The Insidiuos Danger of Self-Righteousness

by Rev. Sean Finnegan on October 23, 2016
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Jesus and Pharisees

1. Mark 2.16-17 16 And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, "Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?" 17 And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners."

2. Mark 3.1-6 1 Again he entered the synagogue, and a man was there with a withered hand. 2 And they watched Jesus, to see whether he would heal him on the Sabbath, so that they might accuse him. 3 And he said to the man with the withered hand, "Come here." 4 And he said to them, "Is it lawful on the Sabbath to do good or to do harm, to save life or to kill?" But they were silent. 5 And he looked around at them with anger, grieved at their hardness of heart, and said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." He stretched it out, and his hand was restored. 6 The Pharisees went out and immediately held counsel with the Herodians against him, how to destroy him.

3. Matthew 23.23-26 23 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness. These you ought to have done, without neglecting the others. 24 You blind guides, straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel! 25 "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.

what do you think when you hear the Pharisees?
- “Yeah, Jesus, give it to those no-good Pharisees”
- “I can’t stand Pharisees”
- “nothing worse than a Pharisee”
- “man, I gotta watch myself, because I don’t want to fall into that same way of thinking”

history of Pharisees
- Pharisees were the separate ones--”those who dedicated themselves to taking God and his law seriously
- Shaye Cohen:* “Practically all scholars now agree that the name “Pharisee” ...means ‘one who is separated’”
- ancient Jewish historian Josephus:** “They are extremely influential among the masses”
- Josephus:*** “[T]he Sadducees are able to persuade none but the rich...but the Pharisees have the multitude on their side.”
- not professional hypocrites
- wanted to live according to God’s commands
- which is why, they couldn’t help but looking down on the poor unwashed masses, the am ha eretz

the dark side of holiness
- it’s so easy to slip into moral superiority
- to think other’s sins are worse than your own
- as you conquer sins, and put some time between you and them, you start to feel like anyone who is still caught in that behavior is so behind or backwards or not with it
- you quit lying to people, say 10 years ago
- when you see someone lying, it’s hard not to look down on them…oh, they’re still lying to people

Romans 2.1-4 1 Therefore you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you, the judge, practice the very same things. 2 We know that the judgment of God rightly falls on those who practice such things. 3 Do you suppose, O man-- you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself-- that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God's kindness is meant to lead you to repentance?
- we’re convinced God’s going to grade on a curve
- I’m not as bad as other people
- murderers, rapists, and child molesters

Even David struggled with this very issue!
2 Samuel 12.1-4 "There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor. 2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds, 3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. And he brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children. It used to eat of his morsel and drink from his cup and lie in his arms, and it was like a daughter to him. 4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was unwilling to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had come to him, but he took the poor man's lamb and prepared it for the man who had come to him."
- David grew very angry
- David: “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die”
- Nathan: “You are the man!”

Luke 18.9-14 9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: 10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.' 13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' 14 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."

Dale Tuggy: “God would rather have ten humble Trinitarians that are trying to follow Jesus every day, and act his teachings in their daily lives, he’d rather have ten of those guys than one constantly battling and self-righteous, angry, condemning, doctrine-obsessed Unitarian, who’s got the correct theology. So…don’t be that guy. If we’re that guy, the movement’s doomed.”

but, this issue runs deeper than
- pharisaic hypocrisy
- foul language
- doctrinal arrogance

Frederick Douglass

I find, since reading over the foregoing Narrative, that I have, in several instances, spoken in such a tone and manner, respecting religion, as may possibly lead those unacquainted with my religious views to suppose me an opponent of all religion. To remove the liability of such misapprehension, I deem it proper to append the following brief explanation. What I have said respecting and against religion, I mean strictly to apply to the slaveholding religion of this land, and with no possible reference to Christianity proper; for, between the Christianity of this land, and the Christianity of Christ, I recognize the widest possible difference--so wide, that to receive the one as good, pure, and holy, is of necessity to reject the other as bad, corrupt, and wicked. To be the friend of the one, is of necessity to be the enemy of the other. I love the pure, peaceable, and impartial Christianity of Christ: I therefore hate the corrupt, slaveholding, women-whipping, cradle-plundering, partial and hypocritical Christianity of this land. Indeed, I can see no reason, but the most deceitful one, for calling the religion of this land Christianity. I look upon it as the climax of all misnomers, the boldest of all frauds, and the grossest of all libels. Never was there a clearer case of "stealing the livery of the court of heaven to serve the devil in." I am filled with unutterable loathing when I contemplate the religious pomp and show, together with the horrible inconsistencies, which every where surround me. We have men-stealers for ministers, women-whippers for missionaries, and cradle-plunderers for church members. The man who wields the blood-clotted cowskin during the week fills the pulpit on Sunday, and claims to be a minister of the meek and lowly Jesus. The man who robs me of my earnings at the end of each week meets me as a class-leader on Sunday morning, to show me the way of life, and the path of salvation. He who sells my sister, for purposes of prostitution, stands forth as the pious advocate of purity. He who proclaims it a religious duty to read the Bible denies me the right of learning to read the name of the God who made me… The Christianity of America is a Christianity, of whose votaries it may be as truly said, as it was of the ancient scribes and Pharisees, "They bind heavy burdens, and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders, but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers…Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye pay tithe of mint, and anise, and cumin, and have omitted the weightier matters of the law, judgment, mercy, and faith; these ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone. Ye blind guides! which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter; but within, they are full of extortion and excess…Such is, very briefly, my view of the religion of this land; and to avoid any misunderstanding, growing out of the use of general terms, I mean by the religion of this land, that which is revealed in the words, deeds, and actions, of those bodies, north and south, calling themselves Christian churches, and yet in union with slaveholders. It is against religion, as presented by these bodies, that I have felt it my duty to testify.****


