The Supreme Sin of Self-Righteousness

We like to rank sins. The problem is, we really stink as sin-value-estimators. We think about sins as how “bad” they seem to us. So the sin of adultery or murder? Those are really bad while the sin of gossip – not so much. I don’t personally believe in the myth that “all sins are the same.” They’re not. But we tend to judge the sin without its motives. We inspect the fruit and not the root.

Why? Because it’s usually easy to find people who have worse external behavior than we do, which help us establish our own self-righteousness. Which is sin. And it’s a “bad” sin in that it’s rooted in pride, echoes the sin of Lucifer, and seeks to usurp God’s authoritative voice on what is actual righteousness.

Here’s the bottom line … we’ve blown it. And when we compare our righteousness to that of others, it’s like seeing whose Jeep is cleaner after we both went mudding. Here’s how John Calvin wrote about it hundreds of years ago:

So long as we do not look beyond the earth, we are quite pleased with our own righteousness, wisdom, and virtue; we address ourselves in the most flattering terms, and seem only less than demigods. But should we once begin to raise our thoughts to God, and reflect what kind of Being he is, and how absolute the perfection of that righteousness, and wisdom, and virtue, to which, as a standard, we are bound to be conformed, what formerly delighted us by its false show of righteousness will become polluted with the greatest iniquity; what strangely imposed upon us under the name of wisdom will disgust by its extreme folly; and what presented the appearance of virtuous energy will be condemned as the most miserable impotence.

In counseling, I hear often words like, “I know I did _____, and I know that’s a ‘really bad’ thing, but I’m a good person…” It’s pretty much a universal assumption on our part that we’re doing okay. That’s why we’re not doing okay.

So what’s the solution? Feel really bad about ourselves? Not exactly. Self-loathing is just another form of pride parading itself as false humility since the focus is till on US. The solution is to recognize the sin in us and turn our focus toward He who is sinless – to Him who alone is truly righteous.

God loves you and wants to adopt you into His own forever family, NOT because you’re okay or “basically good” or because you’re “not so bad,” but because HE loves you. The Bible puts it this way, “But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” (Titus 3:4-5 NKJV)

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Brandon Cox
Brandon Cox is Lead Pastor of Grace Hills Church, a new church plant in northwest Arkansas. He also serves as Editor and Community Facilitator for and Rick Warren's Pastor's Toolbox and was formerly a Pastor at Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, California. In his spare time, he offers consultation to church leaders about communication, branding, and social media. He and his wife, Angie, live with their two awesome kids in Bentonville, Arkansas.