by Derek Hinckley
I recently read a devotional by Paul David Tripp that hit me right between the eyes. The devotional begins with the following thought: “When you think you’re righteous, you expect others to be righteous as well, so you become demanding, judgmental, and constantly disappointed.”
In our increasingly politicized, partisan lives, it is easy to fall into this trap of self-righteousness. Many of us want to be right, we want to be winners, and we want others to be like us, so we wrap ourselves up in the mantle of righteousness. If we are right, then we must be righteous, and therefore others should submit to our thinking. We might even go so far as to leverage scriptures to help justify our point!
Jesus describes this situation in Matthew 23. Speaking to the crowds and his disciples, Jesus says,
2 The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat, 3 so do and observe whatever they tell you, but not the works they do. For they preach, but do not practice. 4 They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger. 5 They do all their deeds to be seen by others. For they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long, 6 and they love the place of honor at feasts and the best seats in the synagogues 7 and greetings in the marketplaces and being called rabbi by others.
In other words, when you think you are righteous, you expect others to be righteous as well. But self-righteousness is not righteous. Why not? Jesus continues:
8 But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brothers. 9 And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven. 10 Neither be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Christ. 11 The greatest among you shall be your servant. 12 Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
The only path to righteousness is through Jesus Christ, the only truly righteous man to have ever lived. If we seek righteousness through our politics, our careers, our children, or any of the idols our society erects, then we deceive ourselves and fall into the pit of self-righteousness. Does this mean that we should avoid these areas of our lives entirely? Not necessarily so, but we need to keep them in their proper place and view them through the proper lens—that of a repentant believer earnestly pursuing a relationship with Christ.
So as we face a presidential election season, an ongoing pandemic, heightened awareness of racial injustices, all on top of the challenges of our personal lives, join me in praying for a humble heart that rejoices in knowing that we do not need to be righteous, we need to repent and believe.