Self-Righteousness and Repentance

 

by Mike Ratliff

“Now his older son was in the field, and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what these things meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fattened calf, because he has received him back safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Look, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’” (Luke 15:25-30 ESV)

I heard part of a sermon on the radio in my pickup this afternoon that pierced my heart. I have learned to pay attention when this happens. The preacher was Dr. Richard Land and he was expounding on Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son. I began listening just as he read Luke 15:25-30. Then he gave a couple of illustrations that God used to direct my path to this post. The first illustration concerned a friend of Dr. Land who was dying. He had terminal cancer. This man was a Pastor of a church in a small town. His daughter had returned home after living a sinful debauched lifestyle. She was pregnant out of wedlock. Her intent had been to privately abort the baby, tell no one, and remain in her sinful lifestyle. However, God entered in to her heart, brought her to repentance, and sent her back home. She arrived at home as her father was dealing with his cancer. 

One of the deacons in this man’s church began a campaign to oust the Pastor by telling everyone that he must have sin in his life if all of these bad things were happening to him. The church fired him as their Pastor as he was at a hospital dealing with his terminal cancer. Dr. Land wondered if things would had gone differently if the daughter had gone through with aborting her baby. The second illustration was an example in his own church. A young lady raised in the church went off to college. While there she also rejected her former lifestyle and also became pregnant out of wedlock. Her boyfriend abandoned her. She also wanted to hide her shame by having an abortion, but she became convicted of the sinfulness of that. She repented. She got right with God. She came home to her parents pregnant. It was decided that the baby would be offered up for adoption. She rejoined the activities of the church with those in her age group. 

Dr. Land shared that a group of ladies from his church came together to see him. They were upset that this young lady was being involved in all parts of the activities in the church as if nothing had ever happened. They said, “Surely there should be some sort of ‘punishment’ for what she had done or separate place for people like her!” It was at this moment that I knew I had to write this. Dr. Land said that he rejected the first three responses to these ladies that came to mind. Then he said to them, “If you knew the heartache and tears and agony this young lady has gone through, knowing what shame she had brought on her family and what sin had done to her relationship with God and her savior, then you would not be so quick to point that finger of judgment.” He then shared with them that if the role of the church was to be vindictive to those God has forgiven then the whole body of believers would have to find that place in the church full of untouchables. 

Notice in both cases that these two young ladies could have taken the “easy way” out and aborted their babies. Who would have known? They would have and certainly God would have known. Isn’t it amazing how “Christians” can be so heartless and vindictive in their self-righteousness? It is all about appearances. Those people would have been “happier” if two babies had been killed for convenience sake. However, when God enters into a heart, doing His good work there, there is repentance and courage to do what is right no matter who has a problem with it. What we must never forget is that all Christians are sinners saved by grace. We were all on the way to hell before God captured us, turned us around, and saved us. He has made us positionally righteous in His eyes, however, we still have our flesh and a vindictive enemy who works overtime to come between us and God. 

We still sin. That is why God gave us 1 John 1:8-10.

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:8-10 ESV)

Notice that John tells us that all of us still sin and if we try to be self-righteous then we prove that the truth is not in us and we are actually calling God a liar. However, if we confess our sins, what does God do? He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. Verses 8 and 10 describe the self-righteous who hide their sin and attempt to make everyone see themselves as somehow worthy of salvation. On the other hand, v9 describes the broken Christian who confesses his or her sin and God grants repentance to them. 

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:10 ESV)

The genuine believer grieves over his or her sin (Matthew 5:4). This mourning leads to repentance because it is produced by the Holy Spirit.  Genuine repentance cannot occur apart from genuine sorrow over one’s sin(s). This repentance proves the validity of one’s salvation. On the other hand, worldly grief is unsanctified remorse. It cannot save. It is a product of a wounded pride of getting caught. This grief only leads to guilt, shame, despair, depression, self-pity, and hopelessness. 

The conviction of sin that leads to godly grief always comes from God. It brings the sinner to the threshold of an understanding of God. Our Lord stated that when the Holy Spirit came He would convict of sin. When He does this He rouses the conscience and brings the sinner into the presence of God. Godly grief is running full blown at this point. What is bothering the sinner? The sullied condition of his or her relationship with God is now apparent to the heart. The guilt of their sin is hard pressed upon them. They know that it is against God they have sinned. Their relationships with others is now seen as less important. This is why the penitent sinner can be so bold in his or her repentance. 

