Thursday, July 24, 2008

The pride of moral superiority

"There is none righteous, not even one." (Rom. 3:10)

Last Saturday at Men's Bible Study, we were made aware of our own pride and selfishness through Jerry Bridge's book, Respectable Sins.

Bridges has spent thousands of hours studying
and writing and preaching and counseling on the matter of personal holiness. So when he speaks about the human heart, I know I need to listen. And what he said about self-righteous pride really grabbed my attention:

I venture that of all the subtle sins we will address in this book, the pride of moral superiority may be the most common, second only to the sin of ungodliness. But though it is so prevalent among us, it is difficult to recognize because we all practice it to some degree. In fact, we seem to get a perverse enjoyment out of discussing how awful society around us is becoming. When we engage in this kind of thinking and conversation, we are guilty of the pride of moral superiority. (p. 90)
I feel way too good about myself. If my thoughts and impulses were carried out and translated into words, I would probably be caught saying things like,

"Thank God I'm not like that murderer, or drug addict, or homosexual. I sure am glad I'm not one of those open theists, or emergents, or charismatics, or Arminians! Come to think of it, I really am a pretty good Christian. I read my Bible more than he does; I arrive to church
earlier than she does; I know my theology better than he does; I never struggle with the sin he does; I'm a lot nicer to be around than she is; my prayers are much more fluent than his; my comments are always more profound than hers; I'm a better writer than she is; I'm a better preacher than he is; and I bet I even tithe more than he does. God sure must be happy with me. Isn't He lucky to have me on His side?"

I'm being only slightly facetious here. In these moments of moral comparison, which are far too frequent, I'm really no better than the Pharisee of Luke 18:11-12. Exalting himself, he was humbled by God, and found no mercy (v. 14).


The remedy to all of this is to fix my eyes completely on Christ. His glory and perfection smash my self-righteousness like a sledgehammer. And when I hear His words, "You shall be holy, for I am holy," (1 Pet. 1:16), I suddenly realize just how sinful I am, and how much I need the cross of Jesus every day.

1 comment:

M.L. McCullah said...

Stephen,

Excellent thoughts! I have come to recognize my need of meditating on who God is as our Lord, our Judge, our Redeemer, and the One who cares for me, more and more!

After thinking through what you communicated about making moral comparisons, I see that such thinking is legalism and in a sense a works-righteousness. In others words, I have come to trust more in who I am, what I do, and what I do not do! Often such thinking and comments "fly under the radar" because we dress it up with a pious phrase of by the grace of God I am better then the next man.

This is performance oriented or what Doriani calls Nike Christianity. Far to often I have found myself thinking that God is pleased with me, not because of what Christ has done (which destroys my pride), but of how much improvement I have made in being "sanctified".

I am not saying that we should not pursue God so that He can cleanse us (i.e. sanctify us). I am saying that although I may be spiritually mature, my maturity is for the benefit others so that God can graciously use me to help others mature.

All in all obedience is not the essence of Christianity, it is only one aspect. Neither is obedience the root nor the highest fruit of Christian living. Since the beginning, God's love and grace have always come before His demands. We follow suit with the apostles, by saying, "We love Him because He first loved us" (1John 4:19). Or with Paul, the love of Christ, who died for us, compels us to live, not for ourselves but for God (2 Cor. 5:14-15).