are not guilty of these more gross forms of sin, we can begin to feel rather good about our Christian lives.

When we think like that we are in danger of becoming like the Pharisee in the parable that Jesus told in Luke 18:9-14.
Jesus said, "The Pharisee stood up and prayed about himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like
other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get
." (Verses 11-12)

The Pharisee was orthodox in his believes and very committed in his religious practices.
He would have met our threefold description of discipleship.
He fasted twice a week (spiritual disciplines); he was not a robbery, evildoer, or adulterer (obedience);
and he gave a tenth of all his income (service).

To use our good-day-bad-day terminology, he was living in a continuous good-day scenario, or so he thought.
But he had one fatal flaw.
He was self-righteous and, through the parable of Jesus has become the classic example
of religious pride and self-satisfaction.

Unlike the Pharisee, the tax collector was painfully aware of his sinfulness.
He didn't just ask for forgiveness of certain sins.
He pleaded for mercy as a sinner.
In the original language, the text reads, "God be merciful to me the sinner."

Not only did he not compare himself favorably with others as the Pharisee did; he didn't compare himself at all.
He was not concerned with how he measured up with respect to other people.
He was concerned with how he measured up before a holy and righteous God.
He knew he stood alone before God with his sin, so he pleaded for mercy.

Jesus said the tax collector went home justified, that is declared righteous before God.
He freely and rather desperately acknowledged that he had no righteousness of his own,
so he received his as a gift of God.

We usually approach this parable with the sense of approval that comes from reading about
other people instead of ourselves.
We agree that the Pharisee was covered with religious pride, but then we think the parable doesn't apply to us
because we have trusted in Christ and are already justified.
However, we shouldn't relegate this parable just to the self-righteous and obvious "sinners" among unbelievers.
The parable also speaks to us who are believers.

Jesus told the parable to those who were confident of their own righteousness, that is, to those who felt good
about their own performance.
As long as we compare ourselves with society around us and with other believers who are not as committed as we are,
we also are apt to become competent of our own righteousness – not a righteousness under salvation,
but at least a righteousness that will make God pleased with our performance.
Therefore the sin of the Pharisee can become the sin of the most orthodox and committed Christian.

A large part of our problem as believers is that we have defined sin in its more obvious forms
– forms of which we are not guilty.
We think of sin in terms of sexual immorality, drunkenness, lying, cheating, stealing, and murder.
And in more recent years we have tended to focus on the societal sins of abortion and homosexuality.
We see the ever-increasing pervasiveness of these more flagrant sins, and we see ourselves looking good by comparison.

Certainly these more gross sins of society are deep cause for concern, and we should be grateful
for those prophetic voices that God has raised up to expose these moral cancers in our society.

But we must not become so preoccupied with the sins of modern-day culture that we ignore the needs in our own lives.

Refined Sins

These "refined" sins are sins of nice people.
They are sins that we can regularly commit and still retain our positions as pastors, elders, deacons,
Sunday school teachers, Bible study leaders, and yes, even full-time Christian workers.

So let us look at some of these "refined" sins.

First, there is the tendency to judge others and to speak critically of them to other people.
This seems to be such an acceptable vice among believers that we don't even recognize it
unless it is flagrant – and always and someone else.

We must take seriously the warning from Jesus about a critical spirit in Matthew 7:3:
"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention
to the plank in your own eye
?"

We need to learn to back off from judging others and leave that to God.
We find this as an instruction from the apostle Paul when he said:
"Who are you to judge someone else's servant?
To his own master he stands or falls.
And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand
." (Romans 14:4)
A judgmental spirit is too often a vice of committed Christians.
We must recognize this sin as it really is.

A judgmental spirit usually reflects its self and speech that is critical of others.
We need to begin praying the prayer that David prayed: "Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord;
keep watch over the door of my lips." (Psalm 141:3)

As the Holy Spirit begin working on the in this area, I was surprised to realize how often
I was saying something critical of another brother or sister in Christ.

And then there is gossip.
It is that endless recounting in passing on of those sins and misfortunes of others.
Many seem to get a perverse delight out of being the bearer of bad news about other people.
Solomon warned us about gossip when he said, "He who covers over an offense promotes love,
but who every piece the matter separates close friends." (Proverbs 17:9)

He also said in Proverbs 20:19: "A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much."
(Proverbs 20:19)
Or a woman or a young person who talks too much.

