Feeling Good About Myself

Jesus knew it would happen.

He tried to warn His disciples.  He knew they would be the ones who would lead His church, and He wanted them to be aware of the danger.  He said, “Beware of the yeast of the Pharisees.”  His disciples thought he was talking about bread.  He wasn’t discussing baking techniques.  He was talking about hypocrisy.

Jesus created us, and he knows how we operate.  He knew the tendency of His followers would be just the same as the Pharisees.  The Pharisees were the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.  They were the “enforcers of righteousness,” holding others to a standard of law they could not keep themselves.  That’s pretty much the definition of hypocrisy.

He knew we would be tempted to start feeling pretty good about ourselves, then feeling superior to others.  He knew that dreaded disease of hypocrisy would try to invade His church like yeast invades bread.  I think Jesus used the metaphor of yeast on purpose.  He wanted His followers to know how invasive it really is.  It’s a living organism that, once introduced into the lump of dough, grows, multiplies, and consumes.

I got a good question from a reader the other day:

I have found all too often that the more spiritual-minded I am, the more likely I am to be judgmental.  I mean the more time I spend in prayer and Bible reading, study & activities, the more I see wrong in other people’s lives.  Why is that?  Why do my spiritual practices serve to make me feel closer to God, yet more condemning of others?

I was glad to get her question.  Glad because I’m relieved to know I’m not the only one to struggle with this.  I too am tempted to start feeling superior; to start looking down my righteous nose at the sinners who surround me.

So what’s the answer?

How do we avoid the hypocrisy that seems so prevalent in today’s church?  Jesus told us in the Sermon on the Mount, “Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them.”   Treat others the way you want to be treated yourself.

So if I judge and condemn others, what does that say about how I want to be treated?  I believe this is the fundamental problem most of us have.  We have not fully understood grace.  We give it lip service, but deep inside, we are still living under the law of sin and death.  We still think, no matter how much we deny it, that salvation is at least partially works based.  We still think we are going to be judged on our actions.  We still think God’s grace is too good to be true. There are millions of believers still walking around with a cloud of guilt hanging over their head, thinking, “God has just about had enough of me!”

So we work hard to get “closer to God.”  We work hard, thinking we can somehow improve on the perfection and righteousness he has already placed upon us in Christ.  We strive to be better people, to sin less, to bring ourselves in line.  And when we succeed in our own eyes, we start to feel pretty good about ourselves, and it’s hard to look around at all the miserable sinners who all of a sudden don’t measure up.

Ding Ding…we have another Pharisee!

Ever notice, when you go through a crisis in your life, how non-judgmental you become?  When we become acutely aware of our own need for grace and mercy, showing the same to others suddenly becomes very natural to us.  Once we quit holding ourselves to the standard of the law of works, we tend to stop holding others to that standard as well.

So here’s my suggestion.  Get up every day and remind yourself of what God’s grace means in your life.  Accept that you don’t measure up, and yet you are off the hook for your sins – past, present, and future.  Let the knowledge that God is not judging you based on your behavior, but on the righteousness of Christ, permeate your very being.  Thank Him for His sacrifice and let it once again become real to you.  Become that man Jesus talked about, on his face in the back of the temple.  He humbly cried out “Have mercy on me, a sinner!”

Don’t grit your teeth and “try a little harder” to stop being a Pharisee.  That only contributes to more of it, because it’s still about works.

The only way to escape the hypocrisy of the Pharisees is to experience more grace.

  1. #1 by Erica on August 18, 2011 - 7:23 AM

    What a great reminder to us all!

  2. #3 by ineffablemuse on August 18, 2011 - 7:40 AM

    Whenever those feelings of judgment creep in I remind myself that Jesus died for all of us, not because we deserved it, but because he loves us. And when I think of that, I think of how I can love that person that I am judging. It’s a good exercise for me, especially when you’re really ticked off at someone.

    • #4 by Dave Kirby on August 18, 2011 - 5:08 PM

      Great strategy. It’s hard to be judgmental when we think of where we came from (and where we still are except for Him)

  3. #5 by Michelle Sirmans Emanuel on August 18, 2011 - 11:55 AM

    Well Dave you pegged it pretty good again 🙂 I guess perhaps I have become a modern day Pharisee at times…and I do hold myself as well as others to the standard of the law…that is a constant battle with me….I am one, who in all honesty tries to do the right thing, because it is the right thing more so, rather than out of Love for God…at least that is how I perceive myself…Woe is me!

    In fact I still struggle with Law and Grace…for years all I heard about was the Grace of God but at the same time, I was put under the law with some of the legalistic beliefs of my former church….”do this, don’t do that”, and if you don’t conform them you must not be saved! It can really make it hard to accept Grace or extend it!

    Yet when I read the scriptures for myself, I feel as if the Word does something similar…we are told we are made accepted in the beloved by the blood of Jesus and have His righteousness applied to our sin debt…BUT, we must still conform our life to the teachings of scripture in regard to how to conduct our self…so that puts us right back to “Do this, Don’t do that”…and when I fail to measure up to God’s standards of holiness, then comes the doubts, the guilt, the condemnation, and on the list goes….that cycle is deeply ingrained in me and I have yet over these last 40 yrs of my faith walk learned how to break it! But at least when I’m in this pit of despair I’m able to extend more Grace to my fellowman, but I doubt I’m pointing others to Him at all.

  4. #6 by Mark Murdock on August 19, 2011 - 11:46 AM

    I don’t think getting closer to God makes us Pharisaical and judgmental. When you get closer to Him, you become more compassionate, not less; more loving, not less; more aware of your own weaknesses and inadequacies. You become more conformed to the image of Christ. You start to share His grief over how sin devastates our lives.

    • #7 by Dave Kirby on August 19, 2011 - 1:09 PM

      Remember, this post was in response to a question I had from a reader, who said that was her struggle. It has also been an issue I have seen creep in to my own heart. I do agree however, that how we define “closer to God” is at the heart of this issue. I think that’s the point of this post. If we define “closer to God” as doing better, working harder, being a better Christian, then pride and Pharisaical judgment cannot be far behind. But if we define “closer to God” and understanding, accepting and living in His grace more fully, then you are right. We become more aware of our own inability to deserve or earn that grace, and we become more compassionate and accepting of others in their struggle as well.

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