Pulpit: Beware of self-righteousness
Self-righteousness seeks to replace God's righteousness with a fake righteousness created by human effort. "For not knowing about God's righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God." (Romans 10:3) However, God tells us that "all our righteousness is like filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6).
What does self-righteousness look like? "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. … I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' "But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'"
"I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted." (Luke 18:10-14)
Take a look at some characteristics of the self-righteousness Pharisee. He trusted in himself, compared himself with others, despised others, had a select set of rules, and his "I've made it" attitude left no room for growth. Notice that he liked to hear himself pray; he had his own short list of "don'ts" and a couple of "dos;" and his righteousness was all based on his own effort without any reliance God.
Modern Christians can fall into the same trap. Some see righteousness as obedience to a superior set of behavior rules but find that the rules must always be amended to keep up with the times. A rock can obey many rules; it neither smokes, nor gets drunk, nor goes to the movies, nor dances, nor dresses inappropriately because it has no life. Christ came to bring us life in abundance. (See John 10:10)
Some seek righteousness through a theology "that's better than anybody else's." But Jesus challenged the Pharisees on that: "Why do you yourselves transgress the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?" "And by this you invalidated the word of God for the sake of your tradition." (Matthew 15:3, 6)
God's word is not only necessary but also sufficient for all righteousness. "God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5:8) "We maintain that a man is justified [made righteous] by faith apart from works of the Law." (Romans 3:28)
Some find their righteousness by comparing themselves with others. But: "I [Jesus Christ] am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." (Revelation 22:13)
Jesus is the one and only standard. Only when we compare ourselves with him can we see our true spiritual condition.
"Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant." (Mark 10:43) The ground is level at the foot of the cross of Christ. There are no inferior Christians; only Christians who need to grow in faith and to help others along the way.
"By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13:35) That's for every Christian at every level of faith from every background.
Jerome Huebner is an elder and teacher at Salem Road Covenant Church in Rochester. Pulpit runs on the Saturday faith pages and features reflections from area religious leaders. To contribute, contact Life Section Editor Jeff Pieters at 285-7748 or firstname.lastname@example.org.