by Mike Ratliff
I, Paul, myself entreat you, by the meekness and gentleness of Christ–I who am humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away!– I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh. For though we walk in the flesh, we are not waging war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete. Look at what is before your eyes. If anyone is confident that he is Christ’s, let him remind himself that just as he is Christ’s, so also are we. For even if I boast a little too much of our authority, which the Lord gave for building you up and not for destroying you, I will not be ashamed. I do not want to appear to be frightening you with my letters. For they say, “His letters are weighty and strong, but his bodily presence is weak, and his speech of no account.” Let such a person understand that what we say by letter when absent, we do when present. Not that we dare to classify or compare ourselves with some of those who are commending themselves. But when they measure themselves by one another and compare themselves with one another, they are without understanding. But we will not boast beyond limits, but will boast only with regard to the area of influence God assigned to us, to reach even to you. (2 Corinthians 10:1-13 Emphasis Mine)
As I write this, it is three days after Christmas 2005. I am on vacation. I have been reading some very heavy-duty theology books for the past several months. I love it, but there are times I need a break. I bought a book on Christmas Eve called The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne. Ina told me she read it when she was in Junior High. I can remember some book reports by some of my classmates on it. However, I had never read it. The story takes place in Puritan Boston. A woman named Hester Prynne is found guilty of adultery. She is condemned to wear a scarlet “A” on her clothes for the rest of her life so everyone will know of her sin. The focus is on keeping God’s law by judging her this way. I have read a few chapters so far and have been struck by Hawthorne’s grasp of the awfulness of the hypocritical, self-righteous attitudes of the people of Boston towards Hester. The gossip among some of the women who watch Hester on the pillory is so obviously self-righteous that it is repugnant. Why? There is not a hint of forgiveness in any of them.
Self-Righteousness in believers is tragic. By now, it should be clear to you that none us have a righteous leg to stand on so that we could possibly walk through our lives looking down our noses at anyone. Self-Righteousness is the act of passing judgment against all who do not measure-up to one’s standards. Doing this is an attempt to elevate self over others. In The Scarlet Letter, Hawthorne describes the matrons who look down upon Hester with their breasts so cold they were full of snow that never melted. Of course, he was describing hearts that were cold as ice which were full of unforgiveness. These people thought they were godly, pure, and somehow superior to Hester and all other “sinners.” Is this how Jesus treated sinners?
After this he went out and saw a tax collector named Levi, sitting at the tax booth. And he said to him, “Follow me.” And leaving everything, he rose and followed him. And Levi made him a great feast in his house, and there was a large company of tax collectors and others reclining at table with them. And the Pharisees and their scribes grumbled at his disciples, saying, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:27-32)
The Christian must understand that their salvation was not a product of any inherent “righteousness” within them. We have already looked at this. God chose His people, predestined them, called them, justified them as they believed and repented, adopted them into His family and is now sanctifying them. His election of them was based solely on His sovereign will. God saved them. They did not choose God. He chose and saved them.
The curse of self-righteousness is spiritual blindness. The spiritually blind do not see their own spiritual neediness. In fact, they see themselves as “needing nothing.” A good Biblical example of this curse is found in the book of Revelation.
And to the angel of the church in Laodicea write: ‘The words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the beginning of God’s creation. “‘I know your works: you are neither cold nor hot. Would that you were either cold or hot! So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth. For you say, I am rich, I have prospered, and I need nothing, not realizing that you are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind, and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined by fire, so that you may be rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness may not be seen, and salve to anoint your eyes, so that you may see. Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline, so be zealous and repent. Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. The one who conquers, I will grant him to sit with me on my throne, as I also conquered and sat down with my Father on his throne. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.’” (Revelation 3:14-22)
The Soul-led believer tends to suffer from this curse because of their lack of humility. A pride-dominated heart is self-focused. The lack of humility in this heart separates the believer from a close relationship with God. However, God deeply desires that each of us repent and become Spirit-led, Christlike believers. He will actively pursue us to lead us to turn our hearts back to Him. However, for many of us this process can take a long time. During these periods of pruning, our lives can become quite miserable. The Lord’s pruning is the removal of the things from our lives that, somehow, keep us from producing godly fruit. (John 15) The Soul-led believer will usually misinterpret the harshness of this using the wrong set of values. However, as God prunes the believer he or she will grow in grace increasingly.
