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Self-Righteous = Unrighteous

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Uncomfortably Familiar

This week’s text is Luke 18:9-14.  This is a short, yet devastating lesson Jesus offers against self-righteousness and hypocrisy.  This is the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector.  In this story a Pharisee went up to pray and offered this to God, “God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax-collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.” (Verse 11).  If this seems familiar, uncomfortably so, then…it should.  All too often we get into this mindset, whether consciously or not.  It does not make us bad, simply human.  We all tend to disparage “those people” and walk past our own shortcomings. 

Worse than that, this attitude evidenced by the Pharisee, is one of self-righteousness.  That is as Jesus says in Verse 9, “He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt”.  The Pharisee, like many of us, thought he could trust in himself to make himself right with God.  That is the definition of self-righteous.  This entire attitude derives from a theology of works; the hoary idea that we can do things to make us right with God, or more crudely put, we can earn our salvation.  This puts us firmly in control, which is where humans like to be.  Unfortunately, this is a theological misfire, as Scripture is uber clear about the fact that God is in control.  I would offer everything between Genesis and Revelation as proof. 

Not surprisingly, this attitude is also a practical failure.  It leads us to treat others with a decided lack of charity, as this story points out. This attitude also leaves us susceptible to the most damaging aspect of a theology of works; in the end we know we cannot do anything to make ourselves worthy of God, so sooner or later (usually sooner), we stop trying and break our relationship with the Almighty.

God In Control

The opposite perspective, supported by Scripture and I think, an innate sense deep within our hearts, is that God is in total control.  This is truly good news.  We do not have to do anything to be worthy of God.  We simply must trust God and believe in His son as our Risen Lord and Savior.  This is the clear contrast Jesus makes with the tax collector in the second part of this parable.  Tax collectors were particularly reviled during Jesus’s time and were considered sinful.  Yet, this most sinful of people trusts God and gives witness to this trust and faith by asking for God’s mercy.  He would not ask in such a humble way if he did not have faith that God can and would save him.

Jesus leaves us with the aphorism that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.” (Verse 14).  The takeaway here is that all who think they can make themselves righteous before God will fail, as they do not truly believe.  All those who humble themselves are the ones who have faith in God and His Son.  This faith will provide the confidence that our salvation is assured.  Now we can go forth and do good works in gratitude for this salvation.  That is, once we believe, we can obey.

Praise Be to God

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