Self-Created Righteousness

I’ve been doing a study lately about attitudes, specifically the kind of attitudes Christians should have concerning such important things like sin, worship, or money.  This is all in preparation for a Bible class series I’m teaching soon, and one of the topics I decided to add was studying the type of attitude we should have towards ourselves.

There’s no question that God has a clear standard and that we as sinners have broken it.  Romans 3:23 says, “for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” and Romans 6:23 adds, “the wages of sin is death.”  This is not necessarily some form of self-deprecation where we demean ourselves to the point of feeling worthless, but that we recognize that our God is perfect and he has defined what true righteousness is and that we fall miserably short of that standard.  He has asked that those who carry his name remain holy (1 Peter 1:16), requires us to have a proper and humble view of who we are and where we’ve come from, and to remember that it is God who justifies (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

I think the dangerous part begins when we attempt to change God’s standard, either by making it easier for ourselves or by making it harder for others.  Sometimes we decide to create our own form of righteousness based on what we believe is fair or by comparing ourselves to others who we believe are somehow worse than we are.  God, on the other hand, doesn’t see it that way.  He doesn’t create a hierarchy of sin like we do so we come off looking better than those in the world.  He doesn’t keep track of church attendance or works completed and say, “That guy is really dedicated, I’ll make sure to give him an extra portion of grace!”  Instead, God examines our heart, our attitude towards self and decides whether we truly love him or not.

The Pharisees of Jesus’ day had this problem, and sadly, it’s still a bit of a problem today.  As the religious elite, the Pharisees made sure to change God’s standard to suit their needs.  They would pray openly, fast painfully, and brag loudly about their knowledge of God’s word, all the while holding everyone else to a standard or level righteousness that they themselves were unable to fulfill (Matthew 23:1-7).  But Jesus could see right to their heart and knew that their attitude was all wrong.  They looked for reasons to condemn instead of ways to show love and grace.  They did everything they could to prevent people from ever experiencing the true, merciful God.

And so it is today.  Some in the church treat people in the world as though Christians have a lock on some religious club and they can’t get in unless they follow the rules.  We can’t go around shutting people out of the kingdom of God because we falsely assume their sin is worse than ours.  We can’t take the job of judgment away from God, and anyways, that’s a very dangerous choice to make (Matthew 7:1-2).

Jesus was our physical manifestation of righteousness and he didn’t treat sinners with contempt and disdain.  Instead, he showed grace to the penitent and offered up hope for those who were searching for the truth.  If we are followers of Christ, shouldn’t we do the same?

Let’s ask ourselves, what can we do to help others come to know God and his love for them?  Let’s remember that Jesus died for WHOEVER would believe in him (John 3:16), and that we shouldn’t put a stumbling block or any form of discouragement in front of anyone searching for the truth of the gospel.  We should make every effort to live up to God’s standard of righteousness and encourage and assist others in doing the same.



13 thoughts on “Self-Created Righteousness

  1. Light Ministry Blog

    A very true and positive message for us as Christians, Joe. I once read a quote from somewhere which said something like “Don’t blame me just because you sin differently than I do!” We all have sin in our lives…period. And we need to ask God to forgive us each day through Christ Jesus. Let us do as you say…offer up hope to those who may not have Christ in their lives, as that is part of spreading God’s word! Good post, Joe!


    1. Joe Butler

      I’m not sure why, maybe human nature, but we are very good at deflecting blame for our shortcomings, or making other people’s sin look bigger than ours so we come off looking good. I believe a lot of people are turned off from the church because we don’t love the way Jesus did. We are too busy judging why they are not good enough for God’s grace. When Jesus spoke to the woman at the well he combined truth with mercy. He said, “I do not condemn you,” but he also said, “Go and sin no more.” People will be much more willing to listen to the hard truths of the bible regarding their sin if we will love them first and admit that we are sinners as well.

      1. Light Ministry Blog

        Extremely well said, Joe! It is difficult for almost every one of us to here harsh condemnation when it is not sprinkled with a little bit of love and hope. This is the way Jesus spoke to people, and we should follow His example. I do believe it is one reason why people steer clear of churches and say things like “I love Jesus, just not religion.” Our speech needs to be respectful and “seasoned with salt” and a good bit of respect. That will take us further than we seem to get these days with others…


  2. This hit home Joe. We sometimes think that some sins are greater than other, especially us as Christians. We may look down at a person who isnt coming to church, and think that their sins are much more greater than ours. I’ve had the experience on many times where a non-Christian will walk through the church doors and there’s gossiping, whispering. We might think that what that person had done is a bad sin but it’s a sin for us to be judging and talking about a person when they come to church or to hear God’s word. God looks at our heart and that’s what he judge us by.

    1. Joe Butler

      There is a drastic fall amongst the younger generation in the church today, I think a lot of it has to do with this kind of hypocrisy. When we pass judgment on others for the sin in their lives and act like our own sins are not that bad, people see judgment without mercy. They don’t see us loving the way Jesus loves. People are more than willing to listen to hard biblical truths, but first they need to know they matter and are not being ridiculed by Christians who have been in the church for a while. Paul reminds us that, “Such were some of you” in regards to being sinners, so we need to always remember where we came from and what God’s grace has done for us even though we didn’t deserve it.

  3. Thanks for your wisdom and insight. I just love this post, although you always have great stuff. Keep up the good work for Him, I know He’s pleased by it. 🙂

    ~ Collin

  4. Joe –

    I appreciate you giving us a powerful reminder that self-righteousness is so ugly and pain inflicting. I like what you said about Jesus not grading us on our works, but looking at the thoughts and attitudes in our hearts – especially towards others. When I find myself judging others harshly, I remember some of the things that I did before I became a Christian. It immediately knocks me down a few notches and makes me grateful. Thanks for a great post.

    1. Joe Butler

      Thank you. Jesus most definitely wants us to clothe ourselves with righteous acts (Rev. 19:8), but we are to do so with a heart and attitude that shows love. Like you said, we should remember where we came from and how undeserving we are of God’s grace, and it should encourage us to be grateful for our salvation and not try to change it to meet our own ideas of what righteousness should look like.

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