Making Room for the Self-Righteous
Open Your Bible
Matthew 7:1-5, Matthew 23:37-39, Luke 15:11-32, Luke 18:9-14, Romans 2:1-11, Romans 3:9-23
By Caleb Faires
I like to think of myself as forgiving, gracious, and humble. This illusion is easy to keep up if I don’t look too closely at my heart. Somewhere in there, I’ve been keeping a little list of names, offenses, and follies about the people I would rather avoid, shouldn’t trust, or frown upon. How could he act that way? How could she say those words and strut about with that attitude? However, when I stop to reconsider, pray, and open my Bible, I find that once again I’ve got a log in my eye. My own eyes don’t see clearly. My own heart doesn’t judge rightly.
I am reminded of an anecdote about G.K Chesterton. According to the story, The Times of London posed this question to various reputable authors: “What’s wrong with the world?” Chesterton’s answer was brief: “I am.”
Such a confession is fitting for all of us. Though I may be inclined to judge others more harshly, I am guilty too. If the apostle Paul can call himself the chief of sinners (1 Timothy 1:15), then what should be my confession? How often have I arrogantly received God’s blessings as if they were merited by my own hard work, creativity, ingenuity, or integrity? How often have I fallen into sin and didn’t even notice? I bear the name of Christ, but in what ways do I live like the world?
Christ’s words are a thunderous rebuke: “You will be judged by the same standard with which you judge others, and you will be measured by the same measure you use” (Matthew 7:2). Paul echoes this, saying, “Do you really think—anyone of you who judges those who do such things yet do the same—that you will escape God’s judgment?” (Romans 2:3).
What can we say to this? No one is righteous, none of us (Romans 3:10). In the face of God’s righteousness, I have no answer in myself. I lay my hand on my mouth (Job 40:4). The moment we start counting our righteousness, we are attempting to gain merit by means of the law. But this law rightly condemns us, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). For this reason, the highest mark of the Christian walk is not personal righteousness, but repentance. Therefore, my heart should be open not only for the prodigal, but also for his self-righteous elder brother.
We have all been blessed with the riches of God’s kindness, forbearance, and patience. But God gives grace so that we may see our own blindness, that we may walk in His merits, and show mercy even as we have received mercy. God’s kindness is meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4).
God has had mercy on my Pharisee heart, and has granted to me the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ. If I understand this rightly, my heart will be truly humbled, not hypocritical. The result will be a gratitude that bears the fruit of Christ-likeness, and an openness to loving the self-righteous, even as Christ has loved me.
Written by Caleb Faires