With each step in spiritual maturity, the believer submits more and more of his or her life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. At some point, in the Lord’s timing, the maturing believer will become Spirit-led. The Lord will circumcise the heart of this believer so that His value system becomes fully apparent to the Soul. This is a huge step of spiritual freedom. Humility has grown more and more predominate over pride in this heart. Self-righteousness has its roots in pride. If humility replaces pride through the mortification of sin in the heart of the believer then self-righteousness will also diminish.
What happens to the curse of self-righteousness in the maturing believer’s heart? It is replaced with the blessing of self-condemnation. That sounds quite a bit harsher than it really is. If we “judge not” in our relationships with others and, instead, we judge ourselves, a wonderful self-maintaining process takes over our lives. This self-judging is not beating ourselves up and not forgiving ourselves. That will only cause depression. What I am talking about here is constant self-examination. Never think of self as having obtained Christlikeness or spiritual maturity. Instead, we must see ourselves the way God wants us to. When we become Spirit-led and serious in our walk with the Lord our self-confidence in any part of ourselves that is not bathed in God’s grace should be nil. A humble heart is a self-examining heart. This believer has no confidence in the flesh. Instead, God’s wisdom is sought continually so he or she can submit to the Lord’s plan of righteous behavior He has in store for them. Examine the following passage.
In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. When I remember God, I moan; when I meditate, my spirit faints. Selah. You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. I consider the days of old, the years long ago. I said, “Let me remember my song in the night; let me meditate in my heart.” Then my spirit made a diligent search: (Psalms 77:2-6)
The psalmist was in the throes of conviction from God. Any attempt at self-comfort or self-justification failed miserably. Instead, God drove him to mediation and self-examination. The psalmist deeply desired God’s peace in his heart, but it was not found. This drove him to do a radical self-examination. God does this with us quite a bit. Sometimes we misinterpret these periods as God ruthlessly hurting us, but His plan is for our repentance and healing.
God’s goal with His pruning is our humility. How dare we look down our noses at others for the struggles in their lives! If we do, we are not humble. Instead, we are showing our self-righteousness. If we do that, we are spiritually blind. We are blind to our own desperate spiritual needs. This is the curse of self-righteousness. Judging not does not mean we must not execute God’s righteous judgments, but it does mean we have no business in comparisons between us. Instead, we must compare our own righteousness with the righteousness of our savior. When we do that, we see our sinfulness. This should break our hearts. This should cause repentance, humility, and forgiveness. On the other hand, if we persist in judging others from our self-righteousness we will harden our hearts and extend our spiritual blindness.
I had an encounter with a couple of spiritually blind individuals this last Sunday. I was teaching class. These two were in class for the first time in a long time. In other words, they were not very faithful with their attendance. Neither of them brought their Bibles to class. They had no idea what series we were studying. It just so happened that we are studying the sovereignty of God this quarter. I kept mentioning that our salvation is the result of God saving His people and not us “deciding for God.” Then they started saying things like, “What do you mean by that?” They accused me of teaching hyper-Calvinism. I attempted to answer their questions by reading Ephesians 1:3-11, Romans 8:29-30, Romans 9 and John 6:44. Now, as I read those passages I attempted to “chain” them together exegetically. Both became belligerent. They accused me of all sorts of heresy. I never deviated from scripture. As I read from Romans 9 one of them interrupted me after each verse. Since I was simply reading scripture, with whom were they arguing? As I attempted to explain the doctrinal truths I was reading, one of them began deliberately talking so others could not hear me. I stopped and listened. He was simply repeatedly mumbling gibberish as I read. Occasionally, he would give some Arminian argument. Of course, those arguments are unsupportable “proof texts” taken out of context. Each of them is easily refuted by placing them in proper context. My heart became very heavy within me. I called an end to class. One of my regulars came up to me after class and apologized for what happened. Her question started the firestorm. I saw those two in the parking lot after class. I attempted to have a conversation with them, but neither would talk with me.
Is this how Christians should act with each other? Should I resent their rudeness and class disruption? Neither of these fellows is very mature. That is what God has shown me. Those who resist the truth of His sovereignty the most are the immature, spiritually blind. However, this whole thing was a test for me. God put me through that. I was hurt at first. I had a heavy heart all day. I felt like a victim. However, God has shown me that I must get used to handling these types of attacks if I am going to stand for the truth. He has also shown me that I must pray for both of them that their hearts will be opened to the truth. I must not stoop to their level of childish behavior. I have forgiven them. I have asked that God would forgive them. I have prayed that the light of God’s truth will be shown into their hard hearts.