God is good my brethren. The marvels of conviction of sin, forgiveness, and holiness are so interwoven that it is only the forgiven who are holy. He or she proves they are forgiven by their transformed life by God’s grace. When God grants repentance it always brings the believer to confess, “I have sinned!” When a believer does this and means it then we know that God is at work in that heart. The cleansed life will manifest itself in conscious repentance and unconscious holiness. Never forget my brethren that conscious holiness leads to self-righteousness. We must focus on walking in repentance. God will grow us in holiness.

Now, as we witness professing Christians make a huge sinful mess of their lives and there is no mark of genuine repentance within  then we know that they are either not really believers or they are horribly backslidden. We must pray for their repentance. On the other hand, when we witness confession of sin and obvious regenerate behavior then we rejoice as the Prodigal Son’s father did. He killed the fatted calf and threw a huge party. On the other hand, let us not be like the older brother who, like the vindictive deacons and church ladies wanted to exact a pound of flesh from those who have obviously been granted repentance by God.  If God forgives then we must too.

Soli Deo Gloria!

22 thoughts on “Self-Righteousness and Repentance

  1. Pingback: Self-Righteousness and Repentance - Reformata

  2. The case of the first pastor sounds more like the three friends that accused Job. The case of the second girl seemed to be a doctrinal error. The New Testament only speaks of the church’s disciplining to unrepentant sinners, not penitent ones. The second case in particular has me mindful of how in times past the church (and according to the gospels before then the synagogue) was used as a powerful instrument of individual and social control. The fear of being punished by the church was used to keep people from committing public “sins” (which in many cases were simply violations of church doctrines and social mores, Phariseeism) rather than a fear of God that would cause true repentance that happens in a changed heart. It would be rather expedient to blame the Roman Catholicism mindset for this error, but the truth is that this attitude appears to have been developing in the church from the very early post – biblical writings.

    As far as the prodigal son introduction, I do not know why, but I have always had a different perspective on the other son, and wondered if the common Christian interpretations of him (especially the one that I read in Will Metzger’s “Tell The Truth”) were too harsh.

    http://healtheland.wordpress.com/2008/07/08/the-prodigal-son-parable-why-is-the-brother-that-stayed-called-unsaved/

  3. Job,

    Yes, I agree, however, what I see in all three cases is self-righteousness causing people to judge when they should be showing mercy and forgiveness and praising God when others repent.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  4. good stuff mikie…

    i am happy to hear those two ladies did not choose to cover one mistake with another…

    that is GOD’s grace in action…

    the church ladies need to pray, though i can nderstand their reactions…i think perhaps…fear…and not so uch self-righteousness spurned their actions and words…

    i don’t know as i was not there, but it sounds like they were more afraid of the message it would send to other girls, if the pregnancy was treated as no big deal and fornication acceptable…

    i know a lady whose daughter got pregnant…and by her own admission, if she was in a church and the person speaking brought up ANY sexual sins, she would walk out in a huff…i think htat is a dangerous attitude for her to have…

    it is like..since her daughter commited one, those sins should no longer apply…

    like the california poloticain a few months back who found out his daughter was lesbian so he switched positons and went pro gay…

    instead of loving his daughter but refusing to condone her “lifestyle”…he said he could not see it as wrong now because his daughter is one…

    i wonder what would happen if she became a drug addict…?…

    but like you said, sins forgiven and turned from are not to be held over the ones who commited them, but they should be loved…and forgiven by all…

    but the topic of abortion has a special and very tender place in my heart…

    and i can realte to the selfrighteousness you have spoken of..and am guilty of such…

    my selfrighteousness…or rather show of self righteousness, in times past would, time and again would crush the one i love the most and i did not even have a clue….