Do we take this seriously, or more accurately, do we take the Holy Spirit seriously.
After all, Solomon wrote under His inspiration and guidance.

In Ephesians 4:29 Paul wrote: "Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths,
but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen
."

The word, "unwholesome," covers any kind of speech that tends to tear down another person,
either spoken to or about that person.
And Paul warns us that this type of negative speech is absolutely prohibited.

How would we respond if someone said, "Well, I'm not really a thief, but I do steal occasionally,"
or "I am not an adulterer, but I sometimes have an affair?"
We would have to say that such an attitude like that is ridiculous and unacceptable for a Christian.

We know that God's prohibitions against stealing and adultery are absolute.
But all too often we allow ourselves to think this way about our speech.
We gossip and we criticize, though we would not want to be known as a gossip or a critical person.

The Scriptures do not allow for any gossip or criticism, or any other form of unwholesome speech,
even if what we say is true.
We are simply not to say anything about someone else that we wouldn't want to eventually be heard by that person.

Even criticism addressed to someone should be given only with the motivation of benefiting that person.
It should never be given out of a spirit of impatience or irritability, or with a desire to belittle the individual.
Only honest criticism given from the heart of love in a spirit of humility can qualify as that
which builds up the other person.

How many of us do not offend others frequently with our tongues?
The real problem, however, is not our tongues but our hearts.
For Jesus said in Matthew 12:34: "For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks."
So it would not be sufficient to win control over our tongues, even if we could.
We must recognize that sin in our hearts.

There are other so-called "refined" sins that we can commit and still be respectable
among our Christian friends?
Some of the more common ones are in the area of interpersonal relationships.
These would include resentment, bitterness, an unforgiving spirit, impatience, and irritability.

In Ephesians 4:30 Paul gave this warning, "And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God."
We must remember that all sin grieves God, and Paul could have inserted that warning
in the context of sexual immorality (Ephesians 5:3-5) or lying and stealing (Ephesians 4:25, 28).

But Paul places it in the context of sins we commit with hardly any sins of shame or guilt.
The message should be clear.

God is grieved over our "refined" sins just as He is grieved over sexual immorality or dishonesty.
That is not to say that being irritable at one spouse is as serious as something like adultery.
This is to say that being irritable at one spouse is a sin, and that all sin grieves God and should grieve us.

One of our problems with the so-called refined sins is that we have become too comfortable
with the whole concept of sin.
Because we do sins so frequently we learn to coexist with it as long as it doesn't get too out of control or scandalous.
Have we forgotten, or have we never learned just how seriously God regards all sin.

The Seriousness Of Sin

There are some passages of Scripture that will help us see the seriousness of sin.
They are Leviticus 16:21, 2 Samuel 12:9-12, and 1 Kings 13:21.

In Leviticus 16:21, God uses the word, rebellion, to describe the sins of the Israelites.
The Hebrew word, which is usually translated as "transgressions," means rebellion against authority.
So God considers our sin, be it refined or scandalous, as rebellion against His sovereign rule over His creatures.

Then the Scripture in 2 Samuel 12: 9-10 occurs in the prophet Nathan's rebuke of David for committing adultery
with Bathsheba and then having her husband killed in an attempt to cover up his sin.
Through Nathan God says that David had despised His word (verse 9), and had despised even God Himself (verse 10).

The word, "despised", means to disdain or treat with contempt.
So, when we send we are in effect creating God and His Word with disdain or contempt
– we are despising God.

We cannot get around the force of the word, despised, thinking that it fits the scandalous nature of David's crimes,
but that it doesn't apply to us.
The same God who said, "You shall not murder" or "You shall not commit adultery"
also said, "You shall not covet."
(Exodus 20:13-14, 17)

It is not the seriousness of the sin as we view it, but the infinite majesty sovereignty of the God
who gave the commandments, that makes our sin a despising of God and His Word.
How often I must bow my head in shame to realize how lightly I have treated some sins that God regards
as rebellion and a despising of Him.

An 1 Kings 13:21 is the third word.
That word is defy.
"You have defied the word of the Lord."

The word, disobeyed, used in this instance inmost Bible translations, doesn't capture the intense force
of this word, probably because we are so used to the concept of disobedience.
But we all recognize that the word, defy, escalates the seriousness of disobedience.
It is a direct challenge to the authority of God.

