I’m ashamed to say that I was exposed in a moment of self-righteousness the other day. It was a moment of critical, mean-spiritedness over a situation that I knew little to nothing about. Ouch. It hurts to type those words. And then, as is often God’s way, I happened across two articles (here and here) that sent conviction running down my spine like an icy cold water challenge.
I frequently tell my church: Feeling conviction is not a bad thing. Uncomfortable? Yes. Fun? No. Necessary? Absolutely. The real danger isn’t feeling conviction but choosing to ignore conviction. Ignoring conviction for too long is essentially “quenching the Spirit (1 Thessalonians 5:19)” which leads to a hard and calloused heart, far removed from God. In fact, the ability to feel conviction is the hallmark of a true believer (consider King David’s confrontation with the prophet after his terrible sin with Bathsheba).
Let me clarify a few things right at the onset: I absolutely believe that a person must be confident and sure of their Christian faith. God, in no uncertain terms, has called believers to be holy (Ephesians 1:4, 1 Peter 1:15-16, 1 Peter 2:9) and righteous (1 John 2:29, 1 John 3:7, Matthew 5:20, Philippians 1:11). Furthermore, righteousness is not just a state of mind; it is manifested in lifestyle and actions. For example, Paul commands us to “Flee youthful lusts (action): but follow (another action) righteousness (2 Timothy 2:22)”. We can and must “…rightly divide (an action that demands an action) the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15)”, and “judge [with] righteous judgment (John 7:24)”. In other words, godly people have a right to discern right from wrong, righteousness from unrighteousness, good from evil, etc. To say otherwise is, well, unrighteous.
However, we all know immature Christians who use “judge not that ye be not judged (Matthew 7:1)” as a mantra to justify every sinful and sin accommodating action. It’s fairly safe to say that Matthew 7:1 has become modern Christianity’s favorite verse. The implication is simple, don’t tell me what to do because only God can do that. This drives sincere Christians crazy and gives others (sometimes unintentionally) a false sense of biblical authorization for all kinds of unrighteous behavior. Furthermore, the “only God can judge me” crowd should really let that thought sink in because God will judge our every action, that alone should cause us to carefully consider our lifestyles.
So, was Jesus really condoning bad behavior, spiritual timidity, or telling us that no one has a right to call a spade a spade? If that is the case, Jesus contradicted the entire Old Testament, every other relevant event of the New Testament, and his own actions to boot. Remember the overturned tables in the temple where Jesus made a righteous judgment saying “…ye have made it a den of thieves (Matthew 21:13)”?
Obviously, Jesus was not advocating turning a blind eye to sin or telling us that we cannot make spiritual judgment calls about ourselves and others. The verses immediately following bring clarity to the whole discussion: “For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged: and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, but considerest not the beam that is in thine own eye (Mathew 7:2-3)?”
The basic meaning here is that we are to judge ourselves before we judge others. There is an unrighteous and unholy brand of judgment that we can quickly allow to fester in our spirit that is harmful, hypocritical, and ungodly. If we condemn others for things that we are doing ourselves we bring condemnation upon ourselves (Romans 2:1-3). If we judge hastily, callously, contemptuously, carelessly, wrongfully, or prematurely we are guilty of judging with an unrighteous judgment. Those who judge others in such a way will be judged by God in that same way (Luke 6:36-38).
Here’s a difficult question that God often drops into my heart like an atomic bomb during prayer, “Do you want to be right for the sake of being right or for the sake of being righteous before Me?” Here’s another cringe-inducing thought; you can be right and unrighteous at the same time. In many ways, that is the very definition of being self-righteous. I want to be right for the sake of helping others and pleasing God not just to win arguments or rack up spiritual points. Yes, as a believer I have the right to make judgment calls, but I want to do so righteously for the right reasons with the right attitude. Sadly, I often fail. Thankfully, I have wonderful godly people surrounding me who make righteous judgments about my unrighteous judgments and aren’t afraid to tell me so.
Some introspective questions:
- Do I enjoy it when others are harshly judged?
- Do I enjoy arguing more than truly helping?
- Am I quick to judgment without having all the relevant facts?
- Do I elevate my opinions above the Bible?
- Do I judge myself as harshly as I judge others?
- Am I doing the same things that I criticize others for doing?
- Do I pray for the judgment or for the conversion of sinners?
- Am I willing to admit when I am wrong?
- Do I make judgments from a place of humility or superiority?
- Do I realize that all righteousness comes from God?
- Do I care for sinners or callously condemn sinners?
- Am I manufacturing self-righteousness or exampling godly righteousness?
- Am I jumping to conclusions or executing godly discernment?
- Do I judge from a place of knowledge or from a heart of wisdom?
- Am I unwilling to make righteous judgments for fear of confrontation?
- Am I justifying sin with my silence?
- Does my unwillingness to righteously judge harm my witness?
- Will I accept righteous judgment as easily as I dispense righteous judgment?
- Do I exemplify godly mercy in my interactions with people?
- Have I replaced mercy and grace with acceptance of sin?
- Do I righteously judge sin or unrighteously justify sin in my own life and in the lives of others?