The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! (Matthew 6:22-23)
The passage above, from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, is very clear description of the magnitude of both spiritual discernment and spiritual blindness. If we are humble and Spirit-led, we will not be self-righteous. Therefore, our spiritual vision is enhanced so that we have spiritual discernment. The humble, Spirit-led believer is growing in grace. On the other hand, if we are self-righteous we are prideful. The curse of self-righteousness is spiritual blindness. This spiritual blindness deceives the self-righteous into believing they have the true light. However, what did Jesus say about their “light?” He says, “How great is the darkness!” When these people attack what the Bible clearly teaches they actually believe that they posses the “real truth” and the rest of us are deceived. Their attacks are always directed towards godly servants thereby proving that they themselves are false teachers and preachers. These people are tools of the enemy. However, God is sovereign. He is in complete control and is not threatened by false teachers and preachers. However, we do have the responsibility to speak the truth to these people even if it means running the gauntlet of their fiery darts of accusations and lies. In other situations, it may be better to hold our tongues and let God’s wrath remain on them.
I wrote an article about Jesus’ parable of the Sower and posted on my Blog. The next day someone posted a comment about my article stating he had written an article on that parable on His Blog. He suggested that I go there and read his then comment. His invitation was overly polite. He said that he would be “honored” if I would read and make comments. However, he did not make any comments about the content of my article. I became wary. Where did that wariness come from? Why did I suddenly sense danger? I did not automatically post his comment. Instead, I left it in draft mode as I navigated to his Blog to read his post. I was shocked. Not only was his post exegetically unsound, it was poorly done. He had taken each of our Lord’s points in the parable and twisted them to support the “Free Grace Movement’s” agenda.
The parable is a description, by Jesus, of the results we should expect when we share the gospel. Of the four types of “soil” in which the seed of the gospel is sown, only the “good soil” produces fruit. In my post, I showed exegetically in other passages, such as John 15, that only genuine believers are fruitful in the kingdom. In the post I was reading, however, he tried to show that everyone who hears the gospel and responds is saved. In my post, I showed that many respond to the gospel, but only the truly saved remain and produce fruit. However, the disturbing thing for me was the vileness and absurd rhetoric I encountered on this person’s Blog. He had dozens of people commenting on his articles, building him up, telling him what a great expounder of scripture he was and what a good job he was doing in tearing down Reformation Theology. My sensors were blinking red. That wariness turned into a very clear warning to quietly exit and not comment. I wanted to jump right in and set the record straight, but God calmed me down. He directed me to an Apologist’s Blog who has been battling the same person who tried to bait me. I wrote an email to him telling him what had happened. He wrote back that he had taken this man on because of his continued baiting and attacking of his friends.
The sad thing that I see in this is the depth of these people’s spiritual blindness. When they are confronted with airtight, exegetical proof that their position is a house of cards, they simply brush it off and accuse us of faulty logic and the spreading of heresy. Praise the Lord, my spiritual eyes are open. The wariness I was sensing as I encountered these people was from the Holy Spirit. I had been certain all day that God was going to reveal something very huge to me. How did I know that? After the Apologist revealed to me his plans to expose more of this group’s fallacies, God opened my spiritual discernment even further. He showed me that the class disruption I had experienced and this incident were related. Some of the accusations and slogans I heard from those two who attacked me while I taught I also read on that Blog I visited. I realized at that moment that God had allowed both incidents in order to direct my path. I also learned that just knowing the details of what I believe about salvation is not enough. I must also learn how to defend the faith. I must learn how to present clear and direct arguments to the people who will listen so God can either open their hearts or harden them further according to His will. I must refine my Apologist’s skills.
What is the curse of self-righteousness? It is spiritual blindness. What is the blessing of self-condemnation? It is a humble heart. This humble heart communes with God.
Oh Lord God, I love you with my entire being. Please search us and reveal to us any area of our lives that are not submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Please purge self-righteousness from our hearts. Oh Lord, forgive us of our self-sufficiency and self-focus. Please grow us in grace Lord. Please develop Christlike, humble character in us Lord. I ask all these things in Jesus name. Amen!
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version™ Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. All rights reserved.