even as I read this description, what thoughts are aroused in your heart?
- “those hypocritical southern plantation owners; how could they?”
- “if I was alive back then I wouldn’t be a slave holder”
- self-righteousness
- these plantation owners are sincere bible-believing Christians, yet their hypocrisy is so evident we can barely stand to look at it
- are you better than they?
- do you think because we live in an enlightened age with superior technology and information access that we are above them?
- well, then you are the same as they since that is the same superiority attitude they used to justify the holding of slaves

so what’s the solution?

Tim Keller’s moral performance narrative vs. grace narrative
- what makes you so great?
- it’s not your grit, your looks, your athletic prowess, your intelligence, your holiness
- what makes you great is God saved you and continues to save you
There are two basic ways of thinking about your self-image. One is one I’m going to call a moral-performance narrative. A moral-performance narrative says, “I’m ok, I’m a good person, I feel significant and I have worth because I’m achieving something.” So if you are a liberal person and you feel like, “I’m a good person because I am working for the poor and working for human rights and I’m open minded,” you can’t help, in a moral performance narrative, where your self-image is based your performance as a generous liberal activist person…you can’t help but look down your nose at bigots; you can’t but feel superior to bigots. On the other hand what if you are a traditional, religious person and you go to church and you read your bible or you go to synagogue and read your bible or you go to the[]mosque and read the Koran. You're working hard to feel good and serve God, etc. Now in that case, you have to look down your nose at people who don’t believe in your religion. They’re not being as good as you are. Maybe you’re just a secular person and you’re a hardworking decent chap. You can’t help it--if you’re self-image is based on the fact that you’re a hardworking decent chap--you can’t help but look down your nose at people who are lazy. But the gospel, the gospel is something different. The gospel says, “Jesus Christ comes and saves you.” The gospel says, “You’re a sinner.” The gospel says, “You don’t live up to your own standards.” The gospel says, “There is no way you are going to live up to your own standards.” The gospel says, “You have failed; you’re a moral failure and salvation only belongs to people who admit their they’re moral failures.” Jesus came in weakness and died on the cross. He says that salvation is only for weak people; it is only for people who admit they’re not better than anyone else and they just need mercy. If you have a grace narrative, if you say, “The reason I can look myself in the mirror, the reason I know I have significance is because Jesus died for me. I am a sinner saved by grace.” If you say that, then you can’t feel superior to anybody. I’ve got a Hindu neighbor in my apartment building and I think he is wrong about…many things but he probably is a better father than me; he could be a much better man, why? “Aren’t you a Christian and he’s a Hindu? Don’t you think you have the truth.” Yeah, but here’s the truth! The truth is I’m a sinner and I’m saved by grace...I’m not saved because I’m a better man. I’m saved because I’m a worse man, really. And so what happens is the grace narrative takes away the kind of superiority and removes that slippery slope that I mentioned in the very beginning, that leads from superiority to separation to caricature and to passive and active oppression. It just takes it away. Now Christians have got to admit in a great degree that we operate out of a[]moral-performance narrative and we don’t have to because we’ve got the gospel.*****


we need humility not smugness
- that doesn’t me we shouldn’t care about holiness
- but it means that as we strive to do what’s right, follow Christ more closely, we don’t start building our since of worth on our accomplishments or disciplines
- we must remember who we were before
- we were the one drunk in the gutter, mouths full of four letter words
- we were the ones enslaved to lust, pornography, premarital sex
- we were the ones cursing, deceiving, back-biting, gossiping, dishonoring
- that was us, that was you, that was me
- anything I’ve overcome was a gift from God--a result of his grace

no longer look down
- so you look at someone out there w/ tattoos and going to parties, do you say to yourself, I’m glad I’m not like that?
- did Jesus say to himself when he encountered the town sinner, “wow, you’re really bad...I’m glad I’m so perfect?”
- no! when you see that person whose caught in the clutches of vanity, whose numbing themselves with drugs and alcohol, whose rebelling against God and doesn’t even know it...you have compassion!
- that’s what Jesus did
- he cared!
- we need to care!
- do you care?
- yes, they’re in sin, which is precisely why we should reach out in love

James 4.10-12 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you. 11 Do not speak evil against one another, brothers. The one who speaks against a brother or judges his brother, speaks evil against the law and judges the law. But if you judge the law, you are not a doer of the law but a judge. 12 There is only one lawgiver and judge, he who is able to save and to destroy. But who are you to judge your neighbor?

* Shaye J.D. Cohen, From the Maccabees to the Mishnah: Second Edition (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press 2006), p. 152.
** Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 18.1.3-4
***Josephus, Antiquities 13.10.6
****Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave. Written by Himself. (1845)
*****“The Reason for God,” Authors @ Google Talk, March 5, 2008



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