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Self-Righteousness: Self-justification

By Basilea Schlink

      The self-righteous proclaim that they are righteous and that everything they say and do is right. There is one thing they cannot bear to hear: others questioning whether their behaviour was right. That is why they rebel and defend themselves, usually by adding that others do not understand them and do them wrong. They immediately turn the point of the sword around, by accusing others and keeping them from telling them the truth about themselves. The self-righteous put on a suit of armour so that no criticism can ever hit them. The self-righteous do not think it is necessary to fight against sin, since they are perfect. And so they will never make any inroads in any areas of their sinful disposition. On the contrary, all the other sins are nourished; they can grow and flourish. That is the terrible result of a life of self-righteousness. Man remains a slave to his sins and is separated from Jesus, no matter how pious he may appear to be, for he is living in a lie and is clinging to it. However, only truth, if we listen to it and accept it, can set us free. When the self-righteous reject the truth, they are rejecting Jesus, who is Truth.

      If in our self-righteousness, we have rejected the warning voice of God, the voice of truth, even when it has come through another person, it is questionable whether the warning will come to us again. We have chased it away. But one day it will reach us-the day when we appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Then there will be a terrible judgment of those who were "hardened", who did not want to accept God's voice, His warnings, admonitions and judgments, even through other people. Because sin spreads, we will reap an evil harvest in eternity. Then it will be too late to repent.

      Self-righteousness is probably the most serious sin; it is the root of all other sins, and they cannot be broken as long as we have not begun to fight against this sinful root. This sin is the root of the hot-tempered, who lash out immediately; of the irritated, who always have to have the last word; of the inhibited, who cannot move about freely, because they do not want to do anything wrong; of the silent, who do not say anything, because they do not want to say anything wrong; of the depressed, who cannot bear to be the way they are or to act the way they do; of the bitter, because they cannot admit that they are the ones who caused their bitter situation through their own sin. Self-righteousness has its effects in every sinful disposition.

      In addition self-righteousness is one of the main sins that nailed Jesus to the cross. People did not want to hear His message, "Repent!", because they did not want to admit that as sinful men they needed a Saviour. Therefore, they cried out, "Crucify Him". If we do not hate this sin above all other sins and fight a battle to the point of shedding blood, we will be lost. Then the door to Jesus' kingdom of truth will be closed to us. For the self-righteous, who do not want to hear the truth about themselves and who often become untruthful when they defend themselves, are living in a lie and therefore they belong to Satan, who was a liar from the very beginning. But who realizes that his self-righteousness has made him a slave to Satan and a member of his kingdom? As a Christian he is perhaps convinced that he is a disciple of Jesus and belongs to His kingdom. But Jesus speaks these very hard words to the self-righteous, "You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts; for what is exalted among men (because, according to their own statements, everything is all right) is an abomination in the sight of God" (Luke 16: 15).

      How terrible these words are which Jesus says to the self-righteous! God abhors them, or, in other words, on the day of judgment God will hurl them into darkness. Why? Because the self-righteous are so proud and are not prepared to admit that anything in their words and actions is not right. It would humiliate them to do that. Only the humble could do it. The proud and self righteous, who pretend that they are blameless, are called hypocrites by Jesus, just like the Pharisees, because they live a lie. The Lord hurls this terrible question at them, "How are you to escape being sentenced to hell?" (Matt. 23: 33).

      We have to be redeemed from our self-righteousness no matter what the cost. We have to make every effort to be freed from bondage. The first step (which hypocrites also have to take, since hypocrisy and self-righteousness usually belong together) is to ask for light. For the self-righteous must hear Jesus saying to them, "Now that you say, 'We see', your guilt remains" (John 9: 41). The self-righteous are blind about themselves; they do not want to see their sins.

      If someone says to us, "You are so self-righteous" and we cannot accept it, we have to cry to God daily, "Send Your light and Your truth-Reveal everything that is not pure in Your light-Place my unknown sins in the light of Your countenance." And God who has promised to answer such prayers, because they are according to His will, will give us light. For Jesus has come to give sight to the blind, as it is written in Luke 4: 18. If He has given sight to the physically blind, how much more will He prove His might to give sight to our souls for our sins. His love wants to do this. He is Light and Truth and wants to send us His Spirit of truth. He has redeemed us so that we could become children of light and recognize the truth about ourselves, which will make us free (John 8: 32). We will certainly discover this, if we earnestly beg for light.

      Let us offer this prayer:
      Let me open my heart and listen to others when
      people say the truth about me. I want to accept this
      practical help to be freed from the curse of blind
      self-righteousness. It is so hard for me to hear others
      tell me about my weaknesses and my mistakes. But I
      want to accept it as Your special offer of love to me,
      because Your warning voice comes to me through
      such people. I want to give thanks for every person
      who calls my attention to my mistakes. And when
      this does not happen, I want to ask the people
      around me to tell me everything. And even if the
      admonitions and accusations are not one hundred
      per cent true, I want to use the opportunity to break
      my self-righteousness and self-justification. I want to
      fight to the point of shedding blood

      Blind pride goes hand in hand with self-righteousness, and this co-sin usually has to be cleansed through chastening. Through chastening we are to gain sight for our real condition. Then we will learn that we are really sinners and how greatly we fall short of the glory of God (Rev. 3: 18 f.). Chastening makes the proud humble, if we accept it. Yes, if the chastening shows us the truth about ourselves and helps us repent, we will be helped. But whoever bears it full of self-pity with such pious expressions as "I want to take it from God's hand" will never be redeemed from the dreadful sin of self-righteousness. Chastenings, such as sickness, working with difficult people, frustration of one's own wishes and plans, humiliations and disappointments of all sorts, are to serve to bring our sins into the light and help us recognize them. Then we can only beat our own breasts and say, "We are receiving the due reward of our deeds" (Luke 23: 41). When we are humiliated in this way, our proud self-righteousness will be healed. We will have gained our sight.

      Yet all these things could not help us, if there were not Someone, who was able to be silent, when people accused Him unjustly: Jesus, the Lamb of God, who was "dumb before His shearers". He has also redeemed us to be silent so that we no longer have to justify ourselves in words or thoughts. Jesus has conquered the enemy, the old liar, and set us free from all self-justification. He is the Saviour, who will also heal this sinful ailment, as it is written, "With his stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53: 5).

      He will even heal the worst type of self-righteousness: thinking that we are not self-righteous at all. His blood will cleanse us in a long healing process, whose first sign of progress is that we will be able to admit our self-righteousness. "That's the way I am, full of self-righteous pride." If we confess our sins and repent of them, He will cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1: 9). Every self-righteous thought loses its power, as soon as we bring it under the blood of Jesus. Therefore, we must be alert. If we cannot understand an accusation or a reproach, there is still one way open to us-we can ask God to give us the true perspectives through His Spirit. Then we will see clearly how we caused the situation. In times of quiet prayer God will show us our "Account Book". Certainly once in a while there may be a mistake that has to be explained. But then we must pray about it so that we can explain it humbly.

      Let us persevere in the battle of faith, claiming the victory of Jesus ever anew, prepared to accept God's chastening. We will find that the chains of self-righteousness, which bind us to Satan's kingdom, will burst and we will inherit the Kingdom of God. For God, nothing is impossible.

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