“What’s Worse Than a Sinner?”
Q: What’s Worse than a Sinner? A: A Self-Righteous Person
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. (Matt. 23:15)
Does it intrigue you that so often when testimonies are shared, the now victor almost glamorizes his wretched past in order to magnify the mercy and grace of God on his behalf? We revel in his redemption yet stand paralyzed to identify with such a story. It’s time to hear from the good side of the tree*. [Remember: the tree of the knowledge of good and evil has two sides.]
Could “good” people actually be in a more deceived and dangerous condition than “bad” people in God’s eyes? Are the Self-righteous (SR) worse than the Unrighteous (UR)? It appears from the gospels to be so. Whereas the UR fall below God’s standard, the SR rise above it. The UR must go past Christ’s righteousness (CR) in order to become SR, so every SR person walks away from Jesus sad and utterly hopeless, while the UR person finds Christ willing to be called his friend.
All woes and warnings of Jesus are directed against the SR. All rebukes and the brunt of parables are targeted toward the SR. All sandy shoes are dusted off on the SR, for the SR steal, kill, and destroy the righteous work of Christ while establishing their own standards which blindly lead their proselytes into the pit of hell made for their SR father Satan.
I grew up far more on the SR side of the tracks than the UR. I was a golden child by comparison. No, I was no angel, but as to a God-pleaser I was competitive, watering the good side of the tree in hopes of producing good fruit. Believing good works got me closer to God and bad deeds should be condemned, I pursued a perfection of my own definition, which left me as confused and empty as Nicodemus.
Reflecting on Jesus’ own words in the Gospels, I noticed that He might have found the UR sinner’s testimony the less dramatic one in the end, for it is the SR who nailed Him to the cross and the SR who could hear, “Depart from Me, I never knew you.” I can see now that we who were raised on southern Bibles and Sunday beef could find ourselves in a far worse position come judgment day.
Grouping myself with the SR pharisaical type, we’re in a far worse fix than prisoners, because our bars travel with us, locking us up with lies and false security. We’re worse than prostitutes, because we collect ill-gotten gain and spend it on bribery, betrayals, and bargaining for unjust acts against the very Son of God. We’re cursed while clamoring for position. We’re robbers of God’s mercy and rewarders of ourselves.
We’re blind to the truth. Our judgments judge us. We lord over the lowly, looking down our noses, grateful that we see no semblance. Our measure of condemnation is poured over our own heads. We work for what we deserve and receive the same: damnation. We’re always leaving, never arriving. We’re guilty of the whole Law, believing we are upholding it.
So when we finally work up the nerve to secretly sneak our way to Jesus—concerned only about what others might think or say or do to us if they find out—we inadvertently humble ourselves, subconsciously acknowledging the emptiness of our more miserable success and failing to understand the mysteries of living in the fullness and unrecognized presence of the very God who spoke us into existence, holds us together, and stands before us offering a death-induced life that we’ve never dared to live and so often walk away from confused because we cannot comprehend how dying to self-effort could ever produce anything more than meaninglessness.
Impressed with ourselves, we take what we can get and get only what we squeeze from lifeless followers duped into believing we have something they need or are doing something needful that they should be doing. We trigger God’s anger, kindling His compassion toward the deceived devotees, causing Him to flip our kingdoms on our own head in order to establish His.
Woe to you brood of vipers, Pharisaical foxes, white-washed tombs full of dead men’s bones, hypocrites, blind guides leading blinded followers in to a bottomless abyss with no remedy or resolve; who are uninvited to the party and cast into utter darkness, the fitting home of unfit hearts still clinging to an empty hope that our human doing could ever be enough.
It seems that sin has a natural punishment built in that drives the UR to Jesus. SR carries a reward from man that feels no such remorse. Of course, I am not favoring UR over SR for both are two sides of the same tree of good and evil—so both end in death—but you must admit, SR is deceiving and often intoxicating to the sincere believer who feels closer to God when he’s performing well.
My point is, the SR have as much baggage to carry as the UR, yet believe there’s nothing to fix. Why should we repent of good works? The flesh of the SR tempts us to return to judging the UR as often as the UR is tempted to return to obvious sin. I know I relapse into SRness whenever I interject myself in to the equation where Christ alone is both the operands and the sum, for the righteousness of man can never achieve the righteousness of God.
I do not nullify the grace of God,
for if righteousness comes through the Law,
then Christ died needlessly (Gal. 2:21)