by Mike Ratliff
9 And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt: 10 “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: ‘God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.’ 13 But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, the sinner!’ 14 I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other; for everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.”Self-Righteousness: the attempt to meet God’s standards based upon one’s own merits. Luke 18:9-14 (NASB)
In these last days as God has many of us working, standing firm as He uses us with the wisdom and discernment He has given us, 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 by speaking His truth in face of liars, hypocrites, apostates, and heretics.
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 by my professors who acted as editors 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. I got most of my assignments back covered in red markups.
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 things 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 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 grace through 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. God’s ways are not arbitrary, but are very precise and that the “reasonings” of the emergents and the “New Evangelists” and the “Purpose Driven” hypocrites and all those who defend them are skewed and flawed because they are actually tools of our enemy to deceive.
7 So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
11 “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. 12 He who is a hired hand, and not a shepherd, who is not the owner of the sheep, sees the wolf coming, and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 He flees because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd, and I know My own and My own know Me, 15 even as the Father knows Me and I know the Father; and I lay down My life for the sheep. John 10:7-15 (NASB)
These compromises to orthodox Christianity are rooted in one or more of three rejections of the truth by the emergents, the leaders of the “New Evangelism” and the “Purpose Driven” hypocrisy. 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.
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. Really? 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)?
Another one has 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.
1 As they were speaking to the people, the priests and the captain of the temple guard and the Sadducees came up to them, 2 being greatly disturbed because they were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead. 3 And they laid hands on them and put them in jail until the next day, for it was already evening. 4 But many of those who had heard the message believed; and the number of the men came to be about five thousand.
5 On the next day, their rulers and elders and scribes were gathered together in Jerusalem; 6 and Annas the high priest was there, and Caiaphas and John and Alexander, and all who were of high-priestly descent. 7 When they had placed them in the center, they began to inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “ Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead—by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the stone which was rejected by you, the builders, but which became the chief corner stone. 12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:1-12 (NASB)
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? 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.
13 Now as they observed the confidence of Peter and John and understood that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed, and began to recognize them as having been with Jesus. 14 And seeing the man who had been healed standing with them, they had nothing to say in reply. 15 But when they had ordered them to leave the Council, they began to confer with one another, 16 saying, “What shall we do with these men? For the fact that a noteworthy miracle has taken place through them is apparent to all who live in Jerusalem, and we cannot deny it. 17 But so that it will not spread any further among the people, let us warn them to speak no longer to any man in this name.” 18 And when they had summoned them, they commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. 19 But Peter and John answered and said to them, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to give heed to you rather than to God, you be the judge; 20 for we cannot stop speaking about what we have seen and heard.” 21 When they had threatened them further, they let them go (finding no basis on which to punish them) on account of the people, because they were all glorifying God for what had happened; 22 for the man was more than forty years old on whom this miracle of healing had been performed. Acts 4:13-22 (NASB)
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.
17 But the high priest rose up, along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy. 18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” 21 Upon hearing this, they entered into the temple about daybreak and began to teach.
Now when the high priest and his associates came, they called the Council together, even all the Senate of the sons of Israel, and sent orders to the prison house for them to be brought. 22 But the officers who came did not find them in the prison; and they returned and reported back, 23 saying, “We found the prison house locked quite securely and the guards standing at the doors; but when we had opened up, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple guard and the chief priests heard these words, they were greatly perplexed about them as to what would come of this. 25 But someone came and reported to them, “The men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” Acts 5:17-25 (NASB)
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.
26 Then the captain went along with the officers and proceeded to bring them back without violence (for they were afraid of the people, that they might be stoned).
27 When they had brought them, they stood them before the Council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses of these things; and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey Him.” Acts 5:26-32 (NASB)
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.
33 But when they heard this, they were cut to the quick and intended to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee named Gamaliel, a teacher of the Law, respected by all the people, stood up in the Council and gave orders to put the men outside for a short time. 35 And he said to them, “Men of Israel, take care what you propose to do with these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a group of about four hundred men joined up with him. But he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and came to nothing. 37 After this man, Judas of Galilee rose up in the days of the census and drew away some people after him; he too perished, and all those who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I say to you, stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”
40 They took his advice; and after calling the apostles in, they flogged them and ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and then released them. 41 So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name. 42 And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they kept right on teaching and preaching Jesus as the Christ. Acts 5:33-42 (NASB)
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 some say, 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 hypocrisy or the compromises of the New Evangelism 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. 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!