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May 26 2013

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God Quotes: The sin of self-righteousness

About that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. “And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea. “What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting. So if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand or one foot than to be thrown into eternal fire with both of your hands and feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell. “Beware that you don’t look down on any of these little ones. For I tell you that in heaven their angels are always in the presence of my heavenly Father. (Matthew 18:1-10 NLT)

The sin of self-righteousness

As I was reading David Wilkerson's It Is Finished: Finding Lasting Victory Over Sin, it struck me, for the first time, that the sin Jesus was referring to in Matthew 18:8-9 was the sin of self-righteousness or works righteousness. (That was where Wilkerson was leading me.) Wow, what a thought. I had always read the gouge-it-out and cut-it-off sins as any kind of sin that would hinder devotion to God and, therefore, should be dealt with seriously.

While dealing seriously with sin is important, it doesn't make sense that being in Heaven or Hell with or without a body part was based on just any kind of sin. But there is a sin that is an unforgivable sin–the sin of unbelief in the Son of God as revealed by the Holy Spirit. There are two ways one can denounce the message of Gospel: outright godless living (Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die.) because of a rejection of who Jesus is or an attempt at being godly without God's help (Don't taste. Don't look. Don't touch.) because Jesus' life and death are insufficient. While the lifestyles look very different, both of these postures rest in rejecting Jesus' redemptive work on the cross.

If you read the passage again with self-righteousness in place of “sin,” this is a powerful indictment to anyone who thinks he is able to be good enough. The sin is in trusting one's own righteousness to have merit in God's kingdom. It's not about a person teaching a child (or new believer) to do something naughty, it's about teaching this little one that anything more than faith in Jesus is needed for life in Jesus.

The challenge is to turn from self-righteousness and to humble oneself under the amazing power of God. So, that eye that is working hard at looking only at good things because looking at good things, and not bad things, will make him right with God should be plucked out. Not that looking at good things is bad–it's good!–but the belief that that is making him right with God is sin. We are tempted to believe that something other than faith in Jesus alone is sufficient. (We always want to add just a little of ourselves into the mix.) This is the message of every other religion of the world. “Want to please God? What access to God? Be good.” That is the message fully accepted by the world. And we, Christians, can fall right into that same thinking.

It gets tricky because stopping good things (and purposely doing wrong things) isn't smart. Getting drunk so I will break my self-righteous un-drunkenness isn't a recommendation. So, how do I do what is right AND maintain Christ-righteousness?

We recognize we are utterly broken. We are like lost children when it comes to Kingdom thinking. We need God's hand and a listening heart. We need to ask: Am I doing this because I believe it makes me right with you? Have I shifted from Christ-righteousness to self-righteousness? Wait for an answer. If God pricks your heart, repentance is in order. Repentance might include stopping ministry, saying “no” to a request, asking for help, confessing a hidden sin–exposing ourself to the reality of our brokenness and need. We stop telling ourselves the lie that if we work harder or hard enough, we can be right–right before God, before man, and before ourselves. Oh, how I try to avoid the squashed-bug feeling of un-rightness. Sitting in un-rightness feels wretched. Rescue comes from accepting God's righteousness and handing over our unrighteousness (which includes our attempts at being righteous on our one).

Not only are we to stop and deal dramatically with the sin of self-righteousness, the greatest evil we could do is cause another to follow in our steps of self-righteousness. Every time we applaud image over substance, every time we communicate that another person is unacceptable, we scream a message: Be good, and you will be accepted. That is a “drown in the depths of the sea” offense to the message of the cross. Jesus bled and died so we could have his righteousness. Why in the world would we hold our dirty-rags righteousness up to his righteousness and think “that's good enough.”

Sadly, I don't know when I fall into the trap until God shows me. Even then, I am helpless to un-self-righteousness myself. I need him to show me the truth about myself and to give me power to move in godliness. I am a wreck without him. This is the message of the Gospel: I am an utterly hopeless and helpless broken person and need the rescue provided by God through Jesus. It blows my mind just realizing how my waywardness comes so easily. It is right under my nose, and I can't see it unless God points it out. The solution is not a trying hard but in resting more in him.

What is your response to this passage?

If you replace the word “sin” with “self-righteousness,” what difference does it make on how you read the passage?

 

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