That God would use such a word in this instance is all the more striking because the prophet who defied
God didn't commit a scandalous sin.
He simply did what God has specifically told him not to do – to eat or drink in the land of Samaria
or return by the way he came.
Yet God regarded his sin not as mere disobedience on the level we associate with that word but as defiance.

Again, the seriousness of sin is not simply majored by its consequences, but by the authority of God
who gives the command.

So these three words – rebellion, despised, and defy, are all synonyms for sin that can help us
to begin to grasp the seriousness of all sin, even our so-called refined sins.
And we are not through yet.

We continue to probe the sinfulness of our hearts, and we come to self-centeredness, selfish ambition.
We also come to the love of position, power, or praise.
Then we come to having an independent spirit, and the tendency to manipulate events or other people for our own ends.
Then there is indifference to the terminal or temporal welfare of those around us, and finally we come
to the cancer sin of materialism.

There are places that we get a load of guilt laid on us who live in the United States about materialism.
Now I have no desire to lay guilt on someone just because he or she lives in a better house
and eat better food than people in the less developed countries.

But here is a statistic that should alarm and sadness when we learned that only 4 percent of evangelicals
in the United States give a tithe (10 percent) of their income to God's work.

Some Christians try to question the applying of the tithe concept in the New Testament era.
This is still a shameful statistic.
It means the overwhelming majority of professing Christians in the most affluent nation in history
are spending most of their income on themselves.

On the other hand, those who do give 10 percent of their income to God's work can become proud
and self-righteous about it has they look around and see others who are not as generous.
In that case, all we're doing is exchanging one cent for another – the sin of materialism and selfishness
for the sin of self-righteous pride.

There are many other sins that we could mention such as those of the mind and heart that no one else
in the world knows about except God.
We have not even mentioned our failures to exhibit the positive traits of Christian character such as
love, gentleness, kindness, patience, and humility.
We are not only to put off the traits of the old self, we are to put on the traits of the new self
as we see in Ephesians 4:22-24.

You might be surprised by the primacy of love in the New Testament teaching, and you might be surprised
by the almost 40 references to humility, either in the use of the word itself or in concept,
and the obvious importance that both Jesus and the apostles put on that virtue.
Yet most of us give so little attention to growing and humility.
The opposite trait of humility is pride and there is no pride like that of self-righteousness,
and feeling good about our own religious performance and looking down on others.

The problem with self-righteousness is that it seems almost impossible to recognize it in ourselves.
We will confess to almost any other sin, but not the sin of self-righteousness.
When we have this attitude, we deprive ourselves of the joy of living in the grace of God.
Because grace is only for sinners.

After love and humility, there are at least twenty-five more Christian virtues to put on, among which
there is a lot of room for all of us to grow.
Yet to the extent that we miss the mark in those positive Christian character traits,
we are sinners in the need of God's grace.

If we refuse to identify ourselves as sinners as well as saints, we risk the danger of deceiving ourselves
about our sin and becoming like the self-righteous Pharisee.
In that case our hearts are deceitful (Jeremiah 17:9), and we all have moral "blind spots."
We have a difficult time enough seeing our sin without someone insisting that we no longer
consider ourselves as "sinners."

With all this in mind, what is the point of all this?
The point is do we identify with the Pharisee or the tax collector?
Obviously, no one wants to addenda file with the Pharisee.
But are we willing to identify with the tax collector as sinners deeply in need of the grace and mercy of God?

Are we willing to say, "God be merciful to me the sinner."
We are truly saved sinners.
Are we willing to acknowledge that even our righteous acts are no more than filthy rags in the sight of God.
(Isaiah 64:6)

One of the great theologians of the past, John Owen, wrote these words way back in 1657:
"Believers obey Christ as the one by whom our obedience is accepted by God.
Believers know all their duties are weak, imperfect and unable to abide in God's presence.
Therefore they look to Christ as the one who bears the iniquity of their holy things, who adds incense
to their prayers, gathers out all the weeds from their duties and makes them acceptable to God
."

Here we see that John Owen speaks of Christ bearing the iniquity of our holy things – that is,
the sinfulness of even our good works.
He said, "Even our tears of repentance need to be washed in the blood of the lamb."
He is reminding us that our best works can never earn us one bit of favor with God.

So let us turn our attention from our own performance, whether it seems good or bad to us,
and look to the gospel of Jesus Christ which is God's provision for our sin, not only on the day
we trusted cries for our salvation but for every day of our Christian lives.

Sermon was adapted from several sources by Dr. Harold L. White.