Matthew 15:8,9 “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.”
Have you ever found yourself just ‘going through the motions’ – the accepted rule becomes the way its done and any true meaning empties out. When this happens in our spiritual life we get into trouble. The ‘motions’ become more important than God. Doing it ‘our way’ becomes official and ‘His way’ is no longer in the forefront. Self righteousness takes root in our hearts and life becomes a show of being good. The Pharisees criticized Jesus’ disciples for not washing their hands to become ritually clean before eating and thereby going against the traditions of the elders. Jesus’ disciples didn’t do it their way – which to them was the only right way!
Jesus pointed out that the Pharisees used that very same body of traditions as a way of avoiding taking care of their parents. “For God commanded, saying, `Honor thy father and mother,’ and, `He that curseth father or mother, let him die the death.’ But ye say that whosoever shall say to his father or his mother, `by whatsoever thou might have profited by me, it is a gift,’ and honor not his father or his mother, he shall be free. Thus have ye made the commandment of God of no effect by your tradition.” (Matthew 15:4-6) The Pharisees could give what should have been support to their parents in old age to God as ‘a gift’ thereby avoiding their commitments. They were sneaky and self-righteous.
When we weasel out of something we promised, we make our actions sound reasonable, at least I do. Like the Pharisees, we can confuse doing our own thing with doing the right thing . And cover up with lip service and a ‘show of being good’. Paul summed up the spiritual state of the Pharisees and their followers; “For they, being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves unto the righteousness of God.” (Romans 10:3)
Others point out; “And this is the root problem of the self-righteous. Those who find no fault with themselves, but who find numerous faults in others, are guilty of blatant arrogance in that they see themselves as perfect in knowledge or [in many cases] righteousness and have no qualms about holding themselves up as the example by which they compare all others. . . . God’s word is not the standard and not even Christ is the standard; they are the standard.” (The Sin of Self-Righteousness) When self-righteousness takes root in a church or a church leadership, the people follow. People start believing that they are better Christians than others; “Self-righteousness is not just an inflated view of self, but it is coupled with a view of others as inferior. . . . .they go further in applying that belief and conclude that all others must, naturally, be inferior to themselves.” (Ibid)
Do you find your worship, song and testimony is delivered with ‘spiritual dry mouth’? God doesn’t want any of that stuff; “For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.” (Hosea 6:6) Jesus didn’t come for the (self)righteous. He came for the sinners; “But go ye and learn what that meaneth, I will have mercy, and not sacrifice: for I am not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Matthew 9:13) (Self) righteous people have little or nothing to repent for and so have little or no need of Jesus; “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.” (Luke 7:47)
Here is a handy checklist to see if you’re self-righteous. 1) Who are you judging? If you’re looking at other people and not yourself you’re in trouble; “Judge not, that ye be not judged.” (Matthew 7:1) 2) Who have you condemned and who do you have an unforgiving attitude towards? Are you the only one who is entitled to mercy; “Condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned. Forgive, and ye shall be forgiven.” (Luke 6:37) 3) Is the Holy Bible the Word by which you live your life or the standard by which you measure others? Does the Bible convict you or do you use it to condemn others; “For if any be a hearer of the Word and not a doer, he is like unto a man beholding his natural face in a mirror; for he beholdeth himself, and then goeth his way and straightway forgetteth what manner of man he was.” (James 1:23,24) 4) Do you feel superior to anyone – in your church, other churches or in the community? “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galations 3:28) These four simple points help me overcome my self-righteousness but it is a daily struggle. How easy it is for me to forget what manner of man I am!
The best antidote to lip service and spiritual ‘dry mouth’ is gratitude for what God has done for us! Take a sober moment of reflection to begin to realize our spiritual condition; “This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance: that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” (1 Timothy 1:15) Realize that Jesus came not to comdemn but to save; “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.” (John 5:24) Realize that Jesus is talking about you and me. Realize that Paul is talking about himself so we can see that we’re no better than Paul. When we accept the Gospel truth about ourselves, we can worship from our heart. When we truly believe we are sinners saved by Grace then we are ready to share the Gospel with others.
Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me.
Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy Holy Spirit from me.
Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free Spirit.
Then will I teach transgressors thy ways; and sinners shall be converted unto thee. (Psalm 51: 10-13)
Praise the Lord!