  5. My own private sins — the ones only God and I know about — are no less sinful and certainly no less numerous, than those outward manifestations of sin. And when I don’t deal with them, they grow. As a sinner saved by grace, I am grateful that not only are my sins covered by Jesus’ work on the cross, but that He forgives 70X7. Often Christians are so blinded by moralism, that we forget that the less spectacular sins, like pride, arrogance and selfishness, are daily and even more ingrained. As I grow in Christ I see more sin than I ever did, because I have become more sensitive to it.

  6. “The cleansed life will manifest itself in conscious repentance and unconscious holiness. Never forget my brethren that conscious holiness leads to self-righteousness. We must focus on walking in repentance. God will grow us in holiness.”

    Dear Mike, Thank you for the post. The section quoted above is of particular blessing. I have seen in myself the working of conscious holiness leading to self-righteousness, and I have seen it run amok in congregations and in other groups. Your pointed expression in a single sentence makes sense of something that would have taken me paragraphs or more to try to explain and then only do so poorly.

    The truth of it and conviction of it will stay with me. And I am glad for it. Thank you. Kim T

  7. After I posted above, Luther’s 95 thesis came to mind, where he begins it with:

    1. When our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ, said “Repent”, He called for the entire life of believers to be one of repentance.

    2. The word cannot be properly understood as referring to the sacrament of penance, i.e. confession and satisfaction, as administered by the clergy.

    3. Yet its meaning is not restricted to repentance in one’s heart; for such repentance is null unless it produces outward signs in various mortifications of the flesh.

    I thought it might bless someone to share this.

  8. Conscious repentance leads to unconscious holiness, while conscious holiness leads to self-righteousness — thanks for this Mike!

    In Christ.

  9. Great post. We live in a world where largely religious idols are not recognized and a world that wants to stay focussed on the sins of the younger brother and forget about the sins of the older brother.

    Only in a complete understanding of total depravity do we even start to scratch the surface of our own sins.

    Oh God hele me soM I dont repeat the sins of the older brother.

    In Christ,

  10. spade said,
    “Only in a complete understanding of total depravity do we even start to scratch the surface of our own sins.”

    good…

    please, show us your complete understanding of total depravity…

    i have been conversing on the topic and low and behold…most who call themselves calvinist, cannot even describe it and of hte ones who can, very few can offer any type of rightly divided support for it…

    they simply change the topic, make accusations, cast aspersions, fling belittlements and hide behind their egos….then they wonder why the arminians say they(5-pointers) can’t debate without resulting to insults….

  11. seldom,

    I am a Calvinist and I do understand what Total Depravity is. I have written several articles on it in fact. Total Depravity is the condition of all outside of saving grace. It is what separates us from God until He regenerates and saves us.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  12. seldom,

    I believe just about every article I write references this. Total Depravity is the natural state of unregenerate man. This state DOES NOT ever chose God and His ways. It is not able. That is why I prefer the term Total Inability. In any case, I am curious about the “attitude” you are projecting through this comment thread…

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  13. mike said,
    “In any case, I am curious about the “attitude” you are projecting through this comment thread…”

    beats me…could you be more specific?…i thought i was just asking a question…sorry if it is a burden…

  14. Seldom,

    You said:

    i have been conversing on the topic and low and behold…most who call themselves calvinist, cannot even describe it and of hte ones who can, very few can offer any type of rightly divided support for it…

    they simply change the topic, make accusations, cast aspersions, fling belittlements and hide behind their egos….then they wonder why the arminians say they(5-pointers) can’t debate without resulting to insults….

    That is not my experience at all. In fact, the doctrine of Total Inability is crucial to our understanding of the Gospel and I have never encountered a Calvinist or Reformed Christian who does not understand this. That is why I became curious.

    In Christ

    Mike Ratliff

  15. i have meet like three in the last few days…

    i refer to it…

    as “total helplessness”…depravity?…perhaps, but it would matter not if one is ‘totally’ depraved or not at all depraved, as salvation for an unbeleiver isn’t based on how good we are or bad we are, or how much one wills it, or works for it…

    but is determined by GOD alone who shows mercy as HE wills…

    just how i read it…

    side not: beware … we have recently discovered, a group of atheist are claimming to be unies while running around the net causing trouble between believers…for real…and more recently they have started to expand their subterfuge, by acting like other groups in CHRISTiandom…i.e. arminians and calvinist…

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