by Mike Ratliff
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9-14 ESV)
Self-Righteousness: the attempt to meet God’s standards based upon one’s own merits.
In the truth war, some though they perhaps mean well, from a confused theology foundation and concept of genuine holiness and Christlikeness, are continually accusing many of us of things that seemed designed to discourage and divide. Their “standards” of Christian conduct that reveals whether a person is genuinely in God’s will or not is based on a set of values that are very hard to find in the only place that counts, the Word of God. Instead of being based in our Lord’s own teachings and those of the inspired writers of the Word of God, they have created their own standards that our enemy uses in his accusations of those who are truly obeying God in the truth war.
One such accusation leveled at many of us is that we are self-righteous. Upon what do they base this? We go to God’s Word and dig deep there to clarify, to make clear those areas in our theology that some insist are arbitrary. They also become incensed if we use ourselves as examples, questioning our motives, et cetera without first checking with us for clarity. I was a journalism major for a while back in my early college years. I wrote articles that were evaluated and if they passed scrutiny were published in the college newspaper. This evaluation process seemed brutal to many of us. There was absolutely no way that we could publish anything about someone we were assigned to interview or whatever that would include commentary that we could not prove except through very thorough documentation. Opinion was the purview of the editorial page only and had to be marked clearly as such.
If you have a Thompson Chain Reference Bible or some very good Bible Software that contains a good translation of the Bible, I suggest that you look for the term “self-righteous” or “self-righteousness.” You may be surprised to learn that neither of those terms is found in Sacred Scripture. That does not mean that it says nothing about them, but there are no words translated as such in either Hebrew or Koine Greek. I did both as I planned this article to see what I could find. In my Thompson Chain Reference Bible, two sections address “SELF-RIGHTEOUSNESS,” which are 3219 and 3220. Section 3219 defines what it is then gives several scriptural references to its folly along with other references to sanctimony, hypocrisy, Pharisaism, or pride. Section 3220 gives several scriptural references that point to examples of things like hypocrisy, spiritual pride, boasting, or ostentation.
As I studied this, I saw that the accusation of being self-righteous that I get quite a bit is never associated with being any of these things. Instead, it was always used in an attempt to defeat the teaching and research I do in order to clarify what God’s Word really teaches. I teach what God’s word teaches, that we are absolutely nothing in and of ourselves outside of God’s grace. We bring nothing to God that merits our being accepted by Him as righteous. Nor do I teach that we can live holy and righteous lives in this life unless God is working in us and we are obeying Him. Even in this, we still mess thing up with sin and a tendency to be focused on the flesh. No, as I read the accusations then compare them in reference to what I actually wrote, I find something very interesting. They reveal their hatred for the exegetical results by attacking my motives.
If I was being self-righteous in what I teach then I would be focused on leading people to into a form of religiosity that is works-based. I would blast everyone that did not follow the formula for these works that would be the only way to God. I would attack others entirely within this works-based scenario and make sure that all my readers would see that all they had to do to be acceptable to God is to follow me into this hypocrisy. However, that is exactly the opposite of what I teach. I teach nothing of the kind. I dig deep into God’s Word to make very clear to my readers what it really says. When we do that we find that there is nothing arbitrary about God and How He has determined to deal with sinful people. That determination is, of course, by grace. The righteousness that is given to all who believe the Gospel is not their own. It is the righteousness of Christ who purchased them with His blood on the cross. All who are saved come to that cross equally. There are no superstar Christians who come in higher than anyone else. No, we are all horrible sinners whom God, according to His mercy, by His Grace, through the faith quickened through the washing of regeneration, justifies in His sight with the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. These are saved by faith not by their faithfulness.
This is the only way God saves people. There is no other way. There is no other way into the sheepfold. There is only this narrow, guarded door who is Christ. Our salvation and our sanctification, which follows, are according to God’s grace and His purposes, not by anyone’s arbitrary experiences. The following passage and following paragraph is an excerpt from my post The Emergent Conversation Is A Tool of Deception. In that post I attempted to show that God’s ways are not arbitrary, but are very precise and that the “reasonings” of the emergents and those who defend them are skewed and flawed because they are actually tools of our enemy to deceive.
So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. (John 10:7-15 ESV)
These compromises to orthodox Christianity are rooted in one or more of three rejections of the truth by the emergents. They reject doctrinal certainty, calling any stance on the strict, black and white adherence to Sound Doctrine as displays of abject arrogance. They also reject scriptural clarity. They insist that we must approach the Bible with the intent to being fuzzy and inconsistent and nebulous in its presentation of the truth. They also reject gospel exclusivity claiming that the sheepfold door is not only wide and open, but that there are many other ways into it other than this one door, which is Christ. Our Lord’s own words here tell us that the making of another entrance into the sheepfold is done only by thieves and wolves. The door to the sheepfold is guarded and open only to the true sheep of the Lord. Those solid appearing Christian leaders who are suddenly exposed in compromise did not suddenly arrive to this point, but it came about through manipulations and acts of compromise. We must pray for these we see do this to repent or, if they don’t, that God will expose them entirely so they can no longer lead others into unsound doctrine through their hypocrisy.
Now, is it self-righteous to teach this truth this way? Did not our Lord and the Apostles do the very same thing? The only way anyone could deny this is to commit the fallacies I listed in that paragraph above. I read part of one accusation against me and this ministry the other day in which the writer attempted to show the defense of God’s truth was hurtful to those who were attacking it so we should not actually do that. Why? Well, these people who were attacking God’s truth had a past that was hurtful so we should simply let them rail against the truth and, I suppose, go to Hell because no one would share the truth with them because we were too busy making sure their feelings weren’t hurt. Is that what Jesus did with the woman at the well (John 4)?
I read another one last night that said that those of us who insist on doctrinal certainty and sound doctrine, et cetera were Pharisees because they did the same thing. Well, the Pharisees were by-the-letter people and many of the Pharisees were also Scribes, but their theology was not correct because it had evolved in to religious externalism. They assumed that it was their righteous acts that guaranteed that they were actually righteous in God’s eyes. Our Lord showed in the passage I placed at the top of this post from Luke 18:9-14 that that was most certainly not true. The one in that passage that was justified was the tax-gatherer who recognized His sinfulness before God and asked for mercy and, therefore, God forgave Him. This is the essence of true belief that saves my brethren.
Believing God and Him accounting to them the righteousness of Christ saves people. Being part of any denomination or church does not save them. However, there is still only one way to Christ, not many. The lie that good Hindus or good Buddhists or good Muslims will be saved outside of belief in Christ as Lord and Saviour is pluralism and is a doctrine of demons and I make no apology for teaching against this and any other of our enemy’s lies. Is this self-righteousness? No, this is obedience to my calling. God gifted me with the particular spiritual gifts and talents that enable me to obey Him. However, I am a sinful man who messes things up by being focused on things from the wrong perspective just like most of you. So, for me to obey God within my calling to be an apologist and Bible teacher I do so as a δουλος (slave) of the κυριον ιησουν χριστον (Lord Jesus Christ). That means that I obey Him and confess Him before men regardless of whom it upsets or offends all by the power of the Holy Spirit. God uses me in my weakness and surrender to His will.
Lastly, I am going to share a few passages from the book of Acts. I do not teach from Acts very much, but it is a treasure house of truth.
And as they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple and the Sadducees came upon them, greatly annoyed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. And they arrested them and put them in custody until the next day, for it was already evening. But many of those who had heard the word believed, and the number of the men came to about five thousand. On the next day their rulers and elders and scribes gathered together in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. And when they had set them in the midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, if we are being examined today concerning a good deed done to a crippled man, by what means this man has been healed, let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead–by him this man is standing before you well. This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:1-12 ESV)
The “they” in v1 is Peter and John. They were preaching the gospel in the temple. Many believed, but the religious leaders who hated the gospel arrested them. The next day these evil men questioned them. What was Peter’s response? Carefully read the words in bold. Did Peter mince words with these men? No, he told them the truth and nothing but the truth. Who were the prisoners here? They had just spent the night in jail and were probably bound in chains as they stood before these men.
Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus. But seeing the man who was healed standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition. But when they had commanded them to leave the council, they conferred with one another, saying, “What shall we do with these men? For that a notable sign has been performed through them is evident to all the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. But in order that it may spread no further among the people, let us warn them to speak no more to anyone in this name.” So they called them and charged them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John answered them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard.” And when they had further threatened them, they let them go, finding no way to punish them, because of the people, for all were praising God for what had happened. For the man on whom this sign of healing was performed was more than forty years old. (Acts 4:13-22 ESV)
The ones called by God to stand firm and never compromise His truth will often be in the minority and the accusations will come from the spiritually blind. What is the only response we can give to these people? We must obey God, not men. We are to be witnesses of God’s truth and there can be no compromise of it. God’s truth is not arbitrary.
In Acts 5 we have the apostles arrested again for preaching the Gospel.
But the high priest rose up, and all who were with him (that is, the party of the Sadducees), and filled with jealousy they arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors and brought them out, and said, “Go and stand in the temple and speak to the people all the words of this Life.” And when they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and began to teach. Now when the high priest came, and those who were with him, they called together the council and all the senate of Israel and sent to the prison to have them brought. But when the officers came, they did not find them in the prison, so they returned and reported, “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them we found no one inside.” Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them, wondering what this would come to. And someone came and told them, “Look! The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people.” (Acts 5:17-25 ESV)
We are to be obedient to the calling of our Lord to preach and teach the truth, the gospel, the words of life to everyone who will hear. It may be costly. It may result in being attacked continually by those who are tools of our enemy, but this changes nothing. We must obey God and never compromise His truth as you can see in the following passage. Peter is speaking as one filled with the Holy Spirit and he is being quite blunt with these men are attempting to stop the spread of the Gospel.
Then the captain with the officers went and brought them, but not by force, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people. And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. The God of our fathers raised Jesus, whom you killed by hanging him on a tree. God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior, to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.” (Acts 5:26-32 ESV)
From this we learn how we are to act when those who are bent on compromising the Gospel or quashing it or changing it attack us for being too black and white and for being self-righteous because we will not compromise and enter into their “conversation” about these things.
When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law held in honor by all the people, stood up and gave orders to put the men outside for a little while. And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you are about to do with these men. For before these days Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him. He was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. After him Judas the Galilean rose up in the days of the census and drew away some of the people after him. He too perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or this undertaking is of man, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them. You might even be found opposing God!” So they took his advice, and when they had called in the apostles, they beat them and charged them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. Then they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. (Acts 5:33-42 ESV)
Those who oppose the stance we have taken on the immutability of God’s truth should carefully read this passage. You may think you are right about a fuzzy logic version of Christianity or that our adherence to sound doctrine is “a farce,” as one said the other day, but you are the ones who are opposing the truth and this unbelieving Rabbi, the one who trained Saul of Tarsus, speaks some very wise words. If we are actually doing according to the will of God you will not be able to stop us from speaking the truth no matter how insulting or whatever you do and you might even find that you are opposing God. We have no problem speaking the truth about the heresies of the emergent movement or the fallacies of the PDC because they violate, clearly violate, what God’s Word teaches us about Christianity and the Church. All you have to go on are your human philosophies with your made up standards that are not biblical.
Your attacks are designed by the enemy to do damage to our consciences. I had this happen a couple of years ago and it really changed how I ministered for awhile, however, when God humbled me at the end of August and the beginning of September with those seizures it was as if he also healed that damage. As long as God keeps using me this way then I will continue to obey Him in this. His will be done! You can insult me all you want, but when you attack God’s truth then I will obey Him in standing firm against your lies and deceit.
Is it self-righteous to speak or teach this way? Look how Peter spoke to these men. Look how our Lord spoke to those who opposed Him and His ministry. When God’s truth is attacked then we must not only stand firm against those attacks, but make it clear, very clear, what the truth actually is and never compromise.
Soli Deo Gloria!